You’ve washed your hands clean of this

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2003

I graduated from my undergraduate degree in June of 2003.  While I was completing my degree I took a number of classes taught by the same professor.  Let’s call him Professor L.  Towards the end of my degree and certainly over the summer that followed Professor L and I became friends.  I didn’t think much about it, I was engaged, clearly unavailable, he was my teacher.  We used to talk about ethics and academic topics.  I visited his house once or twice and he came for dinner with my finance and me at our house.  Over the summer I helped him with some research projects.   In the Fall he was out of town for a few months for work.  We would email back and forth.  He’d send me poetry.

I was 23 years old and he was 45, almost twice my age.  I was fairly naive and I overlooked some obvious red flags.

About a week before Christmas, December 2003, we had plans to meet and go shopping for Christmas gifts together.  He was back from his trip and we hadn’t seen each other in a while.  He came by my apartment to pick me up and when he arrived he said he was tired. He asked if he could come inside to rest for a few minutes.  I hesitated, I felt uncomfortable, I wasn’t sure…but I trusted this man I’d known for almost 4 years and I let him in.

Looking back on that day, I wish I had listened to my body’s signals and said no.

Professor L came inside and we sat on the couch in the living room.  He sat down very close beside me.  I felt nervous, anxious to go out and go shopping as we had planned.  It was the first time we’d been alone in my apartment together.

To be honest I don’t remember exactly what happened next.  I know he began stroking my arm.  He asked if he could see my scars, he asked me if I wanted him to touch the scars.  I still have flashbacks 13 years later if someone touches the scars on my arms or asks to touch them.

I was wearing a black long sleeved shirt, it was one of my favourites that I’d purchased on a trip to New York in 2002.  It was soft and beautiful.  After that day I shoved it in a drawer and I never wore it again.  I couldn’t bring myself to put it back on and eventually I donated it to charity, even though I still loved it I didn’t love the memories of him touching me while I wore it.

He was wearing a black scarf with gold flecks in it.  The gold made a design or pattern on the black scarf.  I remember staring at that scarf until the gold spots blurred together.  That scarf became the focus for my disassociation.

I didn’t say no. I didn’t say stop. I froze and I disassociated.  And I’m lucky because it could have been a lot worse, I could have been raped and I wouldn’t have resisted because I checked out.

I remember him stroking my arm and then touching my breasts.  I think he kissed me, but I mostly remember the touching.

I don’t know how much time went by, but at some point he realized that I was gone, that I wasn’t participating or responding, even when he spoke to me directly.  He got up and went to the bathroom.

I remember crying softly.  I don’t remember how much time went by, it seemed like hours but it probably was less than 20 minutes.  I sat curled up on the couch crying and unable to speak.  He spoke to me and tried to make things better and I didn’t respond.

Eventually I came back to reality and I asked him to leave.  He left.  I was so relieved.  I knew I’d been incredibly lucky to escape.  I was terrified knowing that I couldn’t have defended myself.  I felt like my body had betrayed me by disassociating rather than fighting back.

I couldn’t understand what had just happened? Why did he do this?  He knew I was in a serious relationship, I was 20 years younger than him, I never asked him to touch me, I didn’t invite him into the house…

I spoke to him by email.  I was crushed, I thought he was my friend, but I realized that I might have to end the friendship.  I asked him to take responsibility for what he had done.  I knew it was premeditated because he invited himself in.  But he wouldn’t admit it was planned.  A few months later I cut off contact with him because he was never accountable for assaulting me.

I remember going home for Christmas that year.  I was so triggered by what happened.  I remember crying.  I remember moving the bed in my room up against the wall so I would feel safer at night.

The worst part about what happened was that Professor L was the person I planned to use for reference letters to get jobs or to get into graduate school.  I hated the idea that I would have to ask him for a reference letter.  I felt like he would write a good letter only because he thought of me sexually.   It made me feel used and sick in ways I can’t even describe.

I went to the University and I told the academic counselor that I would need reference letters but I wasn’t comfortable contacting Professor L myself.  They were understanding but said that likely nothing could be done about his behaviour because I was no longer a student, so we were essentially just two adults.  That wasn’t entirely true because he still had power over me in terms of being my academic reference.

In 2008, I applied to go back to school for my Masters degree.  Professor L mailed the reference letter to me and I didn’t have to speak to him.  When I received the letter, I got immediately upset.  I remember leaving the house after the kids were asleep and walking to meet my friend.  I was holding the letter, crying and shaking, having flashbacks to the assault, just because I was touching a letter that he had also touched.  It was awful.  My friend helped me calm down and I was able to send the reference letter in.

I got into Grad school.  No thanks to Professor L.

Silence means no.

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