This piece includes content about sexual assault, pedophilia, and grooming. It is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, events, or locations is coincidental.
I was lying in the bathtub, the colloidal oatmeal turned soggy only a few minutes in. A scratchy pile of Epsom salt lay up against my thigh. I brushed it away, swirled my hand around to disintegrate it into the water. I felt like I was going to cry but I couldn’t.
I had received a text before from my best friend, Clara: “Did you see this?”
Following the message was a link to an article posted that day by our local newspaper. I read it through twice, then Clara sent another message before I could respond. “Remember that time in the library…?”
I felt sick, so I drew a bath. The good thing was I had been taking baths at the strangest times lately – mid-day or first-thing in the morning – so Mom wouldn’t ask me what I was doing. She probably assumed I was masturbating and would let me be. Scattered memories ignited and I accepted them, my hands resting palm up in the warm water. They wouldn’t congeal into anything though, so I turned the tap on again to pour in more steaming water. As it spluttered I bent my outstretched legs towards my chest, scooted towards the end of the tub, and let myself submerge slowly, face under water.
In grade seven I was shy and nervous. My teacher encouraged us to be silly, get creative, and most importantly, be kind to each other. He taught us about the Vietnam War even though the principal got mad about that. On “Challenge Thursdays” we built newspaper towers to be indestructible – Mr. Rudd laughed when I had smudges of ink all over my nose and wiped them away with his sleeve – he DJ’ed the school dances. He let us do trust falls in gym class.
In grade seven I was shy and nervous. One time he said my name. “You are quiet. But one day you’ll be bossing all of us around.”
It was possibly the best thing I had ever heard, and I liked him even more for it.
On an overnight field trip to Montreal, he showed Clara and I his hotel room and then we dared him to eat ten packets of ketchup. He did it and the whole time he was laughing.
But he was moody. He would groan while staring at his cellphone, sometimes going so far as to gently thud his head against the desk. The whole class would laugh nervously and he would tell us he had a headache and to please be quiet and just read for the afternoon. We thought he was honest. I saw a funny man, and also: honest, honest, honest.
In the bathtub oily swirls appeared. It was gunk leaking from my pores, dirt from gardening earlier, muddled with Dove soap.
Mr. Rudd, 31, an elementary school teacher has been accused of conducting a sexual relationship with a former student. The victim, now a young woman, alleged the sexual contact began when she was 15. The sexual relationship continued from 2005 to 2007. The Crown is seeking a prison sentence for Mr. Rudd who has been ordered to appear in court…
“Remember that time in the library…?”
I remembered the butterflies too. In the bath, I was disgusted by myself more than by him at first. It’s what the child in me feels. I figured she has nowhere else to go so I let her in.
Mr. Rudd had taken Clara and I into the library. There were three big, comfy armchairs at the far back arranged in a circle. Threads were unravelling from them in some spots, from bored children picking at the material, and a dull grey was rubbed onto the cushions where the colour had faded. We weren’t supposed to be there outside of library time but this was our cool teacher. Clara and I were excited because we felt like we were doing something wrong, or rather, against the rules in a bad-ass way.
I don’t remember how he approached the subject. He just started spewing about how he liked some girl. The confession made me feel grown up and also like he deeply cared about our opinion. He wanted our advice. He asked us what he should do to make her “like” him back. I had blushed at that.
“Who is she?” I felt embarrassed as soon as I had said it and he looked it too. I was a bit angry, because he was the one who told us in the first place. Why shouldn’t I ask him for more?
He drummed his fingers on his armchair. “A…someone from teacher’s college.”
It was time for drama class. We were working on tableaus, those frozen scenes Mr. Rudd made us construct every Friday afternoon. I felt insecure because I felt a slight roll of skin fold over my skinny jeans beneath my Hollister waffle top.
Mr. Rudd rushed across the linoleum floor, pacing as he said, “You have thirty seconds! Go, go, go!” A smile grew on his face when he saw my group struggling to depict the moment the iceberg hit the Titanic.
The cute guy in class crossed his arms. “This is so fucking dumb,” he whispered to me. I nodded, but I was learning to love drama class. It made me feel like I might be able to escape out from under my own skin.
Mr. Rudd came over to us. “You need levels.” He slapped the floor, gestured into the air at hip-height, then stood on his tiptoes to point to the sky. “Levels, all different levels of postures. Someone get on the ground, someone stand tall. Penny, what do you want to do?”
I didn’t know.
“What would you do if you knew you were going to die?”
“Cry.” I shrugged. Cute guy laughed.
“Get on the floor and cry then,” Mr. Rudd said flatly.
I crawled onto my knees, laid on my stomach, twisted onto my side, covered my face with my hands as if I was crying.
Mr. Rudd let out a bark of laughter. “That’s a cop-out. Let me see your face.”
I saw some of my group arranging themselves around me, holding onto one another or pointing out into the distance. Cute guy was talking with Clara, her black, coiled hair I always tried to recreate swinging lightly as they tested different tableau positions. I made a comically sad face, my bottom lip jutting out and my eyes staring wide.
Mr. Rudd grinned and dropped to the floor. He laid down on his side to face me and contorted his own features into a mask of sadness. His eyebrows pulled together and he grimaced as if he was ready to let out a wail at any moment. I attempted to copy him, feeling stupid but also not alone.
Yes, that’s perfect.
While I soaked, I did the math. It had happened the year he taught me. We found out later that she got pregnant. I felt like I was standing on the precipice of nothing. Both, because it was in the past and because nothing had happened to me. But little, tiny things seemed swollen and huge and uglier than they had when I was 12 years old. It was with repulsion that I remembered his compliments. Even now, I remember them. Even now, I question the intent and yet think I am reading too much into it. I am mad that I don’t like myself enough to know that the compliments can still be true about me even if he didn’t really mean them. I also think, what was wrong with me? more than I think, what was wrong with him?
I was a kid.
Emily Coppella (she/her) lives on traditional Anishinaabe Mississauga territory.