At age 27 I fell in love and in lust. The man in question was more than double my age, a facilitator at a government-funded program for individuals who had recently lost their job and wanted to start their own business. My idea was to start my own desktop publishing business. I had left my previous job under painful circumstances. My father had died 9 months earlier and my friend A— had committed suicide six months before that. I had found myself unable to function at work. I asked to be laid off and my supervisor obliged. I had no idea what I would do next.
The year that followed was a time of personal reflection, of watching Six Feet Under reruns and bursting into uncontrollable tears at the slightest sign of blood in CSI episodes. I simply didn’t have a filter to protect me and everything set me off. I retreated into my own world, barely stepping out of my apartment, fearing the stares of strangers on the street. I felt like a recovering burn victim – everything hurt and I couldn’t handle anyone touching me.
When I signed up for the self-employment program I knew I wouldn’t be able to start my own business. I hardly had any money and, besides, I wasn’t any good. But being in a classroom at least distracted me from the spiralling depression I faced at home. In class I could pretend to be someone else, someone better. I kept to myself as much as I could. I was shy and quiet and desperate for change.
D—- didn’t look his age. His hair wasn’t grey and just being near him made me feel more alive. It wasn’t just me – everyone felt it. He had an energy that could bowl you over if you weren’t careful. It was intense and dangerous and, yes, erotic. Maybe if I wasn’t in the vulnerable place I found myself in I wouldn’t have succumbed so easily. As it was, his presence cut into me like an exacto-knife.
Years later I wrote to him that I wasn’t sure whether he saved me or nearly killed me. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. When I was near him, the unbearable pain of my father’s death, of my best friend’s suicide, subsided into a dull ache. No one else had that effect on me. I became desperate to connect with him, wrote him long emails about my life and about the pain I was in. He seemed to listen; to care. This confused me. No one in my birth family had shown much understanding for what I was going through. My father died rejecting my transgender identity. My mother disowned me. My sisters simply avoided me. And yet this man, this teacher, took the time to listen to my pain.
I wasn’t used to the attention. I became tongue-tied and fell even more deeply under his spell. He was a magician and I was his rapt audience. I would have tried to be a woman for him if he’d asked. I might even have had his babies. Who I was shifted like the wind. My steps were uncertain, tentative. Only my obsession with this man seemed to give my life any stability. I thought if I just stayed close to him, I would be OK. Every day I sent him long, painful electronic missives on my life. Sometimes he’d answer and when he did it felt like someone stroking my entire body softly. It was a gentle wave that washed over me, engulfing me. I couldn’t say no.
It was all wrong, of course.
When I finally confessed my lust to him, he told me he was flattered, but the feeling wasn’t mutual. His boss, N——, called me in to meet with her and D—– in her office. She asked me how I was doing. My body seemed to act without my consent. I began to shake, my hands trembling, my right hand rubbing my forehead uncontrollably. I felt the sheer terror of being exposed rise up in me and I just wanted to get out of there. She said that they were looking for someone who could support me, someone to meet with on a regular basis.
Two days after the meeting D—- emailed me to say that he had found three people for me to contact. And he indicated that he could not let our business relationship interfere with my getting the help I needed on a more personal level. He was cutting ties with me. I wasn’t prepared for this. I blamed myself for telling him I loved him; for telling him the truth; for trusting him. Why, oh why, had I let down my guard? But it was too late. It was over. Though I tried to stay in contact, our relationship never recovered.
I did seek out one of the people on the list he provided. They gave me as much support as they could, but it wasn’t the same. The pain of losing D—- ran so deep I thought I would die from it alone.
Even though I have, in the intervening years, rebuilt my life, I still miss him. I have a job that challenges me, a partner I love deeply, a pug that fills me with joy. Sometimes that dark time of my life, more than six years ago now, feels more like a bad dream than reality. I know that I can never go back to that mental place. My constitution can’t handle it. But I’m grateful for it too – for what I learned about myself, for the vulnerabilities it exposed. I like to think I’m stronger for it. It’s part of the story behind the man I am today.