For a while I was the only male faculty member at an all-girls school. It was, well, a bit surreal. Thanks to my Y chromosome, I got way more attention than I deserved. I was seen as either a rock star, a duck-billed platypus, or a clump of cold, overcooked broccoli.
In some ways, my novelty was an asset. Teaching high school history is like selling sand in the Sahara; I needed all the help I could get. So, I leveraged my testosterone like Napoleon’s reserves at Austerlitz, and won a handful of hard fought, lesson planned battles.
For obvious reasons, my gender was also a distraction and a liability. Some students were more interested in my skinny ties and Adam’s apple than the Platt Amendment or the New Deal. At times, I felt like Indiana Jones in the college classroom scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I would have been more comfortable dodging Mayan boulders or Egyptian snakes.
Then, about halfway through the first semester of my first year teaching, my worst fear came true. I went home and found a letter in my mailbox. The envelope was pink and scented. Inside, the handwriting was almost illegible. It was packed with misspelled words, grammatical errors, little hearts and cute squiggles. When I read it, my stomach wrenched. It was a love letter – obviously from a student.
The next day, I ran straight to the principal’s office and showed her the letter. (Note: I considered taking it to the English Department as well.) She told me not to worry. “Crushes like this are fairly common,” she said. “They’re usually innocent and short lived. If ya get another letter, just let me know…”
Later that day during my planning period, a student walked into my classroom and shut the door behind her. It creaked like a casket closing. She had questions about a project I had assigned. As she spoke, all I could hear were the lyrics to the song, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by The Police: “Young teacher, the subject / Of schoolgirl fantasy / She wants him so badly / Knows what she wants to be…”
A week later, another letter arrived. It was even more salacious than the first. Again, I took it to the principal’s office. On my way there, I heard, “Loose talk in the classroom / To hurt they try and try / Strong words in the staffroom / The accusations fly…”
The principal sent me to the guidance counselor, who gave me a bevvy of strategies to avoid “awkward situations.” She told me to never meet with a student alone and to always keep my door open. She also suggested that I do a little CSI work while grading papers. “This student is a really bad writer,” she said. “Put on your William Strunk hat and connect the dangling modifiers.”
The third letter (with significant editing) could have been published in Penthouse Magazine. It was more graphic than a Frank Miller novel; it was 50 shades of plaid. It caused me “to shake and cough, just like the old man in that book by Nabokov.”
I bought a newspaper that day and started looking through the help-wanted ads.
At the time, I lived in a tiny studio apartment on Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans. I slept on a futon in a second floor loft. My bookshelf-like bedroom faced a huge window that overlooked the street. On the other side, there was a house with a window facing mine. One night while I was lying in bed, a woman drew the curtains on the other side and launched into a striptease. When she finished, she pressed her naked body against the window. Cars passing by below honked in either shock or appreciation.
She performed again the following evening. And then again and again.
“WTF!?” I thought. “Now, in addition to a student stalker, I have a crazy neighbor auditioning in her window for a Bourbon Street gig! Maybe I should move to a small town in the Midwest? I could teach at an all-boys school – a military academy perhaps?”
The following Friday, I stayed out late playing pool at a local pub. I tried to drown my anxiety in Dixie Beer.
A few minutes after I got home, my doorbell rang. It was the woman from the window. She was standing on my stoop wearing nothing but a bathrobe. When I opened the door, she dropped the robe to the ground. “I know you want me,” she said.
“No, I really don’t,” I replied.
“Didn’t my letters make you hot?” she asked.
“You wrote those letters?!” I gasped with relief. “No, they actually made me ill. And, they almost cost me my career!”
“Give me one good reason you don’t want this?” she said, gesturing to her pale naked body.
“I can give you five,” I said. “1) You’re married (to a policeman no less), 2) you have a child, 3) I have a girlfriend, 4) I’m not that attracted to you and 5) your writing is atrocious!”
The next day I bought a sheet and duct taped it to the window.
Folwell Dunbar is an educator and artist. Living in the Big Queasy, he’s survived many close encounters of a salacious kind. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org