I’ve never admitted how it altered me.
I try not to think about it—the spring
the junior dropped out of school
after wearing a wire so the police could cuff
Mr. Cawley—led him out of the high school
down the long beige corridor of B-Hall
past the AP History class where I sat
with my textbook open to some European War,
trying not to think about my confusion
when I stood, the May before, in Mr. Cawley’s classroom,
as he held my book report on In Search of History.
My long turquoise skirt covered my freckled knees.
I looked down at my white Keds to hide my face
when he said I had a dream about you last night.
Wanna know what you were doing?
How long did I stand there in his classroom, his desk
behind the bookcases, hovering right there at the end of childhood?
How long was I frozen—my year-long adoration of him
evaporating, floating over me with a white scarf around my throat.
I can’t remember if I said anything to him before I pulled
my ungraded paper from his hands, “SEE ME” written in red caps.
It was May, 1987, three months after my 14th birthday,
three weeks before summer break. I can’t remember
the moment I turned to walk from the classroom, my backpack
full of textbooks, pressing me down.
I try not to think about exactly what happened to the girl
in that classroom to make her tear a hole out of the world.
I didn’t know her and I can’t remember her name but all the girls
were jealous of her tan that faded only slightly in winter.
She smelled of hair spray as she walked by my locker.
Her eyes, the most beautiful shade of blue.
After Mr. Cawley is arrested and sent to jail, my mother
gives herself credit that nothing happened to me in that room.
I try not to think about what happened to me in that moment,
how it marred what I understood of desire. He didn’t know
the harm he did even though he didn’t touch my body, it burned.
It froze there in that moment. In that school in that small suburb.
Linwood, New Jersey, 1987.
As I left the school just after 4pm, I saw the bleachers
rising from the long grass, the apple trees blossoming
against the blue sky. My mother’s silver car waited
for me in the parking lot. The two of us sat, silent,
“Running to Stand Still” on cassette.
I try not to think of the girl—the way she felt
when the policewomen taped the wire to her skin.
How she had to enter his classroom again, to go back
to that girl she was before she knew what he would do to her
behind the bookcases, knowing she would never be able to get out
of that room again, even as she walked out to meet the policemen
waiting for her under the obstinate blue sky.
Jennifer Franklin (Brown AB, Columbia MFA) is the author of three poetry collections, including If Some God Shakes Your House. She has received grants from New York Foundation for the Arts and Café Royal Cultural Foundation. She teaches in Manhattanville’s MFA program and the Hudson Valley Writers Center, where she is program director.