Letter (7) — The Poe Inquisition

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

To Mr. Deep Freeze:

It all began with the swing of a pendulum. 

To this day, I do not know if Edgar Allan Poe falls within the parameters of a normal American sixth grade curriculum. It became apparent quite quickly that gothic tales of horror were not approved by the missionary parents who enrolled their students in the deeply conservative, faith-based owned and operated academy in which I was student and you were teacher. 

What I remember most about sixth grade is reading — a lot of reading. We read individually. We read in groups. We read aloud. You were my first teacher, there in the mid-1980s, to recognize and address that students of the same age are not all reading on the same level — not merely the words themselves, but the comprehension of those words. 

Combined with my parents, who never limited my reading… 

Adult Beth: You know there was a lot of sex and violence in that Wagons West series you let me read as a kid, right? 

Librarian Mom: Yes, but there was a lot of history in there too.

… you recognized that for me to grow, I (and 2-3 fellow classmates) needed more challenging reading options than whatever we were supposed to be assigned. 

You also enjoyed reading aloud to the class, introducing new-to-us authors and genres. 

Enter Poe.

Enter, again, Librarian Mom — deeply conservative yet simultaneously loath to condone censorship. 

I only know of the Poe Inquisition because the other parents wanted Librarian Mom to be their champion — and she declined. 

I do not know the extent of the protest or how wide a spread the kerfuffle had on campus.
I do not know which of my classmates went to a parent in… fear… horror… disgust… or whatever emotion was stirred in their sheltered souls. 

I do know the pontifical pendulum of censorship missed your neck that year. 

“The Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.”

You finished reading “The Pit and the Pendulum” aloud to us and I loved every word.

Poe was my gateway drug into the deeper realm of gothic classics by Shelley, Stoker, Radcliffe, Stevenson, Wilde, du Maurier, the Brontës and more.

Beyond Poe, you were the unconventional teacher in an environment that praised convention and evangelicalism over education and acceptance. You were the catalyst of my literary renaissance.

I thank you. 

PS – Apologies for the nickname. Originality was lacking at age 11 and we were very much into derogatory homonymistic (I’m going to make that a word.) monikers. Our fourth grade teacher was known as Miss Sour. Same premise. We’re adults now and I respect your privacy. 

Letter (4) — #MeToo

Photo by Gabriel on Unsplash

To the man who grabbed my 12-year-old ass:

Fuck you.

I was twelve.
You were the first man who touched me without permission.
You were an adult.

I was so small that I looked nine.
Skinny… no, scrawny.
Stringy hair. Tomboy.
Nothing advertised sex appeal.
You pedophile.

We were on a train platform in Germany.
It was broad daylight and the sun was shining.

I moved away from my parents and older brother to sketch a crumbling tower on the side of a hill. Our father encouraged us to keep a travel journal.

It was quiet.
This station was in the countryside.
No hustle. No bustle. No throngs of people.
For a while our family was alone on the platform.
Then you appeared.

You paced back and forth from one end of the platform to the other.
I was aware of you, but I was not watching you.
Like us, I thought you were just waiting.
We had waited with so many people at other train stations.
That was a mistake.

During one pass, you came closer.
You grabbed my ass.

I was shocked — convinced I imagined you touching me.
Don’t all predators bet on fanciful childlike minds?

But then you came back. You touched me again.
You grabbed my ass. Again!

I wager what came next was unexpected.
I spun around, smacking you with the journal in my hand.
Stunned, you stepped back.

We stared at each other.
I could see the guilt in your eyes.
I could see the fear.
What if I screamed?
You didn’t make a scene.
But neither did I.
Then you quietly left the platform.

But, you never left my mind.

My family never knew.
Had he known — had he seen — my brother would have beat the shit out of you. Twenty minutes later we boarded a train.

I was twelve.
Naive. Innocent.
Then you grabbed my ass and everything changed.
It’s the day I learned girls always have to live on high alert.

Again, fuck you.

You were the first man to touch me without permission.
You were not the last.

Note: This letter started as a personal Twitter thread at height of the #metoo movement. It was then published on April 30, 2020 via Medium. Later in 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage.