We bleed together
The day is still vividly encrypted in my head. it was 1994, and the 5 of us were huddled together holding hands as we walked into the Principal's office. It was the second quarter of our senior year and together we were strong courageous beautiful young women with our entire lives ahead of us. The two of us that lead the pack were the only two girls in Calculus, so we took the heat daily on a different level then the others. None-the-less it was the combination of all of our stories that insured no other girls would have to deal with his shit in the future.
I might have been the most bold as the ring leader because I had to deal with him daily for 3 of 4 years. You see, while the one other female Calculus classmate entered high school already finished with Algebra, I had been home-schooled so I happened to start my freshman year in Algebra I and landed in Bagby's class. I was clearly way ahead of the class, so got special attention from the start. As a young but smart girl, the possibility of doubling up on Geometry and Algebra II in my sophomore year meant completing Calculus before college. So I dared to show up when he invited me to his cave of a classroom after school. I can still remember how empty the entire corridor was as I entered the room. When he shut the doors I was terrified. But I was the oldest of 6 kids and had plenty of practice in kicking boys in the nuts from dealing with my brothers and neighborhood kids. I kept my distance from him as he flattered me with my grand actuarial potential. I was 14 so all that I wanted was a signed piece of paper saying that the Director of Mathematics approved me taking two math classes simultaneously. It felt like an eternity but finally I left the windowless room at the farthest end of the school's campus without being groped by the obvious pervert. I had won that battle while he had his own sweet victory signing me on to return to his classroom for both Trig and Calc.
To this day, I honestly don't want to know what went on in that room after hours, and I made sure to never be there alone again. You see, he had taught at this high school since my mother was there 20 years earlier and held power in his position, but never left that room. It wasn't until my senior year that I realized that he taught entry-level Algebra to keep some girls in his classes since the higher level classes were mostly boys. He preyed on the dumb and desperate in a different way then the way he messed with us: the smart girls. He would flatter us, bump up against us, lean over, whisper, but it was the insane number of phallic references that he could include in every lesson that got the boys to giggle and became the tipping point for the two of us: the girls in Calculus. To think that it took me 4 years to turn him in, seems crazy but he held our GPA's hostage. I needed that A to get into the Universities that I wanted to attend. But why did we feel it was risky to tell the authorities? Because that is the society we live in.
Even as young girls we get used to the cat calling. During high school, I moved to a historic neighborhood where every other house was a Victorian with slummed out apartments between them. It created this strange overlap of diversity that exposed me to the world beyond the suburban lalaland that most of my friends lived in. "Hey Red" followed by some obscene reference to my body; the body that I was just starting to understand, I heard on the daily. I only dared to walk the street in big sweatshirts and soon avoided walking... ever. But this is every woman's story so we learn to travel in packs and keep track of our sisters when the drinks start flowing for free. Thankfully bikes offered me a new sense of power and protection, but I understand why so many woman stay hidden in their cars.
Yes, Bagby lost his job, leaving us learning Calculus with a barely qualified substitute for the rest of the year. This was not the first, or last time that I had to stand up against a predatory man that held power over me, but that day a new precedent was set for each of us. There was power in our voice together.
Over the next 25 years, I would face countless opportunities cloaked in flatters that would determine the fate of my future. I have always chosen to walk away early and protect myself. It has cost me many dreams coming to fruition, but I am strong, healthy and loved by a man that would walk the ends of the earth to protect me now. I strive to shine into the world to inspire other women to find their power, but still I wear huge scars from suppression I don't own or deserve.
As this #metoo movement has shaken our nation, I bleed with every story I hear. Sharing these stories is painful. As a mother and professional, I still choose my words carefully, as some layers are too painful to spell out. But today I share a piece, because together we are unstoppable and the time for change is now. My hope is that my son grows up in a world that is different, and that men and women will someday be able to respect and hold each other accountable to higher integrity. So I pedal forward with my head high even when my heart is heavy.