In my daydreams it ended like this: I would gather up the courage to Google him and find his address; I would rent a car; I would plug the address into the GPS and drive however many hours; I would find the local bar on my phone; I would wait there, sipping soda until he showed up for a cheap beer; I would order a beer myself and then another and another and another; I would lock eyes with him; he wouldn’t recognize me; I would have him take me to his home. Skip forward, he’s dead.
In my dreams it doesn’t end.
In real life it ended like this: It was late Friday night, or early Saturday morning. I had insomnia again. I checked my phone and saw a text from my best friend from childhood. It said: “Did you know Mr. MacNally died?”
It may have been just the shock of his name that startled me to tears. For the longest time, I avoided saying it. In my diary I often referred to HIM, or you when feeling brave. I only wrote his name out once. When I’d had to speak it, when I still talked about HIM regularly with classmates, I simply called him MacNally. To call him Mr. MacNally would have afforded him a measure of respect; to call him Scott, a kind of intimacy. If I bring him up at all now, it’s with my shrink, and he is that one teacher.
Saturday at 5 a.m., I conjured him up again, searching for his obituary. My computer screen glowed white around the letters of his full name. Scott MacNally is, of course, a pseudonym. I can’t say his real name without giving away too much about myself and without the possibility of horrifying his mother, Karen.
That is her real name, according to the obituary. I don’t know how developed her Google skills are, but I don’t want to risk her discovering anything about her dead son she doesn’t know already. I don’t believe in blaming the mother. So I’ll transmute the full weight of his real name into another, and I’ll say the whole thing: Scott James MacNally.
He rarely called me Lori, by which I mean the actual first name that Lori stands in for. He called me Ms. Adorable — rather, the surname that I have since replaced. I don’t much use my real name these days outside of official business and with old friends. I have a new name now. Lori is short for Dolores, which is long for Lolita.
“The tip of the tongue taking a trip” — I wanted to reclaim her. She isn’t Lo or Lola or Dotty or Dolores. She is Lori. Lori Adorable, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the sexualization forced on young women. I’ve imbued it with the full force of my real name, and so when I tell you that Scott MacNally called me Mssssssssssssss. Adorable, dragging out the sibilant until he could see my face flush, I feel it now: that same flush, that shame sizzling.
That was the initial hint: my name. He learned it first out of all the students, and he afforded it that measure of respect. Not Dolly at school, but Ms. Adorable. He was impressed by me. This didn’t strike me as odd; teachers have always liked me. But Scott MacNally wasn’t like other teachers. According to the psychological evaluation I was later granted access to after my parents threatened a lawsuit, Scott MacNally was in a state of arrested development. He hadn’t ever grown into an adult way of interacting with the world, hadn’t ever formed the correct emotional boundaries.
He mistook a bright 13-year-old for a mature individual, and he interpreted enthusiasm for learning as enthusiasm for him. He developed an “obsession” that was “inappropriate,” though he didn’t realize it. It seemed that the psychologist doing the evaluation — like the English teacher I first told, like the teacher’s assistant/union representative she told, like the vice principal she told, like the principal she told, like the superintendant he told, like the school board he told — wanted to excuse Scott MacNally from having to be a bad man. He simply didn’t know what he was doing. They didn’t either.
I did. I pieced together the clues the way I would have pieced together a case had I been a lawyer instead of a bright 13-year-old. I was a child of the Internet age, which means I had access to a world of information, and the knowledge to sort through it. A decade before I googled “Scott MacNally teacher” and found an obituary, I searched on that phrase and found a short article in the local newspaper. Scott MacNally was fired in 1998 by the school board the next town over. They refused him tenure and told him to get out. The article didn’t make clear why he was fired.
Likewise, there was no explanation for why he was hired in 1999 by my school district. Or why, in 2003, after the psychological evaluation was filed, they gave him tenure. I found out — not through the Internet but by asking the right questions of the right people — that I was not the first girl to make this kind of complaint. And yet I knew, somehow, in my bones, that Scott MacNally’s tenure was entirely my fault. I knew that everything he had done to me and would do in the future was my fault.
It was my fault, because I hadn’t filed charges. I was told that a real lawyer would ask to see my diaries and my instant-message conversations to make sure I wasn’t a liar or a slut. It was my fault, because I probably was a liar and a slut, and I couldn’t acquiesce to proving otherwise. My private thoughts and conversations were the only inviolable pieces of me. I clung to them as the realization broke around me that there is no such thing as justice.
This was its own devastation. It was a philosophical destruction so total that destruction itself became my philosophy. It was my identity and my only interest. I was a bright 13-year-old, and so I taught myself why and how to ruin.
I went through the public library’s login to Lexus Nexus, and I learned how to do academic research. I paid all I could in hoarded spare change to print scholarly articles on trauma and abuse. I pored over them with a highlighter, and I understood, but it didn’t change the way I felt. It didn’t stop the “trauma re-enactment compulsion”: the self-injury, the seduction of strange men two, three times my age. I talked to dozens of men in online chatrooms and selected the most prestigious ones. I met up with them in the mall the next state over only to have them drive me back across state lines again. I did this because the legal literature told me it would make the crimes federal. I was “taking a trip of three steps down,” until 2006, when at the age of 17, I stopped.
Nov. 5 ’06 10:30 PM
Mike [my younger brother’s best friend] has HIM this year. Or had. Do you know what Mike told me tonight? They finally fired HIM. For being f—— drunk.
Nov. 6 ’06 2:15 AM
Things go on for you. It’s taken a long time — so long — but now I know you’re finally where you’re supposed to be: away from little girls. And getting help! (Supposedly.) Frankly, I’d rather you just die. You will eventually, and until you do, you’ll just keep heading down. I know because I know destruction and I know pain and I know you. You introduced me to the field, and now I’m an expert, and I can consult my research and say, “Things will just keeping getting worse for you, Scott MacNally.”
I kept careful records in pencil on paper, because I expected to need them again one day. The process of remembering isn’t new; the preparation for death is as old as life. I hadn’t prepared for Scott MacNally to die so soon. He was only 43. But I’d prepared myself, at least, to piece together the final details. I did it without thinking. I looked at the obituary date: May 25, 2013. I looked for the date of death. There wasn’t one. The article simply stated he died “unexpectedly the last weekend of April.” Horror settled on my skin like a million little flies, followed by a sinking sensation.
I know why; I’ve read the literature. I know that dying alone and rotting for three weeks isn’t an ugly enough death for Scott MacNally, because he can’t die for me. Technology has evolved, but fear remains the same — there is no progress to push past it. There is only the slow process of forgetting, which I’ve now catalogued here forever.
Editor’s note: Some minor details were changed to obscure the teacher’s and Lori’s identities.