The shock of the familiar

When a teacher turns out to be a dead ringer for your ex-boyfriend, what's a girl to do?


Sandra E. Stevens
May 7, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

I fell in love with his name first. William McCrory. A no-nonsense
name, crisp like the plaid shirts he wore to class. If students are good at
researching anything, it's teachers, and I was impressed with something a
fellow biology student had said to me. "Oh, you've just got to take a class
with William McCrory," this lovely lass confided between bites of a chocolate
bar. I liked the mmm sound connecting his
first and last name. I threw out the rest of my own candy bar and signed up for his English class.

Handsome as the world is cruel, this poor young man could have driven a
tank through the classroom wall and still needed protection from my ardor. What was it about him I had to have first?

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Day One. I could barely see him, but I could sense him. While my glasses served as a paperweight somewhere on my writing desk at home, I was squinting at a loosely scrawled question on the blackboard. McCrory wanted to know what we were reading that week -- presumably for our own pleasure, but instead of having students volunteer such telling information, he asked us to stand up one by one and articulate an answer. Some failed his first test. "Do periodicals count?" one fuzzbrain inquired. My turn came and I almost fainted from a desire to -- to what exactly? When a sexy teacher has a name like McCrory, you know what authors bring you to your knees. O'Casey? Well, the incendiary
playwright could be too political for our McHoney here. Synge, perhaps?
Might think I'm looking for a playboy. "Memories of a Catholic Girlhood" is a
safe bet, but everyone's read that, especially at a private school like this.
I murmured "Angela's Ashes" then listened for a sign of approbation. It was
something in the sound of his voice. That's what I had to have first, that sweet indolent voice rocking me with passionate nothings -- baby darling sweetheart it's OK you're with me now no one will ever hurt you again.

Then McCrory said he was reading John O'Hara -- but of course! -- which
impressed me greatly, though I was disturbed by the title: "BUtterfield 8."

Day Two was even worse. With my spectacles perched where they belonged, I
could see I had to have him. McCrory was just my type. Hair almost long,
black and silky and smoothed on the sides to make room for his beautiful
face, which reminded me of a poem I wrote once about a voice holding me
down then picking me up carefully, the cadence of words nudging us
gently like the ocean. I wanted to kiss him. My mother always said a man
with thin lips is stingy with his love so avoid thin lips. My love had lips born to lock with mine; I wanted to sweep them into the
darkness and pummel them with my hunger long into the night. I wanted to
linger around his cheeks, so smooth and fair like a woman's almost, kiss one
cheek until he turned the other. By the end of the week, I had him spending
the rest of his life with me.

So irrational! Absolute insanity! I had experienced lust at first
sight before, but this was different. I knew this fellow. I had long since
loved -- and been wounded by -- this man. Who was he?

By Monday of Week Two, I had made an appointment to drop the class. William -- let's dispense with formalities here -- insisted on my staying, even after I confessed that my powerful attraction for him was keeping me up nights, even making me ill. I couldn't eat. What could taste sweeter than his skin after an obliviously decadent day at the beach? Sleep was just a curtain drawn over my waking fantasies. A virago of an alarm would instruct me back to the world, back to the tease of existence where I would find pillows shaped like balloon animals and sheets kicked impatiently to the floor during the fervent struggle of my wayward needs.

William, with his dear face blushing a warm shade of pomegranate, said
not to worry, this kind of thing happens to teachers all the time, especially
to him, and wasn't I aware of the innocuous brevity of a schoolgirl crush?

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"Just because English happens to be a lovely language," William said with
a sardonic smile, "doesn't mean we can't be logical."

Logical. Oliver, my last boyfriend, invoked that word to back up his
side of every argument. It was always illogical of me not to want to spend
every Friday night partying with his friends. It was irrational of me to be
hurt when my beloved showed up an hour late for dinner. Foolish for me not
to want to see pictures he had kept of his last girlfriend who left him for
another woman. Crazy. Senseless. Non mens sana in corpore sano. But
William couldn't be reminding me of Ollie, could he? Irish Catholic backgrounds aside, they were still two very different people. They had to be.

Oliver and I had met in a bookstore -- so romantic. He was reading the
marginal handwriting defacing a copy of "Appointment in Samarra," John O'Hara's first novel. We started talking about that and soon we were on the subject of "BUtterfield 8," his 1935 portrait of New York's rough and ruthless speakeasy generation.

"Twenty-five years old is too young to die," Ollie quipped, about one of the characters in the book. "Even for a call girl."

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"Especially for a call girl," my rejoinder was, and within six months
we were looking forward to spending our first Christmas together.

Three days before that Christmas though, Ollie was arrested for
soliciting an undercover policewoman posing as a streetwalker. He was
sentenced to attend a two-week workshop taught by a former sex worker called
"Post Arrest Trauma: Breaking the Cycle of Prostitution." Ollie begged me
not to break up with him. He said, in fact, I was being childish by not giving
him another chance. Didn't Elizabeth Hurley forgive Hugh's paying a
California hooker $60 for oral sex?

It would have been too easy to say, "Sorry Ollie, you're no Hugh Grant."

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Instead I went with, "Look, it'd be different if you cheated on some
model-actress type, but you didn't. You cheated on me."

I hadn't given Ollie another thought until that first day of class. I
began to notice certain inflections and tones of William's voice mirrored
those of Ollie's. Their mannerisms were the same. Even their clothes came
out of matching closets! Do we all really have a double or are women just
programmed to fall for the same cads over and over again?

Now when I research teachers I arrange appointments with them before making out my schedule. I don't need another class with someone I've dated before. Next semester I'll be retaking the class with a nun who reminds me of my mother. I may start washing my dishes and making my bed more often but at least I won't be harried with sexual anxiety attacks. Hopefully.

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Sandra E. Stevens

Sandra E. Stevens is a writer and student living in Seattle

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