Essay in Salon Today

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I have an essay at Salon right now about an inappropriate relationship I had with a counselor at my sleepaway camp when I was 12. That’s me on the right in the shapeless white sweater. I remember that I borrowed it from a friend for the night. One of the great joys of living in a bunk with a bunch of other girls was the communal wardrobe.

It was such a pivotal summer for me that it’s hard for me to look at the picture and not want to go back there and… And what? And stop myself? And change how things turned out? How could I ever wish for that when my life is so rich with blessings today? I’ll take my whole past, every confusing moment of it, if it means I get to have this present. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets when I look at my face in this picture. How could I have thought I was so grown up?

Check out my essay! Leave comments if you feel inspired to jump in the dialogue.

10 thoughts on “Essay in Salon Today

  1. I read your Salon article and it definitely struck a chord with me. There was a serious “knowledge differential” between me and my boyfriend at age 15 and although he was only two years older, he definitely took advantage of it. I didn’t really understand what had happened and how it affected me until quite a bit later after we had broken up, and it definitely had an impact on the choices I made while dating later on. Lucky for me, I met The One in my early 20s and finally found the love and respect I had been looking for. I hope that’s true for you too in your relationship with your husband. We all deserve to heal from those early devastations. And by the way, we’re adoptive parents, too, and that is one gorgeous boy you’ve got! Many blessings to you.

  2. Hi Jillian,

    I read your essay and I thought it was very interesting. But I am a little troubled by the conclusions you draw.

    I am a woman in my early 30s who has some experiences in common with you. As a high school junior, my boyfriend (my first boyfriend) visited me at summer camp. I took him back to my dorm room against regulations, and we were intimate (short of intercourse) when my roommate caught us and told. So I had the same experience of the event getting back to my school where I transformed from nerd to nefarious slut in a short time despite still being a (technical) virgin. I know what is like to walk down the halls thinking people are talking about you and have that be factually true. The experience even haunted me in the first two years at my state college when I was flirting with a cute boy whose younger sister went to my HS and subsequently told me he’d “heard things about me.”

    I also had the experience of the gaze of older men when I was not appropriately aged, including a deeply disturbing incident when a middle aged man at Best Buy told me I looked like the HS girlfriend who had dumped him and broken his heart. I looked in his eyes and saw that he imagined me in a bunch of pieces in different trash bags.

    As a legal adult, I also had the experience of men at fraternity parties when I was excessively intoxicated who came *this close* to having intercourse with me against my will. I always had the impression that fear of legal repercussions and not the intrinsic wrongness of the action stopped them.

    But, as to my issues with your conclusions, I understand I think how you felt being 12 and inappropriately enamored of a much older man aged 20. I do question the conclusion of rape though – it was statutory rape certainly but I can be sympathetic to the 20 year old man awakened suddenly to an enthusiastic and enticing younger girl. He should have said no but I can see that that would be hard at that moment. I can see how your experience harmed you (as I was harmed by my camp experience, borderline suicidal for a time due to bullying by classmates) but I don’t think that makes it rape. Rape is what the unconscious Steubenville girl endured – not what a 12 year old with limited but not nonexistent knowledge of sexual agency experience when she initiates sex with an older man. If he had been 14, would it still be rape in your eyes?

    Just a thought. It struck a cord with me because apparently we have similar unpleasant memories.

    • Thanks for your comment. I don’t consider it rape! The term I use in the essay is “sexual abuse.” These are not one and the same thing.

  3. Great essay … Didn’t you write about this in one of your novels? I can’t remember, but I’ve read it before, no? Where is this guy today? I wonder if he still thinks the same thing? Maybe God has blessed him with a daughter and it haunts him MORE now, also.

  4. Jillian,

    This brave piece hit me hard as the mother of a beautiful 11 year old girl. Thank you for writing it.

    You write about being labeled a “boundary pusher” etc after this incident. I think many girls, myself included, pushed at sexual boundaries at 12, 13, 14 in similar ways, which is developmentally normal. Having an unrequited crush on someone older should be a safe rite of passage for preteens. The adults are supposed to hold the boundaries firm. I read this with a feeling of “there but for the grace of God…”

  5. Jillian,

    I read your Salon piece and then bought an ebook version of “Some Girls”. I enjoyed it. You write beautifully. Your prose is vivid and your observations are astute.

    Just curious, why was Nathan described as the camp’s “archery guy” in the book (Chapter 24), but in the essay he was referred to as the camp’s “swimming counselor”?

    Cheers,

    Andre

    • Salon wanted me to change more identifying details, so that’s why. I’m glad you enjoyed the book!Thanks for reading.

  6. An important piece, Jillian. I know of many people who could benefit from reading this. The society in which we live makes it easy for girls and women to take a disproportionate amount of blame for these life-altering events, making it so hard for them to heal. Thanks for your insights.

  7. At age 15 I had a similar inappropriate relationship with a 32-year-old camp counselor, only it continued for several months after camp was over, even though my single mother (37 at the time) was fully aware of it. At some point the camp director learned about it, and he and my mother simply suggested to both of us that we end it. The counselor did not lose either his connection with the camp or his regular teaching job. For years the whole thing confused me and made me feel bad about myself for some reason. Only when I reached my 30s did I realize he was absolutely out of line, no matter how grown up he might have told himself I was at the time.

  8. When I read this piece, I was relieved. So relieved. Rationally, I knew that this must have happened to someone else. I just hadn’t heard nor asked anyone. I buried it. And now you write about it. I was 14 and the counselor was 23. It went on for three years. Mostly at camp. But, the last year of our relationship, he followed me to my home town. My mother was oblivious. For a few weeks, it was okay. But it wasn’t camp. It became weird. I had no experience in breaking it off. I hadn’t wanted this for so, so, so long. And then it became a nightmare. I simply stopped taking his calls. I asked my mother to not answer the door when he knocked. She never asked why. She never talked to me or helped me figure out what to do. He camped out in front of my house for three days. I didn’t go to school. He finally left. I never stopped thinking about him. Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder. I tracked him down several years ago. He would be 65 now. I called him. Out of the blue. We spoke superficially. We didn’t talk about “it”. It was like he was another person from another life. It didn’t help. You’re right about that first kiss being about power and not love. It haunts me to this day. Thank you so much for putting this out there.

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