Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Film Teacher

I so often hear the question asked, "have you ever been in love?" If someone ever asked me this, I wouldn't know how to answer. At forty years old, I don't really know what romantic love between two people is. Is it physical attraction? Codependency? Relief at not being alone? Excitement over a big fairytale wedding? Compatibility? I don't know. But just for the sake of argument let's say it's like in the movies, where you are completely obsessed with someone, you would die without them, and even the mention of their name makes you tear up with how amazing it is that you found each other. I had this once. I was a seventeen-year-old high school senior and he was my twenty-eight-year-old college film teacher.

It was the fall of 1989. I was graduating from high school a half year early because I hated it. Don't get me wrong, I was good at it - I was valedictorian after all - but I HATED it. I couldn't wait to graduate and get on with my life. And my life, despite my stellar grades, did not include plans of college. Why? Well, in my family's screwed up anti-establishment value system, college was a waste of time and money. My mother flat out told me if I wanted to go to college she would not support me and would not help me pay for it. But I did not have another plan for myself. To say I was scared and adrift at that point is putting it mildly.

However I did love movies and was intent on becoming a filmmaker. I had started taking film production courses at a nearby college at the beginning of my senior year. My first class, Film Production 101, was taught by a nerdy, overweight, but devilishly smart and charismatic teacher named John. He was one of those guys who knew he had no "game" so correctly worked on his intellect and charm to attract women. And boy did he.

At the end of class we all went out to a bar to hang out (this was at a time in New York where seventeen-year-olds could get into bars), and soon enough the two of us were left alone, talking about movies (do you see a pattern here from my previous posts...?) And guess what - turns out he was - everybody, now - JUST MY TYPE.

He suggested I see the movie Don't Look Now. It is an incredible, disturbing nightmare of a movie (I could never handle watching that today - no sir). There is a very interesting sex scene in it which is shot backwards. When he called me a couple of days later to ask me if I'd seen it, I remember saying to myself, "if he asks me about the sex scene, it means he's interested." And he did. And we started dating.

Right about now you're probably thinking, um, how did you, an underage girl, date a man eleven years your senior, your teacher no less? Where was your mother? The answer is - not around! At fourteen I had moved in with my twenty-four-year-old sister in our new stepdad's studio apartment in the East Village while the new stepdad moved in with my mother in our midtown studio apartment. At the time this seemed perfectly normal - and I was thrilled to be "on my own", and in that neighborhood, which I loved. However this gives an indication of my mother's judgment and priorities at the time. So to say I was left to my own devices is an understatement. And young girls like that, especially ones with daddy issues already, are perfect prey for people like John.

That's not to say John was a "predator". Just for the record I never slept with him (much to his chagrin). I think he was just a mixed up guy with a hyperactive romantic sensibility, a drinking problem, and as it turned out a coke problem. Immediately we were "in love", "engaged", and far more complicatedly, both working at the same video store. It got even more complicated when he was fired and I continued to work there. It was the only time he ever got physical with me - he grabbed my neck and shoved me against a wall. It remains the first and last time anyone ever did anything like that to me. I should have ended it there. But I was "in love"! We were going to get married! He often threatened me no one would ever love me like he did. And you know what - turns out he was right. But I'm not convinced that's a bad thing.

Our relationship was completely nuts. We were totally obsessed with each other for upwards of a year. We would have knock-down, drag-out fights, over everything and anything; his ex-girlfriend still contacting him, my refusal to sleep with him, his hatred of my mother (he was kind of right about her, I have to admit), my not leaving my job in protest because he'd been fired. I remember standing on the street and his yelling at me to "get the fuck out of my life!!" and me storming off. That's how ridiculous it got.

I knew I needed to end it by fall of 1990 but quite honestly I was scared of him. He often threatened that something bad would happen to me if I tried to leave him; he was using more coke, showing up on my doorstep in the middle of the night; it was a nightmare. But bizarrely, it ended with a whimper. One day I screwed up my courage to tell him over the phone that I didn't want to see him anymore, and that was it! He said he knew it had to end, too, and it was for the best. And that was that.

I went into a bit of a depression after. I still didn't have a clue how to achieve any of my goals, all of my high school friends were gone to college, I was hideously lonely, and living a hard low-income life in a shitty neighborhood. It was my Working Class Hero years. Doesn't it suck that when you're at your physical peak you're usually the most shiftless and miserable?

I have to admit I chased that "love" dragon for a long, long time, always with John's curse haunting me, that nobody would ever love me the way he did. The first time we kissed I actually felt an electric shock run through my body. So again I ask the question, is that kind of passion just for the young and stupid? Honestly I don't think I'd have time for that BS today. If someone were that into me right away today I'd think they were nuts (and they probably would be). And I do wonder what he thinks about it today. Does he, like me, consider that episode an example of "amour fou"? Just two people at the right time with the right emotional scars coming together to create a big dysfunctional mess? Or does he consider it a great romance? Depending on your world view it could really go either way. A lot of people do in fact consider relationships like ours "love". Again I have no clue what love between two people is, but one thing I do know is that ain't it!

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