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Cory Hanson couldn't understand it. He wasn't gay; at least he didn't think so – boys repulsed him, and girls … well, they were okay. Thing was, whenever he thought about sex, he didn't think about girls, he thought about Ms. Kristi, his third grade teacher, someone he hadn't seen in over five years.

Two years ago was the first time he thought about her. Like a repressed memory, it trickled into his consciousness. A year later her name popped up again. And now, a year after that, he remembered again how Ms. Kristi had directed the class to line up by the door to get ready for gym. Then she had pulled him aside and asked him to stay behind.

An itch on his brain, he'd scratch it … away it would go.

Now he thought of her, maybe, once a month, usually when he was dressing for bed. He'd sit stark naked on the bed with his legs crossed and stare down at himself, at the blond peach fuzz turning dark and curly. Something wasn't right – this he knew.

At the ripe age of fourteen, he'd never yet had a hard on. All of his friends had, some even experienced, so they said. Imagining that towering feeling of sexual climax, thoughts of Ms. Kristi would command his attention, not in a sexual way but in a way that … well, he wasn't sure. But he did know it had something to do with the time she asked him to stay behind, a memory now invading his mind twice a week, maybe more.

An itch on his brain that, despite scratching like mad, wouldn't go away.

For the next two years, Cory constantly questioned himself: Why couldn't he get it up? Was there something wrong with him? Why couldn't he forget about Ms. Kristi?

With those questions came others: Why didn't he like girls? Marisa – she was pretty, in a cute sort of way. So why couldn't he get excited about her? He brushed the thoughts away, while further etching in the back of his mind the question: Why couldn't he get a hard on? And why the guilt, as though it was his fault?

Each night now, obsessed, or maybe possessed, he'd touch himself. It wouldn't rise. He'd stare at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar on the back of his bedroom door and rub himself. It refused to grow. Kneading it like dough, it still wouldn't rise. Even fantasizing about Marisa turned him off; though it wasn't Marisa, it was the whole idea: sex, intimacy, trust in another. It went so far as to affect their relationship. In fact, it affected all of his relationships, even with himself.

Cory wondered if the itch in his mind would ever go away. It didn't. Like stepping on pre-chewed gum on the sidewalk – long strands of gum stretching string-like between the shoe and the ground – each step, the stickiness snapping at the ground, left a reminder of someone's inconsiderate act. But gum wasn't stuck on his mind. Ms. Kristi was.

Over the next few days Cory made a concerted effort to not think about her. But that one time she had touched him steeped in his mind, his trust coerced. That's all it was, right, just one time? Then why did it bother him? Why couldn't he get aroused?

All he could think of was Ms. Kristi. Guilt set in. He could have said no, right?

"Come here, Cory," he could hear her say as if she was doing it just then. "You can trust me, I won't hurt you. I promise … trust me."

He trusted her. She didn't hurt him. So why the perpetual guilt? It wasn't his fault. She was the adult. She led him on.

He could've said no. Really! He did have a choice. He could've said no and walked away. Over and done…

But at the time he enjoyed it, or thought he did, or maybe … he wasn't sure anymore. Maybe it was because he was supposed to enjoy it. He was a boy and she his teacher, the stuff of wet dreams. So why didn't he enjoy it? Or say no? Or walk away? Why? What the hell was wrong with him?

Sitting on his bed, Cory rubbed himself. It wouldn't rise. He did it faster. It flopped lifeless to the side; he was unable to feel sensuous pleasure, only guilt. He thought again of Ms. Kristi. It wouldn't rise.

Echoing in his head were the words Ms. Kristi had said eight years earlier: "I promise … trust me." His mind swirled with darkness. Bright colors spiraled and spun faster, a carousel gone amok. "Trust me." He envisioned her lips, whispering seductively, "Trust me." Bright orange and blue and green colors whipped in circles. "Trust me," her lips, dressed in cherry red, whispered again.

On the bed, Cory shot upright, his heart pounding, his head filling with guilt. Confusion set in. Ms. Kristi had touched him. Why hadn't he enjoyed it? Why, at the age of sixteen, couldn't he get a hard on? Why didn't he like girls? Why couldn't he trust anyone of the opposite sex? Why couldn't he stop thinking about Ms. Kristi?

She invaded his private space. So why did he protect her or speak up? Why? He knew it was wrong.

Compensating for the guilt, he touched himself again. It hurt. He did it again. Red rash marks swelled around his penis. It hurt. It wasn't hard. Trust succumbed to guilt.

Years earlier, he knew he could've stopped her. No, wait! He should've stopped her. Why hadn't he?

"Trust me." He heard the words again. Violently he shook his head, trying to rid from it a demon wet dream turned nightmare. "Trust me." The words echoed in his skull. "I promise, you can trust me."

Guilt, echoes, perpetual itching: none of it would go away. No one knew his little secret. It wouldn't go away. Attempting to brush it off, it wouldn't go away. It was his fault. He'd been sexually abused. What could he do? It wouldn't go away. No one would believe him. Why was the victim the one who lived in guilt?

An itch on his brain, it turned to scar … it would never go away.

***

Copyright February 5, 1999

Hidden Guilt by Thor Kirleis

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