Help! I Lied About My Teacher Hurting Me, and She Lost Her Job.

Advice on manners and morals.
May 15 2014 6:00 AM

Lies and Consequences

My teacher lost her job because I said she hurt me. It wasn’t true.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I am a grandmother who is haunted by something I did when I was a girl. Many, many years ago while I was at school I did something clumsy and got a bruise. My mother noticed it as soon as I came home and asked me what happened. She was always making me feel stupid, and I didn’t want to hear her put me down. So I said my teacher pinched me. I think I was hoping for a little “poor baby” from her and then the whole thing would blow over. It didn’t. Mom went ballistic and took me to school the next day and raised hell with the principal and teacher I had accused. There was an investigation and I was too scared to back down. I stuck to my story and the teacher was either fired or quit to avoid criminal charges. I felt terrible, especially when she asked me, in tears, why I was telling that lie. It has always bothered me since. When I became a young mother I was afraid I might get in trouble for what I did, so I have never told anyone. Now I am a grandmother and what I did haunts me. It is so far in the past that I can’t see what I can do to make restitution to the teacher. Surely she is retired by now. But this has bothered me all my life and I would like to do something.

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—Guilty

Dear Guilty,
I can understand your being haunted by this, but the fact that your act has distressed you all these years shows that you are a decent person who, when you were a child who felt unloved, acted out. Your letter brings up a larger societal issue. We know that many people are horribly hurt and abused and never speak up, or speak up and aren’t believed—I hear from these victims often. But we also have to keep in mind that sometimes accusers make things up, and that sometimes people who proclaim their innocence are telling the truth. You already know, Guilty, that what you did happened so long ago that there is little likelihood you could find this teacher—and I don’t think you should start searching. After she left your school, the chances are that she was able to continue her career elsewhere, and let’s hope that long ago she put this incident behind her. Your letter reminds me of one from a few years ago written by a man who grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father. As a 6-year-old he was in a public restroom with his father, when he falsely said another man in the bathroom was making him feel weird. He did it because he was afraid to go home with his own father. The police were called, and the letter writer has been wracked with guilt ever since. Like you, he could not make amends directly, but I suggested he donate money to the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. I make the same suggestion for you. It should help you feel better to do something concrete to address such injustices. You’ve never told anyone about this until now, so it must be a great relief to bring this episode into the light. Now it’s time to recognize the person who did it was a hurting little girl, and forgive her.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been married to a great guy for over five years and I know how much he cares about me. My husband has the typical “man habits” but one issue is getting hard to dismiss. Like every man, he forgets to zip his fly occasionally. When I tell him he seems a little uncomfortable, which I don’t understand. This seems to happen much more frequently (and graphically) when my friends are around. At first, my friends were amused but now they find it strange. When my best friend was around a couple of weeks ago and this happened again (she has witnessed this at least a dozen times), she pulled me aside and suggested that this can’t simply be a clumsy coincidence. I know it was underhanded of me, but when I knew she was stopping by the other day, I left my phone hidden in the bathroom with the video on. When I looked at the video, although it was not that clear, it seems to show my husband opening his fly. I regret what I did and I’m afraid to ask my husband about this. Maybe I should I simply ignore the whole thing, given how harmless it is. Is this a real issue, and if so what can or should I do about it?

—Unzipped

Dear Unzipped,
The kind of typical man habits I hear wives complain about concern the position of the toilet seat and the production of gas. It is not a typical man habit for your husband to forget to zip his zipper and pretend he’s the junk man when your female friends are around. You indicate they aren’t just getting an eyeful of his tightie whities. Indeed it is strange that when your friends are hanging out at your home, your husband is there on the couch, hanging out. I surmise that your spouse’s discomfort when you alert him that his zipper is down is not out of embarrassment, but because he wants it down so he can get a thrill. If I’m right, his little game is repulsive and not harmless. Maybe he’s canny enough only to let loose when he’s in the privacy of his home. But if this is a compulsion, there’s a danger he could escalate to doing it in public. That would be indecent exposure, which could earn him jail time and a sex offender status. You say you’re afraid to ask your husband about this. I’m assuming it’s not because you actually fear him, but because this will finally force you two to face a psychological issue you’ve been keeping under wraps. That is, your husband has a problem, and he needs help.

—Prudie

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