Shaindel Beers’s Story: Hundreds of Dollars

This story is re-posted with permission from Shaindel Beers, it originally appeared on I Believe You It’s Not Your Fault. Shaindel followed up with the WYR Project to share what happened after she shared her story.

shaindel

Dear Younger Sister,

This happened in 2004 when I was twenty-seven, which is probably older than you are now, but that’s part of why this is so important for me to tell you—because a lot of times people act like this only happens in high school or college. Or you feel especially dumb about what happened if you were older than high school or college age. I already had one graduate degree and was in my first year of teaching full-time at a community college in Florida. One of my former students from when I was adjuncting in another state had gone on to graduate school and was TA-ing at a small Midwestern university. I was finishing up my MFA in creative writing at a low-residency program while teaching college full-time, and was starting to get some poems published pretty steadily. I’d been nominated for some poetry awards and won some others. I thought I was finally getting somewhere in life. So, when I got an invitation from my former student (I’ll call him A.M. from now on) to do a poetry reading and talk at his university, I was thrilled! I’d never been invited anywhere like this before. I had to pay my travel all up front myself, but after I was there and did my reading, I’d be presented with a modest honorarium. After airfare and a hotel stay, almost nothing would be left over, but it was still an exciting proposition. It was the first time someone was paying me to do a reading at a university.

I made all of the arrangements, and A.M. offered to let me stay at his apartment in graduate student housing. He pointed out that it would save money on a hotel, and I could keep more of my honorarium. At this time, honestly, no alarm bells were going off. I was doing just what male faculty do all the time, right? Flying to a school, getting picked up by a student, and even staying with a former student to save money. Looking back, I didn’t even imagine anything could go wrong. A.M. had been an amazing student writer. I was elated that someone who I had taught was already in graduate school and was going out of his way to advocate for my work.

To save even more money by not renting a car, and to catch up with friends, another male friend from my adjuncting days (I’ll call him D.D.) picked me up at the airport in Chicago, and then we drove a few hours to the university. A.M. gave us a brief tour of the campus. I saw the classroom where I would be giving a talk to the college creative writing club and posters with my picture on them advertising my reading. A.M. pulled a poster down from a bulletin board and gave it to me to keep as a souvenir, smiling as he handed it to me. There was an awkward moment when we had to drive across campus for something, and the three of us tried to squeeze into the cab of D.D.’s pick-up truck. I ended up sitting on A.M.’s lap, which was awkward, but not unheard of when three people are going a very short distance in a truck.

After the drive from the classroom to the coffee shop, where I would read, I met A.M.’s nephews. I thought it was strange that his brother and nephews were there, and then the little boys called me, “Auntie.” My skin crawled; I thought maybe they were confused. I knew I had the same name as someone else in his family, so I brushed it off. The reading went well with the exception of the espresso machine in the college coffee bar going off loudly at odd times. I read the poems I had planned on even though it was uncomfortable that there were children at a poetry reading when I had some poems with clearly adult material.

After the reading, D.D., A.M., and I went out to a bar with the entire creative writing club. I found it weird that the entire creative club was male, but I didn’t question it. I drank a lot. I was the guest poet. Everyone kept bringing me drinks. In graduate school for creative writing, some faculty had joked that the rules for doing a reading at a university were not to get too drunk and not to sleep with someone else’s students. I might have had too many drinks, but I wasn’t going to sleep with anyone’s students. I was just having a good time. I was being cool, and students were looking up to me and asking me questions about my influences, telling me which poems of mine they had really liked. I even called my boyfriend in Florida to tell him how well my reading had gone, and D.D. and A.M. both told him how much fun we were having, that I gave a great reading, that he should be really proud of me. He told me that he was sorry he couldn’t be there, but he was so proud of me for being a guest poet at a university.

When we went back to A.M.’s apartment, we all hung out for a while, talking about the community college we’d all met at, D.D. and I as adjunct instructors and A.M. as a student. D.D. decided he wanted to turn in and go to bed. A.M. wanted to run a quick errand, and I went with him. We went to a convenience store to get orange juice or something to mix with vodka (I don’t remember; it’s been a long time), but I do remember that A.M. bragged about me to the clerk. I was the university’s guest poet. I was going to be famous someday. I was silly; I beamed. No one had ever bragged about me this way to everyone, ever before.

Once we got back to his apartment, everything changed. He was all over me. I wasn’t going to have sex with him. There was no way. Things got manipulative fast. This is what people do when they’re attracted to each other. Why are you such a prude? This is what adults do. I wasn’t attracted to him. I’d never thought about him remotely in a sexual way. I thought of him as a student, and possibly as a brother. I was in a committed relationship. He had just talked to my boyfriend on the phone maybe an hour before. You don’t even have a book out. We paid hundreds of dollars to bring you here. Didn’t you wonder about that? Don’t you think we could have paid for an author with a book? I don’t remember what happened from that point. If I went in to sleep where D.D. was sleeping or if A.M. passed out on the floor, and I stayed on the couch.

The next day, A.M. somewhat rushed D.D. and me out. While D.D. was in the shower, A.M. said, “I kept trying to have sex with you, but you were a mannequin at that point. Or maybe I had whiskeydick.” He laughed. It was clear that he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. He wanted to have sex with me, and he would have if circumstances had been different. I was in shock. I would only recognize this tone later—that I was something that he felt entitled to.

I didn’t really talk on the way back to Chicago for my flight. When we stopped for lunch, D.D. asked what was wrong. Suddenly, he said, “Oh my God. He raped you, didn’t he?” I was still in shock. I said that I thought he had tried to, but I still didn’t really understand what had happened. I was so confused about the things he had said, You don’t even have a book out. We paid hundreds of dollars to bring you here. Didn’t you wonder about that? Don’t you think we could have paid for an author with a book? They seemed to echo in my head. Maybe I was stupid. Maybe I should have seen what was happening. Maybe I wasn’t really a writer. Maybe this was the only reason anyone would ever ask me to do anything academic.

I was still so traumatized a few months later when A.M. asked for a letter of recommendation for a graduate program in creative writing, I wrote him one. I even still have it on my computer. I somehow wrote a glowing recommendation that included this paragraph:

I have seen A.M. interact with warmth and intelligence with his undergraduate students at (university) where he has taught one section of (course number), and I was impressed with his nurturing and collegial relationship with the undergraduate students in the college’s Creative Writers’ Society when I visited the school last semester.

It wasn’t until after reading my students’ personal essays about rape and the very public cases of Steubenville and Maryville that I even realized what had happened to me was the same. His manipulations and friendly emails afterwards had thrown me off balance, made me wonder if it had really happened, if I was really to blame. I haven’t told anyone until nearly thirteen years later that this happened to me, and I want to tell you what I tell my students when they choose to write about rape and sexual abuse in their personal essays—If something like this has happened to you, whether you are seven or seventeen or twenty-seven, I believe you, keep telling your story, there are people who need to hear it, people it will help, it wasn’t your fault.

– Shaindel Beers

Author

WYR

WYR

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