Love Story: Witness 87
I fell in love with Jack—as I’ll call him—in February of my junior year at St. George’s, the elite ocean-side boarding school. St. George’s was a long tradition in my family. When in 1977 my parents were assigned to a Foreign Service posting in Laos, they thought it fortunate the school had gone coed several years before. I would be the first Roberts girl to attend.
According to my friend Anne, Jack was weird. He had high cheekbones, straight longish brown hair, and a long straight nose. He exuded broody-literary cool, a sensitive soul but with a sense of humor about it. He loved Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, e.e. cummings, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He played the guitar and listened to jazz. He liked to wear black leather gloves indoors and when we were at meals in the dining hall (chandeliers and wood paneling) liked to wiggle his gloved hands fiendishly at Anne, strangler-style, causing her to shriek and the rest of us to laugh.
Jack used to pay a lot of visits to one of the nurses in the school infirmary. Then in her mid-30s, Nurse G. (as the students called her) had curled blonde hair and wore full nurse regalia: white starched dress, white cap, white nylons, white crepe-soled shoes. She had a youthful yet motherly charm rendered even more appealing by her willingness to bend the rules for her favorites. And all of us in the class of 1980 were her favorites, because, as she explained, she had arrived with us as ninth-graders.
Boys and girls alike were in search of a listening ear and a friendly word, and the infirmary was the place to go when you wanted in from the cold. Nurse G. dispensed tea and sympathy. If you’d missed breakfast, she’d make you toast; if you were a girl with a broken heart, she’d write you a dysmenorrhea excuse slip so you could get out of sports practice.
My girlfriends and I were devotees. “Nursie G.’s on duty, let’s go visit,” someone would say on a Saturday afternoon, and off we’d rush to sit on the counter, weigh ourselves on the medical scale, and tell her everything going on in our lives.
My first connection with Jack happened in the infirmary on a January evening. I had gone after study hours to grouse about an unwanted change to my class schedule. As I stood in the fluorescent-lit hallway complaining tearily, Nurse G. making empathetic noises, Jack walked out of the nurses’ office. He was wearing what looked like a silver-fox-fur jacket, lavishly fluffy, over his blazer and tie. “How do you like my coat?” he asked, striking a pose.
I didn’t realize it was Nurse G.’s coat; I did, however, have a 15-year-old girl’s instinct for flirting. I walked up to him, said, “I love your coat. Can I cry on it ?” and put my face on his shoulder.
I never slept with him, but we had make-out sessions that seemed magically exciting, one on a cold dark train—or was it a bus?—headed to New Hampshire for our class’s ski weekend, lights flickering by outside like the beam of an old movie projector, his coat (an ordinary parka this time) draped over our heads as we sipped from a bottle of Amaretto and kissed.
We talked about T.S. Eliot, Tim Curry, and Ancient Greece. We went down to the beach and sat in the dunes and he played his guitar for me.
Equally good were the cozy evenings we spent with Nurse G. when she had night shift. As juniors, Jack and I were supposed to be in our rooms or the library for study hours, but we would go to the infirmary instead. There in the tiny office from 8 to 11 pm Nurse G. sat at the desk doing paperwork and we sat close by in folding chairs doing our homework or reading books, all three of us silent in the glow of the gooseneck lamp. I remember one evening I was reading The Princess Bride and thinking I would never be so happy again as long as I lived.
On an evening in early April, Jack broke up with me. We were in a classroom, one of the nighttime make-out spots. He sat on the floor with his head in his hands and said, “I guess I want to break up.” There had been no warning of this, so at first I didn’t understand what he was saying. When it sank in I ran out of the classroom, through the corridors back to my dorm, out the external door with the steel-bar handle, and across the grass to the stone bench behind the hedges. I sat down, bent double, and howled in pain.
Nurse G. was on duty a few days later. I went to see her and told her what had happened. She said she knew, and was very angry with Jack for hurting me. She had given him quite a scolding, she said. We both rolled our eyes, commiserating about the perfidy of men.
I took up with another boyfriend and eventually moved on to college, more romances, grad school, husband, career, daughter, life.
In the summer of 2015, St. George’s, pressured by several alumni who had been raped or molested during their time there, launched an investigation to uncover the truth about decades of sexual abuse. Dozens of witnesses came forward to speak to the independent investigator. In September 2016, a 390-page report was released to the public. “Faculty and staff members at St. George’s sexually abused at least 51 students during the 1970s and 1980s,” the report states.
The report names six adult perpetrators. We alums already knew about five of them: four teachers and one athletic trainer, all male. The sixth was a surprise: A part-time nurse. Female.
When I saw Nurse G.’s name in the Boston Globe article about the report, my first reaction was: Oh, come on. She was no abuser. That is ridiculous!
I opened the report and found her name in the summary section. Not ridiculous. I knew who the male student was; of course I did. Then again, a lot of boys used to hang around the infirmary. Maybe, I thought, it was one of those other boys.
I turned to the detailed section of the report. “When G______ distanced herself from the student shortly after his graduation, the student attempted suicide by driving his moped into a wall.” He sustained five skull fractures but survived.
So it was Jack. When I’d gone back in 1990 for my tenth reunion, Nurse G. herself had told me about the terrible moped accident. Was anyone in touch with Jack now? she had asked, standing there in the examining room surrounded by reunion-goers, her old devotees. No, we said. How I miss him, she said.
The account provided by Witness 87 (as Jack is labeled in the report) includes many details. He and Nurse G. were lovers for two years, beginning in his junior year. They had sex in the infirmary whenever she had night shift. They had sex in his dorm room and in motels. She would warn him not to talk about being tired the next day. At one point she told him she was pregnant with his child, despite her tubal ligation, and that she wanted to keep it; he was conflicted, but agreed. Later she told him she had miscarried while jogging.
He was 17 and 18, over the age of consent, so none of it was rape, legally speaking. Nevertheless it is clear from the account that she manipulated and took ugly advantage of a child. Of children.
What sort of therapy is in order when you find out, decades on, that your first love left you for your mother figure? Well, Freudian psychoanalysis, obviously, plus viewings of The Graduate.
But can I honestly say this messed me up when I didn’t even know it was happening?
I feel sad for Jack and hope he’s ok, wherever he is. But there is nothing I can do for him now, and there was nothing I could have done for him then. As for Nurse G., there is nothing I want to say to her. It is not my job to produce the remake.
At boarding school, a kind lady made me toast and listened to my troubles. A beautiful boy kissed me passionately and played his guitar for me on the beach.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
– Jocelyn Davis is a writer living in Santa Fe, NM. Her first career was in leadership development, consulting to large companies. In her latest book, The Greats on Leadership, she combines her business expertise with her liberal arts education. She is an alumna of St. George’s School and Swarthmore College.