My debut novel, The Revelation of Beatrice Darby, was never intended to be semi-autobiographical. Naturally, I envisioned my title character as the quintessential literary heroine beleaguered by unrequited love and the societal restrictions of her era. But as with most stories, the characters writers create become organic. At times, it seemed that this magnificent, imaginary young woman was telling me her story, and I was merely typing it. My inner teenager must’ve recognized herself in Beatrice and realized she could finally explore her locked-away feelings from the safe distance of time, maturity, and a whole lot of life experience. Like Beatrice, I had a secret fascination with a much older, inaccessible woman, my high school business teacher. I was anxiously, embarrassingly, crazy in love with her much the way Beatrice feels about Abby Gill. And like Abby, my teacher was enchanting. I fell under a tantalizing spell of authority, charm, and forbidden sex appeal that rendered me a jubilant, stammering mess around her.
In my essay, “Girl Crush: The Perils of Being Hot for Teacher in the 80s,” published online by T/Our Magazine, I revisit this secret place in my adolescence, and how it felt juggling bare-handed the flaming balls of friendship, fitting in, and a desperate fear of exposure. Although America’s criteria for what was socially acceptable in Beatrice’s adolescence in the 1950s differed sharply from mine in the 1980s, the one thing that hadn’t evolved was the overall sentiment toward homosexuality. Yes, the consequences of coming out in the 80s weren’t quite as severe—I never feared being chased through the woods like Frankenstein by a mob of torch-wielding townies—but coming out as a lesbian in the 1980s was essentially tantamount to social suicide.
While I had succeeded in passing as a “normal” high school girl, that success came at a price: two subsequent decades of chronic panic disorder. It also damaged my self-worth, leaving me grasping for self-acceptance until I was nearly forty years old and in the process of clearing out mental debris from the end of a long-term relationship.
I flatter myself to think the character of Beatrice Darby is a version of me. In a small way, I’ve found redemption in her, a heroine to be admired for her uncompromising will to fashion her life from her own custom-designed mold rather than a cookie cutter used a thousand times before. I hope readers will enjoy rooting for her as she perseveres through every fretful, awkward, unbearable situation throughout her journey. I root for her because she’s flawed yet triumphant, and no matter how hard she stumbles or falls, she always manages to pull herself up by her sensible shoe straps.