It was a chilly November 13 the day the harassment began. I was seventeen years old. That’s what I told him when he started screaming at me to tell him my age, and who did I think I was, and was there anybody in the world that I would listen to? I can tell you quite simply who I was at the time, because I was probably exactly like all of you. I was preppy; I got straight A’s; I was an academic and extra-curricular overachiever, and I was several months into the final year of high school before jetting off to college a province away from my home in Canada.
As for who he was, I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand. His name was Mr. Jordan* and he was staff supervisor of the student council I had sat on for my sophomore, junior, and now senior year. He was middle-aged, balding. His face was always red, as though warning of a temper ever ready to be lost. His eyes were grey and watery and flashed with deceit when he lied, which was often, and without guilt. I imagine they flashed in such a way when he slandered my name to the entire administration, teaching staff, and student population of my small rural high school in southern Ontario. And while more than two years have passed since the harassment took place, I still find it difficult to discern what sparked the fire, and who started it, so to speak, but as long as I knew him, Mr. Jordan was a fire-breathing man. He was the most unpredictable person I’d ever met - and even taking this into account, I could never have imagined the lengths to which he would go to burn me. But let me back up a bit.
In the fall of 2010, as part of the student council executive, one of my many responsibilities was the organization of my school’s biannual clothing order. It was a colossal task, and my co-chair and I were under immense pressure from the start to complete every step by each new deadline handed to us. After the design process was complete, I scrambled to assemble an order form for distribution to the roughly 1000 students and staff members of our close-knit community high school. Ultimately enlisting the secretaries’ help to print the thousand copies needed for distribution before the end of the day they were due, we conquered the deadline with several hours to spare before final bell. It was tight timing, but we did it! I breathed a sigh of relief.
Then Maura*, my co-chair, delivered the thwarting news: Mr. Jordan had vetoed the entire order form. The 1000 plus copies were trash. We were barred from distributing anything without staff approval, and Mr. Jordan refused to “okay” the form. Hearing this, I set out to find him immediately. If we didn’t distribute the order forms before the end of the day, which was a Friday, we would have had to wait until the Monday to send out a new form, setting off our entire schedule, which was timed to precision with the clothing manufacturers, screen-printers, students, council, and school administration. So we weren’t facilitating the Olympics here; we had still devoted an enormous amount of time, energy, and painstaking coordination to a process which was now being entirely disregarded without explanation. At the end of a brief search, I found Mr. Jordan in a staff room with several other teachers in the upstairs science hallway of the school.
“Mr. Jordan!” I called out with relief, under the impression the order form issue could be resolved before day’s end, “You’re just the person I was looking for!”
Mr. Jordan gazed back at me with a steely glare, his jaw set and eyes fixated upon a point just above and between my eyes. I had gotten to know this detached focus over several years working with Mr. Jordan on student council, and immediately upon recognition, grew tense, knowing I’d caught him in a moment of malice. I’d obviously missed something but it was already too late once I caught my error. I realized then that a confrontation was exactly what Mr. Jordan had wanted and I’d foolishly played right into his hands. The issue wasn’t the order form - it was me.
Despite my frustration with him, I scrambled to defuse the mounting tension with enthusiasm. “I was just wondering what I could do to touch up the order form before leaving school today! If it’s something I can fix in the next half hour, we can still get these printed and out before everyone boards busses!”
Delivery just didn’t matter. Mr. Jordan was a heat-seeking missile and I the target. He cocked his head to the side and swiveled his neck my direction but looked right through me, instead.
“This subtitle font should be a point size larger,” he cooed provokingly. “You bolded the title, but you failed to underline it.”
I couldn’t believe what he was suggesting. He was the one who was always breathing down Maura’s and my neck about some new impending deadline; but here he was setting us back irreparably far and off-kilter because of a single font size? I was in disbelief.
“I totally see where you’re coming from, but for the sake of an underline, should we maybe just get these order forms out tonight?” I asked.
That was when the yelling began. First he raised his voice. Then he yelled. Then he was screaming at me, repeating over and over the same question, “How old are you? How old am I?”
I watched as a full-grown man and his superiority complex broke down in front of me, and my simple response was only, “Mr. Jordan, I will not have this conversation with you right now,” before swiftly turning on my heel, walking out the door, and breaking down into sobs in the safety of a distant hallway.