Textbook Love Affair

A 39-year-old teacher falls in love with his 17-year-old student, and everybodys life goes a little crazy

This was young Sarah's only trouble. Sallie liked to brag to her friends that Sarah was the "easiest teenager"—and that her teenage years ended when she was 13.

And by all accounts, Sarah was a good kid. She planned to go to a good college and major in English or journalism. While the other high school kids were partying, she stayed at home and read or played guitar. She was also quick to cast judgment on her peers in the pointed editorials she wrote for her high school paper, where she was opinion editor. At times, she was incredibly opinionated and outspoken; at others, she was shy, withdrawn and sullen. Her friends would tell her it was as if she had two sides.

When Jerry moved into Sallie's house, he was "blindsided," he says. He had already raised two grown daughters who were "loving and sweet and never argumentative or defiant." He "assumed all childrearing was the same." He initially adored Sarah and Danielle but soon came to disagree with the way Sallie was raising them.

"Like many single parents, Sallie spoiled the girls," he says. "She gave them unlimited money. They were running the house. They made every decision."

Jerry had trouble adjusting. "I was used to having a family with some controls," he says.

Particularly troublesome for Jerry was the way Sarah and Danielle would take things without returning them. "Suddenly I'm reaching for my tape dispenser or my stapler or glue, and it's not there, and I find it in their room. They had their own stapler and glue, but it was easier for them to take our things because they knew precisely where on our desk our things were."

Hence the locked office and the clear tape on the door.

"If Sarah's lying, I want to know," he says. "You know, Sarah's an interesting young woman. On some level, I love Sarah, but it's really more because she's my stepdaughter and I'm supposed to love her. If she doesn't like me, I'm going to keep on living."

Mostly, though, Sarah was upset with her mother. They'd been close once. But now the things her mother said made her feel like her mom didn't even know her. Sarah wasn't some idiot who was going to sleep with the first guy who came along. Yet her mom said things indicating that she thought Sarah had already slept with Steve. Her mom wanted it both ways—she wanted Sarah to be responsible and take care of herself while she and Jerry sailed around the world, and now, on a whim, she wanted to treat Sarah like a child.

On Sept. 26, as Steve walked out of a class on the IVC campus, he heard someone call his name. He looked around but didn't recognize anyone, so he kept walking. He was in a rush to get home and shower and change before Sarah came over. A man approached him and said he was Sarah's stepfather. Steve told the man that he had been expecting to hear from Sarah's parents sooner or later, and he'd be more than happy to talk, but he was short on time and could they get together the next day?

Jerry told Steve they needed to talk and it had to be now. The pair sat on a bench, but after one of Steve's female friends ran up and gave him a hug, Jerry decided that they needed to go somewhere else and that they would be taking Steve's car.

"All of a sudden it was like The Sopranos," Steve said. They got in Steve's car, and Jerry started in on what Steve called "the honesty routine." If the meeting was not going to turn adversarial, it was absolutely necessary that they have complete honesty and trust. "You have an awful lot to lose here if you don't handle this in exactly the right way," Steve says Jerry told him. Steve told Jerry that it sounded like he was being threatened. Jerry repeated that it was absolutely necessary that they have perfect honesty and perfect trust.

"You know, Steve," said Jerry, "I'm going to tell you a little something about myself so you know where I'm coming from."

Steve says Jerry then recounted a relationship he'd had with a 20-year-old. When she dumped him, he was devastated. Clearly, he explained, Steve and Sarah's relationship was going to end just as badly for Steve. The best thing would be to get out now. Steve felt there could be more discussion about it, more options, but Jerry wasn't having it. The only option was no contact.

"You know, Jerry, Sarah's going to be 18 soon. What are you going to do then?" Steve said.

"Sarah's mom and I are going to keep Sarah as a minor for a few more years," Jerry said. "We're paying for her college, and we'll expect her to do as we wish so long as we're paying."

"You're not going to be able to pull that off, Jerry," Steve said. "I work with people this age every day. They've got minds of their own."

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