Textbook Love Affair

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

Sarah came to fear that their promise to pay for her college education was "just another way to control me." A week later, she got a job at Target. The next couple of months were strained. "I don't think a day went by that she wasn't confrontational and abusive," says Jerry. "She took every opportunity to make her mother cry."

On Dec. 5, 2001, Jerry and Sallie walked into Target holding hands. They told Sarah that they had just notified all her coworkers that this would be her last day, that her father would be driving out from Arizona on Saturday to pick her up and take her back with him.

"They came up and said, 'You're leaving,'" Sarah says. "I said, 'I'm not leaving.'"

Sarah told her parents that she was going to move in with her best friend Alana, that Alana's dad approved the plan.

A little while later, Irvine Police Detective Vic Ray walked into Target. He took Sarah into a surveillance room and asked her questions about her future and the nature of her relationship with Steve. He asked her whether she was doing drugs.

"I think he expected something horrible from me that would warrant Jerry bringing him out," Sarah says. "Once he established that I wasn't abused and I wasn't abusing myself, he said he thought he could talk my parents into letting me stay with Alana." Sarah was dubious but hopeful. She sat in the room while the detective went out into the store and talked to Jerry and Sallie for what seemed like an hour. The detective came back and told Sarah that he was reasonably certain she would be allowed to stay. But the minute Sarah got home, she saw the giant suitcase her parents had placed in the middle of the living room. "Pack your stuff," her mom told her. "You're going to Arizona."

That night, Sarah stayed up all night packing. She was fairly resigned.

"If a detective couldn't talk them into letting me stay, I certainly wasn't going to be able to," she says. For the most part, she was relieved to be getting out of the house.

The next night, she stuffed her bed with pillows and sneaked out to visit Steve. Her parents caught her on her way back in. She was without remorse. A couple of nights later, Steve came over late at night, and the two talked through her window.

"As far as I was concerned," says Sarah, speaking on the phone from her grandparents' house in Arizona, "my mother had relinquished her title as mother at that point. She had no rights. I couldn't care anymore. I certainly wasn't scared. All the fear was suddenly gone—it had suddenly evaporated, and I knew what I was going to do. I had a plan, and I'm sticking to that plan right now."

The plan is to save up money, move back to California when she turns 18 and put herself through college. The Hassons say her plan is to move in with Steve when she turns 18, but this, Sarah says, "is a fabrication."

Recently, Sarah got a card from her mother saying that Sarah was "directing everything inward and killing herself from the inside out."

"I can't believe she thinks she still has the right to tell me these things," says Sarah.

"You know, I realized something because everything's been yanked away. I realized that a lot lies within me, not the environment. I'm out in the desert out here, and I really have to make this myself instead of letting the environment mold me. Someday I'll go to Europe, too. It's not like all my dreams are shattered. I'm not sad or depressed or sitting around crying like my mom would like to think."

Steve's life hasn't been the same since the Hassons sent out their e-mail to the faculty and staff at Irvine Valley College and Orange Coast College. With each call that comes in, he wonders who it is this time, who's heard about the scandal. He's noticed some colleagues backing away. "No one wants to touch this; no one wants to be associated with it," he says. He'd like to defend himself, to explain himself to everyone who thinks he's a creep, but he's afraid that with something like this, there's simply no way to clear his name, no chance for exoneration.

"It's a weird thing to have somebody say, 'Look, we're going to make an accusation, and just the accusation is going to destroy your life,'" he says.

He's currently looking for full-time work up the coast and hoping for the best.

"It didn't have to be such a big mess," says Steve. "It just didn't have to be so big."

As far as Jerry's concerned, though, Steve chose this. "He knew ahead of time that if he didn't adhere to our wishes, there would be consequences, and without consequences, it's like there's no rules in life. It was my job to do what I could do to get this guy to feel the consequences of his actions. I was just the enforcer."

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