Dear Prudence: Lies and consequences

  • Article by: EMILY YOFFE , Slate
  • Updated: May 21, 2014 - 1:45 PM

 

Dear Prudence: I am a grandmother who is haunted by something I did when I was a girl.

Many years ago while I was at school I did something clumsy and got a bruise. My mother noticed it as soon as I came home and asked me what happened. She was always making me feel stupid, and I didn’t want to hear her put me down. So I said my teacher pinched me. I think I was hoping for a little “poor baby” from her and then the whole thing would blow over. It didn’t. Mom went ballistic and took me to school the next day and raised hell with the principal and teacher I had accused.

There was an investigation and I was too scared to back down. I stuck to my story and the teacher was either fired or quit to avoid criminal charges. I felt terrible, especially when she asked me, in tears, why I was telling that lie. It has always bothered me. When I became a young mother I was afraid I might get in trouble for what I did, so I have never told anyone.

Now I am a grandmother and what I did haunts me. It is so far in the past that I can’t see what I can do to make restitution to the teacher. Surely she is retired by now. But this has bothered me all my life and I would like to do something.

 

Prudence says: I can understand your being haunted by this, but the fact that your act has distressed you all these years shows that you are a decent person who acted out back when you were a child who felt unloved.

Your letter brings up a larger societal issue. We know that many people are horribly hurt and abused and never speak up, or speak up and aren’t believed — I hear from these victims often. But we also have to keep in mind that sometimes accusers make things up, and that sometimes people who proclaim their innocence are telling the truth.

You already know that what you did happened so long ago that there is little likelihood you could find this teacher — and I don’t think you should start searching. After she left your school, the chances are that she was able to continue her career elsewhere, and let’s hope that long ago she put this incident behind her.

Your letter reminds me of one from a few years ago written by a man who grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father. As a 6-year-old he was in a public restroom with his father, when he falsely said another man in the bathroom was making him feel weird. He did it because he was afraid to go home with his own father. The police were called, and the letter writer has been wracked with guilt ever since.

Like you, he could not make amends directly, but I suggested he donate money to the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. I make the same suggestion for you. It should help you feel better to do something concrete to address such injustices. You’ve never told anyone about this until now, so it must be a great relief to bring this episode into the light.

Now it’s time to recognize the person who did it was a hurting little girl, and forgive her.

 

Send questions to prudence@slate.com.

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