In my senior year of high school, my school hired a new college adviser. His name was Mr. Berger and he was 32 years old. He was a cool guy and lots of students spent time hanging out with him in his office.
I spent more time than most, much of it alone with Mr. Berger. We developed a special relationship. He flirted with me. He talked about his outside life. He told me about breaking up with a girlfriend. He cried to me when a friend committed suicide. He began to talk like he planned to have a relationship with me after I graduated.
I was over the moon. I thought I was madly in love with this guy. The age difference, 14 years, was nothing to me. My parents were 26 years apart in age. My mother was 18 when she met her future (first) husband, who was then 33. Over time, my originally skeptical parents and friends came to believe that Mr. Berger really did have serious intentions toward me beyond school. I floated through the school year.
As school came to an end, I think Mr. Berger started to get cold feet about me. I was not only a virgin, I was also a naïve romantic. I clearly saw any ongoing relationship with Mr. Berger as ‘serious’. I don’t think Mr. Berger was ready for that. However, instead of letting me down gently, he hit me over the head with a sledge-hammer.
I don’t remember how he told me that ‘we’ were not going to happen. I do remember crying on the phone with him and begging him to meet with me to talk about it. He said he’d pick me up at my apartment building and take me for coffee. I waited in the lobby. He said he waited for me outside the building and then left. Another groveling phone conversation involving crying and begging.
The final blow came in the last few weeks of school. Mr. Berger chaperoned a group of seniors (not including me) on an overnight trip. Afterwards, I was told that he was seen canoodling with the one girl in the class I had serious issues with. I think he was sending me a message. I got it.
I was beyond crushed. Devastated is too mild a term to describe my state. I lost all confidence in myself. My self-image went into the toilet. I felt betrayed, played and humiliated. As well as heartbroken.
I had a horrible, depressing summer. When I started college in the fall, I started getting physical symptoms including dizziness, rapid pulse, palpitations and extreme fatigue. These symptoms were later diagnosed as part of a major depression, which in turn, affected my thyroid gland. I was barely functional. I believe that the ‘trauma’ with Mr. Berger triggered this depressive episode, which lasted over three years and colored my entire college career.
I almost didn’t write about this incident. I find it cringe worthy how little self-esteem I had. But I decided to share the story because, for better or for worse, it was a pivotal event in my life. I was probably just a depression waiting to happen. But it’s still humiliating to have been plunged into years of mental illness by such a relatively trivial event. I guess it is what it is. And I was who I was. For better or for worse.