A Student/Professor Affair in Fact and Fiction

By Jen Anne Becker

December 9, 2022

A Student/Professor Affair in Fact and Fiction

Unravelings by Sarah Cheshire

Sarah Cheshire’s chapbook, Unravelings, published in 2017 by Etchings Press, is a work of creative nonfiction in which the author blurs facts so creatively that it is difficult to know what is fiction and what is truth. The only part readers can be sure is entirely made up is the Title IX document woven throughout the story. Cheshire tells us in the prologue that she created the Title IX report and its narrator or subject to make sense of a distorted memory involving her and a professor, imagining how her university might have handled their affair.

The story opens with the narrator, a recent college graduate, sweating in a leather armchair and facing the Title IX coordinator who is investigating accusations of misconduct between her and Professor X., her creative writing instructor and advisor for her senior thesis. The narrator says that she had been at the local bar with the Dean of Students and other colleagues, networking the night before. Unwanted advances were made by an unnamed man. His behavior triggered a chill in her, a reminder of all the other unwanted touches her body has felt in the past. Suddenly she is back in X.’s kitchen for another of their many secretive “advising” meetings. He had sandwiched her between himself and his stove.

   Did he initiate the kiss or did I?

   I know I should keep his touch tucked away, but it has been growing more and more potent throughout the past seven months; since he started subtly changing my final grades, pausing his hand over mine in advising meetings.

Pushing back the memory of his kiss, the narrator struggles to respond to Coordinator O’s question: “Why don’t you tell me a little bit about what happened—between you and Professor X.?” Now we hear the distant narrative voice of a Jane Doe, as she is identified in the official Title IX document, braid her story against Cheshire’s own voice as commentary. Coordinator O. reports in the official document that “Doe allegedly feels her senior thesis meetings becoming ‘more intimate,’ as she begins to explore ‘personal topics related to the body memory and violence’ in her creative work,” that is, her thesis.

The writing becomes charged when the author’s commentary describes taboo moments and secret meetings in his kitchen, for example, when Professor X. presses her up against his stove. “We were his hand, my hipbone. We were my hipbone, his hand. We were his hum, my giggle. We were my giggle, his thigh.” Her descriptive play helps readers feel excitement, euphoria, love, confusion, and even a sense of numbness along with the main character. “How was I to know that when he returned, he would no longer look me in the eye.” 

Throughout the investigation, Jane Doe’s testimony emphasizes that any intimacy between her and Professor X. was mutually desired and acted upon, something she, naively, hoped would keep him out of trouble. But in the commentary voice, Cheshire wonders about the true level of closeness that may or may not have existed between her and Professor X. Was the illicit affair truly mutual? Or was it all just a power game?

The result is, Cheshire seems to be interrogating her own memory. What is accurate? What did she imagine? How much of what happened is too foggy for her to discern the truth from the fiction of her memory? Was she a participant in the seduction? Or was it all his? Unravelings explores these questions and more, leaving readers to wander between the lines for what else is fact or fiction.

 

Unravelings by Sarah Cheshire

Etchings Press
 $10.00 Paperback | Buy Now

 

Jen Anne Becker

Jen Anne Becker is an independent editor and writer, (www.JabberEditorial.com), and has written for Women’s Edition Magazine (both local and national editions), and Fools Magazine (University of Iowa), as well as her “500 Words” blog (www.JenAnneBecker.com). While attending the University of Iowa, she served as Managing Editor of Witness, a literary magazine, and Passed Notes, a high school student anthology. Jen earned her B.A. in English and Creative Writing/Publishing from the University of Iowa, a graduate-level certificate in Publishing from the Denver Publishing Institute, and is currently a graduate student at Denver University working toward her MA in Professional Creative Nonfiction Writing.

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