Case Narrative

A Consenting Juveniles narrative is a first-hand account reporting the words of the research subject on his or her experience.

Kirk Douglas

I helped take care of her until she died.

Source:   The Ragman’s Son
by Kirk Douglas
Simon & Schuster, 1988

Izzy Demsky grew up in a poor family during the Great Depression in a small town in upstate New York. He later changed his name to Kirk Douglas and went on to become one of the all-time, great Hollywood movie stars. In his early 70s, he wrote his first autobiography, in which he told the story of his introduction to sex and love by his high school English teacher.

“You are certainly not college material,” my French teacher told me. That made me feel terrible. Maybe she was peeved that I was the pet of another teacher—tall, patrician Mrs. Louise Livingston, a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, head of the English Department, a widow with a son five years older than I. She changed my life. She introduced me to the world of poetry—Byron, Keats. Shelley. She became my confessor and listened to the dreams I didn’t dare tell anyone else. I would have been run out of the East End if I had ever admitted to liking poetry or said out loud, “I want to be a great actor.”

“To be a great actor,” Mrs. Livingston said, “you have to be a great person. You must be educated. You must be trained.” Because of her, I sent away for college and drama school catalogues and saved every penny so I could get there.

Most students, including me, were afraid of Mrs. Livingston. I met her when another teacher sent me to her for disciplining because I had failed to turn in a book report on David Copperfield. I read the book, but didn’t do the report. She questioned me thoroughly, was impressed with how much I understood and retained. But she marked me down for being late with the report.

Mrs. Livingston was cool and detached when she walked into the classroom. She never raised her well-modulated voice. Emotion crept in only when she read poetry:

God knows ’twere better
To be buried deep
In silk and scented dawn,
Where love throbs out
In blissful sleep.
Pulse nigh to pulse
And breath to breath.

I used to get a funny feeling when she read those lines, and I looked at her in reverence. I composed my first poem and recited it in class with great feeling:

      by Izzy Demsky

Above me have flown many flags
But now my sails are torn to rags
My bows are white from swirling foam
As o’er the many seas I roam,
But now there’s nothing left for me
I live in days that used to be.

Mrs. Livingston thought I was wonderful. She encouraged me and kept me after school. I liked that. I was late for work, but I liked being with her. We sat at her desk next to the window, looking out over the beautiful autumn landscape, in that light that precedes dusk. What a sparkle came into her eyes as she read poem after poem with me sitting by her side. “Oh, I’m in love with the janitor’s boy/And the janitor’s boy loves me.”

Her hand reached under the desk and clutched my hand close to her thigh. The colors of the autumn leaves raced around in my head. I hoped she couldn’t hear my heart beating. It was so loud. And my hand touching her thigh was so sweaty. I hoped it didn’t rub off on her thin silk dress. I tried to draw it away, slowly, but she held it more tightly, as she went on in a reverie: “And he’s going to build me a green isle/A green isle in the sea.”

I left, late for work, and as I ran down the school steps littered with leaves, I looked back. She was standing at the window watching me. Wow! I must be the janitor’s boy!

I couldn’t wait for her to walk into class. Each day, using the words of Keats, Byron, Shelley, we spoke to each other. I can hear her now:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is
All ye know on earth,
And all ye need to know.

She would call on me to read, and I did, with a little too much emotion.

For thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine—
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruit and flowers
And all the flowers were mine.

She asked me to come by and help her with some English papers one evening. She lived in what I thought then was a spacious room on the top floor at 34 Pearl Street, a three-story home that had been converted into a boardinghouse. She shared the bathroom down the hall with several other schoolteachers who lived there.

That first night, I was sitting on the bed—she kissed me. My lips felt so hot, I thought they would burst into flames. She held me and wanted to do more, but I was too frightened, just a fumbling schoolboy of fourteen. I kept saying, “No, no, no.” I had never had sex. Oh, I knew about masturbation. That was easy, alone in a dark room with your fantasies. But this was real. So much white skin, and such a large, dark, bushy spot. So mysterious. My heart pounding hard, I ran out of the room before I had pierced any mysteries. It wasn’t very late. The streets were quiet, and under the harvest moon, I never stopped running until I reached home.

I was angry with myself. Why hadn’t I done it? I wanted to. Why was I afraid? All the words of the great poets didn’t help. I was sure she would never invite me back again.

But she did, many times, and our relationship endured through high school, college, New York, and Hollywood, even though we saw each other less and less and the letters became fewer as we grew older and I traveled to different countries making movies. I helped take care of her until she died. I was her “janitor’s boy,” and she left me a book of poetry that she had written and published, each page a different moment during the years of our friendship and love.



Source:   Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning
by Kirk Douglas
John Wiley & Sons, 2007

In a new autobiography almost 20 years later, Douglas wrote again about his sexual initiation by Mrs. Livingston. There is a minor discrepancy in his age at the time, but the feelings are the same.

My first experience with sex was with my high school English teacher, Mrs. Livingston. The relationship was a turning point in my life. I had been a ragamuffin kid of fifteen coping with a neighborhood filled with gangs; under her guidance I became a different person. Mrs. Livingston taught me a love for poetry and literature, and she encouraged me to make an effort to go to college. She was an important influence in my life and I am eternally grateful. By today’s standards she would have gone to jail. I had no idea we were doing something wrong. Did she?

Regardless, she inspired me with the excitement of learning. She even urged me to try to write a poem. This was my first attempt, “The Discarded Ship”:

Above me have flown many flags
But now my sails are torn to rags
My bows are white from swirling foam
As o’er the many seas I roam
But now there’s nothing left for me
I live in days that used to be.

I wrote that poem seventy-five years ago when I was fifteen years old. I had never seen the sea, and the longest journey I had ever taken from my hometown was to hitchhike to Schenectady, fifteen miles away. How could I have written that poem then? It’s now that I feel like an abandoned ship. At the lime, I enjoyed reciting my poem with feeling to Mrs. Livingston.

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