The Ramification of Disinformation

‘All is said and done, but the emotions, memories and pain remain part of my story forever’


(Collegian file photo)

By Makailey Cookis, Collegian Staff

Throughout high school, I always strived to be my greatest self. Class president, honors and AP student, friend to everyone—I never allowed myself to fall short of what I knew I was capable of.

That is why I will never be able to understand where I went wrong.

At 17 years old, a junior in high school, I was stripped of my self-worth. Labeled in the darkest of ways, judged by those I had previously viewed as confidants and simply perceived as the opposite of all that I had made of myself before. At this age I was falsely accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a teacher in my high school.

It was June 1, 2017, when I was escorted to a conference room off of the main office to find out what I immediately recognized as a report that would turn my world upside down. In this room, I was interrogated (“questioned” would leave a reader under the impression that I was simply interviewed for information—I was not). I was being unprofessionally doubted by all of the individuals before me. In this room, I was told of reported actions I did not recognize as my own, scenes I certainly never lived through, yet they were being stated as if what was typed on the document before me were the truth and my actual experiences were a facade.

“It says here you were found in this staff member’s office in physical contact with this teacher.” Heartbroken, drained of any and all feelings, I sat sheltered within my own mind and denied all that they spoke. In this moment of interrogation, I was exceedingly aware of the skepticism in the eyes of all of the individuals present; my words meant nothing, they knew what they wanted to believe.

I had always known of the evils in this world and the ones that existed within some human beings. I may have been young, but I was not ignorant. However, at such an age, I never anticipated another would intentionally inflict pain onto me like this, or in this  way. “Do people actually lie to help themselves? How could anyone benefit from this kind of lie? Who did this to me? Who did this to us both?” The questions in my head overwhelmed my mind and would continue to do so for almost a full eighty days.

I lived in a talkative county where gossip was the norm, but the youthful parts of me still present at the time led me to believe that this situation would remain within the confines of the professionals of the school district, and not in the mouths of those that I knew. My initial idea of confidentiality was quickly proven wrong. Hearing my name in the conversations of both strangers and friends—talk of the investigation from those that should have never known—I had begun to spiral into the worst time of my life. I will always remember the two and a half months that the investigation prevailed for as the darkest place I have ever gone mentally. I hit rock bottom and today I am still climbing back up.

Forced to stay silent, not able to tell the ones that cared for me of my current situation, I stopped talking to people. I created a major distance between me and my family, my friends, my former mentors, and I had isolated myself to the point that I reached an exceedingly hazardous mental state.

I journaled every single day of the investigation. I did this partially to keep track of all of the breakdowns and emotions that tormented my mind, but I also did it to save myself. Writing it all out was my own way of talking.The conversations in my journal replaced the ones I was not having aloud.

In addition, something no one ever acknowledged, or seemed to actually empathize with, was the fact that this investigation ruined a friendship that was once truly prominent in  my life. People did not want to understand that I was close to this teacher, as he was a mentor of mine, as well as someone I worked closely with in the student government I both took part in and control of. Remotely mentioning the aching I felt after losing such a rapport led people to assume the reports and rumors were true. I was never able to express that I simply missedhim.

The one person undergoing the same investigation and experiencing similar inner conflicts that I was, was the one person I could not speak of, let alone, talk to.  I utilized my journal on certain days, depending on where my mind was at the time, to write to him, though I knew he would never actually get to read such words. I wanted to feel like our connection was not terminated by a lie or to give any individual sick enough to create such a lie the power to cut off a relationship I tied strong importance to.

“Do we live in a society progressive in so many ways but exclusive in the realm of the diversity of and to human connection? Are friendships, relationships and rapports not respected if those involved are not the same age or undergoing the same phase of life?” I thought.

I wanted to know why I was being viewed with disgust for simply getting to know someone who educated me, just as I did with all of my other guiding faculty, and then I wanted to know: “Is it because I am a female and he is a male?” That last question drove me mad. In the professional and personal world, males and females must stop being romanticized for simply existing beside another. Attraction and connection are two very different and separate categories; I wanted to understand why I could comprehend this at my age and no one around me could fathom such a clear concept. However, regardless of assumptions or false perceptions, nothing offered nearly enough reasoning to explain why someone would come up with such a detailed lie about a student and a faculty member. It did not take long before I realized: The reporter of the lie must have targeted us for a reason.

But giving my attention to the person that at the time I held such animosity toward was not something I frequently allowed myself. Additionally, losing the connection with the accused teacher was not my greatest concern. These things, though profound and possessive of my mind at times, were not the most prominent aspect of this heart-wrenching time period; for I was completely and utterly losing myself.

The feelings of acrimony from those of my county that I worked so hard to earn the respect and love of throughout my childhood caused various inner battles. Those that truly knew me, believed me and recognized the talk that they heard as no more than rumors infiltrated with lies. My family, though doubt surfaced and revealed itself at the beginning of this investigation, believed me. Everyone who said that they loved me and meant it believed me. I was not alone anymore, in the physical sense. However, emotionally, the walls I did not intentionally build kept me far away from all of the people that I loved.

During this time, I formed my own personal resentment toward myself. I wanted to blame myself for getting too close to my educators, believing I should have expected someone to misinterpret or misconstrue something when I am always in conversation with at least one faculty member.

“I am over eager to understand people. I need to stop feeding into the connections that I make. I need to remove all of the qualities that I once enjoyed about myself,” I thought.

 Such thoughts controlled my every move that summer.

Therapy appointments, vacations, shifts at work, nothing seemed to help me, and certainly nothing distracted me. I did not know what to do, but at the time I did know: I did not want to be alive anymore.

This thought afflicted my mind greatly throughout the heat of the summer. I had experience with depression prior to this investigation, but never to this extent. I was a hazard to myself and I didn’t want anyone to save me.

However, as I am able to write this today, I held on. I wrote more and more, some days journaling up to five different times. I wrote through the tears and after a while, I was able to journal through the thoughts of killing myself. I was fighting and there were so many reasons why that slowly, and over time, became present in my mind that had not existed since prior to that first interrogation.

It was close to the start of the next school year, my senior year, when I finally got some answers. A teachers-union member called me in the middle of August, while I was staying at a friend’s cottage on Lake Champlain in attempt to escape my thoughts and had told me that the investigation had reached its end. The teacher facing the accusation would keep his job and continue teaching at the school. My first few breaths after hearing such words felt lighter, free-er, and as though the heaviest of emotional weights were finally released from my body and mind.

Later, however, I could not sleep. Unfortunately, it was not gratitude that kept me awake, but instead, it was the realization that life would still be so different and unlike what it was prior to this false report. Depression does not just leave a person when a situation resolves itself, and two people put through the public eye in the way in which the teacher and myself were do not simply return to who we were before just because a few city officials decided to believe us. I still felt ashamed, and even guilty, but only because the system made me feel this way. People were still going to view me the way they wanted to; people were still going to talk.

Weeks later, as the depths of my sadness followed me into the autumn season of my senior year, I demanded closure from the investigators. I wanted a phone call, a meeting, just a conversation with the people who had treated me with such unprofessionalism. However, I never got it. I was forced to create my own closure and combat my mind until late December when the closeness of friends and family helped cure most of my isolation.

I am nearly 20 years old now, and it has been over two years since the investigation reached its end, and I am still affected by those two and a half months. I have worked on building myself back up, and not holding myself back from making all of the connections I truly want to, but I do so with fear always present in the back of my mind.

To undergo an investigation where I was falsely accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a teacher at age 17, to be told I participated in actions I had never desired to or thought of, to be judged by the public that I was raised in and by: That is not something I will ever be able to forget. I have accepted that I will never understand why the accuser lied – why the accuser did this to the teacher and myself – and why any human being could think deceit could lead to anything beneficial to or for them. However, through this acceptance, I have gained more strength in my character and confidence in the things that I do. I write with far more fortitude and self-respect now, and I want to both express and emphasize: If you attempt to silence a person, expect them to be screamingon the inside. All is said and done, but the emotions, memories and pain remain part of my story forever.

Makailey Cookis can be reached at [email protected]