The last time I wrote about a sexual relationship between a teacher and a student, I took plenty of rulers over my knuckles and learned a few lessons.
The most important: Let the student talk. Give voice to the one who didn't have the legal freedom to describe what happened and the damage done.
So when a King County Superior Court judge Thursday made the 642-page deposition of Vili Fualaau public at the legal request of The Seattle Times, it thudded on my desk with a vengeance.
Here, without titillation or tabloidism, was the student's story of the relationship that made Mary K. Letourneau an international punch line.
What it did to Fualaau, though, is anything but funny.
The deposition - part of a lawsuit brought by his mother, Soona, against the Highline School District and the city of Des Moines - chronicles the troubled home life, the youthful bravado, the romantic confusion and the loss experienced by Fualaau.
At the time he entered Letourneau's sixth-grade classroom in 1996, Fualaau was a gifted artist and outgoing 12-year-old who bet his cousin $20 that he could seduce Letourneau. (Cue Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher." Typical kid.)
Now 17, he is the father of the teacher's two toddlers and lives with a relative in Hawaii, hoping for some shreds of anonymity.
And he is waiting - to begin his junior year in high school, for Letourneau to be released from prison, and to be "somewhere I can relax and just live better without eyes all over me."
Since the affair was revealed in February 1997 and Letourneau sent to prison later that year, Fualaau has developed a drinking problem, dabbled in drugs and been arrested. He has nightmares and has attempted suicide.
He has few friends. When people do talk to him, it is usually about the case.
"I'm just like this doll in the courtroom and everywhere I go," he said.
The deposition was taken in King County Superior Court over three days last fall. Soona Fualaau's suit charges that both the city and school failed to protect her son from being victimized in an illegal relationship with Letourneau. It seeks more than $1 million in damages.
Letourneau, 39, is serving time for child rape at the Washington Corrections Center for Women near Gig Harbor. She is expected to be released in 2004.
Fualaau turns 18 on June 26. To celebrate, he plans to marry Letourneau and, upon her release, move to California - or Paris.
It all wraps up into a juicy meal of sex and forbidden love and every young boy's fantasy come true. Be still my heart.
In court reporter's type, though, it's a literary train wreck. It's time for all involved to get out of the dining car, assess the damage and find a new direction.
This boy is lost, so lost, and it seems everyone in his life, including his family, has taken advantage of him.
It started small, when Fualaau's brother found out about the affair. He made Vili do his chores and run his paper route to buy his silence.
Soona Fualaau dipped readily into the $100,000 her son received for a book published in France, he said. One expense: a $6,000 birthday party for his daughter's first birthday at a SeaTac hotel, where strangers ate and drank but never acknowledged Fualaau or his daughter.
Millions have been made on the story, but Fualaau hasn't a clue where his cut is, save for $20,000 he is saving for his daughters, ages 3 and 2.
Asked who is running his trust: "There's this Asian lady; I forgot her name."
He has even begun to doubt Letourneau, his "soul mate."
"I'm just really confused," he said. "It sounded like she really didn't give a ... about me, like I was just some ... toy ... just a piece of a puzzle that she needs to finish to get herself out."
They met when she was his second-grade teacher at Shorewood Elementary School in Burien and were reunited when he was in sixth grade. The sex began when he was 12 and she was 34.
In December 1996, when Letourneau told Fualaau she was pregnant, he said he told her to have an abortion. She cursed him and cried. He told her to sleep with her husband to cover it up.
"I was thinking, what have I gotten myself into," he said.
Fualaau has nightmares: people dying, suicide, funerals, car crashes.
Sometimes he has sexual nightmares about the praying mantis: "After they would have sex," he testified, "the female would rip the male's head off."
Fualaau was an A student until around middle school, when lessons got tougher and his relationship with Letourneau intensified. Once it became public, students taunted him.
"All the kids started looking at me different," he said. "They started calling me a teacher rapist ... like this whole thing was a joke."
He said he started to steal, drink and run errands for a neighborhood gang.
And when he was arrested for being caught in the back of a stolen car, he said even the police teased him: "Hey, aren't you Mary Letourneau's little boyfriend?"
Fualaau tried to commit suicide in March 1999 by punching through a window and slicing up his arms.
"I just couldn't take it ... even my own family members started teasing me."
Still, threaded through the anguished weave of his deposition are the statements of a confident young man, still convinced of his love for Letourneau and of the beauty of their relationship ...
"To me, I just think I was lucky. I mean, I didn't mean for us to fall in love or anything. ... I didn't even really mean for us to really get that close, where we could just talk about anything. But we did."
Until you again hear the confused little boy who lost his chance to be a kid, and now will struggle to be a man ...
"I guess I would say I was a normal kid. ... But to her, I was someone different. There was something in me that she could see that I couldn't see, and we - we just - I don't know. The whole thing is just really just a big sin, just a big sin."
Reach Nicole Brodeur at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Make it stop.