Teachers of New Jersey: Kathleen Barrigan, 4th Grade Teacher at Desmares Elementary, Flemington, NJ

I have been teaching for 26 years. 22 years ago, in September of 2002, I experienced a very traumatic event. I was attacked in my home. Someone had broken into my home with the intent of sexual assault. I fought back, but I was stabbed several times, and then they fled. He ended up being someone who lived in the apartment complex. There was DNA evidence and things like that, but there were errors at the hospital and with the interview process with the police, so the person was never charged with my crime. But I do know that he is now in prison for subsequent crimes. I was wounded for a year and very depressed, very bitter. I went to therapy for a very long time. But then at some point, you’re either going to get stuck there or you have to say, okay, this happened, it’s time to move on.

For several years I had a really hard time connecting with people or wanting to interact because it was scary. Even though there was nothing that I did to cause it, for a while there was shame around the fact that it happened. But I knew I had to move past that, and eventually started trying to date, and that’s when I met my husband. He ended up telling me, “I’ve heard this crazy story about this girl,” and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s my story! That was me!” So, I don’t know if it was fate, but I was like, “Wow, this is okay!”

When I returned back to school, they introduced all of the teachers, and when they introduced me, the entire parent population that was there stood up and gave me a standing ovation. And that’s where I continued my journey of being empathetic. Because nowadays everything seems to be so polarized. If we can just connect on some level as humans. Not all the parents knew me. I didn’t have all their children as students, but we were all community members, and they recognized that this terrible thing had happened, and they wanted to show their support. And I feel like that’s what I’m trying to elicit from anyone that I come in contact with, like we may have differences, but we have a connection as human beings.

 

Interview by Gregory Andrus 

Portraits of the Jersey Shore 

https://potjs.com/   

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