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In 'You All Grow Up And Leave Me,' Charm Masks A Predator

You All Grow Up and Leave Me is a memoir, and a true crime story, about a teenage girl and the middle-aged tennis coach who guided and encouraged young women players on Manhattan's Upper East Side. But Gary Wilensky also turned out to be a stalker, a child predator who killed himself in 1993; he'd tried to kidnap one of his students, she fought him off — and then he shot himself, not far from a cabin he had filled with instruments of fetish and bondage.

Piper Weiss was one of Gary Wilensky's students — Gary's Girls, as they were called. She was 14 at the time of his death, and now, a generation later, she's looking into his life and crimes, and her own life. "I kind of buried the memory of him for years," she says, "and it was only when I was about 30 years old that I recalled how integral he was in my life at 14, and I had fond memories of him. And when I went to my mom and finally kind of asked her about what had happened, she produced this really sizable folder of everything from newspaper articles to receipts and T-shirts and Valentines he had given me. And I realized there was so much more to Gary's story, and how it played into my own story as a teenager, that I needed to explore it further."

Interview Highlights

On who Wilensky was

Gary was, as I remember him, kind of a beloved clown character. He was a prestigious tennis instructor for teenage girls, who had received multiple awards. He was also really known for being the quote-unquote Pied Piper of teen tennis, because he was full of gifts and candy of prizes, he sometimes played in tutus and roller skates. The kind of person who could turn any teen girl's tennis game into a sport that she loved, just by his own charisma.

On "hebephiles"

[That] is an adult who fetishizes and is attracted to teenagers ... I think that really was what captivated me with this story was, he seemed to me at the time like one of the few adults in the world that listened to me, that understood me. Of course, I know now these were part of his grooming tactics. But in my child's mind, they were so alluring.

On where the parents were

Interestingly enough, we did live in this incredibly protective bubble, where the parents were guardians that were constantly going to to PTA meetings and providing drivers to pick their kids up from school, because they were so terrified that their children would be harmed walking the city streets. So the parents were there, they just weren't looking inside the community. They were only looking outside of it for signs of danger, and I think that's a theme that we see again and again.

On why her mother kept the folder

My mom said, she was like, "well it was just a thing that happened in our lives." And I will never fully believe her, because I find it very strange that she kept this giant folder of memorabilia from him. Part of me wonders if maybe she did feel guilt that she didn't see the signs beforehand, but part of me wonders if she just knew that some day I would ask her about it and want to know more, and I just wasn't ready to know about it at the time.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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