I was at last beginning to feel like I was in the know.
Yup, I had an idea of what things looked like. I had some idea of the sequence of events. I even understood that it might all feel good. Indeed, I was in the know.
Well we all know what the truth was. I was in the ‘no’, as in not know. Sure I could hold my own during a Friday night get-together with the guys, but I was really not ready. Something was still missing. Maybe what was missing, what might pull it all together for me, was the dreaded American family tradition: sit-down-in-the-living-room-with-the-folks-to-talk-about-sex ritual.
Sometime later in the spring of my freshman year in high school, the dreaded took place. Much like Cal’s deck of cards, it snuck up on me, when my guard was down. Even the warning shot was subtle.
“Bobby, after the boys go to bed, your father and I want to talk to you about something very important,” mom volunteered matter-of-factly, as I dried the dishes.
She was good at being matter-of-factly, but this was different. “… your father” was not a phrase casually heard around the house. If we heard it, it was always preceded by “wait until”, as in “wait until your father comes home”. I hadn’t done anything even remotely wrong lately. My third semester grades were solid. I wasn’t in trouble. I don’t think they saw me hide a sliver of extra steak under my mashed potatoes. No, this was different. Something ominous was in the air.
Clueless but cautious, I replied, “Sounds good.”
I pondered some more. In my best play-it-cool impression I added, “Anything wrong? Something I should know about?” Unlike the old lady though, my voice cracked under the gun, giving away the little game I was up to.
“Nothing’s wrong. We just think it is time to talk to you about something. That’s all.”
My brain instantly began doing what I can only describe as a rudimentary form of a Google-like search against “it is time to talk”. After some tedious searching through my cranial indexing method, bam! Pay dirt! A match!
“So my mom says to me, ‘it is time to talk to you about sex’,” Rye Bread reported at the park table one evening as the reason why he was so late to swing jumping.
I ran the search again to be sure. I came up with the same result. I was finished, done for, doomed. It was going to be about sex. Mom lived for moments like this. She wanted her boys to know the facts so we’d grow up being knowledgeable, caring husbands. She didn’t beat around the bush either. Her style was direct and to the point. This was going to be really brutal.
The old man on the other hand would rather have been left out of the whole matter. This was not his bag. Shooting hoops. Splitting tops. Making a yo-yo sleep. Hitting fly balls. Those were the things he did best—things that didn’t require conversation or discussion or chatting. Dad was not big with the chatting and I was more than okay with that.
Apparently though, mom had made up her mind that it was important that dad be present, just in case I had a specific, male-only question. She was out of her mind. I think raising four boys whose ages spanned a paltry six years will do that to any normal human being. She was no exception.
Sadly, because she had turned insane, I was going to have to endure the big talk—the sit down session of all sessions. For a brief moment I thought of breaking a limb to buy a few months. Alas, I was trapped. I was also certain that I’d have to ask one question just to show interest and get her off my back for fear of follow-up talks. What could I possibly ask? Dishes dried, I schlepped out of the kitchen to retreat to my third floor room to give this quandary serious consideration.
As I walked through the living room, dad was sitting in his favorite spot, staring blankly at the sports page, while the TV weatherman prattled on about a low in the Ohio Valley.
“How them Dodgers looking this year, Pops?” It was my standard spring sports question. I just wanted to make contact somehow to assess his response. Maybe my primitive Google memory search was faulty.
“Yeah, whatever,” he mumbled from behind his paper curtain.
Normally, he’d go on about the pitching of Koufax and Drysdale. I’d then counter with the hitting of Mays and McCovey from the Giants, and we’d have at it. But he didn’t even invite the argument. He was obviously preoccupied. It was a dead giveaway. There I was, stressing out over coming up with one knucklehead sex question to ask. Meanwhile, dad was sweating bullets over having to answer it.
Suddenly, without warning, it spilled out of me like a backed up toilet.
“Guess were gonna talk about something later, huh dad?”
Dead silence from behind the Newark Star Ledger. I continued on my way. Then, he mumbled.
“Yeah, it’s your mother’s idea.”
Oh, no! Not, the ‘it’s your mother’s idea’ answer. I suddenly had one of those mysterious shivers through my entire body. Someone must have stepped on my grave. My shoulders slumped as I ascended the stairs.
Now, if dad and I had it in us, we could’ve tossed around this “your mother’s idea” a little. Maybe we even could’ve worked out some innocuous dialogue—create a little win-win scenario. But no! We were the doomed, stupid, silent types. The deal was sealed. I was going to get the “sex talk” for sure. I entered my attic sanctuary, shut the door behind me, lit some sandalwood incense and pondered the possibilities.
Time passed slowly and harshly. Eventually, a knock at the door and I was escorted down the stairs to the chair. The only thing missing was Revenend Anderson following behind me softly reciting the 23rd psalm.
Dad sat in his favorite part of the couch. He looked defeated, war torn. Mom took her place next to him with her hand placed reassuringly on his leg. It was a sure sign he was under her control, that they were unified. There was going to be no “divide and conquer” that night.
I was invited to sit in dad’s arm chair, which mom had pulled in from the head of the dining room table. It sat lonely and isolated in the middle of the living room. To be honest, it was weird, way weird! I felt like I was being brought in for interrogation. To top it off, I was sure I could hear the faint asthmatic breathing of my brother Doug coming from the upstairs landing, just out of sight.
“So did I tell ya what happened to Otter today at lunch?” I tried to throw a curve ball, buy some time, and possibly subvert the whole discussion.
Dad didn’t disappoint. He fell for it instantly, “No what hap—”
“Your father and I think it is time to have a talk with you about sex.”
Dad sank back into the couch. I began to sweat and needed to pee.
“We want to answer any questions you have. Do you have any? That is, any about sex?” she inquired.
The ball was clearly in my court. I anticipated this. I had come up with a bland, generic question but my mind went blank under the scrutiny of mom’s probing eyes. She had a way of doing that to me.
“Um … um … um—“ I was wracking my brain, searching. What was that question I had? Nothing was coming to mind, nothing except some muted images from the French cards. Whoa, what a time for those to show up. I had to do something. I took a thoughtful pause. Nothing.
“Actually, no I don’t.” I heard the faint sound of snickering coming from the shadows upstairs.
Dad relaxed briefly. “Great! I guess—”
“So then you know that when a married couple decides to have a baby, they engage in sex during which the man has an erection and inserts his penis in the woman’s vagina.” she was brutal.
I looked at her like a deer in headlights. What was she? Nuts? I couldn’t believe she had the chutzpah to say that. I was trapped like a guilty witness under cross examination by Perry Mason. Dad looked at me sympathetically. He was bailing out, leaving me on my own in that solitary chair in the middle of the room.
“Yeah, I know,” I replied, exposed. But suddenly, out of nowhere, a burst of formidable savvy. I continued on. “Yeah, we learned all about that stuff in Health, in seventh grade. Yeah, it was pretty interesting. Yup, there were charts and even a movie if I recall. Real informative. Mr. Brown did a nice job explaining what you just said and all. Think I even got an ‘A’ on the test.”
It was as slick a piece of weaseling as ever there was, but would it work? Did I play it too strong at the end? I waited for a response.
“Oh really? That was two years ago. I don't recall any ‘A’ on any test on human sexuality. Why didn’t you say something to us then?” she asked.
She was calling me on it. I was sunk if I didn't do something real fast. Sensing defeat, I pulled out the wild card.
“Oh gee ma, com’on. What was I gonna say? Dad, help me here.” I pleaded for his rescue. He couldn’t hide anymore. I dragged him unwillingly into the fray. It was my only hope to end this torture.
He surprised me. Dad leaned forward, put his hand on her hand and looked her square in the eyes.
“He’s right. Do you really think he’d say something or bring home a test on that? I mean look at him.”
It was supportive, yet demeaning, all at the same time. I didn’t care. If it stopped the madness, I was fine with it. There was a long moment of silence.
Mom continued, "Well that is good. No questions. I just wish you felt like you could talk to us about this kind of subject. Anyway, here is a book explaining how babies are conceived. Read it. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us. We want to open the lines of communication. Okay?”
“Lines of communication” What was that babble? It dawned on me that she got this whole, hair-brain idea from one of her magazines. Probably it was that “Redbook”, that piece of drivel.
“Sure thing ma,” I quickly responded, sensing this ordeal was coming to a swift close.
And it did.
That was it. It was over. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the silhouette on the landing disappear. Mom got up and handed me this book called, “Growing Up”. It was okay. No real sweet pictures though. Just a lot of charts about nine months.
She retreated into the kitchen. I got up and dragged the chair back into the dining room and proceeded up the stairs to bed.
“Good night dad,” I moaned.
“I’m thinking Koufax is going to win twenty five games this year. It’s all ours,” he replied.
He was back in the saddle.
“Not if Mays has anything to do with it.”
He smiled, “We’ll see. Good night. Oh yeah, and keep those lines of communication open buddy.” then he winked, the same wink he had given his friends a hundred times. My first dad wink. Things were looking pretty good.
We had connected.
“Sure thing dad! Sure thing.”
My formal sex education was complete. I think it was sealed when mom very clinically spelled it all out in that one sentence. It was almost as if she had to get three words out on the table, “penis, erection and vagina” or it wouldn’t have been official. Her job was done.
My younger brothers never had to suffer through this. I am sure that my little ad lib about seventh grade health class was my single most oldest brother contribution—a stroke of genius quite honestly. Come to think of it, if that was in fact true, they owe me big time. Probably more true was that by the time they were out of eighth grade, they could have taught my parents a thing or two.
Well, another truth was that my formal sex training was now behind me, but the real tests were waiting in the field.
And they would wait for quite a while.