originally published in Word Riot May 2015
My mother decided it was time to teach me about sex the same night I bought rare Japanese porn on VHS from a huckster in the 59th Street subway station.
It was hard to believe my mother had sex even the once implied by my existence. She constantly wrung her hands, looked perpetually on the verge of tears and made virginal, red-cheeked comments when people kissed on Days of our Lives.
She never mentioned my father. The few times I asked about him she went all white-faced and tight-lipped, so I left it at that.
The only man in my mother's life was Mr. Hoyle, our neighbor. He liked to invent reasons to knock on the door and talk to her. She'd make gin and tonics and they'd sit on opposite ends of the couch, taking about the unreliability of meteorologists or the best way to get a good cross breeze going in a stuffy apartment. Eventually he'd leave and then we'd eat Fig Newtons and watch Jeopardy!
Mr. Hoyle was also the guy who suggested that I buy porn in the subway, right after he caught me stuffing stolen Playboys down the garbage chute.
"Tap 'em twice on the right shoulder for the Japanese stuff," he said.
He was creepy, yes, but also just trying to help. Maybe you forget how it was back in those days when you couldn't just type your lunatic sex fantasies into the magic box and presto.
When I walked in the door from my trip to 59th Street, my mother was sitting at the kitchen table in a pretty green dress, smoking a Virginia Slim and drinking vodka out of a water glass, like that would fool anybody. Like there was anybody to fool.
"I think it's time we had a talk, come sit down with me, please," she said.
I felt the porn hot and heavy in my backpack, like I was carrying a spontaneously combusting brick. Had she found me out? I decided to tell her I'd been forced to participate in an undercover NYPD sting operation on subway porn racketeering, even though I didn't exactly know the meaning of the word. It was a grand slam of a lie that met the burden of proof, victimized me and fashioned me into the young kind of anti-pornography crusader Nancy Regan really could have gotten behind.
"Do you know what happens when a man and a woman love each other?" my mother asked.
She cleared her throat and re-crossed her legs. My mouth fell open.
My mother had organizational predilections that anyone today would call obsessive compulsive. Back then she was just annoying. The forks had to be stacked directly on top of each other in their little compartment and the marks on the carpet from the vacuum cleaner had to form perfect triangles. At that moment she was lining up a stack of napkins perfectly against the square edge of the table.
She continued. "Do you know how babies are made?"
The phone rang and I jumped to answer it, hoping it was the Army calling to tell me that they were in desperate need of fourteen year-olds to fight the Russians and I would be forced to deploy immediately. Then I could drop the phone, kiss my mother on the cheek, tell her my country needed me and then die a hero on some frosty battlefield; we could forget this conversation ever happened.
It was Abigail, a girl I'd had sex with five times already, once on my mother's bed.
Abigail said that she needed help with her math homework, code suggesting that her father was working late, whatever that actually meant, and her mother was on the other side of a Valium and a bottle of Chianti. I was free to take a casual jaunt up her fire escape for sex. I gave her my regrets.
"Are you trying to teach me about sex?" I asked my mother.
She sighed in great, exuberant relief, like my simple ability to pronounce the word absolved her need to tell me anything about it.
"Yes! Oh, thank God! So you already know how it all works?"
"Yes?" I said. She checked the time on her dainty silver wristwatch and touched her hair, ensuring the prim placement of the curl under her chin. I didn't know what else to say. There was a sudden knock on the door that interrupted my confusion. My mother smiled strangely. Or maybe it wasn't strange smile, just a happy one. She had a way of wearing a happy smile like a death mask.
She answered the door. I heard Mr. Hoyle say hello. I went to the liquor cabinet to get the gin so I could fix their cocktails and sneak some for myself. I needed a drink.
"Ok then, sweetheart. I'll see you in the morning," my mother called to me from the hallway. The door clicked closed behind her.
I was left standing in our empty apartment with a bottle of gin in my hand, everything around me very neatly arranged.