Mom’s request seemed as random as anything I’d ever heard spew from her caustic maw. “Clean out your drawers—I want to switch my chest for your dresser.”
“Jeez, mom—what the heck are you talking about?”
“Your dresser. I want to put it in my bedroom and give you my chest of drawers. Your dresser holds more shit—clean it out so we can switch.”
“Gimme a second—I’m organizing my magic library.”
Because she was nomadic by nature, mom frequently grew tired of our surroundings. This is what compelled us to move so often, sometimes to as many as three apartments per year. Because she didn’t drive a car, we always packed light. To minimize log jams on issues like interior design, mom and I shared components from the same thrifty bedroom ensemble. One chest, one dresser, two nightstands, and two bedframes: one double, one single. If whatever apartment we moved into that month couldn’t accommodate mom’s desk, Dictaphone and IBM typewriter, I’d take the big bed and dresser and mom would make do with the single bed, chest, and night stand.
Why mom wanted to switch dressers in this home was not readily apparent. We’d lived there for months before she got the urge to redecorate. After shelving my treasured volumes on prestidigitation, I begrudgingly complied. Before I could empty the contents of my massive dresser onto my bed, mom had already dragged her chest of drawers into the hallway. After helping her shove my empty dresser into her tiny live/work space, I began the painstaking process of re-organizing my clothes. Socks and underwear up top, T-shirts and shorts in the middle, color-coordinated bed linens in the bottom. That’s when I found two items mom had overlooked: a scratchy synthetic blanket, and a paperback tome nearly two inches thick with a title that tickled me where my bathing suit covered the second I read it. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But were Afraid to Ask).
I was eleven, so of course I had questions. Why do some kids have hair on their balls? How come my dick look like a snail in a turtleneck and my friend John Reagan’s looks like a baby with a plum in its fist? Why did the principal at Jesse P. Miller Elementary get fired for spanking girls over his knee? I quickly buried my find under the Houdini biography in my nightstand, then returned the blanket before she could realize what was missing. “Thanks, Harold,” she said. “I’ll need this blanket—it’s supposed to get cold tonight.” Most nights mom slept in the cozy embrace of a single-malt fog—what did she know about cold?
It if snowed dog shit in our living room that evening, I wouldn’t have noticed. Mom’s sex manual consumed me. So many questions. So many answers. Each one spelled out in a captivatingly dry, pedantic manner. Fellatio. mom called me a cocksucker all the time—is this what she meant? Masturbation. Now there was a word I could use to impress the girls at the park. Cunillingus. Sounded reasonable to me, especially after learning how difficult it is for women to experience vaginal orgasms. Orgasms. So that’s what happened every time I washed my dick. A dick, I was relieved to learn, that was exactly three-eighths of an inch longer than average. It took me three days to finish Dr. Reuben’s manual, and another month to show it off to friends. Mom didn’t know it, but her book had turned me into a guru among every sexual neophyte in the sixth grade. Or did she?
After referencing mom’s weighty missive at least a dozen times, a challenge materialized: how was I going to get rid of it? I couldn’t simply hand it back to her; doing so would instantly brand me a sexual deviant. Hiding the book in perpetuity wasn’t an option, although storing it as I had for the previous five weeks in the dust bag on our Hoover was an inspired bit of subterfuge—mom was more likely to translate the New Testament into Sanscrit than push a vacuum. No, for me, consuming Dr. Ruben’s manual was much easier than disposing it. We lived about 500 yards from a small neighborhood lake—I could have tied it to a rock and thrown it in the water. Better yet, my best friend Kenny Bacon had a fireplace—why didn’t I just burn it, or simply throw it in a dumpster on my way to school?
Faced with too many fool-proof solutions, I did what any other addle-headed adolescent blinded by birds and bees might do—I threw it on the roof of our house. As long as mom didn’t climb the tree in our back yard, my secret would be safe. We were probably going to move in ten weeks, anyway, so I liked the odds of my gamble. In the end, Dr. Rueben’s book decomposed peacefully beneath the brilliant Florida sun. And in Coach Peepers’ sex-ed class, my knowledge of all things vulgar, twisted, abhorrent, and profane shined just as bright.