The Chef tells me in the course of his daily travels he encounters parents shopping for school supplies. Apparently kids are prepping to head back to school here in Mercyburg. Ah, yes. Back to school; that special time of year when I remember the time I thought I invented sex. Or rather, I thought I discovered sex. As a child. And by child I mean elementary school. No joke, I figured out sexual intercourse without anyone telling me how it was done. And I thought I was the only one who knew. And even as a child the moment I thought I’d figured out something unique or significant or profound the first thing I wanted to do was to write it down. On paper, of course, because personal computers were not a thing yet. And in block script because I hadn’t learned cursive yet. My first novel was Joe The Rabbit. My first work of nonfiction was How To Have Sex, an illustrated guide.
I didn’t call it that, of course. I didn’t know this activity I’d discovered was called sex. Even when I told someone my idea I was informed this activity already had a name and it wasn’t sex. But this was long after my illustrated guide was discovered by my mother and I got into big trouble for, as she screamed, “Taking something pretty and making it ugly.” My whole life this statement has mystified me. Even now that I’m all grown up and understand she was trying to shame me, I don’t get it. I get the shame part. Shame was a legit parenting tactic back in the day. All the best parents used it. But even in, what — third grade, fourth grade? — words mattered to me. She didn’t scream that that sex was wrong so my shameful crime was ugliness? Was it my ugly words or my ugly drawing? Or both? Imagine if I’d been so proud of what I’d discovered and diagrammed that I’d taken it to show my mother instead of having it chanced upon in my tablet. Would it have still been ugly?
Back in my day a tablet was a bound pad of lined paper and not an electronic device. We practicing handwriting on a tablet of paper. In elementary school the paper was grayish brown, not white. The lines on the paper were dark gray and widely spaced. We used pencils and erasers. Grades were earned by copying both the uppercase and lowercase alphabet, numbers, and punctuation marks until we’d mastered them. As our vocabulary grew we executed those words through the skill of writing them and achieved the goal of effectively communicating in print. Words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs; the purpose and passion of my life was born on a paper tablet.
When I was in school we needed only five supplies: pencil, paper tablet, eraser, paste and scissors. That’s it. The Chef told me a lady he encountered this week was shopping from a list provided by her kid’s school and this list was 27 items long. School supplies, y’all. That lady’s kid must haul 27 items to school on the first day. He also mentioned that when kids bring these supplies to school they don’t get to keep them. Parents aren’t supposed to label the supplies anymore because everything brought in goes into a giant cache of supplies and then redistributed to the entire grade. Parents don’t buy supplies for their own kids anymore. They buy them for someone else’s kid. And some of the supplies aren’t for the kids; they’re for the teachers or the classroom. Wow. That must suck all the excitement out of the annual ritual of getting school supplies. Yes, it used to be exciting to get new school supplies.
But back to the sex, right? Isn’t that why you’re here? I mean, isn’t that why you’re still here? It’s okay. You don’t have to say it. I know.
So I became aware that the genitalia of boys and girls was different. Boys had wieners. Girls had pussies. Yeah. Pussies. My parents taught me to say this. The irony, right? Pussy wasn’t ugly to say but it was apparently ugly to write or draw. They didn’t teach me cutesy names for my genitals (or anyone else’s genitals). My nether region was not a foo-foo or a hoo-hoo or a laa-laa or a bum-bum. It wasn’t even a vagina. It was my pussy. My butt was my butt. My brother and my dad and all boys had wieners. Boobies were boobies, although I didn’t have any of those yet. I really and truly grew up saying pussy loudly and proudly (as kids do with all new knowledge) and didn’t know anything was wrong with this until I said it in church. That’s another story.
One day while contemplating the human anatomy it occurred to me that boys and girls were designed to fit together at the genitals. I mean, it was there. No one had to tell me. It was a logical conclusion. I arrived at this conclusion independently. I didn’t know why they should fit together or why they’d ever want to but in theory they could, right? Yes, right. And because no one had ever told me this and I’d never heard this information anywhere else or from anyone else I naturally assumed I thought of it first. I was the first person to discover this. And because I was born not only so brilliant and analytical but also with an insatiable need to write things, the first thing I wanted to do was commit this idea to paper. Pencil. Tablet. Had to get this down before I forgot or just because it felt important or because that’s what I did. I wrote things. Sing it with me, baby, I was born this way.
I was at home when I discovered sex. Alone in my bedroom. Thinking about life. Back then kids didn’t look at screens all day. We thought about things. My tablet was also home because I’d been doing homework. First I drew the pictures of the people, then I added the words. I drew a naked boy on the left side of the page. I drew a naked girl on the right side of the page. These figures were drawn in profile so they could be facing each other. This would be important later when I added the words and the arrows pointing to their genitals.
The boy’s wiener stuck straight out from his body. Not because I knew that that wieners sometimes did this but because I needed to show how it was going to fit when it got where it was going, which was straight across the page to the girl. The girl was given pubic hair. I knew adult women grew hair on their pussies like my mother so I added it for the same purposes of orientation; to show the wiener’s target and maybe also because I didn’t have the artistic wherewithal for an orifice. I also drew boobies on the girl because I did have the artistic wherewithal for accuracy and when you discover a secret of the universe you want it presented accurately and realistically.
Above the boy I wrote what he was supposed to do and drew an arrow pointing to his wiener to show which part of his anatomy he was supposed to use, and then action arrows toward the girl to show how he was supposed to do it. I did the same for the girl, pointing to her giant ’70s penciled-in bush to show how she was supposed to accommodate the action. It was all so scientific, not at all gratuitous or salacious. I had done this deep in the pages of my tablet because it was top-secret intelligence, not because I was ashamed. I hadn’t yet been taught shame. That part would come later when I closed my tablet and when on with childhood for an indeterminate amount of time until my mother came looking for some paper to keep the score of board game. I wasn’t home at the time. When I got home she confronted me with my sex diagram and the screaming and shaming commenced. She told my father what I’d done so of course I got it again from him.
I told a chum from school I could not come to her birthday party because I was grounded. I told her why I was grounded. I mean, I told her what I’d done but I still didn’t understand what I’d done wrong. She told me I was stupid because everyone knows the act depicted in my drawing was calling fucking, and grownups who do it were called fuckers. It was a very bad thing to say so it was even worse to write. And the preferred term for genitals was privates, by the way, girls were not supposed to say pussy. I believed her. People drank beer at her house which made her household considerably more worldly than mine. She obviously knew things.
In the end I was deeply disappointed to know that I someone had already discovered my idea, and of course, that I’d thought up something so atrocious and shameful. I hadn’t meant to make porn. I was simply documenting my idea. It would be years before I examined the disparity between the presence of beer making my friend’s home a font of worldly knowledge while in my home children ran around saying pussy this and pussy that and inventing intercourse from independent thought. At some point later I would ask the same girl to explain a blowjob to me and she said it was when people pulled their pants down blew on each other’s privates.
Beer or no beer, this time I did not believe her. Why would anyone do that? My mother never bothered explaining any of it to me. We never had a sex talk. Seems to me that she was given the perfect opportunity, stumbling upon my crudely drawn pict-o-sex, but she didn’t seize the moment. We never revisited the topic post-punishment. My peers were obviously not a reliable source of information so after the blowjob conversation I stopped asking people for facts about sex and learned everything I could from dirty paperback novels. (We didn’t have the internet yet.) The most incredible part was not the sex. It was that no one having the sex in those stories was ashamed of it and none of it seemed ugly.
This comes back to me every time I’m confronted with the annual ritual of school supplies. And yes, it makes me feel like a total perv that the two are permanently linked in my memory but the blame lies with the shame. I guess I’m writing about it now because the enduring injustice of it all is that no one applauded the fact that I figured out the basic mechanics of sex on my own. No one was amazed at my early deductive reasoning. My parents were not dazzled by my brilliance. No one was blown away that my grade school tablet was evidence of a child genius. Everyone was so busy instilling shame over the sex part that they completely forgot to extol my creativity and cleverness. Assholes. Alternative healers call this kind of thing a mother wound.
I never stopped writing, and until the computer years I kept writing on tablets of paper and then spiral-bound notebooks. When a notebook was new I would first flip to a middle page, any page, and write something there to be found by anyone snooping a la my scandalized mother. It was always something I felt was true but contentious or rebellious, such as all dogs do NOT go to heaven, or boys shouldn’t be allowed to run around shirtless if girls can’t, or I do not pray the Lord my soul to take, or Christmas sucks. There was usually a crude drawing to go along with it. I took for granted that I, in my infinite brilliance, was the only person on the planet to do this. Nope. I was just the only one doing it for that particular reason.
One night I was teaching a yoga class from a notebook of sequences I’d written. I flipped to a middle page to write down an email address for a student and found the words yoga makes me poop next to a crudely drawn steaming pile of turds. My stepson. Little fucker. He was in high school at the time. When I got home that night he was out with friends so I went to his room and pulled his notebooks out of his backpack and returned the favor. It was our annual tradition until he moved out and went away to college. So I guess the scab has fallen off the mother wound.