My son, the fifth grader, is receiving Sex Ed in school. Monday, he and his classmates watch cartoons—on-screen Bart Simpsons morphing into bigger, scarier, less predictable adolescents. The boys in one room, the girls in the other, they learn that their chemistry is changing. Mood swings threaten, growth spurts lurk. Voices will thicken and mammaries will swell.
Tuesday, they study male anatomy. My son’s vocabulary is flush with new words: gonads, urethra, erection, and scrotum. He giggles when these words roll off his tongue. He dreams of a giant penis chasing him down our street. He tells me he’s entering puberty. The proof is in the sweating and the wispy hairs accumulating on his crotch. Crotch, giggle, giggle. Crotch.
Wednesday, it’s on to female anatomy. Over dinner, he speaks of vaginas, ovaries, clitorises, and uteruses. If he thinks that penis dream was scary, I joke to my co-workers, waituntil he has the vagina dream. In the shower he checks for the descent of his testes and confides before going to bed that he knows what a stiffie is for.
By Thursday, he’s checking out my girlfriend. She’s younger and prettier than his mother. She’s also less crazy. At breakfast, he stares at her braless breasts swimming beneath the thin fabric of the t-shirt I bought her at Nordstrom’s. Her nipples eye us when she lifts her coffee cup, sips, and swallows, the long chord of her throat bobbing up and down. Risque Business, the t-shirt glitters across its front.
He learns about glandular secretions and nocturnal emissions. When I say I’m going for firewood, he says, Wood, heh, heh, wood. He’s not supposed to have a Facebook page, but it’s hard to say no to the only child of parents living on opposite coasts. On his Wall I discover photos of Sports Illustrated models Shared from a posting by another fifth-grade boy. They shave, Hannah Comments. Ulysses Likes. She’s a wet dream, Nathan adds.
My girlfriend is a chef. She believes that food is sex on a plate. On her night off, she serves us rack of lamb and truffled wild-mushroom risotto. Earthy, musky aromas curl above our plates and fill the room. My son glances down her blouse when she helps him cut his meat. His eyes follow her denimed derrière when she carries dirty dishes to the sink. Red wine coats her lips until she licks it clean with her velvety tongue. In bed, her hands are scented with semen and garlic. Eat me, she whispers.
On Friday, they learn the mechanics of sex. Grinning, my son holds his left hand in the OK position, then moves the forefinger of his right hand in and out, in and out. He watches Sponge Boob for two hours straight. Nicholas from across the street comes over and the two of them shoot air soft rifles out back until a neighbor complains. Dick head, Nicholas says.
While brushing his teeth, my son has questions. How fast do sperm swim? How many times a day can you do it? Why does my weenie get hard for no reason?
My ex-wife texts that she wants to visit after she leaves rehab. She wants me to send her money, like I’m made of money. She feels clean and young again, like a virgin. Maybe, she writes, we could give it another try for the sake of our son, the son we conceived, we believe, on the beach at Hermosa, under a blanket as the sun sizzled into the sea. The problem is, while our son really is a virgin, he is no longer the innocent he was when she ran out on us three years and three thousand miles ago.
My girlfriend works later than expected. She arrives home, her face flushed, her blouse hanging out. She’s tired and agitated, and dodges my kiss. I wonder if she’s having an affair or if it’s that time of the month. She brushes her teeth and explains they were short a cook tonight, a night that featured half-off mussels and clams.
Bearded clams? I ask.
She tosses her blouse in the corner and steps out of her slacks and panties, a string dangling between her legs.
Jesus Christ, when are you going to grow up?
I’m up for a fight, if that’s what she wants, but I’d prefer to consider her question a compliment and move on.