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(Not That You Asked) by Steve Almond

The following is an excerpt from (Not That You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions (Random House, 2007) by Steve Almond.

 
SHAME ON ME

Lizzie
I am in the backyard, playing Ping-Pong against the warped backboard. Neither of my brothers will play me anymore, so I make believe I’m up against Adolf Hitler, with the fate of the Jews hanging in the balance. To summarize: I am bored.

Dave appears at the back door. He has a look of barely suppressed joy on his face; I will soon endure humiliation.

“What?” I say.

“Mom wants to see you.”

“About what?”

I find my mother in my father’s study—not a good sign. She is seated at the desk. The recliner is for me. I am fifteen years old, a junior. I have been in my awkward phase for nine years.

“Well,” she says. “Steven.” She sets her hands carefully on her lap. “I want to say, to begin with, that I’m very glad you’re using protection.”

My mother is staring at me, having just made direct reference to my use of a condom and therefore, in my mind, to my penis, an action that strikes me as a betrayal of certain founding mother/son principles. But my mother is a no-nonsense type, a psychiatrist who spends her days listening to graphic kvetchings.

“I recognize that you and Pamela have become sexually active. I’m proud of you for choosing to do so responsibly.”

I make a clucking noise.

I do not think to question how it is that my mother has figured out that I am having sex with Pam. That is way beyond me. I am still trying to fit my penis and my mother into the same room without puking.

“There is one thing we need to talk about,” my mother says. “Yesterday when I came home from work Lizzie was playing with something on the oriental rug, chewing on something.”

Lizzie is our new Labrador retriever. She is a frantic puppy who will soon grow into a frantic dog and be shipped off to a farm. She chews on everything. The only one of us who exerts any control over Lizzie is Mike, who French-kisses her with alarming frequency. My mother waits for me to make the logical connection.

I do not.

“I didn’t know what Lizzie was chewing on,” my mother says slowly. “So I went over to see what it was.”

I am still not getting it, because my brain has a good habit of locking up when in the presence of large, mortifying revelations.

“I went over to see what it was,” my mother repeats. “And, as it so happened, she was chewing on a condom. A, uh, used condom.”

My reaction to this news is physiologically complicated. I begin sweating. My sphincter goes into a lengthy spasm. A vision comes to me of my mother walking over to Lizzie and bending down to figure out what she is chewing on and realizing what it is and sighing the sort of sigh that only the mother of three teenage boys can sigh and staring down at Lizzie and the condom, saying Bad dog! Bad dog! and trying to decide what the hell to do. She is a neat freak. She is a neat freak particularly when it comes to the oriental rug, which is hand-knotted and beautiful, with intricate designs I have spent many many stoned hours inspecting, a rug that frankly has no business in the living room, that belongs in a boy-and-dog-proof vault. My mother tells Lizzie to sit and to drop it, but Lizzie will not, so my mom finally grabs the edge of the used condom, which, to Lizzie, signals that it’s time to play. She starts shaking her head like hyper dogs do and clamps down on the condom, which, thanks to the sharpness of her teeth, has punctured already, such that when my mother tries to pull it away the latex tears and my mother is spattered (perhaps in her actual face) with my semen.

So now I’ve got this invasive thought in my head (thanks, head!), which I know to be wildly inappropriate and, which I know, what’s more, as the child of two psychiatrists, suggests some pretty unsavory things about me in terms of my Oedipal Complex and my hostility toward women and the likelihood (awfully likely) that I will grow into a sexual deviant who seduces women in the unconscious hope of staining them with my semen, and/or has sexual relations with dogs. Probably both. I glance at my mother. She has that look that says: I know what you are thinking, Steven. So I say to her (in my head), Oh yeah? What am I thinking? And she says (in my head, quite calmly), Your father and I have discussed the matter. We both feel these thoughts are within the normal range of adolescent neuroses, and nothing that thirty-five years of therapy won’t cure. Imagine my relief.

Back in reality, my mother is saying something like, “Lizzie must have found it in the bathroom...” But I am having trouble making out the words because I’m in the midst of what amounts to a grand mal seizure. At a certain point her mouth stops moving and I nod and mutter an apology. I am profoundly thankful she does not try to hug me.

I stumble back to my room. My brothers are standing in the doorways to their rooms shaking their heads, and I see now that I am not the first son called into the study; I am in fact the third and final son she has spoken to this afternoon, the one she has judged least likely to be having sex, an implied fact that only magnifies the horror of the entire Lizzie/used-condom episode, which is now—thanks to my brothers—public property to be invoked at their leisure.


From (Not that You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions by Steve Almond. Copyright © 2007 by Steve Almond. Published by Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

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