A Memoir of Regrets and Epiphanies

Excerpt from Chapter 2:

The “facts of life” seemed an inadequately euphemistic term for the purpose of sex. “How people make babies” would have been a more honest label for the breeding act with a thousand names. But even at age fifteen, I remained abysmally ignorant of these truths.

That summer of 1962, as my quest for knowledge led me forward, dust motes danced in beams of sunlight streaming in the windows of my great aunt’s abandoned chicken house. Here and there, cracks broke the long concrete floor but at the upper end where I sat, a place had been set aside for a trunk, random chairs, a broken ottoman, an iron bedstead and various other household outcasts. The trunk contained back issues of Reader’s Digest, mostly 1940s and 1950s editions which I’d mined for days as our summer vacation passed at a glacial pace.

Our family—dad, mom, me, younger sister, and two infant brothers—were camped in my great aunt’s cabin, a relic perched a hundred feet from the main house, a stone’s throw from the chicken house and another twenty feet from the outhouse. The toilet hosted nests of angry red wasps and yellow jackets, so as our days there crept past, bodily processes became fraught with terror.

The purpose of our stay was to save my father from cigarettes. After reading the latest fad for cleansing the body from nicotine addiction, my mother had hit upon the perfect plan in her continuing effort to expand our health food diet: stay in her Aunt Golvia’s cabin, pick bushels of grapes from the nearby vineyards, and eat nothing but grapes. That would cure him.

As it turned out, it didn’t cure him but it did exacerbate my problem with the outhouse.

But that wasn’t the focus of my attention that sweltering July afternoon. As I thumbed through various articles, sweat dripping down my sides, my hands stopped on a page with fascinating drawings. These looked like – no, they were!—line drawings of male and female bodies with genitalia in anatomically correct detail. Even more fascinating was a third drawing showing the male organ inside the female’s body. An even smaller detail showed the release of sperm penetrating the cervix to fertilize the egg.

I read it and re-read it, trying to understand what it meant. My face became hot. My hands trembled.

Could this be true? It was in Readers Digest, so didn’t it have to be true?

So much suddenly made sense. All the years of my life until that point, I’d been told that when a woman loved a man ‘enough,’ a baby grew in her stomach. It was a miracle of God. I accepted that idea like I accepted that it rained.

My fevered mind raced back to my previous efforts to understand procreation. Just months prior, I stood in the cafeteria line as a group of friends whispered about a freshman classmate getting pregnant.

“She shouldn’t have done that,” JoEllen said. “She knew better.”

“They expelled her,” Marti added.

“That’s not fair. She can’t help it if she loves him that much,” I said piously.

Six sets of eyes settled on me. I squirmed uncomfortably. What?

None of them took mercy and told me the truth. Maybe they didn’t grasp that I truly didn’t know how babies were made. But a few months later as I crouched in that dusty barn staring at the page, here it was in black and white. Humiliation flooded through me.

How could I have been so stupid?!

It was now obvious my mother had lied to me and more than once. In seventh grade when my friend Joanie told a joke with the word ‘fuck’ in it, I didn’t get it. The whole point of the joke hinged on that word. I rushed home from school to ask what ‘fuck’ meant.

I ran down the alley as fast as my long lanky legs could carry me, crossed the yard, and burst in through the back door. Mom was in the kitchen, surrounded as usual by my two little brothers and a multitude of unfinished tasks. I posed my question.

“What does ‘fuck’ mean?”

Red splotches sprang onto her cheeks and her dark eyes flashed in anger.

“Jessica Hardy! Don’t you ever say that filthy word,” she said sharply. “Only filthy people say that.”

I refused to back down. “But what does it mean?”

“You don’t need to know what it means,” she said, dismissing me with a turn of her back.

Wow. Well, if she was that upset about a word, I absolutely had to find out what it meant.

Next day, my friend Joanie was only too happy to explain that ‘fuck’ was when a man put his “necessary item” inside a girl “down there” and went to the bathroom.

Oh god, the horror! Now, as I studied the detailed drawings and re-read the Reader’s Digest article, I finally got it.

MY PARENTS HAD FUCKED!

I staggered back to the cabin where my mother was in the tiny kitchen washing grapes. I shoved the open Reader’s Digest in front of her. “Is this true?”

She took the book, scanned the drawings, and angrily dropped the little publication into the trash can without saying a single word. I could tell by the red spots on her cheeks that it was true.

“Tell me!”

“Yes,” she said furiously. “Where did you get that? You’ve got no business reading such filth.”

My jaw dropped. Filth? This was how she got pregnant. Why was it filth? I couldn’t believe it. How could it be?

I wanted to scream at her. Make her admit her deliberate lies, confess her intentional failure to educate me about the most important aspect of human existence. Explain why making babies was filth. I couldn’t find words.

Instead, I raced through the cabin, climbed into the sleeping loft, and threw myself into my pillow where I sobbed my eyes out. My parents! Fucking? Each of us kids had come from fuck?

Oh, the horror. The shame. I thought I would throw up. I would never do that. Now I knew with absolutely certainty that I would never have a husband or a family because I would never let that filthy ‘fuck’ thing happen to me. The missionary thing in Africa solidified in my mind.

Months later when Bob walked up beside me in the high school band room and my knees sagged, I quickly amended my outlook. If I loved someone enough, I might let him fuck me.

from Once in a Lifetime Opportunity by Jessica Hardy. New Release at Amazon, paperback or ebook.

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