"Hes in his room," said Jill, somberly, to her weary-looking husband. "Ive already spoken to him and"
"What did you say?"
Jill took several seconds to respond, believing, at first, that Glen had intended to ask what their son had said to her in his defense. Then she wasnt sure what he meant. After all their years together, he should have known her well enough to take her good judgment for granted on a serious thing like this. But sometimes, for no good reason, hed treat her as though she was the child and their little boy was the adult. She was beginning to feel that he was doing it now.
"I didnt tell him he was going to burn in hell for having that filth, and I didnt tell him it was all right to keep it." She was trying to sound as indigent as she felt, but she didnt have the voice for it. She sounded like a whimpering puppy.
"Im sorry, Jill," said Glen, "I wasnt second guessing you. I just didnt want to cover the same ground you did if I dont have to."
"Of course, dear," said Jill, recognizing the diplomatic half-truth for what it was, but not knowing how to deal with it in a tactful, feminine way, the way Estelle Gidarb would have.
"What did you say to him?"
"Dont you want to know what he said to me? Dont you want to know where he got thatthat stuff, how long hes been looking at it and abusing himself and getting who knows what kind of twisted ideas about sex?"
The whipped puppy was gone. In its place Glen saw a confident crusader for the American way. The American party way, that is. Glen had his answer. Logic was not one of his wifes strong points, so it wasnt likely that she would figure out how she had given it to him. If hed thought about it in terms of politics instead of worrying himself to exhaustion about what she might have said, he would have known, more or less, without asking.
Jills Magnum Cum Laude grasp of facts and "expert opinion," which hed originally mistaken for intelligence, was strictly the product of an inflexible mind-set and a well-trained memory. Her answers to all of lifes questions were those spoken from a rostrum or a pulpit, over the airwaves or through the pages of a best-selling book, by someone with a big name, an important position or an impressive title.
She had been trying for weeks to get Glen to read a book by some licensed witch-doctor, about the evils of pornography. It may not have been a best seller yet, but it seemed to Glen that it couldnt miss, if someone as passionately committed to popular wisdom as Jill, regarded it so highly. Now that he was facing a man to man talk with his son on the very subject of pornography, he wished hed read it. Then hed know exactly what she said...
The boy sat slouched in the easy chair looking younger than his fourteen years. He was tapping the arm-rests with the tips of his fingers to an African-American beat heard only in his head. Ordinarily, his mother would have been all over him for sitting there at four in the mourning, in his jeans, T-shirt and socks, listening to phantom DZ music. On this early Friday morning, he had been ordered by her not to go to bed, to sit alone with no electronic amusements; to contemplate his crime until his father came home. Hed been there for over six hours, plotting an aggressive defense strategy against his father and fantasizing about his mothers painful, humiliating demise. He couldnt see himself bringing about the old bats end, but the thought of an agonizing fatal disease or fiery car crash, gave him much pleasure....
Was that a tap on his door? Yes! Oh, shit!
"Ah...Yeah, Dad." The boy had convinced himself that he was relaxed and ready for his father. But, with the knock at the door, came the same shock to the system that he got when his mother had confronted him with the diskette. He jumped as though he had been jabbed in the chest with a cattle prod. Not cool.
"Chuck. We have to talk."
The boy stood, swallowed, and walked stiffly to the door. Look him in the eye, he told himself, Look him in the eye!
Of all the possible scenarios Glen had practiced on the way home, none seemed to fit the occasion, when his son opened the door. The first thing Glen noticed was the incongruity of steely-eyed defiance in the boys face and a body that quivered like a Skid-Row bum in need of a drink. Chuck was big for his age, tough, athletic and rarely intimidated by anyone or anything. But looking down at his smooth, young face, Glen got the feeling that he was looking farther down than usual.
Chucks eyes dropped two seconds after they were met by his fathers. So did his shoulders. His chest heaved. Glen could see that he was upset with himself for caving in so quickly.
He wanted to say, Relax kid. Its not that big a deal. Too bad he couldnt. Considering the ever present threat of a time scan in situations like this, he had to behave as though a telewindow camera was recording the whole thing. Through his job, he had met enough time track engineers to know that everything said and done by everyone since the dawn of man, was recorded in the heavens. What portion of that record judges and juries saw in their T-windows, was a function of what the government authorities wanted them to see or didnt think was important enough to screen out. If he didnt do his job according to American party guidelines for proper parental care, he could end up in a Disposal Zone for child abuse.
"Mind if I have a seat?" asked Glen, motioning toward the boys neatly made bed.
His son shrugged his shoulder.
Glen sat down on the edge of the bed and gestured for the boy to sit next to him. It was a good arrangement, one that allowed them to look away from each other if they liked, without suggesting weakness or disrespect. They were both looking away when Glen got down to business.
"Well," he said, "Your mother wanted me to ask you where you got the disk."
"Are you going to tell me?"
Chuck waited for the threat that didnt come. "No, Dad. I cant."
Chuck looked at his father in surprise. "You do?"
"Sure. You got it from a friend and you dont want to get him in trouble."
"How did you know that?"
"There are only so many possibilities, and I think I know you well enough to eliminate anything dishonest. I wish I could say as much for your friend."
The red glow in his sons cheeks told him not only that he was right about were Chuck got the disk from in a general sense, but the identity of the boy who gave it to him. He was an older boy with an older brother who could have downloaded it for himself.
Chucks friend was the kind of clean-cut, well-mannered con-man most women of all ages loved, and most older men saw straight through. He knew how to dress and talk and carry himself. He drove his own car and had his pick of girls. To a young man just north of puberty, he would have appeared sophisticated and infinitely wise in the ways of the world beyond his parents' ability to comprehend.
Now that his father had read his cheeks for the answer he couldnt put in words, there was no point in denying it. The old man was being amazingly cool about this thing. Chuck took another look at his options and decided it was best to come clean. The truth wasnt as bad as what his mother had assumed and, though he couldnt tell her, he didnt want his father to think he was a pervert.
"Its not what you think, Dadhonest. I dont watch that kind of stuff the way some people do. I was curious, thats all. I heard guys talk about it. I wanted to see for myself. When I got the chance, I did. Thats all there is too it."
Glen gave no indication as to whether he bought the story or not. "Is this the only one you had."
"...No. But it was the last one, believe me. I forgot I had it."
"How could you do that?"
"Dad, Im not a little kid anymore. Like I said. I wanted to see because I was curious. But after youve seen a few ofem, they all start looking alike. I mean, like boring, you know? I dont even understand what Mom got so bent out of shape about, unless she thought I was ..."
"Whacking off?" offered Glen with a smile.
"Dad! I dont do that. Im a normal guy and I like normal sex."
Glen blinked. "Youre having sex with girls?"
"Of course. Im almost 15, you know. Did you think I was a faggot or a jerk-off?"
The boy was looking at him as though homosexuality and masturbation were the vilest of sexual perversions, and the only alternatives to heterosexual intercourse for a boy his age. Abstinence was nowhere in his thinking about what was normal. Glen didnt know how to tell him that he had been a virgin until he was 19 and hadnt discovered masturbation as a satisfying cure for "nocturnal emissions" until he was 16.
"Chucky?" The boy leaped to his feet in front of his father, his fists clenched in a way that the man identified as defensive, rather than threatening. "You havent called me that since I was 9 years old!"
"Im sorry Chuck. For a second you...Sit down."
Glen let a flash of anger pass before he stood, grabbed his son by both arms, lifted him off the floor, spun him around, and sat him on the bed.
"Look, kid," he said in an even tone, "Never talk like that to me. Im your father. Im on your side. Its my job to be on your side, even when you think Im against you. Im rich. Youre poor. I know a hell of a lot more than you think I do about the world. I know where the land mines are buried and I can keep you from stepping onem, even if you insist on doing it. And, if I have to, I can and will kick your little ass."
Chuck had been more surprised and embarrassed than frightened and hurt by his fathers sudden demonstration of power on so many levels at once. He had far more to lose than to gain by openly opposing the man who sired him, regardless of the immediate outcome of battle. He was impressed.
"I apologize, Dad."
"I accept." Glen folded his arms across his chest. "I know how dumb this is going to sound to you, but youre too young for sexual intercourse."
Recognizing that his father was now literally and deliberately talking down to him, and it was his own fault, he seized the opportunity to put their dialogue back on even terms. "It doesnt sound dumb," he said. "But 14 isnt as young as it used to be. Im not so sure it ever was."
It was Glens turn to be impressed. "What do you mean by that?"
The ol man knew what he meant. He was either giving him a chance to make his case or buying time to think. In either event, Chuck had presented his thesis in adult terms and his father was responding in kind.
"You ever take Cultural Anthropology in school?"
"No. I didnt know they offered it to high school freshmen."
"They dont. Ive been watching the T-window college course on the Education channel. Its real interesting, Dad. You would like it. They showed all these time tracks of different cultures all over the world and the idea of what an adult is changes from time to time and place to place. In some cultures I would have been considered an adult a couple of years ago. Girls in the Old West used to get married to old guys at 12 and 13."
"This isnt the old west, son. And you are no old guy."
"Thats the point. I mean, now, they lock up old guys who have sex with girls under 21. Thats seven years older than me."
"They should. A girl under 21 is emotionally vulnerable to the sexual advance of an older man. They call it rape, because thats what it is. Her body chemistry is telling her that its time to have sex, but she hasnt been around long enough to make an informed decision about it."
"But if she never did nothin till she was 25 or 30, she wouldnt know anything then, either. And what about us guys? What are we supposed to do all the time our body chemistry is telling us to have sex?"
The ball was in Glens court. He didnt know what to do with it. "What did your mother tell you?"
Chuck blushed. "She thinks Im a jerk-off. And I never did that. Never! I swear to God. I wish Id never taken that disk. Now, every time she thinks of one of them perverts shes gonna think of me. And its like she was looking at me doing it. Thats what makes me so mad. What I do in my room should be my business. A parent isnt supposed to know everything about her son. Some things are private. She had no right!"
Glen couldnt tell his son that he agreed. The State of Michigan might someday be watching him. He couldnt tell him that self-gratification was okay and sexual intercourse was not. To open the question of whether or not a minor was using a condom, was against the law.
He put his hand on Chucks shoulder and sat down next to him.
He sighed. "The sex drive is one of the strongest drives in nature. It doesnt begin at 21 or whatever age is convenient for a particular societys wants and needs. The only open questions are the object of desire and the means of satisfying it. Thats why your mother was so worried about the effect the disk could have on you and why Im so worried about the affect of girls. The government cant outlaw girls until its safe to have sex with them. Its never going to be safe, but you shouldnt have to deal with all of that until youre old enough to assume all the responsibilities of adulthood. Its up to you to learn self-control."
"You mean, learning to do without."
"Yes. I know what its like to be almost 15, with parents who think youre too young. You dont know what its like to be almost 40 with a kid who thinks hes old enough. Parents arent a separate species from their children. Were you a few years down the line. Weve been where youre going and we know its not good for someone your age to be sexually active for a whole lot of damn good reasons. If nothing else, its socially irresponsible. You dont have the resources to be responsible. And whether you are responsible or not, could be a question of life and death."
"Okay, then, what am I supposed to do?"
"I cant tell you that. I can only tell you what not to do. Nature will take care of the rest."
"No I dont."
"Remember your first wet dream."
"The kids might have a different name for it now, but thats when you wake up and the sheets are all wet and sticky. Its the male equivalent of menstruation. It happens to all of us when were about 13 or 14."
"It never happened to me."
"Oh, come on. Sure it has."
"Nope. I think I know what youre talking about, but, in my case it was never...necessary."
My God, thought Glen, no wonder he thought porn was boring. "How many girls have you done it with."
Chuck shrugged. "I dont how."
"Was it more that 10?"
"More than 20?"
"I guess. I dont keep count."
"Youd better start. And if youre not doing it already, youd better wear protection." To hell with the law. If he got caught someday on flashback, so be it. This was his sons life he was talking aboutnot to mention his own possible grandchildren.
"I now how to protect myself, Dad. Theres nothing to worry about."
"Thats what King Louis the Sixteenth told his father."
"Never mind. Im gonna have to tell your mother somethingand I cant tell her about the girls. Got any suggestions?"
Chucks eyes roamed the room and fell across a book laying face down on his desk. He stood and got it. "Mom told me to read this," he said, holding it up to his father. "I wasnt gonna do it. But I guess I better, huh? You can tell her you talked me into it. Thatll make her happy."
Glen smiled, taking the book from his son and studying the cover. "I think this is the one she wanted me to read, too. Wed better skim it together. I dont know how much of this Im going to agree with but the title looks promising. Doing Without, by Dr. Estelle Gidarb..."
Copyright © 1998 by Jasper Garrison
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison