Moving Forward, by Wayne Scheer
I knew my life was different than most ten-year-old kids when I saw my fifth-grade teacher naked.
What happened was I went to my Dad’s house early on a Saturday and there was Miss Myers and Dad on the living room couch. She was on top of him. When she saw me, she popped up like a jack-in-the-box and nearly knocked him to the floor. She grabbed her clothes and ran to the bedroom. It was funny because she covered her front with a shirt, and then turned to run away. I just stood there watching her naked butt before she ran into the bedroom and slammed the door.
My heart was pumping like I had just run out a triple.
The last time I saw Miss Myers, she was standing at the door of our classroom, smiling and wishing us a good weekend. I thought she was mad at me for talking to Brandon during math because she sort of looked over my shoulder and told Ellie Janowitz what a good job she had done on her science report. She didn’t say anything to me about my report.
Miss Myers is pretty and I like it when I say something that makes her laugh. She wrinkles her nose and squints her eyes, kind of like a pet rabbit I once had. She’s my favorite teacher, but now I wonder if she’ll still like me after I saw her butt.
My father was saying something I could hardly hear because it felt like he was about ten miles away. Then the words got clear. “Put your tongue back in your mouth, son.” He slipped on his boxers. “I thought you had baseball practice today. You weren’t supposed to be back until two.”
“It got cancelled.” I tossed my glove at the chair opposite the sofa. I thought I should act cool, as if seeing him with Miss Myers was no big deal, but my glove hit the side of the chair and fell on the floor and when I bent down to pick it up I dropped it again.
That’s when I noticed how clean the carpet was. Even the books on the shelves were arranged in order of height, just like Miss Myers makes us do. There wasn’t a pizza take-out box with a cold slice on the coffee table, not even an empty glass. It was weird, but the house looked like Miss Myers lived in it.
“We gotta talk about you calling before you come over,” he said, shaking his head. “But first, I better bring Anne–uh, Miss Myers–the rest of her clothes.” He gathered her underwear and jeans and hopped around on one leg getting into his pants.
I went into the kitchen and fixed a bologna sandwich for myself. That was the best part about being with Dad on weekends. He let me eat bologna on white bread with potato chips. I like putting the chips in the sandwich between the meat. Mom would throw a hissy fit if she knew, so Dad said it was our little secret.
Of course, me and Mom have secrets, too.
Like about two years ago when she was with her friend Vivian, Dad’s secretary. Dad was away on business and Vivian came to the house to talk to Mom about something. Mom told me to go play, and I knew that meant they would talk about things I wasn’t supposed to hear. So, of course, I hid on the stairs to listen. I didn’t hear anything, so I tiptoed around the corner.
They were kissing.
I thought it was gross, like when Mom and Dad kiss. Vivian saw me first and pulled away. Mom seemed nervous and made me promise not to tell Dad or anyone. Since Mom was so scared, I guessed they must have been doing something bad.
“Why shouldn’t I tell Dad?”
Vivian explained that if Dad knew she wasn’t at work she’d get in trouble. “Now you don’t want to get me in trouble, do you?”
I knew all about getting in trouble, so I said, “I guess not. But why were you kissing?”
I was planning on keeping Mom’s secret because she asked me again after Vivian left. “I’ll tell your father myself,” she said. That seemed fair, so I really planned on not telling Dad. But the words slipped out the second he came home.
“Mom and Vivian were kissing. I saw them.” Mom gave me one of her looks–the kind where she sort of swallows her bottom lip–and I felt like crying. I really didn’t mean to tell on Mom. They told me to watch TV. They even turned the sound up high, but I could still hear them.
“Is it true?” Dad asked.
“Yes. I’m sorry.” I couldn’t hear anything for a long time.
Then Dad said something like, “I thought you and Vivian were just a fling, an experiment. I thought that was over.”
“I thought so, too. But–I feel something for her. I wish I didn’t, but…”
I couldn’t hear what they were saying again for a while. Then Dad spoke.
“I can’t believe it. You and Vivian. She’s the best secretary I ever had.”
They started laughing like little kids. Adults can act so immature sometimes.
That happened back when I was just a kid. Of course, I know all about sex and lesbians now, especially after Mom and Dad split and Vivian — I’m supposed to call her Aunt Evie — moved in with Mom.
Dad always makes jokes, so it’s hard to tell sometimes if he’s sad or angry or happy. Before they got divorced and he bought his own house, we all lived together–me, Mom, Dad. And sometimes, Aunt Evie would stay over. One night, they were all in the hot tub while I typed to Brandon on Dad’s laptop. I heard my dad say, “This is the story of my life. I’m in a hot tub with two beautiful women, and one is a lesbian and the other my wife.”
Everyone laughed, but Dad sounded sad. I looked at him and felt bad. There was something in his voice that sounded like he was hurting. I remember one time when he was in the hospital for something called kidney stones. I visited him and saw him on his bed with tubes hanging from his arms. He tried making jokes, but I could see he was trying too hard to be funny. It was like that now. I’m too old to cry, but if Brandon hadn’t typed something stupid just then, I swear I might have blubbered like a baby.
I’d catch my mom crying sometimes. She’d usually be in the bathroom and I’d hear her. The first time it really scared me because I thought she might have fallen down and was hurt. I pushed the door open–no one ever locks doors in this house–and she was sitting on top of the commode cover with her clothes on. She had her head in her hands and I could see her trying to wipe away the tears.
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
After a long silence, she said, “I love you father. It should all be so simple.”
I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but I knew she was sad. I also thought she looked funny sitting there on top of the commode. I said in a real serious voice, “You know, Mom, when you and Dad showed me how to use the potty, I bet you said I had to lift the cover and pull down my pants.”
She laughed out loud and hugged me. “You’re just like your father. Always making jokes.”
I usually don’t like it when she gets all mushy like that, but this time it was all right.
Brandon said I have it easy because my mom and dad like each other. His mom’s been married three times. He hardly even remembers his real dad who hated his mom so much he tried to kill her. Brandon told me the story like it was a joke. “His hands were around her neck, like this.” He’d act out the story by holding out his hands and making his eyes look like two ping pong balls. “And she kicked him in the nuts.” It sounded funny the way he told it, especially when he’d roll on the floor holding himself.
But I know my dad would never do that. He told me how I should always love my mother and how she’ll always love me. He started saying that when they were still living together. Brandon wasn’t surprised when I told him what Dad said. “They always tell you how they love you and how that’ll never change. If you play it right, you can get a lot of cool stuff for Christmas.”
Brandon makes it sound like a game, but I don’t know. I wish things were the way they were when we all lived in one house. I want to be mad at somebody, but I don’t know who. Dad says it’s nobody’s fault, that I’ll understand when I’m older. And Mom says she still loves Dad and always will. I get so confused sometimes. I mean if there’s no one to blame and they still love each other, why can’t they live together? Parents can be hard to understand sometimes.
Once when I was kind of mopey, Dad told me to walk backwards. I took a few steps and tripped over a pile of books he had stacked by the couch. He said, “That’s why you have to keep moving forward. So you don’t fall down.” I think I got what he meant.
At least we both laughed.
Before my dad bought his own house, he and Mom tried living together like they were friends with separate rooms. It was the only time I remember Dad not laughing. I heard him tell Mom once how rough it was dating.
“It’s hard saying we can’t go back to my place because my wife might be there with her lesbian lover.”
“I bet you could have your pick of perverts,” she said.
It sounded like she meant it as a joke, but Dad didn’t laugh. Then he said something that sounded funny, and Mom didn’t laugh.
“I thought maybe you’d get over this lesbian thing, like a bad cold or something.”
Neither of them spoke for a long time. Then Dad said, “It’s real, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.”
After that, they started talking about divorce. One day, they asked me how I’d feel if they split up and Dad moved to a different house and Mom lived in this one. They started telling me how they loved me and always would. They promised they’d always be here for me and that nothing would change.
“Blah blah,” I said. It was exactly what Brandon had told me they would say.
“You’ll probably stay with your mom and Aunt Evie during the week,” Dad said. “That way you’ll stay in the same school. I’ll try to find a place as close as I can. And you can stay with me on weekends.”
They had it all worked out, like they were planning out my summer vacation. I hated them.
I was about to yell, the way they yell at me when I do something dumb. I wish kids could send their parents to their room and not let them out until they apologize. Then we could all share a carton of Rocky Road and laugh again.
I felt the back of my throat burn and my nose get stuffy. Instead of crying, I made a joke. “It’s about time,” I said. “Now you’ll be divorced, just like normal parents.”
And just when things were getting normal and I was getting used to living with Dad some days and Mom and Aunt Evie on others, I walk in and see my teacher naked. I told Dad later that day, “Now I really need to see a shrink.”
He laughed, but I knew he was about to get serious because he wrinkled his forehead until his eyebrows almost came together. I look in the mirror sometimes to see if I can do that, but I can’t. Anyway, he asked me if I remember when he told me how I always have to keep moving forward because if I walk backwards I’d probably break my neck.
Before I could answer, he said there was another change that I was going to have to accept.
That’s when I figured it out. He and Mom were getting back together again. Brandon once told me that his stepdad — “Number Two,” he calls him — moved out and back in a few times before his mother hooked up with Mario, her newest husband.
I told Dad it was all right, that I was happy and that I knew it all along.
“You did? I didn’t know until a few days ago.”
“We all belong together,” I said. “I never told you, but I’ve even been praying that we’d get back together.”
“Whoa,” he said. “Back together? I’m talking about me and Anne Myers. She’s going to move in here with us as soon as the school term ends.”
“Miss Myers? But she’s my teacher.”
“It’ll be strange at first, I know. But you’ve gotten used to stranger things than that.”
“No. No, I haven’t.”
And Dad started laughing. Adults are weird. When you don’t try to make them laugh, that’s when they laugh the hardest.
“You’re going to be all right, son. We’re all going to be all right.”
“Can I at least tell Brandon I saw Miss Myers naked?”
“No,” Dad said real quick. “She just might become your stepmom.”
Wayne Scheer has locked himself in a room with his computer and turtle since his retirement. (Wayne’s, not the turtle’s.) To keep from going back to work, he’s published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories, available at issuu.com/pearnoir/docs/revealing_moments. He’s been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife and can be contacted at wvscheer (at) aol (dot) com.
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Tags: divorce, lesbian, relationships, secrets, wayne scheer