So, as I watched the white Subaru station wagon pull around to the front of the high school’s main office, where I waited by the pay phone, I wasn’t sure how to read the pursed lips my mother wore. I didn’t have long to wait.
“Where were you?” my Mother asked. The car stayed in park.
“I told you, I had a tutoring session in math. My teacher said I needed tutoring in math.” The lie tumbled from my throat, but its strength wavered when it met my Mother’s gaze. She already knew where I had really been. And it wasn’t at math tutoring for my Algebra shortcomings.
Then came the stream of fears and angry embarrassments and horror at what people would think. My Mother’s best friend had seen me walking from school. She had seen my boyfriend – my first actual boyfriend – walking with me. We had quickly turned our heads when we saw her car approaching. And my Mother’s best friend knew where he lived, and she could see where we were heading. My Mother’s best friend also knew that my first actual boyfriend’s parents both had jobs out-of-town, so his house was empty.
My Mother’s best friend told my mother. They both knew where I had been. And, in a small town like mine, if my Mother’s best friend knew where we had been, there was a good chance that most of the cars that had passed us as we walked knew where we had been. And all those cars had people in them. People with imaginations like my Mother’s best friend’s imagination. And that’s what made her embarrassed and afraid.
Since I knew that she knew, it didn’t make a difference that I said nothing had happened. I told her that the non-existent tutoring session had been cancelled, so I went to my boyfriend’s house. I had lied; I was still lying. I had gone to a boy’s house. He was two years older. And while imaginations are usually more powerful than reality, my Mother had every reason to be angry and embarrassed and afraid.
After the berating speech and the probable punishment that I no longer remember, I told the story of getting caught to my first actual boyfriend. At the time, we laughed and made fun of my Mother’s best friend and my Mother for their “Big Brother” system of parenting. He even wrote “Your Mom’s friends are watching!” in my yearbook. It was hard to look my mother’s best friend in the eye. I could be defiant with my Mother, but with her best friend, it felt wrong. She was an eyewitness. There could be no doubt.
I continued to date my first actual boyfriend. His braces even gave me a huge hickey some weeks later. I lamely attempted to cover it with a “cute scarf” when I had to wear my shame to school. Dating him became rebellion and scorn for my Mother and her best friend. I flaunted my continued relationship by playing the music he liked really loudly when I should have been doing Algebra homework. And I asked, at least once a week, if I could go to Algebra tutoring. I felt so mutinous.
Now, I look at it differently. I’m thankful that my Mother’s best friend saw us and tattled on us. I’m thankful that my Mother used words like “slut” and “shameful” and several other German words to express how she felt. Because the truth is, at thirteen years old, going to my first actual boyfriend’s house terrified me. Because of being found out that first time, things slowed down considerably (hickey notwithstanding). I was relieved; I didn’t have the tools to assert my opinions to a sixteen year old at thirteen. And when he broke up with me – my first actual breakup – over the summer, my broken heart and swollen eyes recovered quickly because I could finish out my summer without being, shall we say, encouraged.
So, thank you to my Mother and my Mother’s best friend. Thank you for doing what parents and friends of parents are supposed to do.
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