by Donald Hubbard
It wasn’t Playboy or even Penthouse, it was a stack of really crummy nudie magazines that my Mom found under my bed, titles like Palm Companion and Born Slutty. No one ever claimed they read these publications for the articles because there wasn’t anything to read.
I chose under the bed to store my possessions because no one vacuumed there, seemingly more secure than Fort Knox, until my Mom picked this day to rearrange my room without telling me, discovering my cache.
It was meant to constitute a surprise.
Nothing happened for days, I awkwardly navigated my encounters with my parents and at dinner, our small talk became smaller.
Until the talk occurred. Or should I say, the intervention.
I had my feet propped up onto the top of my desk, leaning back while reading a depressing Thomas Hardy novel, when my Dad knocked and asked, “may we come in?”
To this day, I regret not saying, “no,” but of course I let them in, since they owned the room.
They stumbled in and sat at the edge of my bed, as Dad handed me all of my dirty magazines.
“I believe that these are yours, your mother found these the other day when she was rearranging your room. We are returning them to you, they are yours, it was wrong of us to take them away from you.”
Wait, what, it wasn’t wrong? They spent all of this money on Catholics school tuition, and here I was, choking the bishop during my free time. I expected a form of punishment, but they did the worst thing possible, they gave me a mulligan. Please just make me feel bad and get it over with….
“Your father and me understand that you are growing up, and we understand your curiosity, so we bought you a year’s subscription to Playboy.”
“Consider it an early Christmas present.”
“Yes, and if I want to look at it when you are done, you won’t pull rank on your old man, will you? I like to read the articles.”
“Well you go back to your studying.”
“Yes, thank you, I guess.”
They departed, shutting my bedroom door with a blend of respect and empathy. Owning Palm Companion felt oddly sanctified.
Initially, I felt relief, no longer embarrassed or frightened that they meant to ground me until I was thirty-five years old, then through osmosis, I began to fathom that I had somehow lost my parents to two entities whom tried to be buddies, or at worst mad psychologists.
When the first Playboy arrived, my parents knocked on my door and ceremoniously handed it to me. I avoided my Dad’s gaze, convinced that he was winking at me.
Instead, he said, “If you’d like a few minutes alone, your mother and me could drive over to Kleinschaefers to pick up some coffee.”
“That’s alright Dad, I have a lot of homework, but thanks again, I think I’ll hold off on the honeymoon for now.”
Each month I dreaded the arrival of my adult magazine, it made sex feel so undirty, something my parents apparently did. They wrested from me the joy of masturbation.
They tried to talk to me, to determine “where I was coming from,” a catchphrase that emerged once parents determined that drugs had Pied-Pipered their children away.
Mom intimated that women enjoyed “that thing,” belying the myth that only boys indulged in onanism, and Dad related his old fling with Betty Grable, though they never met.
Talking solved nothing, I felt bad enough in my status as the only Campion kid who never went to a high school prom, even my schizophrenic oldest brother got lucky before he got unlucky. I wanted a girlfriend, never wished to feel self-conscious again, nor engage in fruitless introspection, the unevictible thoughts in my head. But I could not fix that hole in the ground. And neither could Mom and Dad.
Maybe they thought that like Frank, I was going crazy and that talking it out might prevent me from joining him at the state hospital, I don’t know because we rarely spoke to each. Instead of keeping my bedroom room door shut, I opened it, and played loud music on the stereo to repel them, like the US Army did to make Noriega wig out. In rare instances when the music died, I shook off my parents, claiming that I had tough Physics homework due, even though I did not take any Physics class, but they did not know that.
An unofficial truce formed, an agreement to not talk about puberty and its permutations, or anything else.
It ended as they drove me to campus my freshman year in college, as we winded our way in the car to the Quad, where I’d get my dorm assignment and drop off my suitcases and steamer trunk.
We had to pass through this long tunnel, the last moment before the roller coaster turned manically scary, and I thought that there must be somehow that my parents and me might find some formula to get along with each other and live together happily again, the way we did before my Mom found my magazines.
Our car exited the tunnel into the Quad as the sun shot through the windshield. Helpful undergrads wearing visors greeted me with smiles as my Dad emptied the car of my belongings.
He hugged me, “Well, I guess that’s it.” He got back into the car and he drove away with my Mom.
The student volunteers grabbed my stuff and told me to follow them to my dorm room. Had I thought about it, I might have imagined Mom and Dad that night, driving home for several hours, terribly upset that they had just lost their youngest child; not knowing that, that instead of driving home, they danced past midnight, as angels, blessedly free of me.
* * *
Donald Hubbard has written six books, one of which was profiled on Regis and Kelly and another that was a Boston Globe bestseller and Amazon (category) top ten. Two books have gone into a second edition and he was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame as an author in 2015. Since 2016, he has published forty stories in twenty-five magazines and had a chapter from one of his books published in Notre Dame Magazine. He studied English at Georgetown and the University of Kent.