Here’s my memory of how it began.
I’m ten years old, sitting on the edge of a lake alone. The wind has died, leaving the air perfectly still and silent except the chirp of a small persistent bird. My bare foot dangles in the water. I watch the ripples as they travel across a surface otherwise as smooth as steel.
Then voices come to me, a great splash, laughter. I scramble up on the rough granite, slip my flip flops onto my feet and follow the fishing trail through the trees. In 30 or 40 yards, I catch glimpses of pink skin between the pine needles, and I stop in the trail, uncertain so long that ants whose trail I have interrupted begin climbing my toes.
I hear my mother’s voice and I think she has said my name. The sounds are coming from off the trail a bit, and twigs brush against my bare shins as I approach. Then I push aside a long branch and see them.
My mother stands with her back to me thigh-deep, her small buttocks white against the backdrop of the gray-blue water, her yellow hair made tawny by the wet. My father does the same backstroke I remember from swimming pools, only with no bathing suit and I think this is only the second time I can remember seeing him naked, and the last time I was very, very small. The water he kicks up splashes my mother and she holds her hands up to keep the flying drops from her eyes.
Then suddenly my mother flinches. She grabs for something beneath the surface of the water, and giggles in a way I have never heard. She loses her balance and plunges in. Leif erupts from in front of her, water streaming from his black hair and mustache and pubic hair. He must have grabbed her foot and tipped her over. And then Laura appears, breast stroking from behind a rock that hid her from my view. She says something, and all of them laugh.
I have always remembered this scene with a pang. I am realizing now that the pain is not of insult, but of loneliness. No one had spoken my name at all.
Let’s imagine the story stops here. My question is whether this in itself was a transgression. Should adults in different couples be allowed to see each other nude? And if so, should they let their children see them that way?