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So much revealed

Posted by Adrienne. Comments (12).

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?

12 Responses to “So much revealed”

  1. Robert

    I think Adrienne’s loneliness is the key here. She’d been left out in the cold. What if her mother or dad or, preferably, both, had taken her aside and quietly and calmly explained that there were going to be some changes, that she needed to know about them, that she needed to understand, that her mother and father were always going to be there by her side to explain and talk about whatever happened, but that she needed to understand there were some changes coming. I think if there’s any “should” to be invoked here — to use the word in the final questions — it has nothing to do with nudity, pro or con, and everything to do with insuring that Adrienne felt included,connected and close to her parents.

  2. Joyce

    Sounds like you happened on a little harmless skinny dipping, Adrienne. What’s the big deal? Don’t be such a prude.

  3. Laird

    So you are saying parents can do whatever they want in their love lives, so long as they offer reassurance to their kids?

  4. Adrienne

    Where would you draw the line, Joyce?

  5. Frau

    The key, to me, is in the ethos of the society. Kids by osmosis and television pickup the dominant culture and values of a society. When parents depart from that, the kids are shocked and disoriented. Be alternative at your own risk.

  6. JC

    There is, it’s called fundamentalist christianity and unfortunaately it’s the society I grew up in

  7. Robert

    No, I’m making a different kind of argument, one that says nothing one way or the other about parents’ love lives: Spouse-swapping. Skinny-dipping. The whole family sitting in the living room imbibing television for ten hours a day. Lives devoted to saving the planet and forsaking mall culture. Lives devoted to Jesus Christ. You can make powerful arguments for or against each of these life-style choices, and people do, and they typically provoke strong emotions. All I’m saying is that a child caught up in any one of them, whatever the lifestyle choice, however benign and good and right it might seem to the rest of the family, will suffer if he or she feels excluded and distanced, as Adrienne seems to feel in this story. “The pain is not of insult, but of loneliness.”

    • Adrienne

      The feeling was not that I wanted to be in the lake skinny dipping with them. It was more that they had gone someplace I didn’t want to go.

  8. Frau

    “At your own risk” means you take responsibility when you depart from the dominant culture, whatever the departure. Here, the parents are not worried about the kids. They are just doing what they want to do.

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