When I was 10, I accidentally walked in on my mother naked in my parent’s bedroom. She frowned when I broke the sacred rule of walking into a room without knocking, but made no attempt to cover up.
“What is it?” she asked.
I was embarrassed but didn’t leave. The cause I was there to petition was too great.
“It’s the half hour and Kevin won’t change the channel!” I shouted.
She casually went about rifling through her panty hose drawer, holding up each pair to the light to check for runs. I’m not sure if she was aware of the fact that she didn’t have any clothes on or not. Perhaps I was still at the age where modesty between family members is optional. But regardless, there she was. My mother. In the body I was due to one day inherit.
“Isn’t it his T.V. day?” she asked.
“No! It’s Wednesday and we change at the half hour.”
“What’s he watching?”
I began to cry. What did it matter what he was watching? There were no exceptions to the Wednesday rule that each of us got to choose what T.V. program we wanted every half-hour in rotation. Mondays and Thursdays, Kevin had complete run of the remote. Tuesdays and Fridays I did. Wednesdays was “switch” day starting with Kevin at 6:00 p.m. Then I got the remote at 6:30. And it would continue that way until 9:00, when T.V. time was over.
“Star Trek.” I let my voice crack with emotion to garner sympathy.
She was always a bigger woman. Physically maternal and grand. In clothes, her curves and cushions were so familiar to me. I would crawl up on her lap constantly, bury my face in her bosom and cling to her love handles till I fell asleep. I never wondered what stuffing filled my body pillow. So that day, her nudity was a great confusion. This naked woman in front of me had nothing to do with the clothed house manager who ultimately controlled who got to change the channel!
“Well, just wait till it’s over,” she mumbled as she laid out a purple, cotton dress on the bed.
“He’s seen it! And it’s my turn!” This was unbelievable. Was there no longer order in the universe?
“Which one is it?”
Now, I looked directly in her face. I wasn’t going to let anything distract me from my pursuit of justice. She slipped on her underwear and sat on the bed with a sigh. She started rolling up one leg of her hose without looking me. Through gritted teeth, I spit out, “It’s the one where DATA gets a feeling chip and freaks out and Riker has to fight him in the holodeck and Picard takes away his cat.”
“Yeah. I like that one.”
“Mom! It’s already 7:32!” A tear trickled down my cheek and I think she saw but didn’t notice. “And he’s seen it 3 times and he’s just doing it to be mean cause he knows that the Cosby’s come on at 7:30 and I want to watch it! This is so unfair!!”
My mom said nothing. She stopped in the middle of rolling up the hose on her second leg and turned her head away. I couldn’t really tell, cause she wasn’t facing me anymore, but I think she might have been crying too. The room turned strange. And for a moment, I forgot all about my brother and the episode of The Cosby Show that I had already seen three times.
On that night, my mother was three months away from leaving my father. She was thousands of dollars in credit card debt. She would one day meet another woman and fall in love with her. But I didn’t know that then. I just knew that my mother didn’t want to look at me and that she was probably sad.
On that night, I didn’t have breasts or pubic hair or stretch marks. I didn’t have hips or a marriage I didn’t understand. I didn’t even have a period. But on that particular night in my very short life, I think I realized that this woman was my mother. And I was destined to be her daughter. Her sadness was somehow relevant to me and the full-breasted woman I would one day become. Without any say, these two strangers were undoubtedly entangled.
After that very long moment, she took a deep breath. Still looking in the other direction, she stood up and pulled her pantyhose up around her waist.
“Fine, tell him I said to give you the remote.”
I was instantly separated from any awareness I had of our sameness by my victory.
I turned from my mother and marched into the living room. I told Kevin that mom said he had to give me the remote. He didn’t believe me. He threw a candy dish at my head and I screamed. My mom came in, fully clothed.
“Kevin! Don’t throw things at your sister and give her the remote. It’s after the half-hour.”