I was given “the talk” when I was ten, while driving to my grandmother’s house alone in our family car with my mother. It was one of the most scarring conversations I had ever had. The talk was not really a detailed explanation of coitus but rather a moral lecture on when sex is appropriate. “Sex is something that happens when a mommy and daddy love each other very much. When you are older, much older,” my mother stressed the last part. “People do not have sex until they are married.” My mother then proceeded to fumble through a more scientific explanation of procreation that was just horrifying. It was the second most awkward conversation she and I would ever have. I didn’t understand why she was telling my any of this stuff. That was what books were for but then again a book is what had gotten me into this mess in the first place.
From fourth through sixth grade I lived in a small, private lakefront community about thirty minutes from the town I lived the bulk of my childhood. The community was unincorporated and had no library so every Wednesday a county bookmobile would come to our school and each class would go to the book mobile, in groups of four or five and check out a book for one week. I loved to read so Wednesday was definitely my favorite day of the week at school.
One Wednesday in early spring, while on the book mobile with two of my closest childhood friends, Cheryl and Ann-Marie, and another girl from my class, Theresa, Cheryl made the discovery of the year. She stood huddled in the corner of the book mobile frantically flipping through the pages of a book I could not see. I stood watching her giggle and turn the pages for a moment until she turned and motioned us all over. When approached her she instructed us to stand around her obstructing the librarian’s view of the book. When she was sure the woman couldn’t see her she turned toward us still blushing and giggling with book opened to a picture of a naked man. The illustrations were all images created from layers of construction paper. We burst into giggles drawing attention to ourselves in the process. The librarian raised her eyebrow and gestured for us to keep it down. Cheryl then flipped to another page that showed a male dachshund hound penetrating a female dachshund hound. Again we erupted in giggles. The librarian glared at us again and asked if we had found our books. “I have,” Cheryl announced and walked over to the librarian with the book. We all giggled again and watched. I was certain the librarian would not let Cheryl check out the book. Surely it was included in our section by mistake.
To my shock the librarian checked out the book and Cheryl exited the book mobile looking very cocky and proud of herself. The librarian told us to hurry and find our books. We did and went back to class. During recess Cheryl, Ann-Marie, Theresa and I all sat out on the asphalt behind our classroom looking through the book, How Babies Are Made and laughing at the pictures of various domestic animals having sex. We lingered on the pages illustrating naked construction paper people, their genitalia and pretty graphic depictions of penetration for a book available to ten year olds. “Mom will kill you if she sees this book, Cheryl,” Ann-Marie warned her sister. “I’ll leave it in my desk,” Cheryl said. “I can take it home,” I offered. Cheryl looked at me for long moment, “You better bring it back to school tomorrow,” Cheryl warned me. “Okay,” I agreed and she handed the book over to me.
When I got home from school I ran straight up stairs and into my room closing the door behind me. I withdrew the book from my backpack and opened it to the first page. I read the book over and over again taking my time examining all of the pictures. When I finished studying it I was sure I knew more about sex than anyone on the planet. I was definitely more of a woman than any ten year old I knew. I had seen and read things now. I was informed.
The next day I took the book back to school and gave it to Cheryl before class. At each recess the four of us sat back behind our classroom looking at our dirty book. We laughed and I pointed out passages for Ann-Marie to read out loud to the group. The next night Theresa volunteered to take the book home and return it to Cheryl the next day. We managed to keep our possession of the book a secret for the entire week but when Wednesday rolled around we were all very sad to part ways with the book. When our group was told that it was time to go to the book mobile we walked slowly flipping through the pages one more time, reciting passages we found amusing and laughing. It was as though we were saying goodbye to an old friend.
When we reached the mobile library, I stopped. I had a wonderful idea. I stopped and turned to the girls. “One of you needs to check this book out again,” I announced. “I’ll check it out,” Ann-Marie volunteered. Cheryl and Theresa complemented me on my brilliant idea and just like that we had the book for another week but more importantly we had a plan to keep the book for as long as we wanted. Each week we would take turns checking out the book.
About two months later, we had kept the book in our possession for almost three full rotations of our check out cycle. It had been my turn to check out the book and I did so, stuffing the book into my book bag before returning to class. When all the children in my class had returned from the bookmobile, my teacher announced that we would be writing book reports on the books we had just checked out of the library. He said, ”So now we are going to go around the classroom and share our book choices with our peers.” My fifth grade teacher, Mr. Bateman, was one of my favorite teachers all the way through school. Mr. B said, ”We will start with this row,” and pointed at the girl sitting four seats in front of me. “Mindy, please tell us the name of your book and why you chose it.” My heart was racing. I looked to Cheryl for help but she had her face buried in her arms on her desk in an attempt to stifle her snickering, her body trembling from laughter. I looked at Ann-Marie. She looked mildly more sympathetic but her face was red from trying not to laugh.
“Teri, please tell us about your book,” Mr. Bateman prompted me. “I… uh I,” I stammered. “I didn’t check out a book.” Cheryl let out a little chuckle and I glared at her. She buried her face back in her arms. Mr. Bateman looked at me doubtfully. “What do you mean you don’t have a book?” he inquired. “Of course you do. Now please get your book out and tell us what it is titled.” “I… um…” I fumbled with words as I reached into my book bag to retrieve the book. When I found the book I placed my hand on it but didn’t withdraw it from the bag. Mr. Bateman walked over to my desk, took my bag and withdrew the book. “How Babies are…,” his voice trailed off as the entire class exploded into laughter. “You checked this out from the bookmobile?” he asked looking down at me with a cross of amusement and concern on his face. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. He patted me on the shoulder and asked me to go with him to the bookmobile. “Chris you are in charge of the class,” he said and he escorted me back to the mobile library. Mr. Bateman asked me to sit in chair just outside and he went in to speak to the librarian. A few long minutes later he stepped out of the bookmobile and we walked back to the classroom. He asked me to wait outside and went in. A minute later the door flew open and Cheryl stepped outside, followed by Ann-Marie and Theresa. They all glared at me. Theresa looked as though she might cry. Mr. Bateman looked at each of us long and hard. “Teri isn’t the only one who has been curious about this book is she girls?” he asked the others. Each girl looked down. He proceeded to explain that librarian had informed him, after looking at her records, that each of us had checked the book out at least twice in as many months. He also informed us that the book would no longer be available to us and asked us to rejoin the class.
After school that day Mr. Bateman made me wait with him until all of the students had left the classroom and then walked me to my mother’s car. When I was situated in the front seat, Mr. Bateman asked my mother if he could speak with her for a moment. When my mom returned to the car she didn’t say a word to me. She didn’t even look at me and I felt awful. When I got home my mother informed that she had to make a phone call. I knew she was calling Cheryl and Ann-Marie’s mother. I went up to my room and waited for my impending punishment. The punishment never came.
Two month later I found myself in the car with my mother listening to her ramble on uncomfortably about the morality and purpose of intercourse. When she finished she didn’t even ask if I had questions. She said I was never to look at the book again and I never did. I didn’t have to because just a week before one of my friends had found a porno mag under her father’s bed and we all spent the next two months looking at that.