My son has not spoken to me in over twenty years.
I reread the sentence I have just written and try and fail to connect the separate words with what they mean. Too many meanings, too many years. I believe there is pain in this world that is never healed, no matter how many years pass, but not this pain, not for me. What I feel, behind the bare words, is really more of an apprehension. What loose ends, what dirty secrets? What gargoyle struggles to open her eroded eyes and flap into the light? If I write another sentence, will I begin to grieve? What if I don't?
The Bertolucci film Last Tango in Paris finally had come to a movie theater in Havre, Montana, and Jack was beside himself to see it. Alas, Last Tango was X-rated, and Jack was only fourteen.
Jack and his best friend, Sean Prentiss, were big movie buffs, and they had worked out a system to get themselves into R-rated movies, which required parental permission. At first Mrs. Prentiss and I, worn down by pleas and promises from our sons, would phone the manager of the movie theater and give our permission for the boys to see whatever film they had set their hearts on. After a few months, however, there was a change of policy at the theater. How was the manager supposed to know who was making those phone calls? He wanted to see a handwritten note. So for awhile we wrote notes. But then another change in policy, or perhaps a stiffening of the manager's resolve. He required our personal permission; and so, grumbling, Mrs. Prentiss and I would take turns driving down to the movie theater and glaring at the cashier while our sons' tickets were purchased. Anything for a few hours' peace and quiet.
X-rated, however, meant there was no question of parental permission. If you weren't eighteen, you didn't get in to see Last Tango in Paris.
Although every high school kid in town had tried and failed to [End Page 38] sneak in (the problem was, the assistant principal at the local high school was moonlighting as a ticket-taker at the theater, and of course he recognized them all), Jack just couldn't believe his tried-and-true tactics of carping and whining and otherwise driving me crazy wouldn't somehow get him in to see the film. He hung around my desk while I was trying to grade papers, arguing with me about censorship and patriarchy and oppression, until I flung down my pen and threw up my hands.
"It doesn't matter whether I agree with you or not! The damned film is X-rated, and I can't do a thing to get you in to see it, short of dressing you in my clothes and my wig and giving you my id to carry!"
A heartbeat's pause.
"Would you do that?"
Jack, my son. For these few months in his fifteenth year, he's just about my height. Sometimes he wears my Levis, which hang on his boy's body without panache, without panache just yet, because at fourteen he's androgynous. Except for his dark coloring, he could almost be me. That tender skin with hardly a hint of down on lip and jaw, those huge dark-lashed brown eyes that at this moment are fixed on me.
"Would you do that?"
And some perverse imp stirs in me—can it be done? Could he, could I, get away with it?
Hairpieces and wigs are fashionable in 1973, and I've got a wig with a lot of swirling dark curls I comb down over his forehead. I touch up his skin with a little foundation and add an outdated pair of my glasses that have ugly big gunmetal frames with rhinestones in the corners. My prescription for nearsightedness is so strong that Jack can't see a thing through the glasses, although his eyes swim out at me. Now what. His Levis and boots, either sex could be wearing those. I give him my beige car...