I‘m sitting with my Methodist mother-in-law in the living room. We are replaying old memories like worn out records. There is a ballgame playing in the background. Braves are winning.
She sits in her wheelchair, nursing a nightly glass of Metamucil. I am sitting in a fold-up rollator walker, drinking one of her Ensure meal replacements. Chocolate.
The white-haired woman gets a sly look on her face and says, “Do you remember that one time…?”
There is mischief in her voice. And I already know where she’s going with this. Even so, I prod. “What ’one time?’”
“Oh, the time I came over to your house, unannounced, several years ago…?”
I knew we were going here.
“You mean the time you saw me naked?”
She laughs and sips her fiber supplement. “That would be the instance of which I speak.”
I might as well tell you the story now that we’ve brought it up. And I’m sorry if this is offensive because I consider myself a sincere gentleman. I mean it. I open doors for ladies, watch my language, and I don’t slouch.
But the truth is—and I can hardly say it—my mother-in-law has indeed seen me wearing nothing but the Joy of the Lord. And I mean the full biscuit.
Don’t make me repeat myself.
It happened years ago. And the violation occurred right in my own house. I’m forever traumatized. In fact, just writing about this causes unpleasant feelings to start swimming inside me, some of which date back to middle-school gym showers.
I can’t really explain how it happened. All I know is that one moment I’m waltzing across my empty house after a shower, enjoying the invigorating springtime air, then (WAM!) a peeping Thomasina is standing in my kitchen.
“Mother Mary!” I squealed—but in a masculine tone. “How’d you get in here?”
“I have a key, ding-a-ling.”
“Please don’t use that word.”
She handed me a stack of envelopes, but did not turn away. Her demeanor could only be described as unimpressed. “I was bringing your mail.”
I felt my face get hot. “My eyes are up here.”
“It’s mostly just bills.”
“Miss Mary, I’m naked.”
She agreed with this.
Then without breaking her non-Methodist stare, she said, “Sorry, I didn’t bring any ones or fives with me.”
Without uttering another word I trotted to the bedroom and heard loud whistling and cheering behind me. I edged past her, one hand covering the stern of the boat, the other shielding the bow.
The thing is, I’ve never felt so violated. A man’s house is his sanctuary, his dojo. Mothers-in-law can’t just pop in for half-priced peepshows whenever the mood strikes. There are laws against this sort of thing in civilized countries.
I suppose even after all these years I still don’t know how to act now that my mother-in-law has seen the authentic me. Nothing has ever been the same between us. I have a hard time looking her in the eye.
Take the holidays. Thanksgiving with the family is awkward. I want to know who prays the serious and reverent blessing with a straight face? It can’t be me. I can’t say grace while she’s bouncing her eyebrows at me. I know what she’s visualizing.
What about going to church? For years after the incident whenever our congregation would sing a hymn, Mary would slap my back pocket and say, “I got your Blessed Assurance right here.”
Isn’t it sad how something like an innocent pair of hindcheeks can rip a family apart with awkwardness? Which is why my advice to all sons-in-law reading this is, keep your family close and your skivvies closer.
Mary finishes her Metamucil, and after we are done retelling the old story I realize how much this past experience traumatized me. I never forgot it. It laid me bare, so to speak. So I ask Mother Mary where two traumatized souls go from here.
Mary suggested we go for drinks and dinner.