I was 11 years old when I saw my mother naked.
Well… I’m pretty sure I saw her loads naked when I was a baby, but I don’t think that really counts because I wasn’t really into girls as a baby, and if I was, that would be weird. And naked to me in those days meant seeing a pair of breasts, not the full Monty naked but still. So lemme correct that first statement…
I was 11 years old when I saw my first pair of breasts. Never mind that it belonged to my mother. It still counts. I guess.
I was wandering the house. It was a Wednesday afternoon. My mom and father didn’t work those days so they’d be at home to take care of me and my brothers. However, it was just me and my mom at home today because my brothers were out with my father at a movie. I remember taking a nap before because I didn’t want to fall asleep in the movie theatre so I told my brothers, the both of them, to wake me up before they left. The fact that younger brothers can never be relied on, as dictated by the Laws of Younger Brothers, meant that they forgot to wake me up. The both of them.
I woke up grouchy at the thought that I had wasted a perfectly good nap to watch a movie only to have its purpose wasted. Now being 11, pumped full of hormones, and the fact that I was the eldest brother and that I know what is best because I’m the mature one, I did something that would only make sense to any eldest child: I went to complain to my mother to make sure my younger siblings would get in trouble.
Satisfied with my plan on letting my brothers pay, I went downstairs to look for my mom. I went through to the kitchen hoping to hear the familiar humming that my mom would do. She had different songs to hum for whatever she was doing. If she was cleaning dishes, or preparing beef stew, or doing the crossword puzzle by the kitchen window, they would all have their own distinctive humming. I walked through to the hallway slowly hoping to hear something, but there was nothing today.
I traveled to the TV room — maybe she was watching one of those soap operas she always enjoyed. She would sometimes catch a few minutes of General Hospital if she was done cleaning or finished her crossword early. Sometimes I would watch with her, to find out what was so enthralling about evil twins popping up every week, but regardless they made her happy. So it made me happy. Today though, nothing.
Thinking this really odd, it dawned on me that the house was silent. For the first time. It scared me. I hadn’t noticed it but my mom was not to be found in any of her usual places. The only place she could be is in her room I remember thinking. I set off up the stairs to her room.
As I approached her room I remember that the door was slightly ajar. I was never allowed to enter my parents’ room. It was just a family rule to knock before entering for common courtesy. But I remember my parents’ door to their room was always closed. To have it open now was slightly unsettling. A small crack into a world I wasn’t allowed to be a part of.
Now to an 11 year old mind who has an active imagination, I thought it was better to peek through the small window, in case there was a house intruder and I had to save my mom and become the hero on the first page of the newspaper the next day. So I peeked.
I saw my mother naked. Well, her shirt was off, and she was staring into a mirror back at herself. Her back was to me and when I saw her naked, it was really just me looking at the reflection in the mirror. That still counts though. I guess.
I felt entranced. I was 11 years old, my goal of my life at the moment was to find a pair of breasts to ogle. But this was my MOM’S. I was conflicted. It felt like one eye was trying to look away while the other soaked it up. I felt the heat rise in my face. This was wrong. But it didn’t feel wrong. What I found really odd though was my mom feeling her breasts. What a visual for a pubescent boy. But I thought it was odd in the way she was doing it. It looked like nothing in the videos I’ve seen of other people doing it. My mom was groping around and almost digging in certain places almost as if she was feeling for something. And her face took no pleasure in doing this. Again, the videos were wrong. Her face was grimacing, almost in pain at her hands…probing around. As if searching for something. And then her face did something I wouldn’t expect to ever see from the woman that was vigilant in teaching my brothers right and wrong, the face that was synonymous with fear for me. My mom’s face looked defeated.
It broke my heart to see my mother look like that. Something was wrong. I wanted to reach out and hug that pain away, to let her know that she doesn’t have to feel whatever she was feeling. That whatever she was facing, we could go through it as a family. But there was nothing I could really do. Especially not at 11. There was nothing really ANYONE could do for her. That glimpse though, that small crack into my parent’s room, it wasn’t that I wasn’t allowed to be a part of that world. It was a world that I didn’t want to know.
I didn’t know much then. It’s arguable I still don’t know much now. But I guess I should change that statement I said earlier about seeing my mother naked.
I was 11 years old when I found out my mother had cancer.