"Your form is crappy today, Buddy," I said to Kyle as we jogged along. We were only a mile into the New Year's Day 5k and he looked like he was dying. The sweat pants he wore made him look skinny—malnourished, almost.
"Mom, I feel like total crap. Just go. I'll see you at the finish. I’m dying."
"Bub, it’s your first real 5k; I’m not going to leave you. Let's just get this over with. We're almost half finished already."
We trudged along and finished 10 minutes slower than our regular training runs. I fought being pissed--this race was Kyle’s idea and I felt like he didn't even try; he seemed distracted the whole jog.
Oh, well. So I was out $50 bucks. I got to spend the morning with my 12-year-old son and we both had new matching boxy t-shirts emblazoned with Chiropractic advertisements. It was money well spent in my book. I was thrilled Kyle seemed interested in my sport; distance running isn't the most exciting activity and it forced my introverted boy to hang out with me and almost chat for full 30-minute blocks of time. I really thought our relationship grew during our two months of training.
"Mom, can I talk to you about a personal issue? I mean, a sex issue?"
We were 10 minutes into our drive home from the race and the car interior suddenly seemed vacuum-sealed. Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground were on the radio asking me What Goes on in My Mind, but I reached up and silenced them so I could hear what the hell was going on in my son's pre-teen mind.
A sex issue?
"Well, what's up?" I lamely prompted.
"Ummm. This is awkward,” he astutely observed.
"It's fine, Buddy. Go ahead." I really hoped I sounded encouraging, though I was aware my voice was 2 octaves higher than usual. Nothing like your shrieking, harpy mother to make you feel comfy speaking frankly about prepubescent sex issues.
At least, I hoped they were prepubescent issues. Briefly, I imagined myself a 36-year-old grandmother. One glance at Kyle's smooth little boy face reassured me he wasn't a Baby Daddy.
"Sorry I sucked today, but I think there is something super wrong with me." He exhaled, steeling himself. "What disease gives you bright red spots all over your balls?"
Who knew my voice could rise ANOTHER octave?
"Bright red spots? On your balls?"
He stared at my face and I stared at the road. "Honey, I have no idea. Are they like chicken pox? Are they zits? Do they itch? Do you even have hair there yet? Sorry, I mean...Well, do the bumps itch?"
"No, they don't feel like anything. I didn't even know they were there until I was sitting on the toilet just before the race. I looked down and saw red and just thought, 'Holy shit!' Then the race was about to start so I got out and ran. And Mom, oh my God, yes, I have pubic hair. And when I say red, I mean BRIGHT red. Like, crayon red."
"Sorry, last time I saw you naked...nevermind. Shit. Should I look at them? I think I should look."
"But, what kind of disease could cause this?"
"Kyle, I have no idea. I mean, you know what an STD is, right?"
"Mom. So gross. I'm 12. I've never even had a girlfriend."
"Right, right. Sorry. I just have no idea. Let's just get home, shower up, and head to Urgent Care."
Kyle seemed glad to have a plan of attack. Or he was glad I was not talking about his pubic hair anymore.
He hit the shower as soon as I pulled into the driveway and I changed out of my sweaty running clothes, dragged a baby wipe over my face, and threw on a modicum of makeup.
I grabbed the keys and waited for Kyle to emerge from the bathroom. And I waited.
After a half hour passed, I knocked. "Everything okay?"
Kyle opened the door wearing a towel around his waist.
"Mom. They're gone."
"They washed off in the shower."
"How could they just wash away? There is no way unless I was it some kind of allergic reaction."
"Or, unless they were red fuzz balls from the sweats I wore this morning."
He stared back.
He broke into a grin and I followed suit. Talk about awkward silence.
After a few seconds he closed the door and left me standing there by myself outside the bathroom, staring at the closed door and smiling like a maniac. I headed to the kitchen and cracked a Sam Adams. Even though nothing actually happened, it had been a long morning. Between the chicken pox, the running, and the considerations of my baby’s junk, I needed a drink.
Carolyn Smuts taught history before skipping out on academic life in favor of corporate America. Her work has appeared in a bunch of stuffy magazines and a few cool ones, too. Recent fiction works were published by Akashic Books, Jitter Press, Wordland, and Omnific, though she is proudest of her erotic novella about Alexander Hamilton published a year before the Broadway show got all crazy-popular. Coincidence? She lives in Southern California, drinks coffee in the morning and booze at night, then spends weekends studying weird local history and running endless silly road races.
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