I picked Miss Belambini up at Cedar Park Elementary, where she was a teacher. Her car was in the shop through the week.
“You’re a lifesaver,” she told me as she got into my pickup. I had seen her only one time before, and she had been wearing a lowcut evening dress, with her face rouged and the upper halves of her breasts exposed. Today she was dressed in a skyblue sweater and white pants, her cheeks colored only by the day’s smiles and shouts. But apparently her faint lipstick had given her away: “My kids bugged me since morning bell—Miss Belambini is going on a date tonight! They told me I was lazy not to go home and put on more makeup, and I told them I couldn’t because of my fenderbender yesterday. But they’re so smart. I swear, I couldn’t keep a secret from them if I wanted to.”
I found her more attractive at that moment than I ever had. When she asked if I didn’t want to drop her off at her apartment to change, I told her there was nothing she needed to improve. She blushed appreciatively.
Our first date had been in Minneapolis, but this evening we went to a restaurant the Tribune called a “hidden gem” in Rosemount, nestled in a strip mall between a skate repair shop and a daycare. Miss Belambini lived in Rosemount as well, and when the hostess walked us through the quaintly elegant dining area, and our waiter brought us our exceptional food, she tried to impress in me how many elements of good taste were flowing into the suburbs.
“Take a guess what unit we studied today?”
“We aren’t allowed to dissect frogs. No, today we started Human Growth and Development—Sex Ed.”
She said it in such a way, ironical yet suggestive, that made me smile and lean closer to her across the table. “Sounds controversial,” I said.
“Not that much. There are jokes, and some parents who don’t like it. But it’s not as contentious as when we were kids.”
She talked a bit about how she liked being a teacher generally. It was very empowering to teach children. She loved shaping their minds, feeling appreciated, feeling loved by the twenty-five students she called “my kids.” The city of Lebanon had recently put up high rises which housed Somalis and Hmong, so her class was now very multicultural, and she loved teaching the multicultural kids the most, because they were the most challenging. Many of them didn’t speak English at home. These were the kids she doted upon most in class. They were especially challenging during Human Growth and Development.
“My multicultural kids often know less than the other kids about sex because they don’t watch American TV at home. But their parents are probably the most anxious to have their kids taught.”
She enjoyed talking about herself and liked me more the more I let her talk. I asked her in what ways it was different, teaching native Americans versus the Hmong and Somalis.
“Well, there are so many different cultural practices. There are differences that we aren’t even perceptive of as white Americans—I know I wasn’t. The question is how you get the most critical information through. The district board discovered the most effective teaching method is to distinguish between sex acts that can get a person pregnant and those that can’t.”
“I don’t remember learning that in fourth grade.”
“My kids are much more advanced than we were. It’s like that saying—sometimes I think my kids are teaching me.”
“Well, what did you tell them?” I leaned forward a little more and she did too.
“Well, we start with masturbation. We teach the kids that masturbation is the buildingblock of all sexual activity, and actually the safest and healthiest kind of sex. Then I taught about vaginal intercourse. I told the kids that this was the most dangerous kind of sex. Then I explained oral sex and how it’s impossible to get pregnant from that.”
“Did you also explain…?”
She leaned over and whispered to me: “I called it a fenderbender! Then of course I taught the kids its real name.”
I looked over my shoulder to make sure the waiter wasn’t approaching. “I like hearing about your curriculum.”
“I like telling you.” She smiled and excused herself to use the ladies’ room.
When she was away, I began thinking about my own education. I remembered Mr. Sullivan, who was one of the few male teachers at my elementary school, and had to leave his regular class to teach the fourth grade boys. I remember once my mother talking about how Mr. Sullivan’s wife didn’t work, and homeschooled their children. More than our kids’ jokes about smegma and the anatomy handouts Mr. Sullivan told us not to show the girls, I remembered how he impressed in us that we would soon be able to have children of our own. He said there was nothing better in the world than being close to your wife after she had given birth to your son or daughter, that there was no greater pride, no higher feeling.
I drove Miss Belambini to her apartment. The light in her hallway was out, and only the green Exit sign showed our way. I asked her: “Did you teach about kissing today?”
We immediately went to her bedroom. The excitement that drew me to her was very great. Yet when we kissed, and I had felt up her skyblue sweater and below the waist of her white pants, I realized how cold and actually unpleasant she was as a lover. Her touch was almost stern in its terseness, and her body—her admirable breasts, legs, hair, her lips—seemed like a commentary on a female body, a tool for use like a lever, a servo, a plunger, a mop. Even her cries of exultation seemed rote, like something recited off of a blackboard. Yet she had learned long ago that intrepidness could make up for the passion her kisses failed to inflame. She was on the pill, and told me I didn’t need to use a condom. She asked me if I wanted to try a fenderbender, and I told her no.
When I was done, I could not feign any affection for her. She tried to press herself against my thigh, but I squirmed uncomfortably until she disengaged. She tried to start a conversation with me, but I could muster only monosyllables. I despised everything, at that moment, that was foreign to me, which included her and her body and my own, and my soul was heavy with dread.
She got up to clean herself out in the bathroom, and I used to the opportunity to sit upright and plot the excuses that would allow me to sleep in my own bed that night. On her dressertop was an heirloom jewelry box, a cheap plastic makeup kit, a vial of lubrication, and a photo of her class on school picture day. She had chosen to look good that day, and had permed her blond hair; she wore the evening dress I had seen her in three nights ago, and her shoulders were bare and her collar dipped low enough to see the summits of her breasts. A grinning Hmong girl stood in front of her, blocking sight of her long shapely legs. I heard Miss Belambini in the bathroom, slapping her crotch with water.
I remembered back again to my sex education. All the fourth grade teachers at my school were young women, and one had found an old video in a storage closet that the rest agreed the students should watch. They wheeled in the cart with the TV and VCR on it and turned off the lights. We all started making fun of it. None of us had any moral qualms with it based on religion or parental objections—we were all too embarrassed to tell our parents what we learned in school that day. We made fun of it because we knew irony from TV shows, and we knew this was something worth being ironical and disparaging about. It was wrong because it was goofy, like someone flatulating during a speech or burping while kissing a girl on the cheek. It was so stupid to watch, and it was stupid that we had been forced to watch it. Miss Walsh, my teacher, ran up and put a manila folder over the screen when a cartoon came on that was going to teach us what tumescence was. We all knew, from her reaction, that it was something wicked and hilarious. She told the class that the video was a mistake, and we should ignore what we had seen. Actually, I could never trust in anything my teachers told me again.