The Wanking Antichrist
On the one hand, when I did it I was always afraid I was committing multiple sins, including overindulging in worldly pleasure, squandering the holy seeds of procreation and, depending on what I was thinking about at the time, even coveting my neighbor’s ass. On the other hand, if I didn’t do it, I might have died. Cousin Jay was always talking about the fatal condition, DSB, or Deadly Sperm Buildup, and cited cases all across the country where kids literally exploded. On the one hand, nothing conducted pleasure, fantasy and angst into such an existential crescendo. On the other hand, it was just playing with myself. And as an altar boy, no matter how ethereal the finale, my little symphony always ended in guilt. On the one hand, it was a stress reliever. Penthouse recommended I do it before every big event in my life, like a test or basketball game. On the other hand, it was still illegal in some states and, until not too long ago, it was considered a disease sometimes treated at the insane asylum. On the one hand, it was perverted behavior, with possible results including blindness, insanity and hairy palms. On the other hand, it felt real good…
So there I was, years later, a recovering Catholic living with my wife-to-be Katrina, from Sardinia, in an apartment smaller than my childhood bedroom. Despite an adolescence of porn mags and guilt, I was a relatively normal 29-year-old white guy.
Katrina, an only child, hadn’t seen her parents in a year, so they were taking their first plane to America to visit us…for two months. They were both in their 70s, and neither spoke much English. Admiral Bruno and I had the same birthday–except he was born at the beginning of the Communist Revolution and I was born at the beginning of the Sexual one. One time he tried to explain Italy’s part in World War II, but instead of saying “We” he said “I,” as in, “First, I invaded Ethiopia. Then I made a pact with Germany and joined the Axis powers.” That we were very similar was the one thing we didn’t like about each other.
My mother-in-law, Signora Giuseppina, was an angel, a saint, a martyr. Her shoulders may have been bent from years of serving others, but her moral posture remained erect. Mama Pina was a staunch Catholic. On more than one occasion I felt her shepherd’s staff hooked around my neck, trying to bring me back into the fold.
Her daughter and I were living in sin, but not while she was there. Even if we wanted to, the cots we were sleeping on were too squeaky; hers was set up right next to her parents’, and mine was in the other room. Four people in a converted studio needed a delicate choreography at best. Everybody had to move carefully and allow for traffic jams.
I was out of work at the time, and therefore had no excuse for escape. It went surprisingly well for the first month. Then little things started to get on everyone’s nerves. Little things like not having sex for four weeks. Then there was the Admiral waking up at dawn to make himself a cappuccino. Unfortunately, at 6 o’clock in the morning I was in the kitchen–sleeping.
The best of times turned into the most annoying of times, not the least of which was due to our understanding of how the bathroom door worked. For me, when the door was closed it meant, “Don’t come knocking.” Maybe it was a cultural thing, or maybe it was a white trash thing that came from growing up with two brothers, but where I came from, when the powder room was vacant, we left the door open, and this let everyone know that no one was in there. This became particularly troublesome because of the door’s broken lock, which, after eight or nine friendly reminders from my future wife and mother-in-law, I finally got around to fixing.
Then there was the whole face towel conundrum. Here we use it to dry the face; over there they use it to dry the ass. And when pressing my rosy cheeks into a plush terrycloth of ass, I tended to overreact. There’s nothing like an ass towel to raise the spirits.
On Saturday after a long week, everybody seemed to be up at 5:30 in the morning getting ready for the family love-fest we had planned, which included a forced march to the science museum. Despite the pillows on my head, I heard the Admiral’s cappuccino clanking and swore he was doing it extra-loud to piss me off. Tension built. Fearing explosion, yet haunted by the gruesome tales of Cousin Jay, I smuggled a Modern Bride into the bathroom–the only place I could have any privacy. I locked and relocked the door three times to be safe.
Things were going well–you know, ethereal. Weeks of Deadly Sperm Buildup fed a raging fire that I was frantically trying to put out, aided by a small jar of Kiss My Face Shea Butter Eye Make-Up Remover. When my heart was beating like a thousand bongos and the lack of oxygen to the brain had caused me almost to forget who I was, Signora Giuseppina whipped open the door and looked right at me.
It was like she threw a bucket of ice water on me. Everything started going in slow motion. In my dumb state, with my head tilted and mouth open, it felt like it took hours to formulate the word,
It didn’t compute: my future Italian Catholic mother-in-law was in the same room with me, but instead of being dressed, my pajama pants were down and I was stroking my penis with makeup remover. In Signora Giuseppina’s eyes I remembered who I was: I was The Crazed Pervert, the blind, hairy-palmed madman who wants to marry her daughter. I was The Wanking Antichrist, and after I died in a molester’s prison I was going straight to hell.
I reached my overmoisturized hand out to close the trick door. Mama Pina stood frozen like a deer in headlights, staring at me, yearning for the past. Mother-in-Law Catches Son-in-Law Yanking It. My soul cried out and finally broke through and shut the door by force of will. A long moment of silence… The party’s over… The fire’s out… Shea butter’s everywhere…
The thought of facing her again was like preparing to jump off a mountain. Still, about four minutes later I exited and saw her setting the breakfast table. We avoided eye contact. She was a good and loyal mother-in-law, so she might not tell the Admiral. But what about her sisters, her cousins, her friends? The silence was unbearable. She seemed agitated and was fidgeting with a fork when suddenly she looked at me. Our eyes met–oh my God she was gonna say something.
“Everyone at the table,” she said in Italian.
I couldn’t believe this was happening. She was going to make me confess! She was gonna perform an exorcism on me!
But instead all she said was, “Ora di mangiare.” Time to eat. Eat? Yes, eat, let’s all just eat, mangia everyone!
It became our little dark secret. Signora Pina was a strong woman, she had survived the hunger and bombs of World War II and she’d survive this, too, forgetting what she had to, to move on for the sake of the family. She’d seen it all before. She’d cleaned mountains of dirty laundry.
Even so, I was haunted by that moment when she opened that locked door and stared at me. The shame smoldered on. As a penance, I gave up wanking for Lent, but couldn’t hold out all the way to Easter.
Years later, at our wedding, I looked over at Mama Pina and the Admiral as I was about to kiss their daughter, and all I could think was Kiss My Face Shea Butter Eye Make-Up Remover. It’s been two years since our marriage and they haven’t once asked to come back to visit.