Our latest weird interactions have revolved around the fact that he seems to not have typical inhibitions. This is not cultural. It’s him. It isn’t a Latino deal. A few times I’ve walked by when he’s in the bathroom peeing. He doesn’t close the door. Everyone pees, I know. But every visitor I’ve had has made sure they close the door securely when they do it. The norm is to use the bathroom closest to the bedroom they are staying in (and close the door). When he didn’t close the door to the bathroom he shares with Jasper, it sort of amused me. It more than sort of disturbed Jasper.
When he used the main floor bathroom (just off the living room) and left the door open, I found it surprisingly disconcerting. To walk into the living room and realize there is a man (who isn’t even my kin) in the next room urinating is weird. But like usual, I tried to talk my self out of it. What’s the big deal. He obviously feels completely at home here. That’s great. It means I haven’t come off as nearly as stressed as I feel. Good for me.
But after the third time I went to use said bathroom and sat upon a wet toilet seat, I couldn’t stop obsessing about how it was all wrong. I’d hear him go into the bathroom and I’d start obsessing, he shouldn’t be in that bathroom, he should be closing the door, he should be lifting the seat, he should aim, he should clean up his mess… And I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to tell him that it wasn’t OK to pee on my seat and on my floor. I even know how to say “aim” in Spanish.
I have boys. I’m not easily shocked. That said, what’s the right way to bring urinary etiquette up with a 21 year old man? Why did I care? If it embarrassed him, good! But for some stupid reason, I was too embarrassed to bring it up. So I fussed and festered and fumed (and diligently checked the seat and floor before I used the toilet). I got to be like a dog. You know how they can be sitting peacefully and then the dog satellite passes by, and their heads jerk up? And their ears prick up? I could be visiting neighbors and suddenly hear this guy go into the downstairs bathroom back at my house, that’s how obsessed I got.
My boy-raising experience has prepared my to not be surprised by things that turn up during laundry or room cleanings. While cleaning the room of someone who shall remain nameless, I found a book under the mattress that made me chuckle. It was “Lesbian Vampire Tales”. I threw it onto the charity pile (because the poor deserve bad porn just as much as anyone else). But Roberto happened by soon after and immediately zeroed in on it. He picked it up and asked (no glint in his eye, no bashful smile) if he could read it. I smiled and said, “Sure, I bet it will be pretty interesting.”, knowing that both lesbian and vampire translate quite directly.
For weeks after he picked up the book, he could be found sitting in front of the fire in the living room, Lesbian Vampire book in hand, pencil, notepad, two Spanish dictionaries and an English dictionary at the ready. He read, wrote, flipped pages and muttered to himself. I checked out his list which was usually parked on the footstool by the fire: moan, nipple, thighs, take-off, arch… He was getting the gist of the story.
I always tried to answer his questions as if it were the most normal thing in the world for this 21 year old house guest to be asking his 38 year old host-mom about whatever the word or phrase might be (“toe-curling, making out”). I never like to make people feel ashamed, but sometimes I wish they’d just do it themselves. I felt like the conversation about precocious puberty in American girls could have been treading on thin ice, but I wasn’t sure until he started to talk about when he got his semens, and when his cousins got theirs. I could easily have gone the rest of my natural life without ever hearing about his semens or what it meant for someone to actually get them. Clearly an what my friend Maggie would call an OverShare.
When I taught English I prided myself on teaching all the body parts to my adult students. If it made me uncomfortable, it was important enough that I just pushed ahead anyway. So even if I got creeped out by Roberto sitting in one chair reading the lesbian vampire tales, and Jasper next to him reading Japanese comic books , I just went on making dinner. They were both reading. Good for them.
Then I cleaned out the bathroom closet and what should pop out from between some linens but a little red book with the title, “1001 Ways to Drive a Man Wild in Bed and Satisfy Him Every Time” or something close to that. Thinking that how to satisfy him seems like it would be a pretty short chapter, not an entire book, I didn’t put it into my reading pile. It went into another charity pile. This time I put it face-down in the hall. I didn’t really want to have to explain it to anyone who happened by while I was cleaning.
Later in the day Roberto came up to me with the book in hand, “May I read this?” I looked up and winced, “Well yeah, but I bet it’s pretty stupid.” to which he responded, “But I like so much to learn the things.” He was headed back upstairs when a thought occurred to me,” Roberto, maybe don’t read it in front of Jasper, OK?” He seemed puzzled, “OK, sure…” And then another thought occurred to me, “And I think you shouldn’t bring it to work with you.” This made more sense to him and he headed up the stairs again. But then he had a thought, “I brought the other book with me (biting lezzies), but I only read it on the bus.”
He teaches in an elementary school. But the fact that he rides the school bus to school sort of escaped me. I started to try to explain to him that if he read a book on the (city) bus about satisfying a man every time, he might get attention he didn’t want. He looked at me blankly when I said I thought he shouldn’t read it on the bus. “No? Why?” If he were anyone else, I would have thought he was yanking my chain.
“Don’t read it on the bus, just trust me.”
After I realized that he was probably talking about the school bus, I felt better about telling him I couldn’t explain it further, but that he shouldn’t do it. (Note to self: look up Spanish word for “creepy”.)
I think the final thing that snapped me was when he started to get his bus money from the family change jar. What a petty and stupid thing. But once I latched onto it, I couldn’t let it go. The first time he asked if I had some quarters, I tipped over the change jar and handed him his 50 cents. I thought it was a one time deal. Over the next 7 days every time he left the house, he’d tip the change jar and get his bus fare.
I started to get resentful. I could hear the change jar from across the house, from the back yard. My hearing became more acute, almost bat-like. I complained to my friend. I was not just bothered about the fact that he was harvesting all the quarters from the jar, but I was bothered by the kind of person I was becoming. It was making me crazy.
Diane said, “He’s taking your money. That’s a boundary. You have to have boundaries.” But how could I bring it up without calling him a thief? “Move the jar.” Diane is a genius. I moved the jar to the third floor. Two days later he came looking for me.”Um, Lisa? Where it is the change jar?”
I had to say, “Roberto, you have to pay for your own bus ride. You can’t take money every day for your bus. ” He looked confused. I got him fifty cents from my purse and said he had to get his own change from now on. “Where I can get the change?” We talked about banks and stores. During the whole discussion, his brow never unfurrowed. I felt like a miserly biddy.
But now he’s gone. Every day at 4pm I watch the neighbor kids get off the bus and I have no sense of dread. He stopped by the other day to pick up some things and he stayed just long enough, which was not long at all. Watching him leave was like watching a whole flock of chickens, a couple goats, a pig, a bat and a dog all head back out to the barnyard where they belonged. I was happy.