As a teenager I thought my strict Portuguese parents’ aim was to make me look as ugly as possible. But their ultimate goal was getting me to the altar, still a virgin.
They failed miserably.
Dad: “You’re not painting your face.”
Mom: “No makeup until you’re sixteen.”
On my sixteenth birthday my mother gave me a sad 1950’s style flip-up compact, with a mirror, a flat disc of face powder and powder puff. Who used a compact in 1974? I divulged nothing about the cases of makeup in my school locker.
. . .
Dad: “Bikinis are indecent.”
Mom: “There are plenty of nice one-piece bathing suits.”
I chose the closest thing to a two-piece, one that would become a trend twenty years later for post-childbirth women, the tankini. I hated the boy-cut style bottoms and high neck tank top. The only redeeming factor was the bright color, orange. We went to Portugal that summer. As I lay sweating on the beach in my swim armor, the Portuguese women went topless. My parents relented.
Mom: “Okay, you can buy a two-piece — but no cleavage.”
Dad: “And no lower than your belly button.”
I stuck with the tankini.
. . .
It was no surprise my parents were “disappointed” (cue: painful sighs and shaking heads) that I was traveling to Belize, WITH MY BOYFRIEND. My father visited me at my apartment, alone.
Dad: “Betty Ann — ” (Oh did I recognize that tone of voice, reserved for some egregious action like moving out at the age of 26, instead of staying home until I married.) “You’re lowering your standards. Your mother and I are ashamed to tell our friends.”
Me: “You don’t have to tell them.”
Dad: “And how do we look if they find out from someone else?”
Me: “Dad, I’m an adult. What I do doesn’t reflect on you.”
Dad: “You have your priorities backward. You’re taking the honeymoon before the wedding.”
I was 31 years old.
. . .
Fast forward a dozen years. I’m married and have 2 children. When visiting, my father wants to show me the new Portuguese channel he’s signed up for.
Dad: “Now I can get the news directly from Lisbon.”
He settles into his recliner and thumbs the remote.
But the news is over and a Brazilian soap opera pops up instead. The screen shows the silhouette of a house in the dark. A yellow light clicks on and raspy voices weave through the window. Breathy kisses, whispered naughtiness, the sound of a zipper like a DJ scratching some vinyl, a man’s voice saying take it off, snaps being undone and clothes thrown onto the floor, a woman’s voice saying lie down, then deep-lung gasps and trembling moans.
I sit frozen on the sofa, biting the insides of my cheeks, until I can’t hold it anymore. My father must have been doing the same. We roar with out-of-control laughter.
When I can form words again, I ask, “So this is the news report?”
. . .
Elizabeth Reed is a musician, author, political activist and traveler. She is writing a memoir about her adventures with her husband.