The urologist’s nurse shot me a quizzical look. That should have been my first clue. I guess I looked too happy.
“You know what you’re here for, right?”
“For a baseline on my bladder?”
Months earlier, I’d been shocked by a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. On my initial visits to the neurologist, cold dread had gripped my insides, squeezing the breath out of me in the waiting room as I moved chairs aside for patients in wheelchairs. I told myself to smile and make eye contact with them. Was I looking at my future self?
With time, I’d adjusted, and that day, I was feeling more upbeat than terrified. Bladder problems are common with MS, and since mine had misbehaved in the past, the neurologist had ordered this exam. I felt strong, though, and eager to receive a glowing report. I’d always excelled on tests. If confidence and determination could influence performance, my bladder might pass. Continue reading
I pick at scabs.
I pick at boogers.
I pick at my husband’s inability to clean the toilet with anything other than a one-ply square of toilet paper and some spit.
I pick at other people’s opinions.
I pick at my own opinions.
I pick at myself.
But that day in the car, the object of my picking was a tiny morsel of some undetermined substance that had become glued to the passenger’s side window. Attached to it, was a thick, healthy layer of my debilitating and ever-present anxiety.
“Quit picking,” my husband said, taking his hand off the steering wheel and swatting it at my arm.
I took a closer look at the dried-up flake of goo encrusted to the window. My focus blurred out, and I quickly noticed a pair of quietly defeated eyes staring back at me.
“I don’t want to go anymore,” I said, those defeated eyes shifting over at my husband. “I just want to go home.”
“What? What do you mean you don’t want to go? Right now? You mean, you want me to turn the car around right now and just go home?”
I moved my fingernail back to that last particle of anxiety that was clinging to the window, and in one fell scrape, it all became clear to me. And, I flicked that flucker to the floor.
We had been married for a little under a year when the nosy familial whispers of baby talk began blowing in our general direction. The mothers and aunts started uncomfortably poking their large noses into our sex lives (ew, mom, get outta’ here!). However, I really didn’t need any of their uninvited whispering to purchase a ticket for the baby train; my uterus had already been infiltrated by the baby fever virus a few years back when I was still acting waiting tables in New York City.
The bar I worked at on Bleecker Street had this event that was aptly titled, “Baby Disco.” All the Brooklynite hipster mommies and daddies would come out in droves, toting their dolled-up, expensive children behind them. It was an afternoon filled with apple juicebox cocktails, and babies dancing and twitching erratically to the mashed-up tunes of Raffi and Yo Gabba. In the background, some overly enthusiastic “DJ” would begin shouting out pun-intended commands of “shake your booties!” and “tip them bottles back!”
As the babies gracefully convulsed on the dancefloor to the rhythmic sounds of “Wheels on the Bus,” I would perch myself atop one of the velvet barstools, staring at all of the tiny human weirdos. This particular event was not a desired one to those of us trying to make rent wearing a cocktail apron. And seeing as there were a bunch of lazy, no-job babies occupying the dance floor at that moment, no cocktails were to be ordered that day, and, therefore, my pockets would be going home with a whole lot of nothing.
“Dummy hipster babies and their non-monies, wearing their tiny clothes with their stupid, tiny arms,” grumble, grumble, grrrrrr, grumble —
But suddenly, the grumbling objections came to a halt. In one moment, my bitter criticisms of all the tiny babies in their tiny clothes with their tiny, stupid arms and no money, disappeared. One of the miniature hipster baby beings came toddling out from behind the moldy shadows of that pungent basement bar, and right on into my cold, dead heart. What was this thing forming upon my face? A smile? Is this what a smile is? And who was this delightful, little creature swatting at the apron string dangling below my waist? Was he some type of cat? No, no, he was not a cat. He appeared to be one of the tiny, little humans. And although he had no monies and no tips to bear upon me, I did not yell curses at him.
He was all decked out in a shiny jumpsuit, as a flashy disco ball swayed from around his wee, little no neck, highlighting his man-baby chub pectorals. But the pièce de résistance, was the colossal afro-puff wig his mother had pinned to his large nugget of a baby head. It bounced as if in slow-motion as he suddenly discovered the excitement that was jumping up and then back down again. He looked absolutely ridiculous, and I wanted to roll him up like a tiny joint and carry him around in my pocket forever. The absurdity that was this package of cute was so very overwhelming, I began to understand why Lenny squeezed that puppy so damn hard; he was so cute, I was overcome with the sudden urge to punch a wall. . .or a “DJ.”
The next thing I knew, this miniature John Travolta threw his pudgy lil’ arm rolls up toward the ceiling and into my general direction. I glanced over toward the edge of the bar where his mother was downing “Mommy Mojitos” and flirting with one of our several androgynous bartenders. She gave me the nod of approval to hoist her toddler up and into my arms. And, boy, did I.
“Well, hey there, little buddy,” I said, the massive chunk of cute now propped up around my waist. “You are very shiny today. What you got there around your neck?”
“Is ah neck-essh, is ah NECK-ESHH!” he yelled at my face and then promptly began poking a stubby pointer finger directly into my eye.
“Eye-baw. Eye-baw. Eye-baw.”
“Ow. Okay, ouch. Yep, that’s right. That is, in fact, my eyeball.”
And with the poking of my eyebaw, that kid single-handedly caused my frozen and jaded heart to come sputtering back to life. The world’s tiniest disco dancer had just set my soul ablaze, prompting the onset of a very serious case of baby fever virus.
Once I was sucked in by the enchanting coos of the tiny disco dancer, I started noticing babies all over the place: staring delightfully at me on the subway; splashing in puddles of undetermined liquids on the sidewalk; being strolled in golden buggies pushed by large, mannish Russian nannies named Vahina; all of which caused a barrage of hysterics to come spewing from my eyebaws. They were all so unfairly precious, but, where was mine? Where was my baby? How do I get one? Is there a number I can call? Do they sell them in bodegas? Does Oprah give them away?
“You need the sperm of a maaaaan,” whispered the ominous voiceover for the screenplay that was my life.
Say what, now? What’s this “man” you speak of? Where in Oprah’s good name am I supposed to find this man-type person to implant life into my rapidly depleting 28-year-old eggs? How do I get one? Is there a number I can call? Do they sell them in bodegas? Does Oprah give them away? Where is the sperm, Oprah, where is it?
As it turned out, that sperm just happened to be located within the confined balls of my now husband. But, just how that sperm successfully made its way through the cluster-frank of my Mrs. Fubbs’ front parlor was quite the magical feat, indeed.
When I entered high school, I was one of those fourteen-year-olds who was shaving barely-visible, blonde peach fuzz from her armpits and calves. In that same vein, I was the last of my friends to get her period, and I would often find myself overturning the house in search of small, round, smushy objects to shove into my (still) training bra. I was as flat as a board, and my ovaries were as dry as a popcorn fart.
While all my friends were proudly displaying their light-day tampons within the side pockets of their backpacks, my sad, little side pockets just continued to gather pencil shavings and pre-pubescent tears. When was it going to be my turn in class to theatrically raise my hand and proudly announce that I needed to use the restroom because I was having my menstruation? I was desperate to use the word “menstruation” in public, so every night, I would pray to all my gods that it would come soon.
By the end of my freshman year, the universe finally responded. And it responded big time: When I was finally able to use the word “menstruation” in public, along with it, came excruciating cramps.
Now, I was never a complainer when I was younger. . .(I explicitly say “younger” because my husband, Davis, is now reading this with a rather suspecting side-eye and quickly forming a countersuit to this claim of myself as a non-complainer. I said “younger,” Davis.) So, when I was younger, I was a tough, lil’ cookie who tended to keep her mouth shut and went to school no matter the what, the who, or the ache. My parents taught my brother and me that hard work does pay off eventually, so we would just suck it up and try to get through the day. I led with this motto for many a year. . .(however, now I’m older and because I’m SO old, I don’t feel like working hard anymore, and I kind of just wanna’ watch tv and eat chips. . .)
Unfortunately, due to my lack of complaining, when I did eventually go through puberty, I never really let on just exactly how much pain I was in for the seven to nine days out of the month; I just always assumed this was what every girl went through during that time of the month. I also assumed every gal bought the super-plus, big-momma tampon pack in bulk and changed them out every thirty minutes. Apparently, I was incorrect.
So, by the time I reached my thirties, I had developed a pretty debilitating female condition. Did I know there was a medical term for this? No. Did I know I should be going to the gynecologist on a regular basis and divulging this vital information? Sorta? Did I have insurance? What the flip is that? Without insurance—and a very apparent lack of ability in making adult decisions such as taking care of oneself—it had been a shameful amount of years I had been without a checkup at the gyno. Therefore, by the time I was thirty, little did I know, I had just about drained all of my fertility right on outta’ my irresponsible self. My sweet husband was at a loss for how to help me as I spent a handful of days every month, writhing in pain underneath the covers in the dark confines of our bedroom, so, he took it upon himself to force me to see a doctor.
Yay, open stirrups to aid in the display of all my lady parts!
Wahoo! Metal forceps to stick up inside those parts!
Strangers’ hands poking at my insides with a comically large q-tip? Mother, maaaaaay I?!
I have said it before, and I will say it again: the human race as we know it would no longer be in existence if men were the ones to menstruate and poop out a child. No offense, mens, but the females are one collectively tough motha. (I know, I know, sir, your precious little balls are “extremely sensitive” and we “have no idea what it feels like to get kicked in them,” but can I just calmly respond with: imaginepoopingababyoutofyourpenis). With that said, if I once thought a normal visit to the gyno was rough, little did I know what was in store when hopping aboard the infertility train: it’s a real hoot!
On that specific visit to the gyno, and after about three or four minutes of awkward silence while cold metal forceps jerked around my ladies, the doctor finally spoke:
“Hmm. . .”
Hmm: The three-letter utterance of which no person of the female or male gender desires to hear in any kind of a medical environment, ever.
“Hmm. . .”
Um. Say what, now?
“Hmm. . .”
What’s up, doc?
“Hmm. . .”
“Hmm. . .”
Thinking about your lunch plans for the day?
“Um. . .is everything okay?” I finally asked.
“Just one minute. . .”
Just one minute: The other phrase no person desires to hear in any kind of a medical environment, ever.
Translation of Just one minute: the next few minutes of your life will seem like three weeks and nineteen days as I poke and prod at whatever ominous abnormality I hath uncovered with this torturous, metal poking device.
Just as my emotional state was about to take a nasty dive into the perilous waters of anxiety and fear, the doctor asked me to sit up, get dressed, and meet him in his office.
Five minutes, and several differing stages of emotion, later, I found myself uncomfortably slouched-over in a cold, leather chair in front of his desk. Biting off what was left of my nailbeds, I felt about as small and as helpless as a six-year-old waiting for her punishment after washing the car with rocks. I couldn’t decide if I really wanted to find out what that “Hmm. . .” really was all about, or if I should just run screaming out the door and into obliviousness.
“Well,” he said, folding his hands together as if in prayer (great, now we have to pray), “I have some good . . . and some bad news.”
Just what I suspected: Death. But, a fast death. So, that must be the good news.
“The bad news is that I found several large tumors inside your endometrium; one of which is a very massive submucosal tumor located in your central uterus—”
TUMORS?!?! DEATH! DEATH IS CERTAIN!
“—But, these specific type of tumors are known as fibroid tumors, and while they are nothing to be too concerned about, they do need to be removed.”
Although I received an unwelcomed crash course in sexual education that day, I also learned what was causing me years and years of horrific pain. Not only did I have fibroids, but I had numerous ovarian cysts, and severe endometriosis. The final offering I was given that dreaded day in August was an extended cliff-hanger version of the “Hmm”:
“So,” I said, cautiously, “what does this mean about wanting children? Will I still be able to have children?”
“Well. . .”
Of course that specific doctor could not confidently assuage my concerns on whether or not I would be able to have kids one day, but he did give me the card of the guy who would. (Or, as my husband and I would later uncover, the card of the guy manipulating the controls to the months-long rollercoaster ride of infertility malarkey.)
In the beginning, this fertility doctor (we will refer to him as Dr. L, short for Dr. LiesALot), Dr. L. was as kind and as seemingly genuine as a puppy. He spoke calmly and sweetly as we discussed how the surgery was going to play out and what kind of recovery (and drugs! Wahoo!) I would be looking forward to. He would be performing what is known as a laparoscopic myomectomy in which five, small incisions are made; one being above the navel where a slender telescope is inserted. The surgery is done by way of the doctor overseeing robotic instruments being manipulated via computer. (It’s very sophisticatedly Jetsons.) That said, one who performs this type of surgery has to be extremely dexterous and possess a mastery in hand-eye coordination. Now, as my views of this Dr. L. tend to be negative in nature, I have to emphasize that he executed the surgery beautifully. So, the actual surgery went very well, but it was the consultation with him following the surgery that melded my perception of him down into a gigantic, steaming pile of turd.
At my geriatric age of thirty, I had previously had a couple of surgeries prior to this one. The first of which was an appendectomy when I was about eight years old. This was another case in which my non-complaints led to a pretty crappy crapstorm of a time.
I had been experiencing a pretty bad stomachache for a few days, and only told my parents about it on the second or third day. Of course they let me stay home from school, assuming I was merely experiencing a bad stomach virus or something. As I lay at home on the couch, however, I suddenly began feeling what was, I could only imagine, a very sharp knife proceeding to slice apart my innards. At this point, I finally pressed an urgency to my mom that something just didn’t feel right inside my tummy. She promptly took me to my pediatrician, and, within minutes, my pediatrician announced that I was experiencing an appendicitis. The doctor then gravely informed us that God only knew how long I had before my inflamed appendix would burst into a glorious upoar of golden fire inside of my stomach and I would DIE. (Well, at least, that is how my eight-year-old brain heard and envisioned it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that inside of a box somewhere in my parent’s attic, there’s a beautifully detailed illustration of a small child running down a hospital corridor; her stomach spewing out an oozing mess of blood and intestines, all blazing a fire, and she is screaming out to the other patients, “Beware! Beware! My uppindicks is bersting! My uppindicks is bersting!”)
Of course, death was not actually forthcoming, but my poor mother was still horrified and guilt-ridden, so that sobbing mess of a woman quickly rushed me to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.
It’s a funny thing that occurs when you’re younger. When you’re just a kid, you live with the assumption that your parents are all-knowing, magical protectors of all things evil and strange. (Of course, when you get older, you struggle with your own incapability of navigating the bitch that is life, so you quickly realize your parents never had an effing clue either.) But, as a child I was still under the naïve impression that this surgery should not be terrifying in the least because I knew that my parents would never let anything bad happen to me. In fact, I found it rather disgustingly awesome that they were going to cut open my guts with a knife and pull things out of me.
It is not just children who are naïve in the belief of: “Nothing can harm me; I will live forever, so let’s all build a fort with these rusted knives and nails and cuddle the rabid, feral cats the man in the white van sold to us!” A few years following my appendectomy, a similar naïve motto of fearlessness found me once again during my rebellious teenage years when is equal parts invincible and completely moronic.
So, when I was seventeen and found out I had to undergo the routine procedure of having my wisdom teeth removed, not only was I so very unafraid of the procedure, but I was, like, ohmygod, totally looking forward to it. Because: drugs.
“Now, you know they are going to give you some stuff that is going to make you a little loopy after the surgery,” said my poor mother, who apparently assumed I was a virgin to all things mind-altering.
“Whatever, mom, yeah, okay, whatever, shut up, I hate you.”
This conversation occurred on the ride to the dental office and was just a few hours before they wheeled me out of surgery and into the lobby where I would then proceed to not only humiliate my mother, but cause another young dental patient to burst into tears. But, give me a break, it wasn’t my fault; they should have never exposed me to the marvelous wonderment that is nitrous oxide. When administered to most people, they often feel euphoria, express laughter, or possibly even experience a fun, little hallucination trip. Not me; I yell at people.
When the dental assistant first wheeled me out and into the care of my mother, I looked up at my mother and let her know that she was, in fact, my mother.
“You are my mom.”
Then, my attention was quickly diverted over to the sounds of a young girl, about the age of fourteen, quietly expressing her concerns to her mother about her upcoming surgery. Being the omnipotent wizard that I am, I just knew she must also be having her wisdom teeth removed as this was the only kind of surgery done ever. For all I actually knew, she could have been having her entire jaw replaced, but my friend nitrous oxide told me it was definitely wisdom teeth removal, and that it was vital I provide her with my professional opinion regarding her concerns:
“Wha,” I said, quietly at first, but then recognizing the beauty that is my own voice, I began shouting loudly at the girl just in case she couldn’t hear me all the way on the other side of three feet away, “Wha inthafuhd, gurl. . .I mean, fohr real, wha in tha fuhd is wrong in you, why are you complairning, this drughs is grehyt, stop yurt whining yout gurl.”
We were invited to never come back.
So, prior to the myomectomy, I had already had some fairly noteworthy experience going under the knife, and as we found out, the appendectomy would be directly related to an unforeseen treasure to be uncovered during the myomectomy. As Dr. L. began slicing and dicing fibroids, extracting cysts, and burning off endometriosis, he also discovered that one of my fallopian tubes was completely and utterly useless. Following the procedure, we were given photos of all of the vibrant items that were removed from my insides; one being the useless fallopian tube, and let me tell you, it was magically hideous. It looked like a dried-up, skinny wiener in which had been viciously beaten and twisted, causing severely colorful bruising of the flesh. The image could, and did, elicit vomiting; likewise, I fully intend to torture my children with these photos when they are being brats. (Look what I have gone through! This was all for you! This bloody and bruised weenie was viciously ripped from my insides and it was all for you, do you even love me?!) As Dr. L. discovered, the fallopian tube must have been damaged during my appendectomy all those years ago. Who knew that the tiny, insignificantly unnecessary organ known as the “uppindicks” would have such a grave effect on my body? But, alas, it did.
Upon being released from the hospital—and after two returns back to the hospital to insert and then remove a catheter (a fun, little side bonus!)—I called to schedule our follow-up appointment with Dr. L. in which conception would be discussed.
“Okay, we will get you scheduled for a consultation regarding fertility, but prior to this one, we first need to go ahead and schedule an appointment for your husband,” said the cheerfully bored receptionist on the other end of the line.
“Yes, ma’am, he needs to provide a sample prior to the consultation.”
“A sample? What kind of samp—oh,” my thoughts quickly blurred from images of bruised weenie fallopian tubes to images of translucent Elmer glue. “Ewww, okay.”
You know how there’s usually one person in the relationship who thinks fart, poop, and other various bodily fluid jokes are hilarious? You also know how it’s usually the dude in the relationship who thinks fart, poop, and other various bodily fluid jokes are hilarious? Well, in our relationship, that dude is me. It’s not that my husband does not appreciate a good one every once in a while, he’s just not as vulgar as his elegantly classy wife. But, he is always gracious enough to give me a courtesy smile and a tender pat on the back after I have proudly recreated the various levels of pitch an older gentleman in my yoga class was able to reach while breaking wind in downward-facing dog.
“That’s a wonderful impression, my beautiful, beautiful wife,” he says often, mentally noting reason #783 why: divorce. (I do have to humbly interject that it takes quite a bit of talent to accurately imitate the sounds of a seeping toot as it slowly “meeeeeeeeeps” its way out of an older gentleman’s butthole).
So, instead of my husband bracing himself for his upcoming appointment, he spent the next few days bracing himself for all of the Spongebob Spooge-pants jokes coming out of his sophisticated wife’s mouth.
“Hey, about to have some water—you haven’t been “practicing” into this cup, have you?” giggled his future ex-wife seventeen times a day.
However, making jokes about the providing of a sample is one thing, but the actual providing of the sample is an entirely different ordeal. Numerous times a day, the nurses and assistants at the clinic instruct patients on the details of the “depositing of the sample.” While this is a fact, it is difficult to not believe that every single nurse in that office building is zeroing in on you and your husband, knowing exactly what is about to take place in that unwelcoming, beige room in the back corner of the office.
The room was just as you would probably picture it—cold, boring, a leather chair shoved up against a wall with a stack of magazines nestled awkwardly beside it. I wondered what kind of artwork might be revealed if I took a bluelight to the walls. Did guys try to spell out their names like when they pee in the snow? Is that a thing they do? My husband must have had similar thoughts because he just stood frozen in the very center of the room, refusing to touch anything. And of course, he made me join him in the stupid room, not to “help,” but for moral support. The last thing I wanted to do was go into the stupid room and bear witness to this terribly uncomfortable fiasco. But, alas, our future child was at stake, so I manned up, and joined him in the room of the bluelight special.
It was the most non-romantic, non-intimate moment in the history of non-pants moments.
Ew, what’s that by my foot??
That’s not funny!
Sorry, sorry, last spooge joke, I swear.
Wait, is that someone knocking on the door?
No, no one is knocking, calm down.
Can they see in here? Check the blinds one more time.
I’ve checked them seven times already.
Ah! What was that?!
You didn’t just hear that?
Go make sure the door is locked!
It’s locked, chill out! They can’t hear you, that’s why it’s called a “Silent Flute.”
Well then, stand there and hold the knob just in case.
Hehe, “hold the knob.”
Stop making penis jokes!
Okay, okay! Then hurry up, I’m getting hungry.
Quit pressuring me!
. . .so, um. . .what should we have for lunch?
I want a divorce. . .
And so it continued on until, somehow, he finally managed to complete the depositing of the sample.
With all of my female disabilities, we never even thought to consider that Davis may have an issue. So, when we sat down with Dr. L., we were not exactly prepared for what he had to say.
This is the part of our baby-seeking story that turns from hopeful to, well, hurtful. I have such conflicted feelings when I think about Dr. L. because he did a great job with the surgery, and had I not had a successful surgery, there truly was a great chance that I would never have been able to conceive. So, for that, I thank him. However, when we walked into that consultation regarding our chances for conception, everything took a rather depressing turn.
For anyone who knows even a little bit about fertility, they understand that the process of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is one of the last options you will eventually turn to after all other options have been exhausted. IVF is the process of manually combining an egg and sperm in a petri dish, and then attempting fertilization by transferring the embryo to the woman’s uterus. What many may not know is that the success rate of IVF is well-under 50%. Likewise, it is an extremely expensive procedure that costs between $12,000-$15,000 a pop. And by “pop,” I mean each time the procedure has to be attempted. So, if it doesn’t work the first time, make sure you have a backup twelve grand that you can throw at the doctor for a second round. With this said, Davis and I could not even place the thought of IVF within our mindset, let alone actually consider it, as we were still living on a ramen noodle and saltine cracker budget. (But, let’s have a baby! They don’t cost much!)
“Well,” said Dr. L. with a curt tongue. “Your penis and balls are worthless, and you are so far beneath being an actual man, we may as well go ahead and remove all traces of your manhood entirely.”
These were his exact words.*
*No, they were not.
While these were not his exact words, he might just as well have said them because what he actually did say pretty much had the same effect. Davis was beyond disappointed to learn that his man juice was “abnormal,” or so Dr. L. convinced us to believe. He then went on to show us example images of double-headed, irregular, gross little spermies. I pictured these cartoonish little creatures all huddled together, holding onto each other’s hand nubs and singing an off-key, inaudible version of kumbaya; all celebrating their shared sense of simple-minded halfwit, and their doofy, toothless grins, four eyeballs, and thirteen toes. “I is a spermy!” they shout as they happily clap their little hand nubs together. According to Dr. L., Davis’ little swimmers were nothing more than sad, little derps with zero chance of even finding the starting line for the race to the egg.
With Davis’ sperm rejects, my lonely fallopian tube, and our respective geriatric ages of thirty-one and twenty-nine, Dr. L. insisted we begin the process of IVF immediately as we would have zero chance of conception otherwise. Even with IVF, as he so gingerly worded it, we have a “very small chance of ever conceiving children. . .everrrrrrrrrrrr.”
After word-vomiting this downpour of unfortunate news, he took a moment for me to wipe away my tears.
Then he insisted again that we begin IVF as soon as possible.
And then after insisting, he insisted some more.
Despite his pressuring, however, I had previously spent hours of research on the routes taken for couples with fertility issues, so I knew damn well that, while even if our chances were slim, there were many options available prior to starting the expensive process of IVF.
“Listen here, jerkwad, I insist you shut your insisting poop of a mouth and give us some other options because there’s no way in hay’ll we can afford IVF,” I said, and then I swiftly punched him in the throat.*
*These were my exact words. And I did, in fact, throat-punch him.**
**No, they were not. I can’t even smush a spider.
Not only did I not understand why he would not even whisper a mention of other available options, I could not comprehend his abrupt change in what was once a seemingly compassionate and kind bedside manner. Even if there truly was zero hope for our chances of conception, could he at least attempt to try on a pair of kid gloves? Give us a small slice of hope? Spoonfeed into our mouths a teeny morsel of optimism from the bowl of positivity porridge?
But, alas, he did none of these things. And not only did he continue to push for IVF, he also harshly informed us that if we were to ever conceive, my chances of miscarriage before successfully carrying to nine months, were roughly around 98%. Meaning, I would definitely, without-a-doubt, miscarry my baby. And, of course, he was a doctor, so he knew the facts, right? . . . .Right?
Well, even if we wanted to give in to his pressuring, we didn’t have that kind of money, and we were not about to ask for help from our parents, or take out a loan, without even attempting to try other options. So, we insisted to at least try an IUI procedure first.
Intrauterine Insemination (IUI—or sometimes known on the street as the turkey baster method) is the fertility process in which an actual turkey baster* is used to inseminate your turkey uterus with a baby turkey human. First, I was to take the fertility drug Clomid that stimulates the ovaries to produce more egg follicles. Next, Davis was to re-enter the unwelcoming, beige depository room and provide an additional sample of his double-headed, abnormal derps. Following this, they would take his sample and “wash” the sperm to separate the actual semen from the seminal fluid. This is done in order to find the “best” of his thirteen-toed, seven-eyed swimmers possible. Finally, they would insert the chosen ones into my uterus using a turkey baster catheter, and we would hope for the best.
So, I began taking the Clomid, and we started the excruciatingly slow process of waiting five days until an ultrasound would be done to check the progress of the egg follicles and look for signs of ovulation. In the meantime, however, we continued to attempt to conceive the good, ol’ fashioned way.
As the next few days went by, my mind spun out of control, like a gradual tornado of anger and resentment, playing back the harrowing words spoken by the insistent Dr. L. Something about that conversation and his insistent pressuring about IVF, and his callous way of announcing I would definitely miscarry, had me really unsettled. I began to lose any remote sense of trust I once had in this man. How was I to know for certain all of these soul-crushing things he had thrown at us were entirely accurate? This was when I started to understand the concept of getting a second opinion. Why had I not thought of this before?
The day before we were supposed to go back for the ultrasound, I remembered a coworker once telling me her story of infertility and the wonderful clinic she and her husband went to that landed her a pair of healthy twin babies. That’s when I realized that we deserved a happy ending, too. And I was determined to get that.
That next day was the day I found myself in the passenger’s seat of our car, picking at the tiny morsel of some undetermined substance that had become glued to the passenger’s side window. I kept thinking about my friend’s happy ending, knowing in my heart that we would get ours, too. So, as we were driving down the highway on our way to the appointment with Dr. L.’s office that morning, I stopped picking. I stopped all the picking and abruptly told my husband to turn the car around. It did not take much convincing. And just like that, as we were once driving back down the road to disappointing uncertainty, my husband quickly whipped that car around and we headed north, on our way to Babytown.
Lock this motha’ up.
These were just a few of the words that were shouted with rage by an actual competent, trustworthy, and compassionate doctor at one of the best fertility clinics in the Southeast. Okay, okay, she didn’t shout these words, but upon reviewing all of the photos and write-ups from my most-recent medical history, as well as the results of Davis’ sample, our new doctor was noticeably upset by the misleading, if not nearly entirely false, information that was provided to us by Dr. L. and his clinic.
Of course, she noted that with my only having the one fallopian tube, I was not the textbook illustration of childbearing fertility, but was I a dried-up, lifeless barren desert of a wasteland? Her exact words were, “absolutely not.” She told us that especially considering that the myomectomy had essentially cleaned out any trace of endometriosis, my uterus was at an ideal place for conception. Likewise, after looking over Davis’ sample, she said she could not fathom why Dr. L. would lead us to believe that his goods were anything other than normal. While there was a small percentage of the sample that was not entirely “normal,” she noted that a lot of men tend to have some abnormalities in a sample, and his was not even remotely worth worrying about. Finally, she gave us the best news yet: there was no reason in this world that we should be any more worried about miscarrying than any other couple; there was nothing fundamentally “wrong” with me that would cause any additional concern of miscarrying. The relief was tremendous.
Our kind, new doctor was very hopeful in our chances of conception via an IUI, but the difference this time would be that she would provide us with much more information about the procedure, as well as an arsenal of magical fertility drugs that would greatly increase those chances. Unfortunately though, we could not start right away; we had to wait until I got my cycle again to start the process. In the meantime, we ordered the drugs, and waited.
And we waited.
And then we waited some more.
And then, when we were done waiting, we waited on the wait for the waiting to begin again.
I just didn’t understand it. After the myomectomy, I got my period almost like clockwork, so this was very disheartening. I thought, “Great, now something is wrong with my cycle, and now they’ll have to figure that out first, and by the time they figure that out, I’ll be fifty-two before we’ll ever be able to start the IUI process.”
It was June of that year, and while our momentary glimpse of hope seemed a bit more stifled, and I really didn’t feel like doing much of anything, we packed up and headed to the beach with my in-laws. I packed a swimsuit and some socks and stuff, but, mostly, I filled my suitcase entirely with dollar-store pregnancy tests. While I knew there was a very slight possibility that the reason behind my lack of period was because I was pregnant, I still thought if I peed on a stick every twenty minutes, that maybe, just maybe, double lines would magically appear and our troubles would be over.
This did not happen. I peed on many a stick. And I drank many a cocktail.
The week after we got back, we went to my parent’s house for a visit and a hug. The great thing about mommies is that no matter how old you get, when you’re down, you can always lay your head in your mommy’s lap and the sadness somehow dissipates. My mom always makes me feel so safe and protected, and I only hoped that one day, I could do the same for my son or daughter.
While getting the comfort I needed from my mom, I also spent that Monday morning in a satellite office of the fertility clinic getting poked and prodded, so they could figure out what was going on with my cycle—or lack thereof. The nurse was very sweet and cheery and reassuring that everything would be okay, but from recent past experience, I couldn’t help but feel that I was only a couple hours away from receiving very distressing news.
That afternoon, I sat on my parent’s couch struggling to fake a smile or have a normal conversation. Waiting on a phone call from a doctor’s office is like someone has placed a temporary, yet, very tight grip on your intestines, occasionally twisting them round like a rubber band. My stomach was so twisted up, I felt like vomiting. And so, I did. (Actually, I think hurled a few times that day.) While in the moment, I felt very “woe is me,” but tried to keep in mind that my experiences and my life at that moment compared nothing to those who were waiting on phone calls regarding much more detrimental news.
Quit feeling sorry for yourself!
You have all your arms and limbs!
All of your family is happy and healthy!
Quit being so selfish and negative!
You’re alive! Be happy, you pouty jerk!
It’s easy to remind yourself that there are many, much more dire situations in this world, but in the moment of your own woes, it’s hard to overcome those thoughts of self-pity.
So, when the phone rang later that afternoon, I took a deep breath and prepared for the worst.
“May I speak with Caitlin?” the soft voice spoke on the other end of the line.
“This is she.”
“Hi Caitlin, this is Jackie from the clinic.”
“Well, Miss Caitlin, after looking over everything, we have figured out why you have not yet received your cycle this month.”
“Oh, okay,” I sighed and bit my shaking lip.
“I am so very happy to inform you that the reason you have not gotten your cycle yet this month is because you are already pregnant.”
I about dropped the phone. I could not believe the words coming out of her mouth. How could this be? We never went through with the IUI. We never even considered IVF (although it was insisted upon). I only took that one round of Clomid. How in the name of broken uteri could this have happened? It took me several minutes to scan through the past few months of blurred confusion to navigate to the bottom line: Does this Jackie woman mean to tell me that Davis was able to impregnate me the good ol’ fashioned way? Through good ol’ fashion sexual intercoursing? A regular ol’ game of hiding-the-hotdog? Picklin’ the peach? Plain ol’ peener and vageener? . . .Weenus and vageenus?
After she said many more happy words, most of which I do not remember, I quietly hung up the phone. My husband took me in his great, big arms, and for the first time in a very long time, I wept—not because I was frustrated or sad—but because I was happy.
I was going to have a baby.
My daughter is now 18 months old, and she is the most beautiful little weirdo I have ever met in my life. Her bizarre sense of humor, infectious giggles, and her sense of wonderment in the world around her give me purpose. I knew she was out there, somewhere, she just took a little longer than expected to get to me. But, she was well-worth the wait.
Caitlin lives in Auburn, Alabama with her vivaciously weird 21-month-old daughter, her freshly baked 2-week-old daughter, and her tall husband. When she is not writing, you will find her partaking in thrill-seeking activities such as sitting on the couch and avoiding phone calls.
In college I was known for wearing thrift store jeans and over-sized tee shirts. I smothered my insecurity in loose-fitting clothes and obvious sarcasm. Those around me, the few I tolerated, interpreted my indifference as attitude. However, they didn’t realize I suffered from a rare medical condition known as Resting Bitch Face, a disease described by unaccredited websites as a chronic expression of anger or disgust, which apparently made me unapproachable. While most who struggle with this affliction constantly reassure the public that it is just an uncontrollable feature of their personality, mine was a blessing. I was perfectly content being left alone. Well, not completely alone.
In fact, most of my post-pubescent existence was lacking a certain ceremonial rite of passage: having a boyfriend. I’d had one or two informal flings in my early teens, but I regretfully graduated high school with my virginity hanging over me like a Vegas marquee. I looked forward to college as an opportunity to find that life-altering love affair, or at least someone to fondle until the former arrived. Continue reading
My wife had selected Winnie the Pooh as our baby’s theme. “Classic, not Disney,” she’d often repeat to family and friends as they called to congratulate us and ask for suggestion on gifts or clothing.
Being new to all of this, I soon found out that matching and coordinating was a common expectation when it came to such things as babies and preparing a nursery. Together we had carefully selected everything from blankets, comforter and floor rug, to the Classic Pooh table lamp that would sit on the dresser.
So, at first I was a little worried about the dresser. According to the instructions I had everything I needed for assembly – Phillips screw driver, small adjustable wrench and hammer to tap the tiny black nails to the back of the unit to prevent it, as the instructions explained, from collapsing when finished. But, until I sliced open the box and let the pieces slide out precisely stacked as they had been when they left the shop floor half a world away, I did not know that the sand color of its smooth veneer finish was in fact an exact match to the sand colored trail of the wall boarder, on which a series of Pooh-Bears continuously roamed, night into day and day into night, honey pot in hand, appropriately accompanied by bees encircling the nursery at a height level with the top walnut railing of the crib. Continue reading
by L.D. Zane
The trip to Charleston, South Carolina would take thirteen hours. Eleven hours in, I pulled into a rest stop to stretch my legs. One last respite before the final push.
The grounds were a throwback to a more innocent time—when travel was an adventure, not an objective. It was a departure from the sterile sites along other interstates. I found a quiet spot, bordered by wooden rails, to savor my soda—retrieved from the sole vending machine—and smoke a cigarette. Near me was a young man practicing Tai Chi, in slow motion, among the trees. As I watched, the sounds of the highway faded. It was then I noticed weathered carvings on the rails. They seemed to fall into categories.
Love found: “Brandon and Chrissie 4ever.” Love lost: “Drop dead Jesse. Go to Hell. Good riddance.” Comings: “Finally home.” Goings: “I hate this state. Can’t wait to leave.” And apathy: “Who cares? You’re all losers.” All of them micro vignettes—the original social media.
The etchings had no dates. I wondered if Brandon and Chrissie were still together and blissfully in love. What did Jesse do to piss off whomever? Who was coming home? From where? How long had they been away? What happened to cause anonymous to hate an entire state? And where were they going in such a hurry?
“Who cares?” Someone cared enough to read and comment; carving is slow work. Perhaps that person had some—or all—of the same experiences and no longer felt the need to explain. Or maybe just gave up on life. And why the insult? Was it self-incrimination?
The road was waiting. I still had my own journey to complete, but I wanted answers. So I carved my proclamation: “Tell me more.”
L.D. served seven years in the Navy, which included a combat tour in Vietnam on river boats, and five years aboard nuclear-powered, Fast Attack submarines. At 65, his life is quieter now, and is a member of The Bold Writers.
L.D.’s short stories have been published in: Red Fez, Indiana Voice Journal, Remarkable Doorways Online Literary Magazine, The Writing Disorder, The Furious Gazelle and Slippery Elm.
His website is: ldzaneauthor.com.
by Alan Stolzer
My friend swept an undamaged arm toward others in the room, several wearing wehrmacht (army) campaign hats (as he did) muddled in their thoughts or conversations. At any rate, it served as barrier against an ice-tinged, pre-sunrise morning in Munich, 1965. The ex-soldier didn’t seem to care my German wasn’t anywhere near his nor up to par for that matter. Consequently, I couldn’t begin telling him I was between jobs and without lodging for, hopefully, this night only.
His gestures and talk, some to me, the rest for the room, were easily absorbed by the erratic hum of voice and smell familiar to contained space peopled by crowded bodies; no time or inclination to wonder how one arrived here but surrender to inevitable need for warmth and companionship – desirable or otherwise.
I wanted to find out where he had served. Was it North Africa, France or most disastrously the Russian Front where I’m sure he was as ignorant of that language as I was of German – save a few necessary phrases. Was he hospitalized for long? If so, where? What about his family? Did they ever exist beyond a certain point in time? What was his name come to think of it?
“Zu namen” I asked meekly, unsure of grammar or meaning (to him) for that matter. “Namen?” he straightened and showed me the good eye.
“Ja” I replied securely using a word everyone knew.
“Namen, namen” he went on, beginning to walk about the room, tripping on an extended foot, then shoved away by one whose lap he’d fallen into. No one queried him nor tried communicating: Here, civilized hostility seemed the norm.
He spun around room center, ended his whirl and addressed me again. “Meister!” unsteadily approaching, his nose having begun to drip, the tattered Wehrmacht overcoat open, its lining shredded, the outer part witness to who knows how many abuses or horrors.
For a wild moment I thought he was going to dance – here in this living grave of memory and reflex. How many dead had he seen? How many created by him and others? No, there was no dance, only energy that had no purpose or intention anymore. I knew he wouldn’t cry, sure whatever moisture for that outlet dried up years ago. Instead he was part of a celebration of lost souls not quite ready for last breath but acknowledging that event with the confidence of being, at last, right about death and welcoming that eventuality as one would submerge in endless ocean, warm to the skin, peaceful in benevolent introduction to forgetfulness.
I became even more frustrated knowing I was unable to even find out what his unit was, where he served and what the hell did he think of the war in the first place? There was one after all and now he was latter day victim, condemned by forces that controlled his thoughts to their own insane end. Did he, in any way, feel this? If he did, was he able to communicate what he wanted? I’d never known a shell of a human being before which aroused fascination as well as apprehension.
He was making drinking motions now, perhaps wanting me to buy him a beer. I’m sure I had a particularly stupid grin on my face as I, with difficulty since I was hemmed in, tried pulling my pants pockets out to inform him of my present state of affairs; insulted, he leapt into the stale air, pulled his pockets out then turned his back bending over to show me what he thought of my response.
Embarrassed, I huddled back into my place trying to sever whatever contact was left. But my companion would have none of that: Energized, he pointed at me and bellowed something to the uncaring room. It appeared he was trying to shame me to his world, or welcome a stranger (foreigner?) to their privacy, usher him into their present and dubious future. I couldn’t shrink any further back and couldn’t possibly dare the cold for the balance of the hostile night. Did he know he had a captive audience? Did any of it matter? Maybe he was telling them I was going to buy drinks, that an interloper had the price of relief after all. But I couldn’t say this wasn’t so and kept uneasy silence and waited for whatever came next.
Now his oration got louder. Whatever he was saying was apparently sincere. A face, here and there, rose from its previous place on its chest, some smiled, recognition of something in their eye – of what I couldn’t begin to guess. Here arose a shorter man on his feet trying to stand at attention, weak kneed but ridiculously willing. Another tried following suit and another pulled the short man’s pants down instead. Anger flared and I thought a fistfight was sure but the half dressed ex-soldier only flopped back into the lap of his undresser both laughing uncontrollably.
All jammed into this space must have been military since after a glance around the room there were clearly no civilians other than me; no civilians of 1965 nor years before. It was as if this room was reserved for those passing through all right, through a life best and deliberately forgotten by everyone in 1965. Indeed, the sooner the room was empty the better – even at 3am.
My thoughts, of course, didn’t affect my one-eyed and possibly neutered friend as he stayed on his feet not even seeking a seat among comrades. I wondered if this exhibition of resiliency would be his last and if he knew it. He certainly didn’t care and might be welcoming that waiting sea of eternity forever warm as might have been promised by a friendly prophet or two. Would he sing “Lili Marlene” as others might? Would he stiffen a good right arm in fascist salute, memory functioning mechanically as reminder of headier days?
At last he turned to me again and I saw fatigue, for the first time, exercise its will. He panted a bit, his grizzled face whiter than before. A step away he collapsed on his knees, his arms flung into my lap. Now what, I wondered? I can’t stay this way all night and who was there to help?
His face slipped down between my legs almost to the floor while he withdrew his arms to my legs, hugging them for all he and they were worth. “Meister, meister,” he moaned, now unconcerned over what friends and comrades might think.
It would be some time, I don’t know how long before a crack of light entered this tomb but one did. Two policemen, clearly alerted by someone, had entered and began pulling my friend off. I could see his death even as its remaining teeth protruded through a dark mouth, frozen crookedly forever. No one murmured a syllable as the cops carried him out with his past probably only known to him – if that was the case in the first place.
Alan Stolzer was born, raised and educated in New York City. After completion of military service, he traveled throughout Western Europe working odd jobs while writing freelance journalism for International Herald Tribune, Mallorca Daily Bulletin and various other European dailies (translated articles). Alan has been published in El Sol de Mexico and El Heraldo de Mexico. He continued writing upon return to U.S. and have written for the stage since. He studied with playwright John Ford Noonan, and served as dramaturg at St. Clements Theatre, New York, NY.
Sarah got back to me pretty fast with the name and number of a psychiatrist in Myrtle Beach. “Are you asking for yourself?” she said. “Yeah.” She didn’t prod any further. That was a few days ago, and I still haven’t called. I think I need pills, but I’m not sure how much they’ll help. I am lonely, and sad, and I feel like a fucking loser. Most of that is my own fault though.
I chose to quit an alright job where I made pretty good money so I could attend graduate school for writing in South Carolina. I left New York voluntarily, moved away from my family and friends to live in a place where I knew no one. I told myself, before I left my decent job and even better family, that I would get a job as soon as I got to Myrtle Beach. Six months later, I’m still unemployed, and some days I struggle to put even one coherent sentence on paper. My writing started at lukewarm crap, and then it baked in the Carolina sun until it turned into sweltering shit. Apart from class, I go days without leaving my apartment. “What’s the weather like today?” my mom asks me. The fuck if I know. I look around and the walls are white, and the blinds covering the windows are white, and the door is double-locked and white. All I see is white. “It must be snowing,” I say. And now, when life is something I can reach out and touch, a physical manifestation sitting on my chest and suffocating me as I beg for one last breath, I’m going to Boston, where a blizzard is expected to turn the whole city into one giant white space, for a big writing conference.
The conference sounds promising enough. I write a little, and I like to read other people’s writing. Plus, my friends are going too, and they like writing and reading also. But we leave tomorrow, and I’m staring at a map of the weather on my phone and thinking, “Snow. Just fucking snow.” In between the texts from the three girls I’m going with, the excited messages that range from “How many beers do you think you’ll drink throughout the trip? Over or under 50?” to “Boston tomorrow! What what!!!” and various appropriations of “wicked” and other Boston slang, I’m just praying this storm front from the Midwest materializes and pounds New England with enough fresh powder to make the peaks of the Rockies look like they exist in a hand-held snow globe.
I wake up the day of the trip and open two websites on my phone. Weather.com doesn’t disappoint; there is a storm coming, it says, and Boston is going to get hit hard. Spirit.com is not being as cooperative; we don’t give a shit if God himself threatens to strike the plane down mid-air, it says, this flight is leaving Myrtle Beach on time.
I had never even heard of the AWP conference before Sarah and Brittany asked me to go a few weeks ago. We all started hanging out sporadically at the end of last semester, around the same time I started seriously thinking of going back to New York, and this was the first mention anyone had made of AWP. “Seamus Heaney is the keynote speaker,” Brittany said. I guess that was supposed to really entice me. The only problem was I didn’t know who he was, and when I looked him up and found out he was an old Irish poet—“he might die soon” is what Brittany said to unsuccessfully convince other people in our graduate program to go—I wasn’t any more intrigued. But I agreed to go anyway, almost immediately, because what the fuck else was I going to do, spend the weekend looking for marks on my white walls or stepping over garbage as I moved between my ugly flowered couch and the bed sheets I’d stopped cleaning months ago?
And then Brittany said, “Coastal is paying for the whole thing!” Hold on, so you’re saying school is reimbursing us for the entire trip, and I can hear an old Irish poet spit a few rhymes? Good deal, I told her. Our friend Annie decided to go also.
I pick up Brittany on the way to school, a few hours before the flight, and she spends the twenty minute ride saying how she hopes it doesn’t snow, showing me the scarf she bought for Annie, and asking me if I think she’ll like it.
“Yeah,” I say. “It’s real nice.”
“Are you sure?” she says, playing with the frayed ends of the white and black piece of fabric around her neck. “Maybe I should just keep it for myself.”
“No, she’ll appreciate it. Trust me.”
It’s not the easiest thing in the world to instruct a girl to trust you. It’s even harder when you’re sharing a hotel room with the girl, and only a few days earlier you confessed to having unrequited feelings for her. We were sitting at the bar we go to before class sometimes. I don’t remember exactly how I phrased it, except that I sounded pretty fucking stupid, and immediately after, I wanted to dive onto the floor, gather the words together, dust off the sticky beer and stale bits of leftover food, and shove them back in my mouth.
I felt my insides churning as Brittany prepared to respond. “I just want to be friends,” she said. She followed that with, “We’ll find you a girl in Boston,” and my stomach dropped into my sneakers.
I figure Annie and Sarah know about it by now, because girls tell each other those types of things.
The drinking starts in the airport terminal. For Brittany and Annie, who are sitting next to each other on the plane, it continues during the flight. By the time we leave the baggage claim and wait outside in frigid, but dry (fuck you, Weather.com) Boston for a taxi, they are both loopy and all three of them, Sarah included, are joking about how I will have had enough of them by the end of the weekend. I almost had enough before we came. Of me, not them. As my loneliness grew and my mind started to stray from American literature and contemporary collections of short stories and composition and rhetoric articles that read like they were written in Mandarin, I debated whether I’d skip the trip to Boston and go back to New York instead of waiting for the week-long spring break this weekend precedes. I was hoping the weather would make the decision for me, though I probably wouldn’t have been able to make it to New York if it snowed in the Northeast anyway. Regardless, I’m getting to New York next week for spring break, and I’m not coming back to Myrtle Beach. I haven’t told anyone but my mom.
“We’re not from here!” someone shouts as we fight the wind to climb into a taxi.
“Where are you going?” the driver asks.
Our hotel is two miles away, and Sarah, sitting in the passenger seat, gives him the address. I’m squished in the back with Brittany and Annie and the luggage that wouldn’t fit in the trunk. They’re still giggling like a couple of school girls. The radio is on, and they serenade the driver with a version of “Lady in Red” that they revise so the lyrics are “Cabbie in Yellow” or some shit like that. It doesn’t really matter, because it’s fucking awful, so off-key and shrill that if this was a cartoon, all the windows of the cab would pop out and the rearview mirror would shatter into a thirty piece jigsaw puzzle. But it’s funny too, so I laugh, and maybe the whole weekend will be full of shit like this, funny cab rides and impromptu karaoke and things that the girls will tell everyone back at school. And poetry readings and literary panels too. I almost forgot about those. I’ll tell everyone in New York about how informative they are.
“I hope there’s not an extra charge for this,” I joke with the cab driver.
He laughs, but then I realize I wasn’t really kidding, because he gets “lost”, and our two mile cab ride costs fifty-five dollars. The credit card machine is attached to the back of the passenger seat, and I swipe my American Express. Brittany reaches to hand me a twenty dollar bill. “Don’t worry about it,” I say. Annie laughs. She and Brittany grin at each other.
We get to the hotel around one in the morning. By the time we unwind, we only get two hours of sleep. We take the train to the conference in the morning, where the line for registration is crazy long and crazy slow. The cavernous room is full of writers and booths and signs advertising “AWP Boston: March 7-9, 2013” and future dates in Seattle, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. An hour or two passes before Sarah and Annie decide to step outside to smoke a cigarette. Brittany says she has to pee, but I sense she doesn’t want to leave me by myself. Before Sarah and Annie left, everyone was bullshitting, passing the time with idle conversation. Now I can’t think of anything to say, and neither can she. The only thing that comes to mind is how pretty she looks, that I like the way those black-rimmed glasses frame her face and flowing dark hair, but I’m not an idiot. I know she won’t appreciate the compliment, not from me anyway, and I tell her it’s alright, that she can go to the bathroom.
As Brittany walks away, someone in line behind me says, “Hi. What do you write?”
“A little bit of everything,” I say, and if there’s a way to sound more obtuse I’d like to know what it is. I do write a little of everything though, but none of it well. I write fiction, and it’s bad. My critical analysis is verbose and hard to follow. People tell me I write sentences that are way too long, and I agree, but instead of trimming the fat I write longer sentences because staying in a moment you’re somewhat enjoying is much easier than moving on to another that will probably suck. “You’re such a good writer,” my mom always says, but I’m pretty sure she’s obligated to tell me nice things. It’s somewhere in the fine print of her parenting contract. Sarah is more honest. “I can’t see you ever being a non-fiction writer,” she said once. “You don’t express yourself honestly enough.” I just say vague things like “I write a little bit of everything,” and people, like the woman in line, generally leave me alone.
The girls return, and we finally register. Everybody splits up, but it’s finally started to snow, hard, and I tag along with Annie to the Converse store so she can replace her soggy canvas shoes with a pair of Chucks and so I don’t have to be by myself.
Around four, we meet Brittany and Sarah at a panel featuring a professor from our school. I haven’t really looked at the schedule, so I don’t know what it’s all about. They wanted to come though, so I’m here. The room is half-empty. There can’t be more than forty people scattered through the rows of chairs. It’s hazy outside and the snow is still falling, so it isn’t a great day for the twelve thousand writers at the conference to try to see Boston. It’s a better day to take in a panel or reading, and it looks like we’ve picked the least popular one.
The time slot, I soon figure out, is dedicated to a poet who recently passed away. One after another, his friends get up to the podium, struggle through the emotions of vocalizing what this guy meant to them. They get choked up, and they cry, and they have to pause when the memories overwhelm them. They must all be poets, because poets are friends with other poets, I figure, and because their words are so fucking beautiful. Words about how vibrant this guy was. Words about how much his work touched their lives. Words about how just knowing him made them feel grateful to be alive. Words that I want to write and feel.
By the time our professor adjusts the microphone and clears his throat, he’s following a number of difficult opening acts. He starts talking about friendship and loss, nothing that hasn’t been covered already. But what he talks about is so moving, means so much to him, and because it means so much to him it means so much to me, and I don’t even know the guy he’s talking about, and I only just introduced myself to him a half hour ago. If I was the type of person to cry at something like this, I would. But I’m the type of person who cries when he doesn’t want to, when it will make him look like a fucking pussy, when he’s on the phone with his mom in the apartment he hardly leaves, surrounded by empty cans of beer and the demons that have multiplied over time, telling her how much he hates himself, that life is worthless, that he doesn’t know how he’s gonna go on, and she’s urging him, “Don’t talk like that about yourself. Please, please, just come home. We’ll buy you a plane ticket. You can worry about getting your stuff later. Please come home.”
I’m the type of person who thinks too much, and I’m thinking of other things so I don’t remember exactly what our professor says, but everyone claps when he finishes, and Brittany is wiping tears from her eyes a few seats over, and God fucking dammit, this is the type of shit I should be crying about too.
I wake up around seven the next morning with no recollection of going to sleep. My throat is dry, and my head is pounding.
“Can you get me a glass of water?” Annie asks from the other bed in a whiny you’re-the-guy-so-you-should-do-this-for-me voice. Brittany is still asleep next to her.
I give her a blank stare. “Come on. If it was Brittany you’d get it for her.” She doesn’t actually say that though. “Fine,” I say, and I walk downstairs to the lobby for a glass of water.
In return, Annie fills me in on the details of last night. She and I skipped the Heaney reading, which I already knew. We went to the bar across the street from the convention center instead. Brittany and Sarah met us after the reading. We had already run up a hundred dollar tab. That doesn’t sound right, and it starts to get fuzzy from there, but I know Brittany and I were taking shots, probably because she said, “Let’s take some shots!”, and I’m sure the light danced off her eyes, and if she had said “Let’s go jump off the fucking roof!” I would have done that too. Annie and Sarah decided we should leave, and Annie held me up on the subway to make sure I didn’t fall.
“Get the fuck off me,” I told her. She said “OK,” let go of my arm, and I stumbled to the floor of the train.
“Sorry,” I say. I do drink, but I don’t like to drink until I make a fool of myself. I also curse, a lot, but I have no patience for anyone who curses at women. “I’m sorry,” I repeat.
“It’s OK,” she says. “You were fine. Funny, actually.” We’re eating breakfast at this point. I usually don’t eat breakfast; my sleeping pattern ranges anywhere from three or four in the morning to noon or one in the afternoon. I also don’t eat when I’m hungover, but I’m chomping on bacon, hoping that maybe I won’t hear Annie recount all the embarrassing things I said and did last night through the gnashing of my misshapen teeth. After I go home, I don’t want them saying things like, “Remember that loser who made a fool of himself in Boston?” Brittany meets us in the hotel lobby around the same time Annie finishes her morning coffee.
It’s snowing harder today, so Brittany, Annie, and I take a cab to the conference. We seek out a panel one of them has marked on her schedule. Sarah is already bouncing around somewhere. This is her Woodstock, and the hardest decision for her is whether to go see the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Rage Against the Machine, and fuck the scheduling gods for having them play at the same time. I’m looking at the Excel-type grid of all the panels and readings like it’s a teeny-bopper festival, and I have to decide whether I’d rather not listen to Justin Bieber or not listen to Taylor Swift. What I really want to do is go into a port-a-potty, close my eyes, and stick my fingers in my ears until I can’t hear any of the noise anymore. What time is that at? I don’t see it on my schedule.
We get seats in the back, but the small room fills up quickly, and by the time it’s standing room only, Brittany rustles my arm. “Look, it’s Junot Diaz,” she says, referring to the Pulitzer Prize winner. We’re reading him in one of the classes I’m about to leave behind.
But, “that’s not him,” I say. The guy by the door is sheet-white, definitely not Hispanic. He does have a goatee though, like Junot.
“It kind of looks like him,” I say. We all laugh. Brittany blushes, shrugs her shoulders.
The panel starts, and we’re all tired as fuck. We didn’t get enough sleep again. The writers seated at the tables surrounding the podium dive into their topic, “This is Your Brain on Fiction.” Brittany’s head tilts toward me sometime during the first presentation. I feel it resting on my shoulder. I’ve taken my jacket off, and I’m wearing my favorite T-shirt, the one that says “Sarcasm: Just One of My Many Talents.” It’s true, depending on how you look at it. It’s also soft, but not as soft as Brittany’s hair nestled against it. She shuffles, trying to get comfortable, and I try my best not to move. For the next thirty or forty minutes, my body is still, and it may be sappy, pathetic, hard to believe, and/or just downright sad, but for the first time all weekend, my heart isn’t ping-ponging inside my chest, protesting to get out. My mind isn’t working in overdrive. This must be how it feels for your brain to momentarily relax.
The next day is the last of the conference, and Brittany, Annie, and I do a lot of sightseeing. It’s still cold, but it has finally stopped snowing. We go to both Cheers bars, then cut through a park where a guy is making weird-sounding music with a weird-looking tuba-like apparatus draped over his whole body, before meeting our professors for happy hour. The plan is to go to the conference dance party at ten and stay up for our flight back to Myrtle at six, which is really five because tonight is daylight savings time.
We leave the bar to meet Sarah before the party, and I step aside to call my mom. I’ve been doing this all trip, and the joke has somehow become that I’m a gambling addict, that I’m leaving our hotel room to bet on games. The truth is I want to discuss the logistics of moving home with my mom, what I’ll do with my apartment, dropping out of school, and all that. Or, more accurately, that’s what I tell myself I’m doing.
I move to a far corner of the convention center with large ceilings and huge bay windows that offer a great view of the bars across the street. I have my mom on the line, and I start crying again. I cry because I want to go home, and I don’t. I want to stay in Myrtle Beach, and I can’t. I want to make it to the airport in a few hours, and I doubt whether I can last that much longer. I want to care about the rest of the trip, but I know it’s about to end and I haven’t taken the time to enjoy any of it because I’m too worried about other things. “Just breathe,” my mom says. I can’t. I can’t stop crying because I can’t figure out why I hate myself so fucking much. “I’m alright,” I say, which isn’t true. There’s no way she can believe it either. I hang up.
Brittany texts me while I’m washing the dried tears from my face in an empty bathroom, the only other occupant a janitor running a dripping mop over the black and white tiles.
“We’re going to the Sheraton Hotel,” she says. I don’t have a schedule with me, but I assume that’s where the dance party is.
“OK are you there already?” I say.
“Yea,” she says. “Go into the mall. You will find it.”
When I get to the ballroom of the Sheraton, it is dark, very dark, and loud, incredibly loud, and I somehow find the girls waiting on line for drinks. It’s an open bar, and Annie gives the bartender twenty dollars as a tip. We’re standing off to the side of the dance floor, which is packed. Everybody is drinking beer except Brittany, who is swaying her hips as she takes swigs from a glass of red wine. I’m not a dancer and never have been. I look out at the group moving around under the lights, and I’m not sure what the fuck I’m looking at, but for the most part it doesn’t look anything like dancing.
Courage foams at my mouth in the form of all the beer I’ve guzzled today, and I ask Brittany to dance. She purses her lips, slinks away from me a little. I ask her again, and a third time, and by this point I’m so pathetic and so desperate and maybe it’s because she can see that I’m pathetic and desperate that Sarah tells Brittany she should just dance with me.
The dancing starts the same way we ended up going to dinner together a few months ago. It was the first time we all hung out at Brittany’s apartment, a week before fall semester finals. There were five of us, and we were all drinking. Out of nowhere, Sarah suggested that Brittany and I should go out. But Sarah was drunk, flicking the remnants of her cigarette into an ashtray on Brittany’s balcony. It was December, but warm enough to be outside, even at two in the morning. I was drunk too, so I didn’t think anything of what she was saying. The next day, hungover at Bob Evans, she said the same thing. I brushed it off again. I wasn’t going to ask Brittany out. We don’t have much in common. I’m ugly, and she’s anything but. She doesn’t have any problem talking to people, and I’m socially inept. “Most days I feel like dying” never seems like the best conversation-starter.
I texted her anyway. “Hey, what are you doing tonight?” I said.
“Going out with my family,” she said. “Why what’s up?”
“Sounds like fun. Was just gonna see if you wanted to grab dinner or something.”
She said “thanks anyway,” and I started drinking. It was only two in the afternoon, but I didn’t know how else I was going to spend the rest of the day. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth PBR she asked if I would want to go out the following night. “Yea, definitely,” I said, and we went to a bar for dinner and drinks.
Winter break started at the end of the week, and she offered to drive me to the airport for my flight to New York. On the way, she talked about the Christmas shopping she had planned for later in the day. We pulled up, and she tried to find a space in front of the Spirit sign. I told her she could let me out anywhere. The Myrtle Beach airport is small, just one terminal. She parked right behind one of the oversized yellow speed bumps.
I watched her whole body contort as she tried to drag my heavy luggage from the back seat. “I’ll get the bag,” I said with a laugh.
She smiled, and I pulled the bag out myself. She stood on her tippy-toes in front of me. Her sunglasses were on top of her head, her black-rimmed glasses over her eyes. I wasn’t sure about the look, but she was pulling it off well and I had other things on my mind anyway.
Our lips collided, but to call it a kiss would denigrate the term. There was no grace, no rhythm of movement. Her face got red with embarrassment, but she was still smiling. We tried again. My hand cradled her cheek as I leaned in. The second kiss, much like the first, was more accidental head bump than concerted act of passion.
When I returned from New York, she politely declined my request to go out to dinner. “I have reading to catch up on for my thesis,” she said.
Crushed, and already emotionally spent (I’d spent the month-long break visiting a psychologist, trying to tighten the precarious grip I had on my life), I said, “No worries. Good luck with your work.” I don’t know whether she had an inkling about my depression and anxiety, but I should have told her turning me down was the best decision she ever made. Probably the easiest, too.
Brittany tires of dancing with me after a few songs. “I have to use the bathroom,” she says. I walk outside as well. Sarah and Annie are standing in the lobby talking to two of our professors. After a few minutes, Annie leans over and whispers in my ear, “We have to go.” She hands me a glass of red wine, then says, “Go find Brittany.” I don’t bother asking why I’m giving Brittany a full drink if we’re leaving anyway.
The music pounds the inside of my forehead as I walk back into the ballroom. The dance floor overflows with the awkward, flailing bodies of hundreds of writers. If you want to see bad, strange, abysmally poor, incredibly bizarre dancing, go to AWP. If you want to be able to find the girl you think you’re in love with who doesn’t feel the same way in a huge, dimly lit sea of people where you can’t hear someone standing right in front of you because the hack of a DJ is blasting music so fucking loud you feel it pulsing in your feet, don’t. I finally spot her talking to a guy with an overgrown beard to the side of the dance floor. I’m a guy with an overgrown beard too. It’s the only feature of mine I don’t hate, but I guess she likes his better.
She sees me approaching them and waves in my direction. “Hey Stephen, this is Jake,” she says. Or Larry. Or Allen. Or Bob. Or Jose. Whatever-his-name-is extends his hand. He looks nice enough, and I extend mine as well, but I really want to toss this glass of Merlot in his face, watch the red beads free themselves from the tangle of his beard and drip onto his white T-shirt.
“Here,” I say, handing her the glass instead. Then, I say “nice to meet you” to the guy, followed by “we have to go” to her.
We catch a cab outside. Brittany and I sit on the back bench of the white van, Annie in the chair in front of her and Sarah in front of me. Annie starts nodding off, and I make a joke about the guy she was texting while we were at the dance party. Maybe the joke is more mean-spirited than I think, because she doesn’t take it very well.
“Shut up,” she says. She’s twisted her whole body around to face me. “At least I tell you things.”
“What?” I say.
“I tell you things about myself.”
I look at Brittany, then Sarah, but I can’t see her face because she’s sitting right in front of me and it doesn’t matter anyway because it doesn’t seem like either of them is paying attention to Annie and I. “What are you talking about?” I say.
“You heard me.”
I was just trying to make a joke. “I don’t even know what you want me to say to that.”
“All those phone calls, leaving the room. Who were you talking to? Who’s Frankie V?”
“A friend from home,” I say. “Why?”
“I saw a text from him on your phone today at lunch.”
“I feel like I don’t know anything about you, Stephen,” Brittany chimes in.
Maybe this whole thing is premeditated, some sort of intervention for a guy who is struggling to tread water. If the idea is to stomp my head below the surface and keep it there, it’s working. “That’s not true,” I say, and I honestly don’t know whether that’s true or false. I’m a guy, and I’m quiet. Plus I’m worn out and tired and I’ve drank too much and haven’t slept near enough during this trip.
“Yea it is.” This time it’s Sarah’s voice I hear from in front of me.
Annie says something else, and I say, “Whatever. You’re so drunk, you won’t even remember this conversation tomorrow.”
She turns to Sarah. “I’m done with him,” she says. She throws up her hands and turns her face toward the ceiling of the van.
When we get back to the hotel, they stay outside so Annie and Sarah can smoke a cigarette. “Let me get the key,” I say to Sarah. I take the elevator to the room, where I start packing my shit into my duffel bag. Annie and Brittany’s clothes are scattered all over the room. Sarah sends a text that says “Love you, Stephen. Everybody’s just tired.” When they return, I try apologizing to Annie. She ignores me and walks into the bathroom.
Brittany lies down and goes to sleep. Sarah must still be downstairs. I leave the room and find her in the little dark restaurant attached to the lobby. “Can I talk to you for a second?” I say.
We sit at a table in the corner of the room opposite where Annie and I ate breakfast yesterday. I don’t even care if I cry now. Tears are dripping down my face, and we sit for a few minutes in silence, minus my hysterical heaving.
“What’s going on?” she says.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’ve been depressed and anxious for a while.” I wipe my face with the back of my hand.
“That why you asked me about the psychiatrist?”
I nod. I usually mumble and stutter my way through conversation, so how, or if, she understands what I’m saying when I’m crying like a two-year-old is anybody’s guess.
“You should call him when we get back,” she says.
I shake my head. “I think I’m going back to New York.”
“That doesn’t matter right now. You need help.”
“I’m sorry.” I worried about this type of thing before we came, that if I had an anxiety attack, or a breakdown, or worse, they would be responsible for me. I’ve already given my mom a tour of the place in my head where the demons breed. I’d rather not show other people around up there, for their own sake.
“There’s nothing to apologize for,” Sarah says. She reaches her hand across the table and lays it on top of mine.
“I feel like such a failure,” I say. “I’m sorry.”
“We wanted you to come with us,” she says, squeezing my hand. “We like hanging out with you.” Then she reaches into her pocket, pulls out a pill, and puts it on the table between us. “Take this,” she says. “It will relax you, get you through the rest of the night.” It’s small, like a grain of rice, and I can’t see how something so insignificant will do any good at this point.
I sniffle. “No, I’m alright,” I say. This isn’t my brain on pills. This is my brain on loneliness. This is my brain on self-deprecation. This is my brain on making too much of things. This is my brain on wanting to die, and not knowing exactly why.
“Just relax,” Sarah says. She tucks the pill back into the pocket of her jeans. “Slow down. Breathe.”
I’m trying to. I swear to fucking God I am.
Stephen Pisani is a Long Island, New York native and a graduate of Coastal Carolina’s MA in Writing program. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Blue Lake Review and Soundings Review. Everything he knows about a good story he learned from his grandfather, Max.