When I woke up the morning after having unprotected sex with a kind of friend who I have a long history of unprotected sex with, after saying to him, “If I get pregnant and Mitt Romney gets elected, I’m naming this baby Mitt and calling him ‘Mittens,’” I looked at my iPhone app to see if I was in my fertile window. It said I wasn’t, and I didn’t care enough to do any further math on the subject. Also: I was hungover. I went back to sleep.
Inside of me, science was happening.
Two and a half weeks later, I put on my headphones and walked up to Bernal Hill and at the top, I texted the boy: “We need to talk.”
He called me when he could plausibly get away from his girlfriend, and I said, “Well, I’m pregnant.”
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “Karmic retribution.” And then: “I really think I need to work on my relationship with my girlfriend.”
The next day his girlfriend emailed me. Subject Line: “You’re pathetic.” Body: “He will never want to be with you so stop trying.”
The email had her website as a sign-off.
It might have been the hormones, but the whole thing seemed distant and funny and sad somehow, but sad like a memory I could barely remember, not acutely sad. I tried to feel more feelings about it—anger, disappointment, something. Instead, I just felt calm.
A few nights later, I met up with the boy in person in my living room, and said I wasn’t sure what I would do.
“You could have the baby,” he said. “Best case scenario, it would absolutely destroy my relationship, like completely burn it to the ground, and then we would get together. It would be hard, but I would do it. Ultimately, it’s up to you.”
I told my friends and my not-friends about it. I told my boss and my brother, but I didn’t tell my grandmas. I went north to Washington for Thanksgiving, where it was cold and gray. I looked on WebMD, followed my fetus’s progress. I got morning sickness, ate a lot of cheeseburgers, felt overwhelmingly serene, and gave everyone advice on everything. During a lot of moments I thought, I could have a baby.
Kate Middleton announced she was pregnant, and people I knew posted sonograms on Facebook. I thought about how fun it would be to post one of those, to get all that positive feedback. People would look at it and say, “Here’s a girl who can get laid! Here’s a girl whose body is in full working order!” I thought of the girls I know, and how jealous they would be.
“I could have a baby,” I told my mom on the phone. “My baby would have so much more than most of the babies born in the world. Plus I’m thirty, so it’s not like this is a teen pregnancy or something.”
The weekend after Thanksgiving, when I was officially about ten weeks pregnant, I went on a bike ride in the rain with the boy whose genetic material was taking hold in my uterus. We rode together over the Golden Gate Bridge, and it started to rain. When I got tired part of the way up the Marin Headlands, he rode up behind me and started pushing me up the hill. He was so strong, and it was raining so hard, I felt like I was back in Oregon, where we’d met, and I thought about how nice it would be if I could just be in love with him. About what an athletic baby the little group of cells in my body would turn into. About how if I loved him, he would love me, and this little alien creature could turn into a human that absolved us both of the treacherous things we’d done to each other and to the people we loved. My legs were covered in mud, and my bike gloves felt like wet diapers, and I could imagine a little baby being born and everyone loving it and everyone knowing that I had slept with this guy and the story we told everyone would be about our complicated beginning, but the baby would make it okay. My dad as a grandpa. My brother, an uncle. My mom, the perfect grandma.
We turned downhill and the rain didn’t let up, and when we went through the tunnel, I let him get ahead of me. I thought about the things I did really like about him: He is cute. He rides a bike. He agrees with me on everything except for the one time I was for Hilary and he was for Barack. He once said he thought I was intimidatingly smart. He’s fun to have sex with. But those are just things really, and a person is more than muscles and politics and sex and compliments. A dad is, anyway.
When we rode back over the bridge, it was getting dark, and I didn’t have any lights. I said, “This is getting dangerous,” and he looked at me seriously, dramatically, and said, “You have no idea.”
Then I realized that the problem wasn’t his girlfriend or our history. The problem wasn’t that he was unavailable to me. The problem was that I didn’t think that what we were doing was dangerous. Not emotionally, not physically, not to my existence. Even pregnant with his hypothetical child, I was completely removed from him. He was putting what felt like his whole life on the line for one bike ride, a few hours of time with me, and I had never risked anything for him. Not once. He looked so serious, skidding on the bridge, through the dark pounding rain, and for a second, I knew he really would do it, throw everything away with that other girl and his plans for law school and the respect of his family and his friends, if I had ever said, “I love you. Be with me.”
The rain dripped down my face, and below us the San Francisco Bay boiled, and I remembered being in love. I remembered screaming, crying, when the person I loved was leaving me. “You are killing me from your life by leaving!” I yelled. “Why are you killing me? Why do you hate me so much to kill me from your life?”
When you love someone and they leave you, you scream. You barricade the door. You cut off your hair and stop eating. You smoke all the cigarettes. The boy on the Golden Gate Bridge had left me various times. Always, I was just sort of relieved.
We rode to my house in the dark through the city. I took off my gloves and put them in the pouch of my shirt. He kissed me at the gate to my building, which he’d done before and I didn’t feel anything except interest and maybe that specific joy of knowing someone cares about you. But he looked like it was killing him to kiss me. He looked like he was going to cry or scream.
In the shower, the water ran through my hair, and I could taste the rain and the grit in my mouth. I thought about how his girlfriend was willing to move in with him after reading emails he wrote me, asking me not to give up on him, to wait for him a little longer, how she was willing to forgive him again and again, and the crazy, overwhelming emotion it must take to send someone an email with the subject line “You’re pathetic.”
I stood there and let the water get hot and steam fill up the bathroom. I thought about him showing up at my house drunk, twice, late at night on weeknights, wanting to explain something to me that I never let him get out. Knocking on my door. Riding to my house. Following only me on Twitter. Playing Words With Friends, but only with me.
I thought about how it cost me nothing to stop talking to him the last time or the first time, back when I was twenty-five. I thought about the doors I’ve stood outside of that weren’t his, the scenes I have made, never about him, the angry, stupid, crazy emails I have sent to other people. The times I have called the same person, not him, twenty times in an hour.
I turned off the water and wrapped a towel around my hair. How do you tell a person their dad wasn’t even important enough for you to raise your voice?
Naked, I got into bed and stared at the ceiling. I put my hands on my stomach. It felt the same as always, but I knew somewhere inside of it was a little thing that for the first time ever wasn’t part of my body. If I didn’t do anything, the little thing would get bigger and bigger, and then I would get fat and it would kick me, and then it would come out of my body as a baby.
I’m good with babies. They’re all sweet to me, even the criers, and I knew I would be a good mom. I have held so many babies, played peek-a-boo with so many toddlers, teased so many little kids about their age, taught them how to swim, canoe, read, build a fire. But in bed, staring at the ceiling, it was the adult that came after that I thought about. A lucky human is an adult much longer than they are a fat baby, a cute kid, or an angry teenager. Could I do better for the future world than an adult who hates his father? A default adult? A mistake adult? A tall, athletic adult whose dad I couldn’t even fight for a little bit? Whose dad I was always secretly glad to see go back to his girlfriend? Who only existed because the Giants won the World Series and I am weak when it comes to compliments and direct eye contact and I am more scared of bladder infections when I am drunk than I am of AIDS or pregnancy and I say irresponsible things when I want the sex to be over and I am too lazy to take a Morning After pill and too cheap to pay for an effective menstrual-calendar app? And because the person whose window I would stand outside of, whose other women I would send emails subject-lined “You’re pathetic,” whose house I would drive to drunk in the middle of the night, doesn’t feel the same way about me?
When I was eighteen, I dated a Catholic boy who told me that every life was sacred and that abortion was murdering that sacred potential. When I told my mom I would never get an abortion then, because of that, no matter what, she just looked at me and said, “You have no idea what you are talking about.”
A little over a week after the bike ride, I was up in the stirrups at my doctor’s office. I’d taken a Xanax and the doctor had injected me with some narcotic. The room was warm. Two nurses stood next to me, and as the doctor scraped out the multiplying cells, I told the nurses about the tattoos on my thighs, one of an eagle, one of shark.
There are people you love so much you get tattoos so you’ll never forget how much you love them. These are the people you scream for, who cut out your heart with a spoon. And there are hypothetical people who exist in certain cells of your body, and you are mother to all those people, and you love them in a deep and theoretical way. These are people beyond screaming. Beyond tattoos. Each of these people is yours, part of your body but separate, and it is your choice to bring them into the world or let them stay imaginary, senseless, brainless, lifeless, soulless. You can let them live, but if you do, part of your body will exist outside of you forever. It will be walking around. It might hurt you; it might hurt itself. It might get killed by a car or grow up to be an asshole. Whatever happens, it will be your responsibility.
Are you ready for that responsibility?
The boy was in the waiting room. He looked so sad, but I felt weightless. He drove me home in his girlfriend’s car and sat with me for a minute, but I was glad when he left because I couldn’t think of anything to say to him.
I ordered a cheeseburger delivery over the internet and then fell asleep. There are things I regret: telling secrets mainly, smoking a cigarette for the first time, my credit cards. But I don’t regret fighting for things I love. I don’t regret cutting off my hair and screaming, when it matters. When I woke up, I was surprised at how sad I didn’t feel. When you love someone, you barricade the door so they don’t leave. When you love someone, you will sacrifice everything for them, even if that means they never exist at all.
Rumpus original art by Lara Odell.