After my accident, having children was put on hold indefinitely. When we got to California, I really wanted to have a child. I wanted it for him. I was willing to take the cardiologist’s advice—that we wait a few years, then taper off the medication, then wait a while after that to see what happens—as an advisory only, but I was preparing to go ahead with my own plans.
He wouldn’t hear of it. He wouldn’t take a chance with my life—it would not be worth it. I told him I felt like I had plenty of time, but he was ten years older. “I have plenty of time,” he said. “Blokes have all the time in the world, god made us that way.”
The first period I got after I got to Asheville in the spring of 1983—I was eleven days late. We’d stopped using birth control pills that winter because I thought my body needed a rest. He was great about my decision to make the switch. A lot of men would have objected or refused to take responsibility, refused to step up to the plate, as they say. But we did everything the way we were supposed to with our alternate form of birth control which we immediately nicknamed the Things.
Eleven days. I wasn’t pregnant. Just late.
At first they thought my heart attack had been caused by an undetected pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in my lungs. They told me I’d have to stop using birth control pills. I was still in the hospital with weird complications after the accident in New York. I remembered the messes with the Things. We hadn’t stuck with them for very long—I went back on the pill before the wedding—and we had hated them, but we didn’t admit that to ourselves until we quit using them. Now we were going to have to go back to something like the Things.
He said, half serious, “I’ll just get a vasectomy.”
I said, half joking, “Or I’ll just get pregnant.”
A multitude of possibilities and impossibilities seemed to be hanging in the air that afternoon awaiting a verdict, waiting for permission to proceed.
Then the doctor came back to say that there actually had been no blood clot, the heart attack was caused by the Prinzmetal’s Angina they’d discovered during the angiogram.
Spring of ’86, Pasadena, Cal State LA: We’ve been here since the fall, reunited with friends we met here in the summer of ’82. We were especially happy to take up with Mike and Charlie again. They are musicians and they had a great band back in the 70’s. I’ve heard the recordings of some of their old stuff, and they are amazing. They remind me of Stephen Stills and Manassas: these are men who understand the judicious use of a cowbell and a wah-wah pedal. I paint scenery in the Valley, moving more towards management than actively painting sets these days. I still come home covered in paint sometimes. I came home covered in paint today, expecting him to have been here when we invited Mike and Charlie over. I knew I was going to be late, but he was later. I didn’t get a shower until he got home, apologetic for being so late. So now I get a fully passionate kiss of apology. I’m sure he can taste the beer I’ve been sipping while I was hanging out with the guys in our kitchen; on him I taste the faint flavor of cigarettes.
I have everything that I need at this moment. I leave the kitchen reluctantly, my steps toward the bathroom are the only proof that time has not stood still. I am 26, and he is 35.
2009: By now you are wondering, “Did Mr. And Mrs. Reid ever have children? Is that the miracle?” The whole moral of the story seems to hinge on my answer. Well, I’m not going to tell you. I will tell you that there is a beautiful, smart 20-year-old girl who is very much in our lives. She has a boyfriend who is English, and when she brings him to our house, our men are lost to us in a haze of Yorkshire English that we can barely understand. Is she our daughter? Perhaps she is Mike’s or Charlie’s daughter—we’ve stayed close with their families over these years. Is she the miracle? What I know now is that it doesn’t matter. It does not matter. I’m going to begin today to break us all of the habit of believing that it matters.
…Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged.
–Alan Moore, Watchmen, 1986
I had an argument in 2nd period English with Mr. Reid once in front of the whole class. He tried to assign a certain book for me to read and report on, but I told him that he must have forgotten that he had already assigned me a different book and I was half way through writing the report on that. He said that couldn’t be the case, and I would have to start over with the new book. It escalated to the point where he threw me out of class, not literally, but he told me to collect my things and get out. I went out the west end of the hall and sat on a low wall that surrounded the athletic field. He came out five minutes later and said, “What are you doing? You can’t stay here, you either need to get back in the classroom or go to the office.”
“And what would I tell them I was there to do?” I said. I started to cry.
He let me cry for a minute and then said, not unkindly, “Do you want to go to the bathroom and take a few minutes to pull yourself together?”
It’s hard for me to remember what happened next. I do know that I didn’t feel well, and I told him so. He put his hand on my forehead to check for a fever. His hand was cool, and the signet ring he wore felt smooth on my skin. He sent me to the office to call my mother to come pick me up. It was the only time in the whole of the ninth grade that he ever touched me.
I am grading 7th graders’ tests one afternoon after school. He tells me I can sit at his desk while he goes to the office. I’d like a fresh red pencil, so I open the drawer of his desk. There is an opened envelope in there with a postmark from Wales and a woman’s handwriting. Before I know what I’m doing, I’m looking inside the envelope. There’s no letter, just two pictures. One is black and white, of a girl about my age standing next to a boy, a little older, holding a baby between them. Very serious, the young man. The date on the border of the picture says 1951, so the boy can’t be Mr. Reid although he looks a little like him. The baby looks just like the girl, and the serious boy, I will learn much later, grows up to be the man I recognize as my father-in-law.
The other picture is in color. There is a different boy at the center of it, this one much more obviously Mr. Reid. This one says 1960, the year I was born. He is small in the width of the picture, framed by a railroad trestle just as the train is going by overhead. There seems to be a waiting family in the background, but they are hazy. I think I see the outline of a picnic basket in someone’s hands. The look on the boy’s face is the embodiment of wonder. He is looking up at the train as though a dinosaur has just landed in south Yorkshire. He looks as though some one has just whispered in his ear, “Think of the most amazing thing in the world; if it makes you happy, it’s enough for us.”
I can hear the western door opening, so I close the drawer quickly and quietly. I smell the slight reek of tobacco on his jacket hanging on the chair behind me. As he comes into the room I am thinking, yes, Mr. Reid, the miracle is you.