A couple of days ago I posted a little piece of fiction in the form of a monologue from a woman to her man, perhaps as an email or a letter she wrote to him. I issued the challenge to my Tumblr friends to respond in some way, by continuing the story, replying as her partner, whatever they liked. I got two ‘takers’, one anonymous–the one you will see in this post–and one from a writer I ardently and publicly admire. Hers will be in my very next post, a reblog of her post on her short fiction blog.
I just want to say that I never dreamed in a million years that I would get such heartfelt and strangely satisfying responses. The character I created did not demand a reply from her partner, but it is obviously what she longed for and needed. Well she certainly had her needs met in spades. And it all rings so emotionally true.
I can’t thank you two enough–I got my needs met too, and it is a wonderful feeling.
So a reprint of my ficcy and Anonymous’s response are after the cut.
So we were lying in bed one night a million years ago, at the start of what was supposed to be my fertility, a couple of months after I got my IUD removed, and you said, sort of unexpectedly, because you were about to use three words together I’d never heard you use in the same sentence before, “Depending on when you get pregnant, the baby will be born around the end of this year or beginning of the next….” And I was washed over by such a flood of passion—for living my life, for loving you, for knowing happiness. I could tell you were really excited by the prospect, that it had made you giddy and a little scared. That moment definitely raised the bar on my expectations of what our brand of intimacy would be, of what we could share. Because say all you want about soul mates—truly shared experiences in life are rare. It’s just that hard to get out of your own head.
And then….it never happened. I feel so bad now. Not only for the loss of the child we conjured in that declaration “the baby will be born,” but for the false charity I gave you by ever suggesting that we have a baby in the first place. I’ll always believe that you wouldn’t have thought of it all by yourself. It wouldn’t have crossed your mind. Who was I to break into that garden of completeness you felt you had achieved and begin tearing up the lawn? Forgive the fertility metaphors, but obviously we didn’t have the sod to lay down in my wake. In short, if the idea had never existed, then neither would the sadness. But I did have the idea, and we both bear the pain.
You should have been the father of a son. Initially, the whole thing comes about because you love someone so much that you want to make a little more of them. I wanted a little more of you. At the end of my labor, I had planned for you to text/email/shout from the rooftop the following: “My woman’s Herculean efforts have, at last, yielded one small boy. And he is magnificent.” Now I’m struggling to rewrite and forward the message. When all is said and done, what will I have given you?
I wish I knew what to say, to know that I had the perfect words that would mend your shattered perception of yourself. Some men say that they want to come back in their next lives as women. To be in your shoes would be a curse, a pain I couldn’t stand to live with. I watch you now and my heart tears apart. I’ve never felt so useless in my life. Men are the providers, right? We provide what our women need. God, that sounds like something a caveman would say. Did cavemen speak? I guess their grunts would count as language. If I’m coming across as a caveman, I’m sorry. Cavemen were strong. They got what their women needed. But I can’t give you that. Ever. I’m helpless here.
What I never knew I wanted has now become the sole focus of my life. I spend hours sitting at my desk concocting our never to be son. His hair would have curled just like yours around the sides of your head, those little wisps that sprout up whenever it’s a bit humid. You work so hard to tame them, but they’re one of the things I most love about you. When your hair is tied up in a ponytail, I purposely come up behind you to kiss your neck, my nose rubbing against those soft hairs. I miss doing that. Now you just cringe when I hold you from behind. Your hands work desperately to keep my hands from brushing against your stomach. You don’t want me to have the reminder that your womb will always be vacant, a luxury hotel that was built to never be used. But what you don’t understand is that I miss holding you around your midsection, feeling your diaphragm rising and falling in time to my heartbeat. I miss lying in bed with you, lying on you, feeling your body pressed against mine.
He would have had your curiosity. I know you think your questions drive me crazy, but I’m envious of your love of learning. The way you dive into books, needing to know things. How important it is to understand just how things work brings out this fire in your eyes. I picture the two of you sitting on the floor of our living room pouring over books, creating science projects, learning about your favorite impressionists, researching the inner workings of the digestive system or learning Latin for fun. You’d have proudly hung each kindergarten work of art on the refrigerator until we could no longer find the handle. You’d have stood by the stage as he accepted his science fair medals. You’d have cheered as he received each diploma, probably as loudly for the preschool one as you would have for his graduate degree. Strike that. Knowing you, you would have been crying. Happy tears, of course, not the ones that you do now. I know you’ll insist that you don’t cry, but I hear you at night. We go to sleep with this huge space between us in our bed, my back turned to you. What you may not understand is that I give you that space willingly, even though it kills me. I pretend to sleep keeping my breathing at an even pace because it’s then that you let the tears go. I’d rather be holding you while you cry, but you don’t want to remind me of what already haunts me.
He would have had your wicked sense of humor. The two of you would have ganged up on me every chance you could. And while I would have fought it facetiously, I would have loved every minute of it. You’d have created these crazy nicknames, encouraging him to give Daddy a silly, but loving, moniker. And in my mock protest, I’d have chased you both around the house attempting to grab you and tickle you into submission. Of course, you’d have ganged up on me. One of you sneaking up behind me with a pillow and knocking me off the other. But you don’t laugh anymore. A weak smile is all that crosses your face. I’ve tried to make you giggle, but the pain on your face is more than I can bear. So I no longer try to make you laugh because I’m sure it hurts you more when you realize you can’t.
The list goes on. I think I’m up to #412 of the ways in which he would have resembled you. But he’ll never be, no matter what number I can reach. These are all things I can’t share with you, so in some way, that makes me feel like a caveman. I couldn’t protect you from the sadness or the ache of what would never be, but I can shield you from the sadness that has planted itself deep within me. I would never want to be a woman, to have my whole identity wrapped up in the ability to create a life, to grow a child, to increase the population of the earth. No matter what you do with the rest of your life, you will always think “I could never bear a child.” You could discover a cure for cancer, climb Mt. Everest, create a new source of energy and you would always feel that your biography would be brilliant scientist, explorer, and conservationist….who failed as a woman. How do I tell you that because I can’t take away that feeling, I’ve failed as a man?