It was around last June. We were in Thailand, out riding our clunky bikes around in the evening, the only time it wasn’t too hot for outdoor activities, listening to the singing frogs who had found their way down, between the houses into the wet areas full of mosquito larvae and the kids out, kicking soccer balls barefoot in the street. A few days earlier, I’d complained about what it would be like if we were going to have a baby. I’d been saying I’d wanted one, but then, when it seemed it could be real, I’d started complaining. We were out then, too because we didn’t spend much time in the apartment when we didn’t have to. We were walking in this relatively quiet neighborhood. It had just gotten dark and I sat down on a corner where a set of stairs led up to a closed shutter and bitched the way that I do, soliloquizing, really. Gina listened to me for a while and then told me how awful it was for me to be so wishy-washy. How could she trust anything I said? I spent the rest of the night explaining I hadn’t really meant what I’d said and pointing out dirty stray dogs I thought would improve her mood. Now it was a few days later and we’d decided to pick up a test.
She’d been late once before, right after we’d arrived, but after worrying for a day or two about what childbirth in a provincial Thai hospital would look like, it turned out to be nothing and I went back to work with a clear conscience.
All the drug stores in Thailand have big signs out front that, in Thai script read: ya-ya. ‘Ya’ is the word for drug and, given the complicated nature of Thai orthography, it was one of the only words I was consistently capable of reading as we rode around town. We stopped into the ya-ya and bought a test. The first time, after we’d first arrived, I’d been nervous, but this time, I felt calmer, ready to accept the results, whatever they may be.
We rode back down our narrow street, between the women out talking to each other and the stray dogs happily scratching themselves and sniffing each other. I kicked off my rubber slippers at the door and walked across the tile which, despite the darkness, was still warm, like the well-trod area around a pool after a long sunny day. I stood in the bathroom door and watched the results come up. A giddiness came over me and like all giddiness, it felt awkward and superfluous, like a ballerina costume I suddenly found myself wearing. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing, so I kept repeating ‘wow,’ like a moron and I went over to the kitchen to pour out the last of the Fernet we’d found recently in Cambodia.
Gina was sitting on one of our small and uncomfortable pieces of furniture, holding the test strip like a mom holding a thermometer, trying to wave the mercury back down. I took a swallow of the Fernet and told her I was happy. Until I said it, I wasn’t sure I was. Even now, I don’t think I’d call it happiness, but I was definitely not unhappy. My voice kept doing that thing where it wanted to laugh and each thing I said sort of tripped out of my mouth with a chuckle. It would seemed irreverent, but, given our lack of preparation, residence out-of-country and all that, Gina didn’t mind. We knew that we were obviously in a difficult place, but that it would be an interesting place to try to find our way out from. I paced back and forth and sipped the Fernet, which was very bitter on its own. We discussed possible names for a while and, not being able to decide on anything, went to bed.
The first week was hard. We calculated the baby would be born in March. My contract ended in November, by then, Gina’d be five months pregnant. I had to give up on the idea of stopping in Armenia, and all those other places, on the way home. Then we started to talk about where we’d live and I had to admit that everything I had planned, considering the addition of a baby, was untenable. The prospect of moving back to that tiny town, so far from the city and living in baby obscurity was daunting. But I supposed that I had signed up for such a situation and tried to keep my complaints to myself, still, I’m a gregarious guy and everything I’m thinking eventually finds its way out to spoken expression and gradually I tried to convince Gina to at least make a stop on the way home in Europe—we could stay at some nice places. We wouldn’t even walk around much, besides, I argued, it would break up the trip. She began to budge, going so far as to even look up ‘babymoons’ on the internet, which apparently is when people travel before having a baby. And if that was an established thing to do, I started to think having a baby could actually fit into my lifestyle. We’d even seemed to have solved the issue of where we’d live.
Things were going well. I liked my classes at the university where I was teaching. I was busy, but the work was, for the most part, enjoyable. Gina and I had started taking Thai lessons to improve our ability to communicate and we’d finally found a place to walk around in the evening away from the constant whine of motorbike traffic. We began to settle into a routine. The new apartment became comfortable and embraced me with it’s familiarity before and after work. We got bikes and became slightly more mobile. Occasionally we talked about what it would be like when the baby came, but that was months, years away. It wasn’t anything to think too much about. In the meantime, what was important was finding decaf coffee. Since, I guess pregnant women shouldn’t drink the regular stuff.
One evening, after I had come back from working in Bangkok, there was a little bit of blood. The internet said not to be worried; it was normal. But I found myself feeling anxious. Although initially, I had been uneasy with the idea of having a baby around, I realized it was something I wasn’t capable of wrapping my head around. The more I tried to think about it, the less I had an understanding of what it would be like. I went through the whole paradox of contemplating my own uselessness as a dad before I had the chance to be one. A bunch of ‘impending’ and new dad blogs told me just to be a good person and to help change diapers which seemed obvious. I resolved just to wait and see what happened and, gradually, I came to like the idea and I started thinking about all the Halloweens I’d missed since I stopped going trick-or-treating in 1997. I gradually began to conflate the idea of ‘having a child’ with all the best parts of childhood I was going to experience again. Only, the anticipation wasn’t for myself, but for someone else who was going experience fireworks and birthday cake for the first time. I wanted to be fun and this made me feel looser than I had in years. But, now there was this blood and I didn’t like the look of it.
A few weeks earlier, I had been riding home from work, passing a Chinese cemetery with it’s customary headstones that rise from the ground in half-circles, sort of wrapping around a given grave’s visitor. The cemetery is picturesque for being one of the few green places along a long, sunbaked and dull road. Beyond the cemetery were acres of rubber plantations with their cooling shade and smaller, less busy roads. As the only green thing around, my eyes always hung onto the cemetery, resting on the familiar color before turning out to the rest of the hot, concrete ride home. I was riding along the shoulder of the road, looking over the large, lacquered gate when I noticed a woman, laying on her back, down by the reedy stream that passed between the cemetery and the road. She was lying on a blanket with her shirt pulled up over her pregnant belly. There was a man behind her, supporting her head. I looked away. I didn’t want to stare. It looked like she was in labor there at the edge of the reeds, in front of the cemetery. I only knew a few phrases of Thai and nothing of obstetrics. It seemed improbable that I could offer these people any help. I continued riding home, but the image of a woman giving birth in front of a cemetery stayed with me, though I tried not to think about it.
When the blood appeared, I realized how invested I had been in the idea of having a baby. The little heartbeat we had seen on the monitor, the vague outline on the ultrasound was our kid who would have some kind of nose and such and such eye color and would be vaguely familiar in an atavistic way. The kid would have a personality independent but dependent on ours and would say unscripted, spontaneous things. I liked the idea of having someone else around, just for the extra company. We went to bed feeling vaguely anxious, but by the next afternoon, sitting together on a hospital bed, watching the construction crew on the roof of the building next door, it was over. I filled the void trying to plan the trip we were now going to be able to take after leaving Thailand, but knowing what I could’ve had instead, it was hard to really throw myself into the task with the same intensity I was accustomed to. We didn’t talk much about it after the first day home, but from the sporadic tears, it was obvious we both still thought about it.
We left Thailand about 4 months later and sitting in a café somewhere on the trip back home, Vilnius, Tbilisi or Stockholm I looked at Gina over my coffee and told her I still thought about the baby sometimes and that I guessed it would always make me feel somewhat sad. We agreed that it would be alright to talk about it, since neither of us had really spoken about it since the day we’d come back from the hospital. We went back to our coffee and the blue gray window of shingled and cobbled Europe.
Back home, in the States, the scenario was much less dramatic. For a few days, Gina had been feeling tired and had a greater appetite than usual. We waited a few days then went and bought the test. On the lead that they had them at the dollar store, (it’s just a little strip that detects a hormone. The whole ‘applicator wand and the digital readout are unnecessary), I rode across town, but they only had drug test kits—and those, I couldn’t help but to wonder at the effectiveness of.
When Gina got off work, we went out to run a few errands. The first store didn’t have pregnancy tests, the second did, but they were in a glass case and, after waiting 20 minutes for someone to open it, I gave up and we crossed the parking lot to the pharmacy where we bought the least intricate one they had. I couldn’t help but to mention that the one we bought in Thailand was about a buck. It had been simple, but it certainly worked.
We were going to wait until the morning, when we thought the test most accurate, but the instructions said if you’d already missed your period, it didn’t matter when you took the test, it was going to be accurate. I stood in the doorway of the bathroom, unable to respectfully wait somewhere else for Gina to tell me what it said. When she finished, nothing was yet apparent. I crowded in closer, trying to discern some change in the little white boxes. Gina doesn’t like to be crowded, even by her boyfriend, so she put the plastic test on the floor and told me that it had to be level to work, the way a mom will tell a child they need to be quiet before something can happen. I took a step back and stared down into the floor. The two windows began to cloud with blue, not the solid, unmistakable lines I would’ve preferred, but with vague, wistful tracings, like a vein under pale skin. There was one a line in each box. I hadn’t consulted the box. I had assumed it would be obvious from looking at the thing, a plus or a minus. But, two lines, “what the hell did two lines signify?” I practically shouted. Gina was double-checking the box. “I means I’m pregnant.” She told me.
I’m 34 years old, still working a part-time, entry level job paying a couple of bucks over minimum wage. I’ve got a little saved up, but the rent is expensive. I’ve got a little Honda, which is the first car I’ve ever owned. I guess I’m more prepared for this than I’ve ever been before, but still woefully under-prepared. But I suppose the adage may be true that no one is ever really prepared for this sort of thing and it had to happen eventually, or else it probably wouldn’t have happened at all and the way I’ve come to see it, that would’ve been kinda dull.
At the onset of adulthood, I set out to experience as much as I could and, as a result, I’ve had some great and varied experiences and I feel like I can move on to the next kind of experience, one that I know nothing about. When it comes down to it, I’m tired of relating to everything through myself. I’d like to have another means of experiencing the world. I want to see if this is going to stir up some primal feelings which, otherwise may have gone untested, unfelt. I’ve never been able to obtain a clear answer from my friends with babies. I’ve seen their tired, hanging faces, but I’ve seen the sense of purpose they seem to carry; they seem less afraid somehow—of what I don’t know. Death, I guess, ensured as they are that their genetic material will be passed on. But, there’s more to it than that. When it comes down to it, I really just want to know what it’s like and there’s no other way to ever know. The kind of person I am, I’d spend the rest of my life wondering, no matter where I went or what else I did.
After the Strum und Drang of the first test, the second was easy. We didn’t really even talk about it much. We returned to whatever we’d been doing before, careful this time not to rush things,.