girl imagined by chance : excerpt two

lance olsen
© 2002


For more than a decade after you were married, Andi and you discussed the prospect of children diligently and on a fairly regular basis.

You took the matter seriously.

You did not joke around about it any.

Have them, you decided, and you are doing nothing more nor less than making a bid to perpetuate your own genes.

Have them, and you are attempting to produce another human being over whom by default you have earned the right to exert blanket control for five to thirteen years, moderate control for five to eight more, and minimal if frequently surreptitious and psychologically damaging control for decades to come.

Do not have them, and you are making a bid to perpetuate your own selfishness, denying a certain sort of citizenly responsibility.

Do not have them, and you are evincing a puerile repudiation of maturation.

And yet you could not shake the feeling that children are not so much children as a breed of defective adults.

They do everything adults do, that is, except they do it much worse.

Being as they are, for instance, noisy, messy, and egomaniacal.

Noisy, messy, egomaniacal, and cruel, combative, recalcitrant, naive, needy, histrionic, uninformed, opinionated, untruthful, insecure, moody, amoral, and physically and emotionally destructive.

Neither you nor Andi ever especially liked being around them, either.

You never knew what to say or how to behave in their presence.

Plus, Andi whispered, turning to you one night in the middle of a northern New Jersey movie theater in the middle of a lightweight spoof about the wacky adorable things kids do, I don’t want something alien growing inside me.

You glanced over at her, mouth stuffed with artificially butter-flavored carbohydrates and fiber, to see if she was pulling your leg.

She was not.

Swallowing, you whispered:

Fair enough. But experts on Oprah say that motherhood is all about nurturing and joy.

I don’t want something forming inside me that literally makes me sick, day after day. Sciatica. Vomiting. The unstoppable need to urinate.

She helped herself to a handful of your popcorn.

Constipation, she added. Varicose veins.

The young couple behind you shushed you.

Andi turned in her seat and shushed them back.

You’ve been thinking a lot about this, you whispered supportively.

Dreaming its own dreams beneath your heart. The very idea frightens me.

You watched children the size of Army tanks abusing their parents’ house on the screen. Audience members in your neighborhood chortled knowingly. Something the size of a great oak fell and smashed in Dolby sound.

We could always adopt, you whispered after a while.

In certain circumstances, I have no problem with adoption. Infertility, say. Age concerns. But for us adoption would spell bad faith. Simple cowardice in the face of the unfaceable.

I don’t understand, if I’m being really honest here, you whispered, how parents do it. Have you ever noticed that hollow, wasted, terrified look in their eyes two weeks after their babies arrive?

Like they finally understood the lifelong consequences of what they’ve just done?

One week they’re thirty, the next fifty.

Look how their skin turns gray overnight.

Their shoulders sag. They lose the ability to focus. They suffer from symptoms of sleep deprivation. They become irritable and self-absorbed and easily distracted.

They lose the ability to use an adult vocabulary and syntax and start worrying about how they’re going to pay for everything.

And then they begin talking in public about the color of their baby’s stool: semi-solid with light swirly hazelnut hues throughout, and so forth.

And then their child’s backing out of the driveway on the road to college and they’re standing on the front doorstep, wondering where the last eighteen years of their lives have gone, yet at the same time crushed by an overwhelming sense of loss they refuse to admit exists, saying every minute was worth it.

The young couple behind you hurrumphed and rose to move to a different section of the theater.

You noticed the woman was pregnant.

And labor, Andi said, no longer whispering. Don’t forget labor. They say birthing feels as if you grabbed your upper lip in your fist and yanked your facial flesh over your skull. In terms of pain magnitude, it’s the equivalent of losing a limb while you’re fully conscious.

Excuse me, the usher sussurated, kneeling beside you, pimply pale face floating in darkness, but I’m going to have to ask you to keep it down. People are trying to watch the movie.

It’s okay, Andi told him. We’re done.

She stood and without hesitation walked up the aisle toward the exit.

You looked at her vanishing, looked at the usher, handed him what was left of your popcorn, and hurried to catch up.