Patti has missed her period; however, she’s not convinced that she’s pregnant. I’m not sure if she expecting a visitation from the angel Gabriel to bless the fruit of her womb or what, so I suggest that we get an over-the-counter pregnancy test. We head to a drugstore near our apartment in the West Village but don’t find a single one on display. In a hushed voice, I suggest that maybe it’s because we live in a gay neighborhood. Meanwhile, some guy keeps following us around and loudly asking us if we need some help. I feel more nervous and furtive than I have since I searched for condoms at 17. I keep smiling plastically at him and shaking my head until we back, empty handed, out of the store.
Next we go to a pharmacy in the East Village, where PL, suddenly emboldened, marches confidently up to the counter and asks for an EPT. The clerk hands us a box (they keep them back there, under guard, apparently), and I am surprised by a) the price ($17) and b) the fact that PL seemed to know exactly what to ask for, even though she claims never to have shopped for one before. She says it just one of those things girls know.
At home, we go to the bathroom and Patti pees on a plastic rod. We watch the clock until one of the dots slowly fades away while the other holds firm, indicating that PL has human chorionic gonadotropin in her blood. As far as modern science is concerned, a human embryo has started to burrow itself into the lining of her uterus. But Patti knows better. She refuses to believe—though without having any specific reasons for doubting—that a couple months of unprotected sex might lead to this condition. I am tempted to argue that the test results are the final clinching bit of proof, but, despite having read every word on the EPT box, feel incredibly ignorant about the whole thing.
With a fair amount of trepidation, I buy PL a book called What to Expect When You’re Expecting. My usual inclination with any new thing is to go and find out all about it by reading books and so forth. But when it came to this pregnancy, I was afraid that PL didn’t want me to get too interested. At first, I wasn’t sure whether I felt really excited or dumbstruck or what, particularly since PL seemed to be in different places. She seemed very apprehensive about delving into the subject much.
In many ways, our relationship to this point had been a joke. For two people who were so averse to commitment, who had never managed to hold onto a relationship for even a couple of months, the only way to stay together had been to be light and airy about it all. Even our decision to get married had been tongue in cheek and we had laced the whole ceremony with irony. Our wedding processional was the theme from The Love Boat; our dog was the ring bearer.
Getting a dog was less of a joke. When I had announced to PL that I was off to get a puppy from the pound, she was shocked.
“How can you just go and get a dog? That’s so serious,” she said. “You’ll have to look after him and walk him and feed him for years. What if you want to stay at a club all night, or go away for the weekend?”
Despite five years in New York, five years in a career, PL had still been waiting for her life to start when I met her. She was living in a tiny apartment with her best friend from home, temporary furnishings, a futon on the floor. She seemed to think that someday, she would become bona fide, a grownup, but not yet. Her best friend, whom she’s known since first grade, had been 18 for nearly two decades, out all night, dating 20-year-olds, drinking, drugging, lost in time.
Plan 9 was a joke, too. It was a silly game, a “wouldn’t it be cute if…” kind of deal. We would time her pregnancy to land on our anniversary, and that would be the main point of it. Not to have a baby, to raise a person, but to play at this timing game.
Now, suddenly, it is serious, deadly so. She is actually pregnant. Playing with fire, she’s been burned. She can’t hide the baby as easily as she could slip off her wedding ring. Now she is actually a grownup with a husband, and a baby in her womb. It will turn into a person and now inexorably, irreversibly, her life is going to change. What if we screw it all up and lose everything?
It’s going to take PL a while to accept that the party is over and the grownups are pulling into the driveway.
When I was eight or so and living in Canberra, playing outside in the neighborhood, I’d rush home so as not to be late for dinner. If I knew I was a minute or two late, I’d fill with anxiety and run into the kitchen expecting a tongue-lashing about my selfishness and lack of consideration for Pipsi’s hard work on our dinner. The more anxious I was, the less likely that she’d even notice I was late. However, if I blithely strolled in without being aware of the time, I’d invariably get yelled at. I could never anticipate her mood.
Thirty years later, I am still apprehensive. I have to tell Pipsi about the pregnancy and I’ve no idea how she might react. I am fairly convinced that she’ll think it is a terrible idea for us to have a baby, that it will ruin our lives or something.
I decide I have to back into the news. Pipsi has been a little on edge for the past few days and has just left us a pissy message about the cruise tickets we were supposed to pick up at her house. I also know that we had better break the news to her before we go to my in-laws’ in Cleveland for Thanksgiving. She won’t be amused if we tell PL’s parents first.
I dial her number.
To bring her to room temperature, I talk about work and such for about 25 minutes and then, just as I am about to ring off, I clumsily say, “Mum, uh, we think, Patti is sort of, y’know, … pregnant.”
Typically, she confounds my expectations. Without missing a beat, she says, “That’s wonderful” and insists on chatting with the mother-to-be.
For a while, Patti and I both had the same doctor, my gynecologist. I hate doctors but loved Dr. Manska. I’d discovered her first, a few years ago, at the recommendation of a colleague. As I sat in the waiting room the first time, I realized I was the only male patient. The examining table had stirrups and I got a little nervous when Dr. Manksa asked me to open wide, expecting her to whip out a speculum and look for what I hadn’t.
A short, stout Eastern European lady, she has an incredibly offhand manner, just perfect for my chronic hypochondria. Once, in the course of a physical, she asked me to give her a urine specimen. She waved me into the adjoining half-bathroom and indicated a stack of cups on the back of the toilet. I returned to her with a brimming cup, and she looked into it and gasped.
My heart began to hammer and I could feel my eyeballs actually bulge with fear. Was something so incredibly wrong with me that she could see some sort of massive germs in my urine with her bare eyes? I looked over her shoulder in horror at the huge white flakes floating in the amber liquid. They were the size of quarters, and I winced, wondering how I’d passed them.
Then Dr. Manska laughed and ushered me back into the bathroom. She pointed up, and I looked at the horribly peeling paint on the ceiling. Some flakes had fallen into the stacked cups. I was fine, so to speak.
Anyway, PL also was a Manska devotee until she retired last year and sold her practice to a Russian man who retained her ramshackle ways but lacked her guttural charm. PL couldn’t stand him and started going to another doctor she called “the Nazi,” a sadist who was inordinately fond of giving rectal exams.
So, here it is, Thanksgiving, PL has a possible bun in the oven and no doctor and she is starting to freak. She starts calling numbers from our insurance book. The first “doctor” can’t give her an appointment until next year, Jan. 6. The next, immediately and unprompted, reels off the prices of appointments and tests and deliveries and so forth.
Finally PL manages to track down Dr. Manska, who has been very reclusive in retirement. The good doctor says she’s also heard from other former patients who also don’t love the Russian or the Nazi and recommends a mother/son team of ob-gyns. PL sets up an appointment for Tuesday.