“An astronaut. Definitely an astronaut.”
“That’s shooting a little high… literally. Get it? Cause they go up high…” The look on Wren’s face made it clear he got it, it just didn’t warrant a chuckle. I did, however, get an eye roll.
“Wow, Kate. So clever. With wits like that I don’t know how we couldn’t shoot high.”
“I’m just saying that everyone thinks their kid will be the next great thing. ‘Oh he can be president! He can cure cancer!’ Do you know how many people move along to do things like that? I’ll go with maybe .06%. Mainly because I picked a shitty example with the whole curing cancer thing since no one has accomplished that.”
“Well of course they want to believe the best from their children. People want to have faith in their genetics and if their child does something great like that, they get to leave behind a legacy.” I leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.
“Well you and I have fabulous genes, so I wouldn’t be too worried. Maybe he wouldn’t be an astronaut, but he’d damn sure leave behind some kind of legacy.”
“So it’s a ‘he’, huh?”
“Yup. Definitely a ‘he.’”
It was an uncharacteristic Texas morning, the roads were icy and slow moving. We had just began the six hour drive to the clinic and were running late from a hangover Wren had accumulated from eight IPA’s the night before. I had a theory he was scared shitless, but I wasn’t going to say anything. I was just going to be strong. I grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze.
“Hey,” I said. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“You know this is okay, right?” I asked. He sighed heavily before he responded.
“I know it is. I just never thought this was something I’d be doing.”
“Yeah. Me neither.”
It wasn’t necessarily the ethics behind it - we were only twenty-five and didn’t have the incomes for a child - but the thought of health hazards weeded our brains. As two hypochondriacs, worry stitched in tight. I had done enough research and consulted enough friends who had once worn my shoes to know it would be fine. Wren was another story. The man loved me too much to feel comfortable with what was about to happen.
When we pulled in, the parking lot was half full. We looked at each other, nodded our heads and stepped into an outside so frozen our breath crystallized before we even parted our lips. We took the stairs side by side, arms laced around the others waist, and opened the door to an almost extinct waiting room.
“I’ll go check in,” I mumbled. When I approached the front desk, the receptionist didn’t look up. I stood awkwardly, watching her doodle a lion onto a post-it note.
“Hi. I’m here to get an abortion.”
That got her attention.
“What, does no one employ honesty here?” I asked. “In that case, I’m here for my 11 o’clock appointment.” I had no idea why I was tormenting the woman with white eye-liner in this fashion. Maybe it was because inappropriate humor was an armor I had been forging since I was a teenager. Maybe with lack of anyone else to take it out on, my rage at how difficult and shameful this state made our choice was projected onto her. No matter what it was, it made one thing clear: I was scared shitless too. She took my name and insurance information then cast me to the sea of green chairs.
“Everything set?” Wren asked. I replayed the abortion comment in my head and imagined the look on his face if he had heard it.
“Yup. Now it’s just time to reset my uterus.”
“Jesus.” Despite himself, he laughed.
“Oh no,” I whispered. “Don’t do that! We can’t be those people who laugh at the abortion clinic.”
“Then don’t make jokes.”
“But if I don’t make jokes I’ll cry.” He put an arm around my shoulder and kissed the side of my temple.
“I know. Me too, babe.”
The room was filled with a handful of couples. Tucked in a corner was a petite blonde curled onto the shoulder of a lanky man with glasses. He was stroking her hair. I assumed he was the rock while she was struggling internally with the decision even though she knew it was best. Why else would she be here? He looked too docile to be the enforcing type. I decided to name them Barbie and Robert. They would have had a bookish child whose smile was one for pageants, but her diffidence would have limited the actualization of her potential. Things would have came naturally, she’d never have strove. She would have been named Grace and her favorite color lavender. I was certain of it.
I briefly considered telling Wren their life story, but he was distracting himself with a Psychology Today article. That had always been a difference between us - he needed to ground himself in figures and definitions while I needed intangibles and fantasies.
I scanned to the next pair: A redhead crying softly while her burly mate sat straight ahead, staring at the floor. Since the man looked the type who would force the situation, I wondered pitifully if she was here against her will. I decided to name her Aurora. He would be Brutus. Their unborn child would be Darius, a name Brutus picked because he thought it sounded like a baseball-playing-wrestler’s name. Darius would be awful to Aurora because Brutus would inadvertently (not purposefully, he wasn’t smart enough for that) pit him against her. Since Aurora hadn’t wanted him, her disinterest in his attitude would build until Brutus was the only hands-on parent. Darius would end up getting away with everything except murder, until he was eventually locked up for that at the age of twenty-seven.
Poor Aurora. Even if that wasn’t her exact fate, I could tell by Brutus’s demeanor that whatever he currently offered wasn’t much better. I secretly hoped she would realize he wasn’t being kind and leave him for someone more sympathetic soon. I squeezed Wren’s knee and he leaned over for another temple-kiss.
“Find someone like this, Aurora,” I telepathically pleaded, though it wasn’t very likely. Women who gravitated towards men of such bearings rarely had the self-esteem to leave.
There were a few more pairs sitting close together, speaking in lowered voices or fanning through magazines. None of them looked particularly emotional. After a few minutes of nothing the front door opened in a bluster and a woman walked in. I kept expecting someone to come in after her. It never happened. In bubble boots and a bright orange peacoat she was a visually striking figure and everyone seemed to take a peek at the lone girl in a room of twosomes. I decided to name her Gemma. She must be here behind someones back, not wanting them to know there was a possible addition to their lineage. Or maybe it was a one-night stand from an indie-rock concert and she couldn’t remember his name let alone a way to contact him. I was shamefully stereotyping, but I didn’t care. I wanted her to have the most interesting story of us all.
I felt a flurry of excitement when she sat two chairs away from us. She crossed her legs and started tapping her foot through the air impatiently. This was clearly a violation of her time. I looked over and weakly smiled. After a few sporadic eye contacts between us, she turned to me.
“So how long have you been waiting?” she asked.
“Not too long. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes.”
“I guess it could be worse.”
“I waited for an hour at a dermatologist once, but I guess that’s a little different huh?”
“Yes, usually removing a mole is different than removing a fetus,” she said in a flat tone. The comment made Wren look up from his reading and I mouthed the words “I love her” to him. Despite my adoration I still didn’t know how to respond. I wondered if this was the way the receptionist had felt earlier.
“Ha,” was all I could muster.
“I’m sorry,” she replied. “I guess I’m feeling sardonic today.” Wren scoffed but never looked over when he replied.
“You sat next to the right people then.”
“Not exactly a happy place, is it?” Gemma surveyed the room and I wondered if her observations were similar to mine.
“I’d be concerned if it was,” I said.
“They can solve problems here. People should look a little more upbeat because of that.”
“Just because you’re relieved doesn’t mean you’re happy about it,” I retorted. She cocked her head and looked at me inquisitively, as if I had just become a real person and before I was simply a fixture.
“Well thank you.”
Wren leaned over and looked at us both earnestly. “I think that couple over there can hear you,” he mumbled. I adjusted my gaze cautiously and saw Barbie and Robert eyeing us. Despite my sarcastic core, I felt guilty about being flippant in front of people whose lives could be altering beyond repair. Gemma became quiet. I thought she felt remorseful as well until it became clear she had been ruminating on what she was about to ask.
“Did you think about what it would have been like?” I felt Wren shift uncomfortably. She must of never talked about this and now it was up to me to field her inner monologue.
“A little,” I conceded. She looked down at clasped hands.
“I decided mine would have been mediocre at best. Probably work a cash register at Target or collect money in a toll booth.” After a pause she looked over at me. “It’s easier to think I’m not depriving the world of someone who could have made it better. The place is already fucked enough.”
Wren and I looked at each other and I knew he was thinking of our conversation from earlier. I smiled weakly and he rubbed my knee.
“It’s okay, babe. Remember that what we’re doing is okay.” He said this so only I could hear.
“I know it is…but he would have been a damn fine astronaut.”
“Yes. Yes he would have.”
We hadn’t had a mournful moment over the predicament and now here it was, five minutes before the procedure. I turned back to Gemma to escape it. I thought about her child and how it would have been anything but ordinary. Whether boy or girl, it would have been geared for inflection and brought new light to the perspectives of others. Perhaps it would have became a philosophy professor whose fresh interpretation of Nozick would have spurred debate and innovation in the academic world. Maybe it would have developed an obsession with the cosmos and unlocked the secret of how to use wormholes for giant leaps through space, or maybe it’s Concerto in D Minor would have made audiences weep.
Next to me, Gemma shut her eyes and leaned her head back into the wall. She let out a quiet scoff and said in a chanting cadence, “It would be ordinary. It would have to be ordinary.”
As I listened I realized that despite what was about to happen, I was extremely lucky. I had someone next to me while Gemma was left to cope and rationalize alone. I knew where her improper comments were coming from: She was scared shitless.
“Wren thought ours would be an astronaut,” I said. He glared at me with the appropriate amount of gall for sharing something so personal. Gemma opened an eye and leered at him.
“Isn’t that presumptuous.”
“He likes to think our genes would leave behind a legacy.” Wren continued to stare at me like I was extracting his soul and painting it on a billboard. “And I don’t blame him. This isn’t something we can do at this point in our lives, but who can say about later? And who can say you won’t later? If we have faith in ourselves now, in a time where it’s hard to find any, it will come easier when we truly need it.” In a moment of courage I reached over and put my hand on her shoulder. “You’re going to be okay, okay? What you’re doing is okay.” She kept her eyes shut but nodded her head.
“Thank you,” she whispered. A nurse appeared from the swinging doors in the back and called my name. I looked at Wren and emptied my lungs of all air I had consumed before that moment. His contempt was gone.
“Well. I guess it’s time,” I said.
“I guess it is. I love you. I’ll be right here when you get back.” I stood up only to lean back down and kiss him. After I pulled away I whispered in his ear.
“Keep Gemma company, okay?”