Thanks again Lizzy Bennet for all of your feedback, encouragement and kind words
Dan and Jessica make a huge decision...but not without drama
It was Charles’ day off, so Marty offered to take us to the airport.
It was only twenty minutes from the house to Miami International, but those were the longest twenty minutes of my life. South Florida traffic is, at its best, a harrowing experience. It’s a mix of people too old and blind to drive and people driving according to the law – the law, as Dave Barry says, of their home country. The speed limit is viewed as, at most, a suggestion. I was not a shy driver. I had cut my teeth driving in New York where defensive driving is viewed as a sign of weakness. Marty made me look like a little old lady. He was the perfect combination of New York trained aggressiveness and Miami obliviousness. He, as was the wont of many surgeons and successful people, believed that it was imperative that things be done immediately. A friend who had gone to medical school in Miami said that, during his surgical rotations, he observed Marty doing surgeries in 45 minutes that would take other surgeons 2 hours. He drove his Range Rover the same way. He would drive at 85mph, weave in and out of traffic and pull up an inch behind the bumper of whomever he wanted out of his way. Normally, I would have been in the front with him and thanked g-d that Jess now got to do this. I saw her grip the bar above her seat so tightly her knuckles turned white.
Finally, against all odds, we arrived at the airport. Marty opened the tailgate and Jess went to take out the suitcases. She lifted the large one with a grunt and gave me a look. I knew that look – the look of ‘how much stuff did you take?’ I just smiled a self-satisfied grin, taking out my wheelie carry-on bag. No, I didn’t miss that part at all.
Marty came around and gave Jess a hug. He leaned down and gave me a hug and a kiss and wished us a good flight, telling us that Evelyn told us to text when we landed. He and Jess hadn’t spoken about everything since the abrupt conversation over coffee and I knew they wouldn’t, any more than my father I would have. I couldn’t tell how Jess felt about that. She never discussed it and I wasn’t asking.
We walked through the airport to check-in. Yet again, Jess had to lift the bag on to the scale. She gave me another look, this time accompanied by a slight smile as if to say, “I get it.”
We were walking to security when one of the women for whom Miami is known walked past. She was some sort of South American – Brazilian or Venezuelan, if I had to guess. She was 5’11” with dark hair, tan and gorgeous dark eyes. Flawless face. Long, toned legs. Flat stomach and perfect breasts. She was wearing a short blue mini-dress and 4” heels…and I felt nothing. No attraction, nothing other than ‘I like that dress’ and ‘now I feel like an elf.’ Jess’ head, on the other hand, pivoted to follow her, looking her up and down. Apparently, my wife was now an ass man.
We made it through security and walked the interminable hallway to our gate. It is a truth universally acknowledged that your gate will always be the farthest from your entry point. Your luggage will never be the first down the chute and you will always be farthest from the gate.
We stopped at a newsstand to buy gum and water. We finished paying and were walking away, when Jess turned to me and said, “Thanks.”
“For everything this week. I’ve been shitty company. Sorry.”
“You don’t need to apologize. I know how tough it was,” I said, taking her hand.
“That’s no excuse.”
“You keep calling me daddy’s girl. You get to be the son. It’s not all sitting on the couch while women bring you food,” I said, with a smile.
“Why did it have to be like that,” she said, unscrewing the top of the water.
“I had my whole life to learn how to deal with my father. You had four days. And your dad’s much tougher than mine.”
“Yeah, well, anyway, thanks. I’ll make it up to you,” she said, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
“There’s nothing to make up.”
“Uh huh. Thanks for what you did for Sarah. Jill told me.”
“I was trying to help. That poor kid.”
“That’s why I love you. I don’t think I could’ve done that, even before.”
“I’m not the judge’s daughter. You are. She trained you. Anyway, I’m glad I helped. I hope it sticks.”
“I hope so. It’s more than I got from anyone,” she said, kissing me. “Oh yeah,” she said, with a smile. “Jill lectured me about how great you were. She told me if I fuck up again, I can’t stay there.”
I smiled. “Good.”
A week and a half later, my period came. I stared at the blood on the toilet paper and got depressed.
“Dammit,” I said.
“My period came.”
“Is it heavy?”
“No it’s not,” I said, walking into the bedroom.
“Then,” and I heard recognition creep into her voice. “Oh,” she said, hugging me. “I’m sorry.”
"I mean I figured I would. I wasn't ovulating or close to it. I mean I guess it's OK."
She rubbed my back. "It's OK to be upset." She was trying to be helpful.
I walked into the kitchen for a glass of water. My hands were shaking so badly, that I had to put the gallon of water down. She followed me in. Something in me snapped. "What's that supposed to mean?" I picked up the jug again and my hands were still shaking.
She took the jug from me, poured me a glass and handed it to me. “I just meant that it's OK for you to be sad that it came, that you're not..."
"Who said I wanted to be?" I grabbed the glass from her. I don’t know why I was suddenly so angry.
"I didn't say that. I just...You just...If you were," she stammered. I was being a class A bitch and she didn't deserve it.
I took a sip. "Did you want it?"
Our kitchen had French doors at one end. She stepped back so that she was standing in the door. She was gripping the frame tightly. She was trying not to say the wrong thing. She didn’t realize that that was impossible. "I... I don't know. If you were, I would be happy..."
I pushed past her. More accurately, she moved out of the way. "Why? So you could be off the hook? So I'd be the one to go through with it? Is that it? This is what you wanted, isn't it? Me pregnant. You probably think that's hysterical. Besides, who said that I did?". Besides me, by my actions, whenever I was around a baby or Sammie.
To her everlasting credit, she didn't take the bait. She walked over to the couch. "I never said that. I think we should stop now. Maybe go take a walk?”
“Fine.” I grabbed my coat, left the apartment and just thought. Who am I? Am I deep down a girl or deep down a guy? What did I want? Jess was right. I wanted a kid. Badly. And she didn’t. Not that she didn’t want kids, but if she were her and I was me, she would’ve looked at the toilet paper with relief, not mixed feelings. Did that mean anything?
I saw a man and his son walking. The boy was about seven and holding a basketball. I could hear the father saying, “remember to keep your eye on your man, not the ball.” I always pictured having a conversation like that with my son, like my dad did with me. And, for the first time, it hit me that I might never get to. There was nothing stopping me from having it as the mom. Lots of women play sports. Clearly from the pictures in my room, I was one of them. But it wouldn’t be the same.
I kept walking. I liked being Dan Silverman. I was Dan Silverman for 33 years and I was OK at it. I could play sports, I was funny, people generally liked me. On the other hand, no one ever asked me as Dan to run for office. Assuming we could control this by getting pregnant, and I wasn’t sure that we could, was I ready to give up Dan? To be Jessica Silverman? To be the wife, the mommy, the grandma? To be defined by those roles? It was true. I never thought about it before but had come to realize that stories about successful women would talk about their families a lot more than the same story about a man would. Dan could be Dan. Like this, I’d be “Dan’s wife” or “so and so’s mother,” as much as I’d be “Jessica, the attorney” or “Jessica, the candidate.”
An older woman walked past, probably in her 70s. Her hair was perfect. She was wearing a beautiful grey tweed blazer and black wool pants. She was beautiful. And no one gave her a second glance. She was invisible. After a certain age, women just became invisible. I remember Jess making me watch “First Wives Club” once and a line stuck in my head. “For women in Hollywood, there’s only three ages – babe, D.A. AND “Driving Miss Daisy”.” Was I OK with eventually becoming invisible? Could I stop that or was I just deluding myself?
But, would I be happier as Dan again? Could I do it? Had I gone too far? Jess could tell me that she’d love me no matter what but would she really? Or was I projecting on to her? The question was really whether I could see myself as a man again after everything.
After another hour and half of walking in the cold, I went home.
Jess was still on the couch. “Hey,” she said. I could tell that she was trying to decide whether to get up or not. She didn’t.
“Hey,” I said, taking off my shoes and then hanging up my coat.
“Do you feel any better?”
I sat down next to her and stared into space. “Not really. I’m actually really freaking out.”
She sat on her hands. “About?”
“About this. You and me. And this and what it means.”
She looked concerned. “What about us? I thought we were OK. I made a huge mistake but I thought we were OK.”
“Sorry. We are. I meant us as a man and a woman, not us as a couple. Does that make sense?”
Jess looked up. “It does. What were you thinking?”
“I’m all over the place. I guess I’m really processing this.” I sighed. “Whenever I think I’ve figured it out, something bigger comes up, y’know.”
“I’m there too. But I get it. This is big. Switching bodies was big. But remember what Rich,” her old boss, “used to say? You’re not really married until you have kids. Because then, no matter what happens, you always have that link. Well, this is that at a whole other level.”
“That’s what’s freaking me out. Like I’ve gotten used to this, but I don’t think I’ve ever thought about everything that this means.”
“Like what it means to be a woman, to be a man. Forever.”
She smiled, “That’s deep.”
I got annoyed. “I’m serious.”
“Sorry. What do you mean?” She kept moving up and down the couch, like she couldn’t decide whether to sit close to me or far away.
“Like I was watching people. For the first time ever, I was really watching them.”
“You’ve always been pretty observant. I mean about people’s thoughts and stuff. You used to write.”
“Yeah, but this was different. That was looking for material. This time I was watching how everyone is with each other. Like I saw this woman, this beautiful older woman, and she’s invisible. I mean I would never have noticed her before and now I did and I knew, because she was older, she was invisible to everyone and do I want to be invisible like that?”
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, Dan.”
She smiled. “You’re not the only one who’s ever read a book, Dan. It’s Thoreau.”
She got me. I smiled. “I know that. What do you mean?”
“I mean we’re all kind of invisible. I can’t tell you I ever thought about a good looking older guy all that much, other than maybe to compare him to my father and even that not very often. Are you afraid that if you stay like this, you’ll be invisible? Is that it?”
“When you say it like that…”
“I’m serious. You’re not invisible and you won’t be. Not to the people who matter in your life. Who cares about everyone else?”
“I’m scared. I’m worried about becoming someone’s something.”
“Your wife. Someone’s mother. Someone’s grandma.”
She took a deep breath and exhaled. “I have no idea why I remember this, but remember on ‘Mad Men,’ when Pete went to tell Bert Cooper about Don’s real identity? Remember what Bert said. ‘A man is defined by the room he’s in.’ We’re all in a room, men and women. My dad is Jill and Dan’s father. The judge’s husband. The eye surgery guy. Your dad is Dave the accountant. Barb’s husband. Jessica’s daddy,” she said, stretching out daddy and smiling. “We’re all someone’s something. If we had a kid, would it matter which room you were in? Jessica’s room or Dan’s?”
“Not to me,” she said. “I’ll keep saying it. I love YOU. Whoever and whatever you are,” she moved down, and took my hand.
“Me too. I guess I just feel like, even if we went back, we’d never be back. We’d be here with all that entails, y’know?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like we can say it would all be normal but it wouldn’t. On some level, we’d always see each other like this,” I said, playing with my hands.
“And…oh wait, this is your ego again. I’ll say it for the thousandth time. If we changed back, I wouldn’t think any less of you. I’d probably be happier because now you understood me and what I go through better. Because you’d changed the way I deal with people and how you deal with people.” Then she smiled. “Would I keep the clothes? Some of them. But some are just not me. But I would be as happy then as I am now. Would you? Would you think less of me?”
“No, of course not.”
“So, what are you scared of.”
“I don’t know. But I know I’m scared. Really scared. I’m sorry to be all crazy.”
“Stop it. You said it in Florida. You don’t have your problems and I don’t have my problems. WE have OUR problems.”
“Thanks, but this is mine. I need to figure out what I want.” I stood up then sat down.
“OK,” she said warily.
I took a deep breath. “I know that I want a kid…”
She smiled. “Everyone knows that. Your biological clock is like Big Ben.”
“Ha ha. I think though I want to table the whole kid discussion for a while.”
“Really?” She looked shocked.
“You seem surprised.” I know I was.
“I am. Why?”
“I think I need to think about everything. I think I hoped that I was so the decision was made for me.”
She smiled. “That’s not the way it should happen. It should happen because we wanted it not because we got lazy in my parents’ house. That’s not how we want to bring a child in to the world.”
“I know. You’re right. Sorry.”
“For making a decision about this,” I said, curling up against her.
She laughed and put her arms around me. I felt safe but bad about what I said. “You didn’t decide this. You said what you were feeling. Anyway, since it’s likely, given the way things are, that you’d be the one having it, you should get the deciding vote.”
“Thanks. Are you OK with this?”
“Yeah. This isn’t forever, is it?” I shook my head. “Then all we’re doing is taking our time. And, when we decide, when we’re ready, it’ll be the most loved child. No matter who’s who.”
“Thanks. I’m doing the right thing, right?”
I said, “then, why do I feel so bad?” I started to cry. She just rubbed my back and said “shhhh.”
I was in a funk for three days. What snapped me out of it was a call Friday night from Jon.
My phone rang. I was in the bathroom.
“Honey, it’s Jon,” she yelled to me.
“Can you get it?” That was weird. Jon never called me. Even when I was Dan. I was Sammie’s friend not his, except by proxy.
“Hey Jon. What’s going on?” I heard Dan say. They talked for a while then Dan hung up.
“We need to go to Sammie and Jon’s place. We need to get her some clothes and her toothbrush. And her book on her nightstand.”
“Apparently, they were at dinner and she lost her mucus plug.”
That sounded gross. “What’s a mucus plug?”
She smiled. “Maybe you’ll find out. Basically, when the plug falls out, it means the baby’s dropped. Sammie’s in labor. They’re at NYU already.”
“Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod. That’s amazing. I can’t believe it,” I started babbling like when she told me she was pregnant.
“OK, Aunt Jessica,” she said, with a smile. “Calm down. Let’s go. Sammie needs you. And she needs you to focus.”
We went to the apartment. I packed up some t shirts, underwear and sweats. Her toothbrush and book. I went to her dresser and took some makeup.
“Makeup?” Jess said.
“Sammie?” I responded. We both laughed and Jess helped me pick some out for her.
We got back to the hospital in an hour or so. We texted Jon and met him at the nurses’ desk on the maternity floor.
“How’s she doing?” I said. “How far along?”
He looked nervous. “The contractions really haven’t started seriously yet. They’re about every minute I guess. Do you want to see her?”
“Can I? I mean I don’t want to mess anything up.”
Jess and Jon both smiled. “This is happening whether you’re in there or not,” Jon said. “I don’t think you can do anything. I think she’d like to see you.”
I went in and Sammie was lying in bed. I’d say she looked beautiful. And she did, if you ignored that she was sweaty and her makeup was coming off and she looked like she wanted to kill someone. Then she saw me and smiled. “Ohmigod, Jess. Thank you for coming.”
I smiled. “What is this? Your wedding and I’m your mom’s third cousin?” I took her hand. “So, what have you been up to?”
She laughed. “Not much. You?”
“Nothing really. In the neighborhood, figured I’d stop by. You busy?”
She laughed and kissed me on the cheek. “I am so glad you’re here. Thank you for getting my stuff.”
“Please. You would do the same. I brought you some lollipops. I think I read somewhere that you can suck them during labor to keep your mouth moist. Want one?”
“Thank you.” Then a contraction hit. “MOTHERFUCKER,” she yelled, gripping my hand. The contraction passed.
I shook my hand out. “Well, I’m glad I’m not a surgeon,” I said, smiling.
“Sorry. Did Jon tell you to bring my makeup?”
“No. But I did. Come on.”
She smiled. “You’re the best, Jess.”
“Seriously though. How are you doing?”
That threw me. Sammie was never scared. Never. Not even in private, when nobody but me was around. “What are you scared of?”
“I’m scared of this. This hurts like hell. And I’m scared that something will happen to the baby in labor,” and she started to cry.
I rubbed her back and kissed her. “It’s going to be OK. Millions of babies are born every day. It’ll be fine. They have all the best doctors here. Nothing’s going to happen. Shhh.”
“And I’m scared about what happens after?”
“Like when we have the baby. It’s scaring me. What if something’s wrong with it? What if it’s deformed?” There was a quiver in her voice and real fear in her eyes.
“You said the sonograms said everything was fine,” I said, rubbing her hand.
“I know. What if I don’t love it? What if I’m a bad mother? I’m really freaking here.” I was shocked. She was never this vulnerable, this open.
“You’re going to be a great mom. The best mom.”
“What if the kid hates me?” She squeezed my hand again.
“You hated Ruth. Was she a bad mother? Did she not love you?”
She laughed. I felt better. “That’s different.”
“And I have to tell you, 1997-2004? You were not that lovable. And she still loved you.”
“Shut up. Thanks for being here for me.”
“Stop it. You’d be here for me.”
“I will be.”
I thought about it. I still wasn’t there yet. I knew that if I ever did get pregnant, I knew that she would be. And that made me smile.
I stayed in there until the contractions were about 20 seconds apart. The nurse looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but it’s just mommy and daddy and the medical team here.” Mommy and daddy. That sounded nice.
As we were leaving, Sammie said, “Please don’t go, Jess.”
“We have to leave the room. It’s the home stretch here. Just you guys and staff.”
“Will you wait in the waiting room? Please. I’m freaking and it would help.”
I smiled. “I’ll be out in the waiting area. I won’t leave it until you have the baby.”
We went out and Jess said, “Do you want me to stay with you?”
“You don’t have to,” I said, settling into a hard plastic chair for who knew how long.
She did. After a few hours, she started to doze off. I slept fitfully. Every time I fell asleep, a noise would jolt me awake. I must have fallen asleep because, at about 2:00 PM, I felt someone shake me.
It was Jon. He was wearing scrubs and had a huge smile. Jess was smiling too. “Wake up sleepy head. I’ve got someone for you to meet.”
I started to tear up. “Everything’s OK? Everything went OK?”
He smiled. “Well, I mean I’m the evil demon hell spawn son of a bitch bastard who did this to her and she’s going to have my balls waxed and then kill me. Yes, everything went great,” he said, taking my hand. He was so proud. His chest was puffed out. It made me think about what I would do. Or Jess.
That all went away when we went into the room. Sammie was sitting up in bed. She was pale and sweaty, with her gown off her shoulder. She was beautiful. There was a baby on her chest. This tiny little baby. It was swaddled in a blue and pink blanket.
“Aunt Jessica,” Jon said. “Meet Charlotte Leigh Simon. 8 pounds 4 ounces. 20 and ¼ inches. Came into the world at 1:45 PM. Came out screaming at me like her mom.”
I started to cry. “Ohmigod, she’s beautiful,” I said, kissing and hugging Jon tightly. “Mazel tov!”
I walked over to Sammie and kissed her. “Mazel tov. She’s beautiful. You’re beautiful. Are you OK?”
She smiled. “Tired. But I’m good. Did you really stay out there?”
“I said I would,” I smiled.
“You didn’t have to.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Oh wow, she’s so little and so beautiful. Hello Charlotte,” I cooed. ‘I’ve been waiting to meet you. I’m your aunt Jessica. You are so beautiful. You are. And we are going to be best friends, like me and mommy. And I’m going to spoil you and love you and there’s nothing mommy and daddy will be able to do about it.”
Everyone laughed. Sammie said, “You are sooooo weird, Jess.” Jess (my Jess) put her arm around me.
“Shut up,” I said. “Don’t listen to her Charlotte. You are the most beautiful baby.” She looked kind of like a space alien like all babies but she was still beautiful.
Jess smiled, “She really is gorgeous, Sammie. Mazel tov,” she said, kissing her.
Sammie said, “Do you want to hold her?” I teared up again. I don’t know why I was so emotional. I chalked it up to being happy for Sammie and Jon. It was easier than thinking.
“Is it OK?”
She smiled. “You need to get used to it, Aunt Jessica. Go sit in the chair first though.”
Sammie gently handed the baby to Jon, who held her like a bomb about to go off. He walked slowly to the chair, muttering, “I can do this.” When he got to the chair – all of three feet from the bed – and handed her to me, he let out a huge sigh of relief. It was adorable.
I looked down at her in my arms. She had a little head of dark hair. Her eyes were closed, in the way that newborns are. I cradled her in my arms and put my hands under her bottom and legs. I traced her little body with my finger. I felt a calm feeling wash over me. I looked up to see Jess taking my picture.
“I didn’t know you were taking a picture. I would’ve smiled.”
She handed me the phone. “You did.” I had an ear to ear grin in the picture. I was looking down at her and smiling. He showed the phone to Sammie and Jon, who both smiled.
Jon surprised me. “It looks good on you, Jess. You guys are the best. Thank you for everything.”
We stayed there for another half an hour talking. Charlotte was named for Sammie’s grandpa Charlie. When Jon’s parents arrived from Westchester, Jess said, “Let’s let grandma and grandpa have some quality time with Charlotte now.” I didn’t want to leave but I guess that they were entitled to some time with her too.
“I’m hungry,” said Jess. “There’s a diner on 2nd. Can we go?”
“Sure. Do I look like hell?” Jess’ clothes were wrinkled and she had bags under her eyes. I could only imagine what I looked like. I felt gross and couldn’t wait to shower.
“You look beautiful. You looked beautiful holding Charlotte. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so happy. It was the most natural picture in the world,” she said, kissing me.
“Was I a dork in there? I was, wasn’t I?”
She smiled. “No, you weren’t. You were you. You were beautiful. What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking about…you know.”
“So was I. You looked really happy.”
“I was. I’m trying to figure out what it means.”
She took my hand. “Everything doesn’t mean something. Plus, you slept in a chair all night. You were happy for your friend. Leave it there.” She was right. Not that it didn’t mean anything. Just that now wasn’t the time to try and parse it.
We were eating when I blurted, “Emma Riley.”
Jess was shoveling eggs into her mouth. “What?” she mumbled.
“I was thinking of that name for a baby, when we have one – Emma Riley Silverman. What do you think?”
“Is there a name you like?”
“I don’t know. I was always told the mom gets to choose kid number one,” she said. I started to say something but didn’t. Then she said, “I like it. Who’s it for?”
“Emma for Grandma Miriam and Riley for Grandma Rosie.”
She smiled. “Your dad will love that. Barb not as much. Daddy’s girl.”
“Stop. I’m not daddy’s girl. I’m your girl,” I caught myself. “Like you were mine.” That was convincing.
“Yes, you are. You’re my girl and daddy’s girl and I love you.” Which would have been much more romantic without the little particles of toast flying from her mouth. “What if it’s a boy?”
I had to think. “Harris Ian?”
“Grandpa Harry and Grandpa Ike? I think I like Ian Harris better. Flows better.”
“You’re right. That is better. Is that OK?”
“And you’re not daddy’s girl?”
We walked home up Second Avenue, hand in hand. At one point, out of nowhere, she twirled me around. When we got home, Jess said, “Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m so happy for Sammie and Jon. Charlotte is beautiful.” I smiled, “and I’m really horny for some reason. Interested?”
She grinned devilishly. “Well, I don’t want to be rude.”
We went into the bedroom and I put on a nightie. It was the middle of the day but I was feeling incredibly girly. I blamed it on the baby. Must’ve released some hormones.
Jess started kissing my neck, then nibbling my earlobe, which always got me excited. She lifted the nightie and started rubbing her hands over my hips. She started playing with my nipples.
“Oh g-d, you are getting me so wet,” I moaned. “Please. Please.”
She turned me around and kissed me deeply. I could feel her penis. She kept rubbing her hands up and down me. I jumped and wrapped my legs around her. She threw me on the bed. She reached into the drawer and put on a condom. The sex was amazing.
We finished up and I was resting with my head on her chest. “That was amazing.”
“Yeah,” she said, with a well-earned, self-satisfied smile.
“Seriously. And thanks for remembering the condom.”
“I’m using them until you, we come to a decision. No accidents. This needs to be something we decided to do.”
I smiled, “I’m glad one of us is thinking. I’m such a mess.”
She kissed me gently. “Stop perseverating honey. Just breathe and be mindful.”
“Thanks, Zen Master.”
“I’m serious. Don’t think about it. Just be for a while and you’ll figure it out. But stop trying to figure out what everything means.”
“Who said I was?” I was.
“I know you. You’re the smartest person I know, besides maybe Jill, but sometimes with both of you, your brain gets in the way.”
I tried to just be. I figured it was like learning how to be Jess. This was just another way.
Two weeks later, Dan’s boss Melissa had her annual Christmas party. It was on a Friday night at her house in Westfield, New Jersey.
I was wearing the blue and green shift that Jess liked so much, with open-toed 2” heels. “Do I look OK?” Since my freak out, I seemed to be alternating between very feminine clothes and androgynous, like the clothes would make the decision. I knew that was pathetic.
Jess smiled, “You look gorgeous. I love that dress.”
“Thanks, honey,” I said, pecking her on the cheek. We pulled up to the house. It was a four-bedroom house. They had recently finished the basement and done some other work. I came in holding a bottle of wine and some presents for her kids. She had a three-year old son Ben and a fourteen-month old girl, Layla.
She met us at the door. She was 5’3”, dark haired with dark eyes. “Hey guys. Thanks for coming. You’re first. Jess, you look amazing. Dan told us how well you’d been doing.”
“He did? Thanks, honey. It’s all him. He got us running again.” I was happy. I don’t know that I would’ve done the same in reverse. “Thank you for having us. The house looks great.”
“Thanks. I’m glad the work is done. I never want to smell sheet rock again.” I handed her the wine. “You didn’t have to,” she said.
I smiled. “Yes, we did. My mom would kill me.”
She laughed. “Mine too.” Then, in a pitch perfect Newark Italian accent. “You went to the house without something?”
Just then, I saw Ben peeking out from the stairs. I smiled. He giggled then turned around. Melissa said, “Ben, since you’re not in bed, like you’re supposed to be, come here and be polite.”
He walked down the stairs. He was wearing footie pajamas. He was so cute.
I squatted down. “Hi Ben.” He played shy.
“Ben, say hi to Mrs. Silverman.” He smiled and didn’t say a word.
“OK, so Ben, how old are you?” This was my go-to. What could I say? It worked. When I said ’97,’ he said, “three!”
“I also bought some p-r-e-s-e-n-t-s for someone.”
“Well, now, you really didn’t have to do that. I’m serious.”
“It’s nothing. I went to the stores in Grand Central. Can I?”
She smiled. “Fine.”
“Ben, I brought you something.” His eyes widened. I loved that look of pure joy on a little kid’s face, even in the service of greed. “Do you like trains?” I knew he did. Jess told me.
Melissa laughed. “I spent my last paycheck on Thomas and Friends, if that gives you any idea.”
He opened the present. It was two wooden subway cars. I bought them at the Transit Museum gift shop. He smiled. “What do you say, Ben,” Melissa asked.
“Thank you,” and he gave me and Jess hugs around our legs.
“You’re welcome. These are the 3 and the 4 trains. The 3 train is how Mommy gets from the train from here to work. And the 4 train is my train. I also brought you a subway map, so you can see everywhere the train goes. It’s even bigger than Sodor.” Melissa looked surprised. “3-year old nephew,” I said.
Ben said, “Wanna come to my room and see my trains?” He took my hand to show that that really wasn’t a question.
Melissa laughed when I said, “That was Dan’s go-to line, too.”
We walked up to his room. It was covered in train stuff. Train posters. Train cars. A little engineer hat. He started babbling, “And this is Thomas. And Henry. And James. And Toby.” Then he put the subway cars down. “These are Ben and Silver. I’m Ben. You’re Silver. We’re going to play.” And we did. Ben and Silver went over the trestle. Ben and Silver went past the mine. When I told him that subways went under water, Ben and Silver became submarines. Cut him some slack. He was three.
After a few minutes, I unfolded the map to show him all the trains. He sat between my legs as we traced the lines with our fingers. I was showing him how to get from Penn Station to Yankee Stadium when I felt someone behind me. It was Melissa and Jess, standing there, smiling.
“OK. It’s time for someone to go to bed,” Melissa said.
Ben looked at her, sad and said, “We’re getting married.”
I ad-libbed, “Boy, he really is just like Dan. Well, where will we sleep?”
Melissa laughed. “I bet you’ve always wanted a train-themed bedroom.”
“What about Dan?”
“He can sleep in the basement.” Everyone laughed.
“That’s enough Ben. Say goodnight and thank you.”
He gave me a kiss and said, “thank you.” I smiled and gave him one back.
We were walking down the stairs when Melissa said, “Thanks. You didn’t have to do that.”
I smiled. “It was fine. I’ve never spent more time in a guy’s room with no regrets. What can I do to help?”
She rolled her eyes. “Stop. Enjoy yourself. The food’s all out. Relax and enjoy yourself.”
People started coming in. Everyone came over to us. The nice wives and girlfriends all congratulated me and told me how good I looked. Others just looked me up and down.
Then, there was Jess’ co-worker Natalie. She was about thirty pounds overweight but was one of those women who had been beautiful in her 20s. She still carried herself like it. In my experience, there are formerly fat thin people and formerly thin fat people. The former, who included Jess, always carried themselves with a feeling of shame. When you were the fat kid, no amount of weight loss ever makes you shake that feeling. Similarly, formerly thin fat people still think they're amazing. Chris Christie was the classic formerly thin fat person. Natalie looked me up and down and sneered, “Good for you. I wish I had the time to do it. Must be nice.”
I thought about saying something like, “You wouldn’t know how, bitch,” but thought that would be bad form. I went with, “I really just did it to be healthy. The weight loss was a nice side effect. But thanks,” I said, brightly. She got up and took a plate of chicken parmigiana.
Dan’s co-worker Ramona smiled and whispered in my ear, “Bitch. Maybe cut back on the chicken parm.” I laughed and then she said, “You don’t have to be nice to her.”
I smiled. “It’s fine. Life’s too short to worry.” I left out the ‘and it’s fun to screw with them.’
She smiled. “I have to tell you. I’ve been working with Dan on this launch and he’s being doing amazing. I mean he has everyone collaborating. The meetings are great. He’s really got this running.”
It was funny. I don’t know that I ever thought about Jess at work. I knew what she did. I knew who the people were. But I don’t think I ever thought about who she was. “That’s great.”
“Seriously. He’s amazing. These past few months, he’s really stepped up.”
The party went on. More people came in.
I ended up in conversation with a lot of the wives. That was inevitable at work parties. The company people – men and women – ended up speaking in the shorthand of people who spent all day together. The wives all congregated together. The few husbands ended up in stilted conversations about work and sports. I hated company parties.
I saw Annie Woods. Annie’s husband Lee and Jess had worked together for years. Annie was a documentary filmmaker. I always enjoyed talking to her. I think I was in awe of people who got to be creative for a living. I just protected rich people from other rich people. “Hey Annie,” I said, giving her a kiss.
“Wow. Look at you,” she said, kissing me. “You look great. I love that dress.”
“Thanks. What’s new? What are you working on?”
She smiled. “That’s always your first question.”
“I’ve told you. I’m just jealous that you get to be creative. So anyway...”
“I’m trying to get funding for a film on high school cheerleaders.”
“Like, the ones who cheer for football or competitive cheer?”
“I don’t know. I mean competitive cheer is interesting but I think I want to explore the other kind. But not in a campy way. Like I want to understand what makes them tick. Like who are these girls who subsume their identities for these guys? There’s title IX and all, and they do this.”
“I don’t know that they see it that way. Like maybe they see this as an end in and of itself. There’s a lot of practice.”
She grinned. “Were you a cheerleader? I could totally see that.”
“Hardly. The cheerleaders in my high school were skanky.” And girls. And I used to be a guy. “What does that mean anyway?” I wasn’t upset just curious.
“I was teasing. You have a bubbly personality.” I was bubbly? “Anyway, so what are you saying?”
“I mean I get the whole sociocultural thing you’re going for and I wouldn’t tell you how to do your movie but I think starting with the idea that this is an affirmative choice they’ve made of their own free will could be a different take.”
Just then, another woman chimed in. “Sorry to butt in, but this is fascinating to me. I grew up in Hong Kong and there is nothing like this there.” She put out her hand. “I’m Daisy Chang, Eddie’s girlfriend.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Jessica Silverman, Dan’s wife and this is Annie Woods, Lee Zelman’s wife.” Back into the room again.
“Nice to meet you. Eddie came in and basically left me to my own devices.”
Annie smiled, “Welcome to the club. I always tell Lee ‘you see these people all week. Don’t you want to meet someone else?’ FYI, the answer is no.”
“How did you end up here from Hong Kong?”
“I came to go to Julliard,” Annie said.
“That’s so cool. What for?”
“Cello. Yes, I’m the stereotypical Asian girl,” she said, laughing. “Even had the boyfriend who became gay.”
“Now, I am so jealous. Not about the gay boyfriend.” They both laughed. “You two get to be creative and I’m just another lawyer.”
She laughed. “Don’t be. I’m in ad sales now. I sell to the networks. Not a lot of work for cellists.”
“Still. Anyway, do you find it harder to sell now? I mean with You Tube and all. We were with Dan’s niece and nephew over Thanksgiving and all they watch is You Tube.”
She smiled, “You’ve just asked me more than Eddie has in four months. Anyway, it’s something but it just changes what you’re selling. Less toys. More insurance.” Then we discussed my job, Annie’s other films and the upcoming Oscar race.
When I said, “he really won’t see Moonlight?” Annie and Daisy laughed.
Annie said, “He tries. He’s supportive of what I do. Watches all kinds of documentaries, most of which bore him. But gay drug dealers in Miami? Uh, let’s save the $15.”
I circulated around talking mostly to the other women.
I went to check on Jess. I found her in the basement having a conversation with a bunch of the guys from work and some of the husbands. There was a big TV with an old PS4 hooked up to it, couches and a bar in the corner. Clearly, Rich, Melissa’s husband, had his man cave.
“I’m telling you,” she said, “the right team can open up on Alabama and win. Have you seen DeShaun Watson at Clemson? I’m serious. Don’t send the trophy to Tuscaloosa just yet.” I hooked my arm through her arm and just listened and watched her. She started talking about work. “So, we’ll set up a meeting with the regional managers for Chicago and Seattle. Let’s see if we can get someone in to speak at Hutchinson.” I had watched her before but for the first time, I saw her. Or more to the point, I saw Dan. People were listening to him. I saw a strong confident man. Someone in his element. Someone comfortable in his own skin. And I was proud.
After a while, I went upstairs. I started picking up dirty plates and bringing them into the kitchen. Melissa looked at me and said, “Stop. We’ll take care of that later.”
“I don’t mind. Besides, you did all of this. I know what it’s like to face the aftermath. I’m going to do it anyway, so where’s the garbage?” I took a bag into the living room and started filling it up.
When I brought it back in, Melissa said, “Thanks. I really appreciate it. By the way, I heard you talking to Ramona and she’s right. Dan has totally outdone himself at work. You should be proud. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
I smiled, “I am.”
“Can I say something? I hope it’s not too weird.”
I laughed. “Always an interesting way to preface a sentence.” She looked shocked. “I’m kidding. What?”
“You seem happier. More comfortable. Dan too. I’m sorry. That’s weird, isn’t it?”
“No. I think we are. I think getting healthy did it.”
“Maybe. Maybe that’s it. I didn’t mean anything bad by it.” That maybe was a no. She wanted to say something more but didn’t.
I smiled, knowing what she meant. “I didn’t think you did. Thanks.”
Before it could get too sentimental, Sydney, a twenty six year old from the office, came staggering in. “Hey guys. I was just looking for some ice,” she slurred.
Melissa gave her some ice and rolled her eyes.
I laughed. “She’s a kid.” It was her house, so I left out my dad’s line – there are no work parties, just work in a different setting. That and, “you may not remember the night, but the boss always does.”
She laughed. “Can you give her a ride back? She took the train out and I don’t think taking it back is a good idea.”
“Sure,” I smiled.
As we were leaving, Annie said, “So, I’ll call you. Let’s figure out a time. Dinner before?”
“Sounds great. I’ve got Daisy’s contact info.”
Then, Leanne, whose husband worked with Dan, came over, “I’ll shoot you some dates for dinner, OK?”
“Sounds great.” Jess just looked at me.
As we were leaving, I gave Melissa a kiss. “Thanks again. So call me and let me know when you want to come in. Ben will totally love the Transit Museum. Unless you just want an adult dinner. Either. Or both.” Jess looked confused.
We poured Sydney into the car. She slurred, “Mind if I take a traveler with me,” she said, holding up her cup. Jess took her cup and poured it out. “I think you’re good, Syd.” Within fifteen minutes, Syd was passed out. You could hear her snore.
“Did you have a good time?” Jess said.
“Yeah. I did. You?”
“Yeah. What was all that about at the end?”
“Well, Annie, Daisy – she’s Eddie’s girlfriend – and I are going to see Moonlight next week. And we’re going to dinner with Leanne and Pete. She has to get a sitter but we’ll pick a date. And Melissa is going to bring my future husband in and we’re going to the Transit Museum and for pizza. Unless she decides that she wants to make it an adult thing.” Jess’ mouth hung open. “What?”
She smiled. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” I didn’t know what Sydney could hear so I didn’t say anything.
We got to Sydney’s place and brought her upstairs. I fished through her bag for her keys, took off her shoes and coat and put her on the bed. Jess laughed, “She’s going to feel that tomorrow.”
We got home. I was taking off my shoes and said, “What?”
“That look on your face in the car. When I told you about our plans.”
“Nothing. I’m glad you had a good time. You seemed like you were.”
“I was. It was nice talking to everyone,” I said. “It was fun. I like them. Most of them.”
She smiled. “Natalie’s a bitch. She’s good at what she does, but she’s a bitch. I told you. But I’m glad. You really looked interested.”
“I was. They’re interesting people.”
“OK. I guess it was weirder for me. Because I worked with their husbands and all.” That was part of it. The other part was Jess’ weird competitive streak with other women.
“You looked really happy too. Everyone told me how great you were doing.” I was wiping off my makeup. By this point, I was used to the fact that it took me three times as long to get ready for bed. On the other hand, Jess still washed her face before bed, which is something I never did when I was her. Or me. Or whatever I used to be.
“That’s cool. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a good time at one of these things.”
“Me too. Melissa said we seemed happier. Are we?”
“I am. You?”
“Me too. I told her it was because we got healthier.” By this time, I was in my nightie. I climbed into bed.
Jess looked at me, smiled and said, “Yeah, that must be it.” She leaned over and gave me a kiss.
I was looking at my book. I wasn’t reading just looking. I looked over at Jess and realized that she was happy. She was Dan and she was happy. A happy, confident successful man. And I was happy for her. And I was happy as Jessica. So, why couldn’t I pull the trigger?
Monday night, Jess and I met for dinner. “Hey, sweetie,” I said, giving her a kiss. “How was your day?”
“Great. Everyone kept telling me how great my wife was. Lee and Pete said that their wives couldn’t wait to see you.” She reached into her knapsack. “Melissa gave me this for you. Ben drew it for you.” It was a picture of a boy, a woman (or a taller boy in a skirt with long hair, body definition not being a 3-year old’s strong suit) and what I assumed was a train. Someone wrote, “Dear Jessica” and “Thank you,” with a scribble underneath.
I smiled. “Tell her I love it and thank you. Tell her to tell Ben it’s going in my office.”
Jess smiled. “You made some impression because she told me something else. She looked me in the eye and said, ‘What happens on the road doesn’t stay on the road for you. Got it?’”
I laughed. “I knew I liked her.”
She looked serious. “I told her not to worry. That I had the only girl I ever wanted and will ever want.”
I kissed her. I knew this was right but I still couldn’t let my ego go.
Monday January 2, three weeks later. The bowl games were on. We invited Michelle and Amanda, and Jon and Sammie over. Wisconsin was playing Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl, then Penn State vs USC in the Rose Bowl. Amanda had gone to Penn State for medical school and Jon was a USC grad. Michelle and Sammie didn't care. As Michelle put it, "when they televise Lehigh-Lafayette, I'll watch." Sammie called them "unpaid pros," and said she'd rather watch the Giants.
Michelle and Amanda were there already when Sammie and Jon came in with Charlotte.
Sammie and Jon looked tired. Sammie was still dressed in a leather skirt, sweater and booties, with her hair and makeup perfect. But I could see in her eyes that she was tired.
"Hi guys," I said, giving them each a kiss.
Jon said, “Sorry we’re late. Charlotte was up all night.”
I was concerned. “What’s wrong?”
Sammie groaned and looked at me like I was an idiot. “She’s twenty-four days old. She wakes up every three hours on a good day. Last night was a bad day.”
“Are you still not turning on the TV?” The pediatrician had told them not to, because supposedly it would make the baby think it was play time.
“When Dr. Mills shows up at 2 AM, she can sit in the dark.” That answered that.
“Sorry,” I said, looking at Charlotte sitting there. “How are you, Charlotte,” I sang. “How are you?” I gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Can I take her out?”
Jon smiled. “Was that really a question?” Everyone laughed.
“Not really, no,” I said, taking her out. She was wearing a little USC onesie. “How is beautiful Charlotte? That’s a cute onesie. All it needs is Bucky the Badger,” the Wisconsin mascot.
Everyone was staring at me, grinning. “What?”
Sammie broke the silence. “Oh, please. You know what,” she said, laughing.
“I’m sorry that I wanted to see Charlotte. I can’t believe how big she’s gotten.”
“In a week and a half?”
“Sammie, shut up,” I said, with a grin. I put my finger near Charlotte’s hands. She grabbed it. I started to tear up. “Look, she took my finger.” I heard Amanda say to Jess, “Should I tell her that’s an involuntary reaction?” To which Jess responded, “Today’s as good a day to die as any.”
I didn’t care. I had Charlotte. I tuned everyone else out and just kept holding her and looking at her. I couldn’t believe how beautiful she was. My heart raced and I felt pleasure. A physical pleasure. I started to sing to her, as the game started, “It’s never too early to learn. ‘On Wisconsin…on Wisconsin…plunge right through that line.’”
After fifteen minutes, Sammie said, “OK, Jessie. Hand her over. She needs to eat. Does anyone mind if I breast feed in here or should I go in the bedroom?”
Amanda piped in, “Nothing I haven’t seen. Professionally or personally.” Michelle laughed and put her arm around her. They were a good couple.
Jon said, “My kid. My wife. I’m good.”
“You better be,” I said.
Jess contributed, “I like tits,” she said, with a big smile.
“Dan, you’re a pig,” Michelle said, laughing.
Sammie said, “You’re turned on by breast feeding? Sick bastard.” She said, taking out her breast to feed the baby. I should have been happy to see her bond with her daughter. And I was. But I was also jealous. And worried. Not because I didn’t know why I was, but because I did.
We watched the game. At halftime, the Badgers were up to 17-7. Jess, Jon and Amanda were watching half-time when Sammie, Michelle and I went into the bedroom. Even as Dan, I had started to lose my interest in pre- and post-game stuff and half-time. I liked watching the game but my patience for filling space was wearing thin.
Sammie was in the bathroom. I was holding her when I felt something. “Um, Sammie, I think she needs to be changed.”
“Can you take care of it? I’m, uh, busy.”
“Um, I’ve never done it.”
“Please? You’ve seen me and Laura.”
Charlotte was getting fussy, so I said, “OK. You can fix it after.”
I went to put her on the bed when I remembered my sister putting Tucker on the floor so he wouldn’t fall off. I put down a towel and rested Charlotte on it. She looked up me and I said, “OK, Aunt Jess is here. We can do this, right, Charlotte? We’re a team.” Michelle started to laugh. I took off the diaper and put it to the side. I took a baby wipe out of the bag and figured, ‘it’s like wiping myself.’ I put on the new diaper. I was kissing her belly and saying, ‘I love Charlotte,’ when Sammie came out.
She smiled and said, “I knew you could do it. You are such a mommy.”
Michelle chimed in. “You really are, Jess. I mean, you know…”
Sammie said, “Um, yeah. So, how’s that going?”
“Good. It’s going good.”
“Back to what it was?” Michelle said hopefully.
“Yeah. Better. Made us stronger and all that.”
“So, have you talked about it? Because clearly you’re ready.” Sammie said, handing me Charlotte. I sat on the bed, holding her. She yawned and I started to smile. She was amazing.
It hit home. “Stop. We haven’t. Not recently.” I started to go into my own head. I tried to figure out what all this meant and then tried to be present. Mostly, I was going in circles.
What Michelle said next surprised me and snapped me out of it. “Come on, we can do it together.”
Sammie and I both said, “What?”
Michelle broke out into a big grin. “We decided to start trying. Richard is going to be the donor.” Richard was her gay oncologist friend. I mean, an oncologist who was gay. Fine, he was an oncologist. Who was tall. With brown hair. Blue eyes. And a fondness for guys.
“Great. He’s a smart guy. So, who’s going to carry?”
They both burst out laughing. “Seriously, Jess?” Michelle said. “You’re seriously asking that?”
“It’s a legitimate question.” It wasn’t. I knew the answer. I don’t even know why I asked.
Sammie laughed. “Come on. That’s like asking whether you or Dan were having it.” I don’t know why that bothered me but it did.
“So how come now? Other than, you know, you’re not getting any younger…”
She swatted me. “It’s time. And we figured with everything in Washington, we should start the process sooner rather than later.”
“It sucks that you have to think that,” I said. Charlotte had fallen asleep in my arms.
“Yeah, well, what can you do?”
Sammie said, “So when are you doing it?”
Michelle smiled, “Two weeks. That’s when I’m ovulating. Richard’ll do the donation and then I have a date with the turkey baster.”
Sammie looked at me and said, “For someone so smart…no, you idiot, she’s going to a fertility specialist and then they do the process…if you weren’t holding my daughter, I’d hit you.”
“Sorry, I’m not up on this.” To be honest, I had never thought about it. Guys would never talk about this. It would be like admitting that you weren’t a man because you couldn’t do it naturally.
Michelle laughed, “We’re just teasing. So, what’s up with you guys?”
“We’re fine. I mean it’s always there. But I don’t think about it very much anymore. He’s really been good, better…” I almost said, ‘than I ever was,’ “than he was before.”
“That’s good. What’s holding you back?”
I paused, putting Charlotte in the stroller. I didn’t want to, but I figured she should lie down. “I don’t know. I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what,” Sammie said, putting her arm around me.
“Afraid that we’re not OK? Afraid that he’s going to do it again and then I’ll have a kid? Afraid of being pregnant?” That this would be permanent. That I’d be invisible. That I was tearing a hole in the fabric of the universe. The usual stuff.
Sammie rubbed my shoulder. I really liked the way women comforted each other and would miss it if we changed back. “You know I’d be the first to tell you if I thought something was wrong. I don’t think there is. Believe me, I’ve been watching him like a hawk since he did it. If he is, he’s the greatest actor alive. He loves you. He’s not going anywhere.”
Michelle added, “I agree. Mand’s been watching him. You know that if she thought he was doing something, she’d say something. And even she’s said that she thinks this was one stupid thing.”
“Then what is it?” Sammie said. “Pregnancy? Yeah, you pee a lot and your feet hurt and your tits swell and you’re gassy…”
Michelle looked at her. “You’re not much of a salesman.”
Sammie laughed. “And then you get Charlotte. And it’s all worth it. Even being up all night,” she said, looking in the stroller, “for no good reason. I never believed that before her. And now I know it’s true. And so do you, Jessie. I’ve watched you with Tuck and Charlotte and every baby you see. You would be the best. Better than me.” I didn’t know about the second part. But I knew the first. And I was fighting it.
“Besides, just think – can you imagine how happy Barb and Mona would be? Us pregnant together?”
I laughed. “Are you kidding? ‘So, I was talking to Mona and Michelle went to the doctor and the baby has two heads and I said not to worry because….”
“Come on,” she said, laughing, pulling up her shirt and mine. She rubbed her belly against mine. “It would be so cool.”
I giggled. “Freak. Does Dan get a say in this?” I figured that would put her off.
“Fine,” she said, giggling. “Be that way. But everyone’s doing it.”
“Yeah,” said Sammie. “All the cool girls. If you love him, you’ll do it,” she said, in an afterschool special voice.
“If he loves me, then he won’t push,” I said, with a big grin. “He’ll wait.” We all burst out laughing. It felt good.
"Michelle and Amanda are going to start trying," I said. We were cleaning up after everyone left.
"That's great!" Jess said, dumping plates into a bag. She held up a bowl of chips. “We saving these?” She walked into the kitchen.
“No. Not enough. Anyway, yeah, it is great. Richard is going to be the donor.”
"That’s great. Good for them," Jess said, loading glasses into the dishwasher.
"Michelle said something weird. When I asked whether she was going to have the baby or Amanda, she and Sammie laughed and said, 'that would be like asking whether you or Dan was having the baby.'"
Jess laughed. "What's so weird about that? I mean do you see Amanda being pregnant?"
"That's not what I meant," I said, getting frustrated. "I meant the second part."
"Um, you're a girl and I'm a boy and I thought you learned this from your dad..."
"I'm being serious. If we were what we used to be, do you think she would have said the same thing to you?"
"Uh yeah, because us, Jon and Sammie, only one of the couple can get pregnant."
"Assume that wasn't the case."
She looked worried. "You're spinning out of control. That's a little nuts, honey."
She stopped for a few seconds and took a deep breath. "I don't know. OK?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I don't know. If we were the old us, and either of us could have a baby and it wouldn't be weird, I don't know who would. I mean...You like kids...You have a way.... Probably you. Does that make sense?"
I started to cry. "That's what scares me."
She held me and rubbed my back. "Shhh, why does it scare you? There's nothing wrong with loving kids. There's nothing wrong with wanting a baby. I love that you love kids and, to be honest, being pregnant looks scary to me."
"I know. And it doesn't to me. It looks amazing. I think that’s what been scaring me."
She put her hands on my shoulders. "Why?"
"Because somewhere in here, I'm Dan. And I shouldn't want it."
"Who's everyone? Not me. Not our families. Not our friends."
"But what?" She smiled. "It's no secret that you want kids. I mean, long before this, you loved kids. You make faces at every little kid in the diner. If I could count the number of silly conversations you've had with a kid who's just babbling. And everyone," she said, rolling her eyes, "knows about you and Tucker. But, since this, you've been different."
"Before you were just the big goofball. Don't get me wrong. It was great and I knew you'd be a great dad. But, now, I watch you look at babies in strollers and with Charlotte. You're sweeter and more tender. More...Maternal, and..." She started to tear up.
"That scares me."
"Because, if we change back, I don't know that I can be that good."
"Of course, you could."
"I don't know. When I see Charlotte, I think, 'cute baby.' When I see you see her, I see love. When you were holding her today, it was like you two were the only people in the room, in the world."
I blushed. "I feel ridiculous."
"Don't. That's what a mommy is supposed to look like. When you hold her, when you change her, it's second nature. You look right. I see you holding our child and I think that I can't think of a more right picture."
"And you see me. Not you,” I said, putting down some plates. I was feeling faint and didn’t want to drop them.
"Yes. Don't you?"
"Yeah. That's what scares me."
"Because..." And I had no reason. I wanted a baby. And I wanted to have it. And I was jealous of Sammie for breast-feeding. And I was worried that we could change back and I'd be angry that Jess - who didn't even know if she wanted it- would get to have the baby. And I was angry that I felt this way. "I'm sorry. I need to lay down."
"I'll finish up. Are you feeling OK?"
Jess finished up and came to bed. I was in a big t shirt. An old one Jess had before. Not one of mine. I couldn't deal with that now. I was reading, or trying to. I read the same page four times.
"You OK?" she asked.
"Still focusing on what Michelle and Sammie said?"
"It means nothing. You're not, you never were, Dan to them. It wasn't about you. It was about Amanda. Can you see Amanda having a baby? It would be the first full term baby born in three months. She’d schedule birth between surgeries."
I laughed. "I guess..."
"And I was thinking about the second thing you said. If either one of us could have it and no one would think twice, so what if you had it?"
"So what? I had no idea you were so sexist. Oh, having a baby is only a woman's job?"
I started to laugh. "Um, do I have to explain it to you now?"
"I'm serious," she said. "If either of us could, why couldn't, shouldn't it be you?"
"You'd be better at it. I thought about it before all of this. I'd watch you with kids and think life would be so much easier if Dan could get pregnant. We could just do it. Dan would be so much better than me at it. He'd be better at carrying it. At having it. At raising it..."
"Do you not want kids? Is that what you're saying?"
"No, I do. I guess I've just realized that I'm more suited to being a dad..."
"Meaning I'd love our kids but it's not the same. A dad loves you, teaches you to drive, takes you to practices and stuff..."
I laughed. "Now who's sexist? There are lots of dads who are the primary caregiver."
"That's not what I meant. I meant that, like when I was little, moms came in and out of pre-school all the time but when a dad showed up, it was a big deal. A special event. I knew my dad loved me and would always do stuff but I knew my mom was always there. Even with work. She just was. That's what your mom is. She's the one who's always there. I don't know if I could always be there. But I know you could, you would. Right?"
I thought about it. "Yeah. Is that weird?" I was staring at the ceiling. Jess took my face in her hands and turned it towards her.
"No weirder for you than me. If we were who we used to be, and you could have the baby, why wouldn't you? Why wouldn't the one who wants it, who'd be better at it, do it? The world's too focused on what everyone thinks. If it's supposed to be me, it'll be me. If it's supposed to be you, it'll be you. OK?"
"OK," I smiled, giving her a kiss. That night, I had the pregnancy dream again. But this time I was Jessica.
I woke up the next day and couldn’t get the discussion out of my head. I knew that I wanted kids. I knew that Jess was right and that it made sense for me to do it, assuming that whatever it was that made this happen wanted it. It was just something holding me back from pulling the trigger. From saying to her, “Let’s just do this.”
I spent the next week in a fog. I could do my job but the rest of my life was a mess. I missed my stop three times in a week. I forgot to pick up our dry cleaning – after I received an alert on my phone. I put on two different shoes and would have gone to work that way if our doorman hadn’t stopped me and said, “Is that a new style, Ms. Silverman?”
Robin and I were at lunch one day. We went to Chop’t. We ordered our salads and were walking back to the table, when I walked into the rack where they kept utensils. Several forks feel to the ground. It rattled loud enough that people turned around.
We were picking everything up when she said, “Is everything OK?”
“Huh?” I was putting the forks into my bag instead of the garbage.
“You seem kind of out of it. Like something’s bothering you,” she said, reaching into my bag and taking the forks out.
We walked to a table and sat down. I stared at the wall. “I’m just…I don’t know…I…”
She looked concerned. “Is everything OK? Is this a work thing or a personal thing?”
“Is everything OK with Dan?” I noticed that women never said, ‘do you want to talk about it?’ They just assumed that you did.
“Yeah, yeah. He’s fine. We’re fine. It’s just…” I looked down at the table.
I looked her in the eye. “Can I tell you something? Promise you won’t say anything.”
“I’m trying to decide if I want to have a kid. Don’t think less of me for that?”
“Why would I think less of you?” She looked horrified and confused.
“Because you guys don’t have kids.”
“And? It doesn’t mean that I think no one should. It just means that I don’t. Jesus, what kind of a bitch do you think I am?” She looked hurt.
She smiled, “The last part was just teasing. I’m a huge bitch. But you should be careful. Anyway, do you want kids?”
“Yes. I really do.”
“He says so.”
She pursed her lips and blew out air. “Stop being a girl. Yes or no?”
“So, you want kids and he wants kids? What’s stopping you?”
I couldn’t really say that I used to be a guy. And Dan a girl. And that I was afraid that if we got pregnant, we’d turn back and she’d get to carry it and that I’d resent that. Or that I was permanently changing my life. That’d be awkward. “I don’t know. I’m afraid. Afraid of what’ll happen professionally.”
“That’s nonsense. Victoria has kids. Sharon has kids. You’ll get a nanny. You’ll do work at night when the little howler is asleep. That’s lame. Besides don’t let this place dictate your life. What else do you have?”
“I’m afraid of what it’ll do to Dan and me.”
“Equally lame. You said you’re good. If you’re good, it brings you together. If you’re not, it doesn’t. Are you good?”
That was a fraught question. And I really thought about it. “We are.”
“Not my decision, but you need to jump in or out. Shit or get off the pot, as Sandy says. That’s it! Secretly, you want Sandy to be the father. ‘Oh Sandy, take your Viagra and pump me full of your old crabby smelly sperm.’ On the plus side, he’d probably drop dead and then your kid will be set for life.”
I hit her. “You are disgusting. You know why you don’t have kids? Because you want Mel.” Mel was a tax partner. Like all tax partners, he was brilliant and absolutely necessary for deals. He was also short, overweight and had no personality. Mike used to ask him at the Christmas party to ‘tell a joke. Any joke. I’ll give you the joke.’ “Oh, Mel, take advantage of my depletion allowance.”
She laughed. “Whatever. Do or do not. There is no try.” I looked at her. She sighed, “Gib…”
“Something to think about. Sorry what I said about you guys.” I was still mortified.
“Please. Nothing I haven’t heard before. Whenever Gib’s aunt mentions it, I start to sob,” and she started, “’We…can’t…have…children’ and then I run out.”
“I am so sorry. I can’t believe I….” I wanted to crawl under the table.
She held up her hand and laughed. “We can’t because I take birth control. I have no idea if I can. And don’t care to find out. Sorry.”
“Don’t be. You’re smart. Like my friend says, it’s not a puppy. You can’t give it back. Thanks. Sorry to get all weird on you.”
“Please. It was totally fine. And seriously do what’s best for you. Not Sagman Bennett. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had kids. Sandra Day O’Connor had kids. Like sixty years ago. You can do it if you want.”
After that, it became clearer. We were in a good place. I wanted kids. I wanted them before. I wanted them now. And however, whoever ended up giving birth to it, it would be our kid. I started taking pre-natal vitamins and cutting back on caffeine. I was a caffeine junkie but I knew that I’d need to cut it out when I got pregnant. I just assumed it would be me. I needed to assume that.
A week and a half later, I woke up to see Jess sitting on the couch reading a magazine.
I gave her a kiss, “Hey, honey.”
She smiled and held up the vitamins. “Something you want to tell me?” she said, shaking the bottle.
“I may look like this but I used to be that. I know what these are. Do you want say something?” I blushed. “Are you telling me that you want to try?”
She threw a pillow at me. “The Thai place on third. You know what I mean.”
I couldn’t speak. I nodded then I said, “I do. I want to try and have a baby.”
“Even if it means that this,” and she waved her hand between us, “becomes permanent.”
“I’m ready. I want a baby. I want to have a baby. I want to be a mommy. Is that weird?”
She gave me a hug and kissed me. “It’s not weird! It’s amazing!”
“Seriously?” I started to cry. “Are you ready?”
“Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes. We’re going to do this. We’re going to have a baby.”
“We’re going to have a baby.” I was crying. “I’m such a girl.”
“Yes, you are,” she said, hugging me. “And you’re going to be a mommy. The best mommy ever.”
“And you’re going to be a dad. Are you OK with that?”
She smiled, “I am.”
I smiled. “I’ve figured out that I should be ovulating when we’re on the trip. Probably Tuesday night or Wednesday.”
“You’ve really thought about this, haven’t you? Were you planning on telling me?”
I blushed. “Um…”
She kissed me again. “It’s OK. I’m just teasing.”
I smiled. “You know I’m thinking we should probably practice beforehand,” I said, pulling off her t-shirt.
We went into the bedroom. I put on a white nightie. It seemed like the right color. Like we were starting something new. I wasn’t ovulating but we didn’t use a condom.
We finished and Jess laid with her head on my stomach. I played with her hair. “What are you thinking?” I said.
“I’m thinking how great this is going to be,” she said, kissing my stomach.
“Really. I can’t wait until you’re pregnant. The swollen ankles. The morning sickness. The belly,” then she started kissing me again.
“Thanks. That makes me feel so good.”
“I’m kidding. You’ll be beautiful. Ankles, sickness and everything.”
“What if it’s you?” I figured I’d put it out there.
“I don’t know why but I don’t think that’s happening. Sorry, it’s you,” she said, as she kissed me, this time on the lips.
“I think it’s what it’s supposed to be,” I said, smiling.
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