I was, I suppose you
could say, in a prepartum depression.
It started when my
wife Connie decided it was time to have a baby. I was thirty-one and she was
twenty-eight, a circumstance which, I reminded her in my argument against the
idea, was no cause for alarm. But after she’d voiced her ambition and thereby
made it real to herself, the achievement of motherhood became an obsession for
her and she would not leave me alone about it. Finally after several months, my
reluctance to enlist in her project compelled her to resort to a not-so-veiled
threat: “Steven,” she said. “Either we have a baby now or I’m going to
“All right,” I
told her, “get off the fucking Ovril® then.”
Now it wasn’t that
I never wanted a baby, or that when I had one, I didn’t want it to be with
Connie. Strong of character and will, nurturing, quick-witted and sometimes
uncannily perceptive and discerning—not to mention pretty—Connie was a
terrific wife and more than qualified to be an exceptional mother. The notion of
one day having a family with her was hardly repugnant to me.
No. What troubled
me, what troubled me immensely, was a consequence inherent in the making of a
baby—a consequence that I could not stop recognizing. Fathering a child would
tie me into the hideous plan that Creation has devised for everything corporeal.
I would be, and by my own hand, replacing myself. Once the deed was done, once I
had accomplished the only thing we know with any certainty Creation wants of us,
I would be, in Creation’s view, expendable.
If Connie, born
Catholic but now earnestly New Age in her faiths and sentiments, calmed her fear
of death by believing in reincarnation, I had only the Void to anticipate. And
if I’d always been keenly tuned to the perils of existence and lived in a
perpetual state of medium-grade anxiety as a result, my heightened appreciation
of my mortality destroyed any claim to a semblance of internal equilibrium. With
Connie’s demand, the sinister underside of nature had turned itself toward me,
and it wouldn’t turn away. Indeed, my now all-too-acute and persistent
consciousness of what it ultimately meant to be flesh made any vista of
extravagant pullulation, albeit as manicured as Central Park, grotesque to me.
On the most festive of occasions I would look up and see what William James saw—“the
skull grinning in at the banquet.” And I understood what William Burroughs
meant by “Naked Lunch;” when I ate I perceived exactly what was on the end
of my fork. I mean, I could not listen to the most bathetic of popular love
songs anymore without hearing the primal terror that its simple rhymes were
intended—I knew now—to blunt and mask. I felt altogether fragile, that I
could come apart in the slightest breeze.
And much of the time
I was also in a small rage about the new burden I’d be taking on. I’m
referring not to the responsibility of child raising per se, but to the fact
that no matter the enormity of the contempt I’d developed for humanity over
the years, having a child would force me to give a shit about what the world
might be like after I died.
over, I even began to think about homosexuality; about, that is, the solution it
afforded to the problem of getting your rocks off without spinning what Jack
Kerouac called the “wheel of the quivering meat conception.” Though a less
than appealing option for me, there were hours when, oddly and perversely, I
could not help but feel ... well ... titillated by the concept of having sex
that was unencumbered by procreative implications.
In the petrifying
absence of contraception, I found myself avoiding sex with Connie. And when I
could not avoid it, my performance was uninspired and frequently impeded by
occlusions in my circuits that would leave the both of us in a condition of
considerable frustration. Worse, my very biology joined in the protest, forcing
me to suffer the embarrassment of a sperm count that a lab, visited at Connie’s
insistence, twice reported as “virtually negligible.”
miseries, locking me deeper into paralysis as it increased my sense of urgency,
was Connie’s evident disappointment in me; a disappointment that was evolving
into disdain. Terms of endearment like “Honey” and “Sugar,” for example,
were routinely being replaced by “Washout” and “Loser.” In my
timorousness, my cowardice, I’d become something less than a man in her eyes. Recalling
her admission to me shortly after we married, that she’d bought into the myth
about Jewish men being extraordinary providers and great fathers, and having
long before disabused her of the former illusion, I knew that I had no choice
now but to keep the latter alive.
Then, reasoning that
a change of scene might turn the trick, Connie came up with the idea of spending
a few days in the country together. When I agreed, she arranged for us to stay
with our friend Betsy, who ran a little print shop out of her ramshackle house
in a Catskill town not far from Kingston.
patience rapidly disintegrating, it was, I knew, something like now or never,
and I geared myself as best I could. Scrupulously adhering to a plan we devised—a
month of wholesome foods and regimented exercise; no sex or masturbation for a
fortnight—I made ready to win a war with myself.
upstate, I felt like a German soldier must have felt upon arriving at the
Russian front. It was the middle of winter, the sky was low and gray; the snow
drifts were thigh-high and the temperature near zero. It was not exactly an
atmosphere conducive to a successful completion of the undertaking at hand—especially
when, in the back bedroom Betsy assigned us (which she also used to store old
printing equipment and stacks of yellowing posters and flyers), you could see
your breath and needed to wear your coat.
But as inopportune
and unlikely as the setting may have been, it was on our second afternoon there
that a child was conceived.
I should say, first
of all, that I was feeling not a little physically ill—and it wasn’t only
that I was on the edge of a cold. An urban apartment dweller, I’ve noticed
that country people, who pay for their own heating oil, tend to be flinty about
using it, and Betsy was obviously no exception. On this day, however, in an
extremely generous and woefully misguided demonstration of support, she had
pumped the thermostat up to steam-bath levels. The oppressive heat, coupled with
an unfortunate effluvium of cedar, pine, musty furniture and nasty chemical
compounds, threatened my ability to both keep my lunch and remain conscious.
In any case, with
Betsy at work out front, Connie, after giving me a thumbs up sign, took off her
robe and arranged it carefully over a chair. Deliberately presenting her bottom
to me as she bent to the bed to pull away the quilts, she followed this maneuver
by abruptly turning around and flopping onto the bed on her back. Then, reaching
for a pillow, she propped it under her buttocks and spread her legs.
“Stevie, do you
feel it too? It’s as though there’s a spirit hovering near us waiting to be
“Great,” I said,
removing my pants. “I hope it’s the spirit of a heavy-duty bond trader who
happened to have a coronary while he was up here for a weekend. Please don’t
let it be one of the local yahoos who ran his pickup into a tree.”
I entered her
immediately—it had, after all, been two weeks. But just as quickly I knew I
was going to wither. My deprived penis’s rote reaction to a welcoming vagina
notwithstanding, the gravity of the occasion continued to undermine me—the
longer I put this off, the longer I had to live. Still, I had made a compact
which I had to keep, and I began to leaf through bodies, shuffle through poses,
postures and configurations in my personal mental Kama Sutra file—then,
starting to panic and sweating obnoxiously, to ransack my memory and
imagination. But no one and no thing I could remember or think to desire would
keep me up, let alone elicit the participation of my gonads. I tried, with my
hand, to stuff it in. I would have settled for a premature orgasm.
said. She squeezed out from under me and, her hair trailing along my chest and
stomach, ran her tongue down the length of my torso to the numb thing between my
Catholicism devoutly until her late teens—she had still not permitted a man
inside her until she was twenty-three—and less so thereafter, Connie’d had
more than a little experience keeping boyfriends with her hands and her mouth.
In seconds, despite my mental state, she got it halfway up and we tried again.
But once more I evacuated ignominiously and she was obliged to root in me again.
Ten minutes must have passed before she raised her head. I was expecting an
expression of scorn. Look, I was prepared to say, I’m sorry.
This is really out of my hands. But Connie was grinning at me. Crawling
backwards a little, she reached her arm under my legs and lifted them until they
were almost perpendicular to the bed. Then, holding my haunches up and steady
with both of her hands, she lowered her head to my starkly exposed ass and drove
her tongue as deep as she could into my rectum.
Lingering there for a while, she finally came out from under me and,
brushing it against my nostrils en route, brought her mouth to my ear.
“You little Jew
bastard,” she whispered hotly. “I wish you’d be the lesbian you are right
now because what I really want to do is eat your pussy.”
Score one for Connie’s
acumen and resourcefulness in an emergency. “Harder,” she was instructing me
after no more than a minute had elapsed. “Go deeper! Yeah! Oh! Splash.”
Cody was born nine
months later, almost to the day. Nature being oblivious to human expectations of
justice and symmetry, he had, contrary to the circumstances of his conception,
both a proper allotment of toes and fingers, and a countenance that was
amazingly genuine in its sweetness and innocence. I mean, there was nothing
unhealthy or freakish about him; nothing even remotely Damien-ish. By every
measure he was a wonderful specimen.
And me? Well, I was
worn by then to a physical as well as emotional nub. I lost fifteen pounds
during Connie’s pregnancy that I didn’t need to lose. But not dropping dead
with Cody’s arrival had a salutary effect on my nerves that was almost
immediate. I was still filled with trepidation of course, but with my panic
significantly less clamorous and debilitating and my not-so-quiet desperation
much quieter, it was, relatively speaking, a manageable trepidation.
Within just days of
his birth I was, in fact, as close as I get to all right again.
© 2002 Robert Levin
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