Here’s where I feel like a liquid trying to do a solid’s job: I could peck out something about “love” or “a lot to offer” or “the greatest adventure,” but what I have instead is a memory: My mother and I, blanketed together on the couch during a monsoon day in July, 1980. Out here we have lightning-and-thunderstorm season, when the clouds open up and dump rivers of hot water into the desert. The saguaros swell up and the creosote bushes smell like the cure for everything. We’re reading a children’s book of Bible stories while the chocolate-chip cookies bake. I am 6, holding the book open to Noah’s Ark story. I love this Bible because of the tacky Jehovah’s Witness art — bright-colored animals and lush green grass; Noah and his family with their long hair and chilled-out expressions.
“And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.
Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.
And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.”
We look at the animals and agree that, definitely, Noah must have brought cats onto the ark. Our Siamese, Michael, gazes at us from across the room with his sapphire eyes.
“What’s missing from the ark?” my mother asks. I don’t know. It looks like Noah thought of everything, down to the last cubit.
She points at herself, then at me.
“People!” I squeal. “He took his whole family with him.”
We talk about the ark — how much fun it would be to maybe sleep with the zebras and play with the monkeys for 40 days and 40 nights. The oven beeps. The lightning cracks. Because my mother loves me, the world is beautiful and safe. If she’s there, I can do anything, be anything at all.
Here’s where I explain to myself why I should let it go: The numbers are terrifying. I turn 38 in 3 months. I make 40,000 a year. Donor sperm costs $600 a shot. Day care costs $150 a week. There are 6 billion people on the planet. I need at least 1 of them to be on board the ark with me or it’ll be a disaster. And, even if I get 1 on board, she could always take off as soon as we hit landfall. I’ll never have that option. This is the second-most final decision a person can make, coming in just after suicide and just before permanent eyeliner. Baby arrives with some New England Journal of Medicine-worthy anomaly? Welcome to The New Normal.
Here’s where I zip myself into the sweaty sleeping bag of self-pity: This is what I deserve for not being like everyone else; for leaving it too long; for messing around for plan-less years; for not being even semi-rooted until now. This is what I get for staying in all those dead-end relationships; a dolphin in all those goddamned tuna nets. My punishment is a life of teaching, coaching, and looking after other people’s ill-raised, unplanned kids but never being a mother EVEN THOUGH I’D DO IT WELL. “Hey, Phonaesthetica,” the Universe is saying, “here’s another thing you can’t have. Suffer.”
Here’s where I start to think myself strong; on-deck in the line of Women Who Did: My grandmother was widowed at my age, with three children…and then had a fourth even though her doctor told her not to. Her mother, after whom I’m named, gave birth to her last baby at 49. A guidance counselor at work has three on her own and “wouldn’t have it any other way.” This is why rappers cut all those “I love you, brave Mama” tracks, right? Women have babies without any help whatsoever (there are a half-dozen books on the subject and all of them are on the way to my house). Even women in traditional relationships get left; widowed; bankrupted. Do I or don’t I have a Master’s degree; an income; health insurance; residence in a First World nation? Teenage girls with the I.Q. of a Thin Mint do it, why the hell not me?