On the day when I should have been inseminated, but am not, I find myself instead making up my mother’s face: soft pinks or grays, a hint of blush, a shadow here and there. Not too much, she warns, though leaves me to it. After all, it’s been so long. Having rejected all that forced femininity years ago, coming out of the closet, she barely remembers how. But today of all days, she wants help: a few bright lines and highlighting tones. She wants, finally, to look pretty at her wife’s funeral.
“Should I go?” Days earlier, my father had wanted to know, though that was not why I’d called.
“The pregnancy,” I’d explained, half devastated, half relieved. “It will have to wait.” Loss, not life, consumes us now. “We didn’t expect this.”
“Of course.” If anyone understands disappointment, it is my father: left, twenty years into a marriage, by someone who’d never wanted to be with a man. Still, the question had lingered: “But should I go?” Even though they have not spoken in twenty years. “Would she want me to?”
“Perhaps.” After all, my mother’s life was spinning now with unexpected loss: alone and just retired, what would she do? As was my own, delayed, again, after a year already of tests and trials: stalled progress toward in vitro fertilization. Emptied out by patience as much as hope.
So now, I’m waiting outside a church parking lot. The day is trimmed with frost, late morning January light spilling out along the pavement. My mother’s wife, the one she’d left my father for, should not have died; and my own child, frozen in liquid nitrate at six days old, should not still be waiting. But life—either end of it—emerges without a plan, regardless of whatever someplace like the fertility clinic might tell me: everything that might still be possible. Even at forty. Even alone.
“It’s good,” my mother agrees. “To have that option.”
Though it’s not the one I’d wanted: “I’m scared.”
“Of doing it on your own?”
Of course, I admit, though decades earlier, she couldn’t have. In order to start a family, my mother knew she’d have to marry a man; even if, leaving him two decades later, she hadn’t known that she’d lose this, too: the woman she’d finally loved. So, I’ve stopped mentioning my solitude, and my fear that IVF will work—or that it won’t. That I will become a single mother. That I may not be a mother at all.
And now, as my father’s car slides in across the lot, I cannot guess what happens next: this overdue meeting, this strange funeral reunion. Sadness layering upon sadness. But here he is, stepping through the fog to find us; and my mother looks up, cheeks rosy half from cold, half from those careful lines I’d brushed across her skin early that morning, before light had found the day. Breathless now, she speaks my father’s name, and they pause, stunned. How much they’ve aged; and yet, how life still surprises: Here they are again.
Fog cools against my skin; and I can see my breath. Then, I see it stop, as my parents, caught more by instinct than intention, step forward to do what I’d never expected: Pulled together through the force of some long-expired habit, they find each other in a hug.
Steam curls up off the pavement as the day warms, though I still shiver. But now, for just a moment longer, my parents are holding each other in that sudden connection, however brief or imperfect it may be. Because there are—I must admit this, too—so many ways that bodies come together and create new ones; and so rarely is it for the reasons I’d hoped for: deliberate, partnered, enduring. Connections do not always follow the trajectory that we anticipate; and what we take comfort in is not always what we’d imagined.
But before I can rightly understand any of this, they have parted. Of course they have. My father has come here out of respect, not affection. To witness, though not to reunite. Origins remain what they are: a beginning, though not an end. The brevity of their connection does not negate it, though neither do any of us know what comes next: not for my widowed mother, my frozen son, or my own fierce if lonely heart.
Still, as my parents embrace and part again, easy now as ocean waves returning to themselves, something lulls within me, too—then breaks back open, both familiar and new. Longing, and love, no matter the conditions. And finally, the pure, inexhaustible wonder of it: without plan or expectation, the profundity of any life coming into being, even my own.
After growing up on a carnival route, Susan V. Meyers now directs the creative writing program at Seattle University. Having received grants from Fulbright, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and several arts residencies, she has been nominated for The Best American Series and several Pushcart Prizes. Her novel Failing the Trapeze won the Nilsen Award, and other work has recently appeared in Creative Nonfiction, The Rumpus, Calyx, New Orleans Review, and The Minnesota Review. You can find her at susanvmeyers.com.
Story Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/call me tonight