Published on February 26th, 2019 | by Jane V. Blunschi2
An Orange Seed, A Tin Cup
When I left my wife this summer, I rented an apartment halfway between our house and my office and used a couple of my vacation days to pack up my books and clothes. She let me take everything I wanted, with the exception of the especially sharp knife her mother had given us for Christmas. Right now I am thinking of the way she probably won’t ever understand the precise, red-hot joy of dicing an onion with that thing; she doesn’t like to cook. I do.
We also had a mild verbal spar over the fancy vibrator we’d bought on our wedding trip to Seattle. I reminded her that she makes five times as much money as I do and that a new one would cost more than a pair of Dansko clogs to replace, and that this just wasn’t in my budget. Also: I needed a new pair of Dansko clogs, and could she help me with that? As soon as the sentence was out of my mouth, I realized that these were the gayest words I’d ever uttered. She let me take the vibrator.
I took every good, heavy coffee cup, the vacuum cleaner (even though my new apartment is as big as a hula hoop and has about three square feet of carpeting), and the entirety of our autographed library. We live in a college town, and famous writers come here a couple of times a year to speak at the university. I got: The Book of Men by Dorianne Laux, Please by Jericho Brown, Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar, and dreamiest of all, NW by Zadie Smith. I always asked the authors to sign the books to both of us, though she was seldom at the readings, and almost never read the books.
I would joke that having them signed to both of us would keep us from getting divorced, because who would get the books? I left all the books about meditation and manifesting for her.
I was mad, so I took a big box of Sudafed, a couple of nice sports bras that fit us both but are technically hers, and a jar of Bumble and bumble styling paste that she paid for last (we alternated). I also took a case of lemon La Croix and a big pack of toilet paper. I busted open the box of water while I was packing, downed one, and threw the can away in the regular trash can, just to be a bitch. I mean, the recycling bucket was right there.
Quite a few things were left behind when I moved two miles away. Five cardboard boxes of aged graded student papers and old bills I’d put off shredding. Neoprene snow boots, a pair of lace-less Nikes, and a wad of cotton and nylon underwear marked with faded bloodstains.
Two weeks earlier, I’d slapped my wedding bands on the space between the sinks in our bathroom and then tore into the top drawer of my dresser. I decided to throw away all of the bloodstained underwear I owned, which amounted to most of what was in that drawer. I had struggled to let go of what was left of my period and my fertility. I could not put on stained panties one more time.
I started with pairs that I knew I hated anyway. Three cute-as-hell pairs of nylon hipsters tie-dyed in neon purple, orange, pink, and yellow. All three fit strangely on my hips and rode up on the right side. A neon-orange Cosabella thong that I bought a decade ago because Gwyneth Paltrow endorsed them in InStyle as the most comfortable underwear she’d ever worn. I wore them once I have never worn a thong again because one thing I know about myself now is that I like a pair of undies that covers all my bases. I’d kept them for ten years thinking that I’d have some kind of thong need, a thong emergency. That day has never come. Those didn’t have bloodstains, they were just insufferable. The rest of what I trashed were a version of the underwear I have basically worn my whole life, the style I return to again and again, cotton bikinis in white or maybe some subtle color like pink or powder blue, all with old bloodstains in the crotch, about a dozen pairs.
Gathering the pile of stained panties, I shoved them in a plastic Target bag, and threw the bag in the trash, pressing it into the aluminum can.
What I ended up with are five pairs of bikinis I bought in the months after I had a uterine ablation, which is the reason I don’t get my period anymore and one of the reasons I decided to leave my wife.
I had an ablation when I was forty-one years old. I had an ablation because there were polyps in my uterus that I believed were growing there because of fertility drugs I’d taken the year before. I had an ablation because I’d stopped taking the fertility drugs and trying to get pregnant. I had an ablation because my marriage was failing and I couldn’t make a bigger more important decision: stop trying to get pregnant because I was afraid of what our future together would look like, or keep trying to have the baby I really wanted and roll the dice on raising that baby alone.
My therapist tried to help me with my grief and regret over the ablation, which is a simple procedure in which the lining of the uterus is surgically destroyed. I saw an ultrasound of my uterus after the surgery. It looked like the surface of the moon, vast, white, and cratered with gray shadows.
I’d decided to have this procedure after a long year of trying to get pregnant, a stretch of time that, to most women who have to go high-tech to have a baby, is virtually nothing. A sliver of months that could fit into the space under the pinkie nail of a woman who’d dug in and really tried. I’d derailed my own efforts when I realized that the plans for parenthood I’d made with my wife were not really plans; they were fantasies, which would have been okay, probably, had they been fantasies we’d shared. Around the time we started looking for a donor, she began to retreat into silence, into hours of exercise and training, into riding her bike thirty, then sixty, then eighty miles in a single day. I decided to stop trying to get pregnant and my foundering marriage began to gallop toward its end, full speed, anyway.
Ashley is my therapist’s name. My now ex-wife found her for me about six months before I left by googling grief, pregnancy, psychotherapy, and lgbtq. I was in a low spot, unable to be around people with babies or even see mothers with babies on television without becoming an argumentative wreck. My wife forwarded a couple of entries from the Psychology Today website to my inbox at work on a day when I had called her on my lunch break and let her know that I could not live with my resentment toward her and my longing for an impossible child any longer, and that I needed help. Ashley’s picture, with her crisp blue oxford, makeup-free face, and short, slicked-back blonde hair appealed to me the most. I assumed she was a butch lesbian (my kryptonite) who would help me heal from my grief and then, later, fix my relationship problems by falling in love with me, making it easy to start my life over with no deficit of attention and affection. Look, I hear myself. I know.
I learned quickly that Ashley is married to a man and that she is very good at listening to me talk about the same topic every single week: my uterine lining. I talked about how much I missed getting my period for at least five visits in a row. I’d continued to track the days of my cycle for a year or so, counting back from the last time I bled, a day I’d imprinted in my mind: the first day of my last period. I eventually lost track of the days, and now I imagine that I have PMS roughly three times a month. I suppose that means that one of those occasions is probably the real deal, and the rest of the time I’m just pissed off and cranky. Before the surgery, I got my period on a cycle of twenty-eight days one month and twenty-five the next. It’s one of the things my body could do that made me feel like it was a mysterious and wondrous machine that was running itself on an ancient code that my brain could never comprehend or control.
Ashley and I talk about ways I can symbolize my fertility because symbols are my jam. I figured this out by reading the poems in Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral. Those poems made me want to find symbols to put all my feelings into. I want my own gold ring, black fish, and skull of a wolf, like in “Watermark.”
When I told Ashley that I had thought of a symbol for my surface-of-the-moon uterus, her face brightened and she moved forward on her overstuffed chair a little. It’s a tin measuring cup, I told her. My mom always used one of those to measure out laundry detergent.
Okay, she said. A tin measuring cup.
Yeah, and I am spitting an orange seed into it, I said. The seed sort of “plinks” against the bottom of the cup.
Ashley’s face relaxed back into a neutral expression. I felt like I had served Ashley an idea that wasn’t creative enough, but it is what came to me when I asked the universe for a symbol.
I started calling up this image every day, multiple times a day. It remains the only thing that has given me distraction, and to some degree, relief from the dream-ending decision I made. Every time I think about the child I won’t ever have, I spit an orange seed into the cup in my mind. When I packed the brand-new, unread pregnancy and childbirth books into a grocery sack and dropped them off at the local doula collective, I spit a seed into the cup. When I signed my divorce papers on the back porch of the cafe where my wife and I went on our first real date, I spit a seed into the cup and heard it plink. I spit again and again as I walked back to work and she raced to her lawyer’s office to file the paperwork before I could change my mind and ask for alimony. I went to my gynecologist and asked him if there was any sort of pill or procedure or hormone or supplement I could take, and when he told me that there was absolutely nothing that would bring my period back, I covered my face with my hands and cried, and I spit an orange seed into a tin measuring cup.