|City of Sperm
By early March, well over a month had gone by. And
despite my history of erratic periods, I knew something was wrong. For one thing, my
breasts hurt. Sometimes, they were just a little sore. But at other times, they ached,
they throbbed. I started unbuttoning my blouse or wearing a loose-fitting T-shirt when I
was alone in my room, just because I didnt like the feeling of fabric rubbing
against them. I also got in the habit of pinching them. Mostly, I did this to prove to
myself that they really werent hurting at all, to convince myself that the soreness
in my breasts was brought on by my active imagination and by my own pinching and probing.
The more they hurt, the more I pinched; the more I pinched, the more they hurt. It got to
the point that sometimes, while lying on my back before falling asleep, I would have to
put my hands under my butt and hold them there for fifteen or twenty minutes, just to keep
them away from my chest.
There was nausea too. It wasnt always in the
morning, and it didnt occur every day. But I knew it wasnt normal. I blamed my
sickness on the strange smells of the chemicals in the science building at school. I
blamed my mothers cooking. I blamed the salt that the road crews would use to melt
the snow in front of my house. I even blamed the old shock absorbers and loose suspension
system in my Volkswagen and the bright orange counter tops in my mothers kitchen.
One morning after driving my friend Cindy to school, I opened the car door and threw up
right there in the parking lot, staining the dirty asphalt with the milky, grainy remnants
of my breakfast. Cindy looked at me and told me I had better go home or at least go visit
the school nurses office. "Its this sweater Im wearing," I
said. "It has a weird, funny smell." Cindy stepped around my vomit and came over
to me. "It smells fine," she said, leaning toward my chest and sniffing the air
around me. "Its your head thats weird and funny."
My attempt to deny my pregnancy wasnt constant.
I mentioned to Robbie more than once that I was late and that I was concerned. But his
denial fueled mine and helped keep it going, maybe a lot longer than it should have. When
I first told him I was late, just about a week or two after my period should have arrived
in early February, he was quick to point out that there was no cause for worry.
"Youre late a lot," he said. "Teenage girls are always late." I
soon changed the subject, relieved at not having to talk any more about it.
A week or so later, I told him again that I
hadnt started yet. "Youve been late before, havent you?" He
shrugged his shoulders ever so slightly, and it was apparent that he was making a
statement and not really asking a question.
"Yes," I said. "You know that."
"Then well wait a few more days and see if
you start. If you dont, well have to find out for sure. Doesnt that make
sense?" Robbie put his hands on my shoulders as he spoke, almost as if he were trying
to hold me down and keep me from going somewhere.
I hated it when he tried to pretend he was more
logical than I was. But I had to agree with him. It was probably nothing. The vomiting,
the sore breasts, the extreme sleepiness I was starting to feelall of these were
just tricks my adolescent body was playing on me. Tricks to make me think I was pregnant
when I wasnt. I had once read in a magazine somewhere that a teenage girls
body can conspire against her in all kinds of ways. So I knew that there were things
inside me - hormones, demons, enzymes, fairies - that could make a pimple appear out of
nowhere just when I thought my skin was clearing up, that could make me scream outrageous
insults at my mother just when I thought we were getting along fine, that could make me
cry almost uncontrollably just when I thought I was in total control of myself, and that
could make the stress and tension simmering inside me delay my period forever just when I
needed desperately to see it appear between my long skinny legs.
Im not sure when my preoccupation with my
stomach began. Maybe it was one morning when I was taking a shower, rubbing the soap
across my belly in long vertical swipes. I think it was just a week or two after I had
missed my period, and I was remembering the night in the church sanctuary when there
werent any rubbers, when Robbie pulled out of me and left his wetness on the skin of
my stomach. For a while, right there in the shower, I could almost feel the sperm swimming
across the flatness, racing each other to enter my belly button, to hide there and wait
for a chance to get me. I abruptly stopped my vertical soap strokes, thinking that my
up-and-down motion could encourage the sperm to go lower and lower and sneak into my
vagina unannounced, to surreptitiously slip past my hair and into my half-closed wrinkles
and folds and, once safely inside me, launch an all-out attack to impregnate whatever
might be in their way. I switched the soap to my other hand and began using a horizontal
motion as I continued to wash my stomach and rid it of anything that might be alive on its
surface. But I still felt the sperm on my skin, swimming there in the soapy shower water,
bobbing their heads up and down to gasp for air and using their tails like rudders to
guide themselves downwards and inwards. To get them to go in the opposite direction, I lay
on my back in the bottom of the tub with my feet propped up on the wall under the nozzle.
The hot water streamed past my feet and legs, flowed over my stomach and rushed downward
toward my breasts, neck and face, following the contour of my body which was sloping away
from the nozzle at a twenty-five or thirty degree angle. My mouth was tightly closed. I
was half afraid one of the sperm might get in my throat, find its way into my alimentary
canal, and then bore through my intestinal wall and invade my eggs from that direction.
I had learned back in ninth-grade health class that
sperm cannot live outside the body for very long, certainly not for the week or two it had
been since Robbie and I were so clumsy and careless. But my knowledge of sperm mortality
couldnt keep me from dreaming up all kinds of strange and unlikely tricks they might
have been able to play on me. I looked in an old medical reference book my father kept on
his bookshelf and learned that there could be 400,000 sperm in just one ejaculation.
Robbie and I must have had sex at least twenty times during January, at least ten or
twelve times since I had last had my period a week or so after New Years Day. I
could do the arithmetic easily enough. Eight million sperm had spurted out of Robbie in
just one month, and they were all aimed straight at me. Robbie and I had usually been
pretty prepared. We almost always used something. But dozens of rubbers and pints of
contraceptive foam would be helpless against such an onslaught. All it took was one little
sperm, one with a particularly long tail that could propel itself through a weak spot in
the latex, one with an extra strong chemical compound on the top of is head that could
help it dissolve the toxins in the foam and render them totally impotent, one that was a
mutant and had two or three tails making it able to rotate like a circular saw blade and
cut its way through anything, one that was a good actor like Robbie, one that could
disguise itself, change its voice, put on a wig and some falsies, and pretend it was one
of the girls.
Some nights I would lie in bed, put my hands low on my
stomach and feel them moving around inside me, all eight million of them. My insides would
twitch and gurgle. The noise and commotion would grow louder and louder. And I would just
know they were building something: diverting streams, clearing trees, erecting scaffolds,
laying foundations, welding beams, pouring concrete, installing pipes and electric
circuits, tuck-pointing walls, painting and papering and sanding and scraping, turning me
into a city of sperm.