The air at night is what the astronauts see from space, I imagine; the only difference is that outside the spaceship the inky night void is deadly, while here we are safe. Your hair is the color that makes me believe anything is possible, though in the past few years your visage increasingly resembles that of the Goodwives in The Scarlet Letter. I am amazed to find out that that ruddy, hardy complexion and bracing manner has rubbed off on you; after twelve years at St. Andrews in Sewanee it seems unfairly stereotypical.
Still I like finding out that stereotypes are true, another character’s box I can seal and add to the dusty pile I am storing up for nothing, for later.
“I hate driving,” you say. “It really scares me. You’re so close to death, but in the worst, most mundane way.” I remember that about you, actually, even though I choose to believe you are not afraid of anything because that is how you appear. You’re a good driver, too. How do you always manage to master the things that scare you?
“What about alcohol poisoning?”
“At least I would die doing something I love.”
“Well I hate going out for ice cream.” I say. “Have you ever noticed that everyone who works at an ice cream store is OUR AGE, and there’s always at least one attractive girl and one attractive boy who flirt with each other when they’re scooping the ice cream?” You laugh, I love that laugh, you are the scientist, the one who memorizes statistics about teenage drivers, your laugh the only thing in the world that can ignore my existential concerns and leave them for dead. “Yeah, and then you look around and see all the girls who have nothing to do on Friday night but go out for ice cream, and then I have to worry about their self esteem, watching those two flirt, but I’m actually really only worried about myself.”
“Well then why are we doing everything we hate tonight?”
“Because if we died while we were eating ice cream, with our backs to the hot ice cream scoopers, we would die doing something we loved.”
“Yeah, dying,” you say, serious suddenly in the dark car. “Would you ever get an abortion?” My heart skips a few beats and goes back to normal. You love to talk about birth defects, autism, you want to be that kind of doctor that looks at fetuses, the kind of doctor who puts together perfect babies. You want to engineer other perfect people like you, but the difference is that you were always random, and they will always be contrived. We’ve had this conversation hundreds of times, never seriously. I swallow, the dark makes it easier. I miss Neil Armstrong, who died this year. Around 4:30 PM. I wonder if the dark was easy, all those miles away. There is a syndrome where you feel like crap if you see the Earth from space, where you’ve been all your life and you’re suddenly gone. In a few weeks you’ll be at Emory, away from your wacko mother, we are so excited, and yet.
“No.” We make our left turn, supposedly towards the best ice cream I will ever have, although we’re not even halfway there. I touch my stomach. I have read that when men touch their stomachs it’s a sign of insecurity. I wonder what it means for women. “I’ve thought it about it a lot. But I would never be able to, unless I guess the baby was endangering both of our lives, like that woman with no legs. ”
“But if you had your whole life ahead of you, say.” I know where this whole thing is going, how many times did I tell you to get on birth control? My brother told me a story about helping your dad move your sister’s bed and she had all those boxes of Plan B. We thought maybe it was the eating disorder, that she took them to throw up, maybe. You’re not supposed to use Plan B as birth control, she should know that. But if they were only to lose weight why did she keep them? All those babies lined up under her bed, how could she throw the boxes away?
“For me? I would never. For someone else, well, it depends what the meaning of life is, I guess. If we’re all just random, shots in the dark, then sure, of course, do whatever you want. If we were put here to reproduce, which was the popular meaning of life theory for a while, then no. If we were put here to help sustain the planet, then yes, everyone should stop having babies. If we were put here to make the world a better place for people, that’s really the hard one. Like, which kid’s going to be better, the one you have in a year or the one you have in twenty years. And which you is going to be better, the one who goes to med school or the single mother who worked at McDonald’s all her life to take care of the next Michael Phelps, the next Einstein.”
But the idea of all your talents wasted makes me feel slightly weak. We don’t need this kid, me and my high hopes for you. You’re supposed to laugh at me when I tell you I’m scared of the dark and the future. You’re supposed to tell me the scientific reason I believe in God. You’re supposed to be the one telling me not to keep the baby. You’re supposed to be the one who knows to use birth control.
“But we don’t know why we’re here,” your voice is small, how it used to be before you became so hardy. Was the new red-cheeked gruffness a side effect of being pregnant?
“That’s the problem.” I wonder if the baby, like me, will learn to finish your sentences. “It’s all a gamble, how the world will be different with or without the kid. Chances are, neither of you can change anything. But then, there’s always that other chance, too.”
“What do you think I will feel like when I see my kid in fifteen years?” So exact, you always are with your plans. Already in the way you speak the baby is gone. “Will I think, ‘that’s the same kid I lost when I was eighteen’? Or will I think, ‘I am finally able to give my child the life she deserves’? But worse, what if I regret forever not having this baby, this one specifically? What if every little girl I see for the rest of my life I think, ‘You could have been mine’?”
“I want you to think, ‘I made the right decision.’ But don’t you always?”
I don’t think you said yes, but I wish you had. I wished for you to laugh away my existentialism once more, to make it obsolete, to explain to me, lovingly, once again, that you didn’t believe in all of that. I wanted you to explain to me that you couldn’t bring a baby to college, that your plans for med school didn’t include paying for daycare.
But then, what if I could have your attention for just one night, what if you would sit down with me and sketch out all the possibilities, wait patiently while I tried every possible method of skirting around the universe’s no-previews policy. What if, in all your certainty, you were missing something? The universe seemed to be telling us, Just Guess. I wanted to scream back that, how could you expect me to just keep taking shots in the dark? You wanted to roll the dice, follow the apparent. I wanted see in the ether what was best for all of us.
The Friday night girls were still there when we pulled into the parking lot. The lights were still fluorescent, still flattering on the tanned skin of the two attractive, ethnically-ambiguous ice cream scoopers, a boy and a girl. The store’s employees still giggled as the boy attempted to swat a fly trapped inside the screen door. My stomach still hurt as I walked up to the window, I still thought about the Friday Night Girls. But behind all of this, sweep back the veil, bring out the x-ray, maybe we had seen none of it before, maybe we hadn’t expected any of it.
Allegra Armstrong lives outside of Philadelphia. In her free time she enjoys drinking coffee and exploring the natural world.