Joy


My girlfriend Joy said she was carrying my child. 

“My child?” 

“Our child,” Joy added. 

But clearly my choice. 

Or not. A slip of the tongue is sometimes just a slip of a tongue. Joy was tricky— “complicated.” Simply, Joy foresaw marriage and children. The question was thus as it was before I questioned it—“Now, what did I want to do with my child?” She’d already kept hers. 

Down the street, toward West Hollywood, over fussy fish tacos and obscene lime-tart margaritas, we’d apparently agreed that “we were not ready.” Joy had reversed her position. I agreed. Two votes to one absentee. “Our” child was premature. 

Joy was Californian. We drove out to Joshua Tree. 

I had asked for, but did not get, the weekend off from my USC bookstore gig. I had not elaborated that my girlfriend and I were going to abort the fetus we had accidently created. Was that right? Had it really been an accident? It had been on my part. Parenthood is too important to plan. 

My boss, name tag over his dusty white shirt (whiter tee-shirt underneath), asked for a perfunctory explanation—Death in the family. Philosophy exam. That sort of thing. 

“Um, I can’t really say, but I’m just saying that it is important, and I need the weekend off.” 

“Sorry. We have no one to cover.” His faux pause irritated.

“But—” 

“Sorry.” 

He wasn’t. 

Naturally, I didn’t show. Monday, I discovered I’d been fired. Later, a huge bill arrived for the free graduate philosophy classes I’d been receiving as a “member of the USC family.” The 80s. Nowadays I would no longer be a member of the “USC community.”

I’m tempted to write that my master’s degree, bookseller career, and fatherhood were all aborted in one weekend, but it wouldn’t be true. All three would eventually grow exponentially. Who knew? 

Joy and I drove a hundred plus miles on the I-10 and parked in a gravel turn-out edged by boulders. Back then you could drive right in. 

We were to hike into Joshua Tree’s desert for three days without much water, a few apples, peanuts and the good beef jerky. Hot days, cold nights. 

The first night, Friday, we slept in our sleeping bags atop heavy Mexican blankets. Ants crawled on us but didn’t bite. Lots of mice. They’d get into your sleeping bag like that teacher or uncle who likes to tickle you. Saturday morning, we put our boots back on after checking for scorpions. We hiked up and along a backbone of reddish, almost bulbous rocks which were according to Joy over a billion years old. 

“That’s like a million million?” I said. 

“No, it’s a thousand million.”