My girlfriend Joy said she was carrying 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.
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.”
“I knew that.”
Joy loved Joshua Tree. The Pinto. The Serrano. The Chemehuevi. The Cahuilla. Thousands of years of rock art: stick figures, childlike suns, tally marks. Joy would never forgive the otherwise forgettable Governor Pete Wilson who’d allowed a cache of ancient rock art to be cleared for a few score of McMansions. The Americans.
On a previous hike, Joy had drawn my attention to a pile of rocks where a frog was paralyzed, crucified really, between a snake’s two fangs. We’d both heard the rustle, but she’d found the source—the animal impaled like some factory worker by some machine. The frog’s chest filled a small, narrow crevasse. We could see its tiny heart beating behind a patch of white skin. Then the snake swallowed the frog whole just like on TV.
Two crows (ravens?) picked up our trail and followed us for hours—miles. They occasionally let out weird sounds like a pickaxe hitting granite. Sometimes it seemed like they’d found something more interesting, but then they’d return, following us from above.
Joy and I had long stopped talking. Joy constantly swallowed pennyroyal and other natural poisons. It was very hot. Late Saturday afternoon, after hiking for almost eight hours with little food or water in intense heat, Joy disappeared into the brush.
Later I would regret not looking. Her word would be all I’d ever have.
I had not looked for my, our, dead (dying?) fetus (oyster?) as it slithered out between her legs amidst the teddy bear cholla, rocks and creosote. Under the sun I stood still. I did nothing. I did not know anything was happening. Joy had not said anything. Nor did she say anything from behind the bushes. She was taking a shit for all I knew. I was in some other headspace. The black birds were circling above. Really? Like vultures? Ridiculous. Hungry. What did they know? I felt a cramp wanting to take over my right calf.
Joy walked out after fifteen minutes or so.
“Oh, okay, um, great.” I wondered if the crows or ravens would eat it.
“I buried it.”
Something would eat it.
Some anti-Carlos Castaneda episode.
Over the years, I came to realize the obvious—not everyone has had such an experience. I figured I should write about it; deliver the detail. I still am prone to mistakenly believing everyone has similar experiences and just interpret them differently, that life is not so unforgivingly individuated.
A few years ago, I saw with my own eyes another partner’s miscarriage, a quasi-child of ours slid out onto the passenger’s seat of my truck like a wet, dead lizard. We put it and the paper towels in a plastic bag that moved around the backyard for a while before I threw it out.
Joy and I walked part way back. Camped out. This time it seemed the ants were biting. Seriously. Ridiculous. I’m not being literary. But no mice. We zipped our sleeping bags together and spooned. Warm against cold. Joy had many abdominal cramps. There was blood. Sunday, mid-morning, we walked back to Joy’s turquoise VW bug. We drove to that “cool” diner with its Bruce Springsteen shrine where no one has sat since The Boss got up and left a big tip. La Vita Nuova. We were moving to Mexico on January 1st.
99 Hooker works with video, sound and text to create fixed products and live performances. Joy is part of his novel-in-process Bombshells.