Baby Hunger

Mr. Barton . . . you're pregnant.”The doctor looks a little like George Clooney and Noah Wyle, as if somebody cut up photos of their faces and taped them together. Something flutters inside of me, kicks hard. My hands slide over the swollen expanse of my stomach, soothing and calming the scared thing floating within.I'm on a shiny silver operating table in the whitest doctor's office I've ever seen. It's bleached, old-bone-white, so blinding it almost glows; the edges of the wall are fuzzy and distorted from the glare. “How do you feel about that?” asks the Clooney/Wyle face, but before I can answer, I wake up. “Nicholas Byron Barton.””It has a nice literary ring to it,” says my ex-girlfriend, Michelle. “But what if it's a girl?”We've been tossing around the idea of having children together. I haven't talked to my boyfriend about this decision yet.queer adj. 1. Deviating from the expected or normal; strange. 2. Odd or unconventional as in behavior; eccentric.I've never felt comfortable on either side of the sexual fence; my orientation at any given time has been what caused me the least discomfort at that moment. Right now, I'm involved with Peter, whom I love very much. But that's right now. Sexuality being as fluid as it is for me, God knows how things will end up down the road.I've just turned 38, and my biological clock is ticking.”Why me?” I ask.”You'd make a great father,” says Martha, huddled close to her lover, Erika. “That's why we both want to have a child with you.”Martha is an attractive boyish brunette with an East Coast accent and a killer smile; Erika is a blond Nordic goddess straight out of a Playboy pictorial. I ponder the genetic and-scumbag that I am-sexual possibilities.”So, how did you want to go about this?” I ask as nonchalantly as possible.Martha leans forward excitedly. “We'd use a turkey baster, of course. All you'd have to do is . . . well, you know. . . .”I finish her thought. “In a cup?”They blush, nodding. Shit.”I'd like to be involved,” I say. “I want to help you raise it.” “Oh, really,” says Erika, crossing her arms and looking at Martha. “We assumed you weren't interested in that stuff.”They share another glance and start backpedaling. That's how it started. “I have a picture of him in every room of the house.” His lover is showing me around their small Laguna Beach apartment, gesturing at the four or five small framed pictures of them in happier, healthier days. My friend-his lover-had passed away several weeks before from AIDS, and this is the first time his lover and I have seen each other since the cremation.”Doesn't it make things worse?” I ask. “Constantly reminded?””It's important for him to be remembered,” he says. “His voice is already starting to fade from my memory, and I feel horrible enough about that. I don't want to forget what he looked like, too.”A couple of weeks later, he gives me a scrapbook. I thumb through it, reverently, like I'm turning pages of a Bible. It's a photo album of ACT-UP clippings, color pictures of me and my friend at various protests. We're both in activist drag: leather jackets, black boots, Levi's and “Silence=Death” T-shirts, holding “Gay Families ARE Traditional” signs outside an Anaheim church. Holding the faded booking papers from our arrest at a health-care protest in Washington, D.C., it's hard to believe that a few thick pages and an urn full of ashes is all that's left of him.With death such a familiar figure for members of my generation, a queer artistic dam seems to have broken, with plays, films, novels and other art flooding into the mainstream. Part flipping the bird to the machine that inevitably swallows us all, part substitute for “real” creation: I may not have any kids, but look at this beautiful painting I just finished! In the end, raising a loving, compassionate human being and letting her loose on the world has become more important to me than anything I've done in the past or will probably do in the future.When my nephew Branden was little, he would fall asleep in my arms, where I would watch his tiny, sleeping face, see his chest rising with each breath, be amazed at the physical similarities between us caused by our common bloodlines. He always looked so peaceful, even in his dreaming-if the wee, puckered smile on his face was any indication. After his father was killed in a car accident, I helped my younger sister raise him for a couple of years. It's the closest I've come to fatherhood. I fed him, changed his diapers, stayed up all night with him when he was sick and comforted him when he had nightmares.Branden's almost 7 now, getting tall, looking more like his late father and less like me. We're crossing the vast black parking lot of the Irvine Spectrum, heading to see the latest Disney movie, and he asks, out of the blue, “Do you think when people see us together, they think you're my daddy?”I know that's exactly what people think when they see us together. They've told me-and I rarely bother to correct that mistaken impression. But I'm surprised it's something that would occur to him. I crouch down to look him in the eyes. “I'm not sure if they do or not,” I tell him. “But if I had a son, I'd want him to be just like you.”He smiles brightly and takes my hand.I want my too-busy life interrupted by the sound of a child's laughter. It would be a welcome alternative to my life now: I do whatever I want whenever I want to, give or take the moments when I ask my lover about it first.Adoption's always an option, but thanks to Pete Wilson, it's difficult for queers. Not impossible, just difficult. Here's a thought: I'm sitting for an interview to see if I'm “fit” to parent, while some civil servant snivels, “And you want a child why?” giving me the once-over twice as she tries to spot latent child-molester tendencies. Fuck that. I want to make one of my own.”It's not always about what you want, Dave,” Michelle says angrily. We're discussing Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and All My Sons, so the conversation naturally turns to families. “I'd love to have a baby with you, but what about me?””You'd have a partner to help you raise it,” I say-quickly, because I know where this is heading. “You know I'd be there for you whenever you need anything.””I'd want to live with you,” she says. “I don't want to live alone and be pregnant. I'd need the attention.””We can work that out, okay?” I wait, but she doesn't look at me. “So what's the problem?”Her face becomes a gray storm, flashing and dark. “You're already living with Peter. I'd have a partner but not a lover. You can have your cake and eat it, but I don't even get to sit at the table.”Peter is young enough that it's hard for him to get a handle on the kind of commitment necessary to raise kids. I doubt he's given it any thought outside of the one or two times I've brought it up. Yet when I watch him play with my nieces and nephews, he's so very gentle and understanding that I know he'd make a helluva father. He's almost childlike when he gets around them. I'm jealous because I'm afraid I'm already getting too old to remember back that far.Michelle's doctor tells her she better make some decisions about whether she's going to have children. She wants to wait a year.I've talked to Peter, too. He says he's too young to think about it now, and when he does it, he wants to adopt.The next year promises to be an interesting one. Until that time, all I can do is dream. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

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