Greg’s face beamed a big smile in the small screen at the Family Readiness Center on the base. We had a precious few minutes to talk. We had to try and get it all crammed in, Ronny, my beautiful 18-year-old son, and me. We crowded in to fit into the camera shot.
“I know enough not to ask where you are, Greg. It’s always on a ‘need to know basis’ and—”
“And you never need to know!” he laughed. His voice sounded small and artificial coming through the small speaker. So different from when this tough Marine Gunnery Sergeant was in the same room with me.
Ronny said, “I bet it’s someplace dangerous. It’s always someplace dangerous.”
“Not as dangerous as your mother’s driving,” Greg joked.
“I hear THAT!” Ronny said.
“You keep yourself safe, you hear me,” I said. “You don’t always have to be the ‘one’ to be out there first and doing crazy things.” He had been decorated several times for bravery and also received two Purple Hearts.
“You know I got a secret guardian angel keeping me safe this time and pulling me home,” he said.
“Yeah, I know,” I said holding back my tears. I had a secret of my own that was tearing my heart out. One I wanted to tell Greg but couldn’t find the strength to.
“They’re telling me I have to go. Must be some fun they have planned for us,” Greg said. He was looking to the side, probably at another Marine giving him some info.
“So soon!” There was pleading in my voice.
“Duty calls,” he said. “Ronny, you take care of your mother. You have to fill in for me and be the man of the house while I’m gone. Whatever it takes, whatever needs to get done, you’re the man. Promise me you’ll take your responsibilities seriously and step up. No matter what!”
“I promise, Dad. Mom’s in good hands. You can believe that.”
“Greg, I need to tell—”
“Gotta go! Sara, I love you. Talk again tomorrow. Keep that miracle going and growing! That’s an order!”
The screen went blue with the words “Connection Disestablished” in big white words.
I said almost nothing on the drive home. I made myself a cup of coffee and sat silently at the kitchen table.
Ronny came in and sat across from me. He had just turned 18 and it was his last year in High School. This was the third high school he attended because he was an “army brat”— a kid who moved around because his dad kept getting stationed here, there, and everywhere.
He looked the spitting image of his father when I first met him. We were high school sweethearts, and I knew I would marry Greg the first time he kissed me. There was magic in it that had lasted for twenty-three years, and counting. I couldn’t believe how fast the time had gone by, and I couldn’t believe we were now 41 years old.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” Ronny’s patience finally gave out.
“Just thinking,” I said, hiding the truth.
“C’mon, Mom, I know when something’s up. Is it Dad? You saw him today. He’s back to his old self. Nothing can hurt him when he’s like that. You know that!”
It was true. Greg had a sixth sense about his safety. He knew when he was invulnerable, and he knew when he was in danger of being hurt—or killed. Until recently, he had been in the sourest mood I had ever seen him experience. “I think this is it, Sara. I got a real bad feeling this time,” he had told me. He had never said that before.
Even when he got wounded, all he said before was, “I’m gonna get roughed up a little. Should be fun!” He had that sixth sense.
We had been trying to get pregnant again after he got his promotion. We waited before that. But, he got wounded in a place that made it “impossible” for us to conceive.
Impossible until two weeks ago, the day he shipped out. That’s when I gave him the good news: that I was pregnant. He was ecstatic and said the baby was a sign. It was his safe ticket home. It was the universe telling him he had more to do at home seeing his new child.
He was back to being the Greg whose face I knew I would kiss again, safe and sound.
“What’s wrong, Mom.”
I shook my head. “Ronny, I don’t know what to do.” He reached across the table and took my hand.
“I wanted to tell your father today, but couldn’t.”
“Tell him what?” He had concern and a little fear in his voice.
“Ronny, I’m not pregnant.”
“You … you lost the baby?”
“More like never had a baby. I’m sooo stupid!” Ronny didn’t say anything, and after a minute, I explained: “You know we’re tried to get pregnant again for a real long time. I won’t tell you all the details why.”
“Dad told me about how he got wounded and what happened. How you were the best for understanding and trying and everything.”
“I guess we both wanted to believe so bad we almost willed it to happen against all the doctors had told us. I was a little late—you know what that means, right?” I looked to Ronny and he gave an embarrassed nod. “So I used one of those tests and got a positive on it. I showed your father, and you remember that day.”
“Yeah, it was like the Fourth of July and Christmas all at once. Dad was bouncing off the walls.”
“He shipped out the next day, thinking … believing I was pregnant. Finally pregnant. Only the next day my body proved it wasn’t true. I went crazy! I tried to figure out what had happened.”
“Mom, I’m so sorry. What did happen?”
“After you take the pregnancy test by peeing on it, you wait a while and then look for a ‘plus’ sign to see if you’re pregnant. If it’s a ‘minus’ sign, you’re not. Well, after I left it there, my phone rang. It was your grandmother and we talked. When I came back, there was the ‘plus’ sign.
“I don’t see how a phone call can screw things up,” he said.
“I read up on all the ways the test can go wrong. One is if you wait too long. What was the ‘minus’ sign can sometimes turn into a ‘plus’ sign by adding what they called an ‘evaporation line.’ That happens if you leave it too long.”
“I don’t believe this!” Ronny said. “Dad—”
“I know, Ronny. That’s what’s killing me. I wanted to tell him today, but couldn’t.”
“If he finds out there’s no baby, he’ll go back to being sure he’s not going to make it. He’ll think that’s a sure sign.”
I nodded. Not only would he be disappointed he wasn’t going to be a dad for a second time, but he would start living a self-fulfilling prophecy about his own death.
“Mom, what can we do?”
I shook my head. I had been wrestling with this since my period two weeks before, and I had no answers. “It’s not like I can snap my fingers and be pregnant again, Ronny.”
“How about one of those artificial places.”
“Artificial insemination? They need the husband, the donor, to already have given his sample. You understand what I’m saying?” Ronny nodded. “Besides, that costs money, and everyone in this hick town would know about it. It would get back to your dad over the grapevine in no time.”
“What about, yanno, like just once, you, yanno—with some guy.”
“Ronald Alfred Bannix! Are you saying what I think you’re saying? Your father is the only one I’ve ever been with. I have to deeply love the person I do that with. What on earth were you thinking?”
“It would be better than losing Dad is all I’m saying. Telling him the truth is literally going to kill him. He’ll do things he shouldn’t in ways he shouldn’t, thinking it’s all ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ or all the stuff he believes keeps him safe or puts him in the crosshairs.”
I thought that over, and my mind tried to make sense of it, come up with a solution, or see my way through in some way. “Besides, somebody else’s baby would look like him, NOT like your dad with his square jaw, blue eyes, blonde hair, and high cheekbones. You can’t fake those characteristics that are dominant traits in his family. Look at you, Ronny, you have all those, just like your dad.”
“And I’ll pass down the same looks to my kids, just like Dad did to me?”
“Exactly. Dominant traits for sure. That’s why it could never work, even if I somehow convinced myself that it was all for a bigger and better cause. Believe me, I’ve thought about this for two weeks and there’s no way out. There’s no plan in the world that will—”
“Mom, I got a plan.”
“You do? After five minutes you have a plan that I’ve been going crazy trying to figure out for weeks. Ronny, this is serious. I’m not in the mood for craziness at this point.”
“Just listen, listen for a minute.”
I knew this was almost as traumatic for him as it was for me. So I took a deep breath and tried to be as patient as I could with my son. “Go ahead, Ronny, I’m listening.”
“It’s only a few weeks since you found out, so it’s not like Dad would know, like if the baby’s a little late, yanno more than exactly on the dot nine months.”
“That’s not the point. Babies of course can be late.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. It wouldn’t matter. And we learned in biology that women can become pregnant best around two weeks later.”
“You mean two weeks after their period,” I said. He winced. I had to smile. I thought I would break the tension a little bit by adding to his discomfort with another fact. “A woman is most fertile about two weeks later, when she ovulates.”
“Right, right … ovulates. So, Mom, when do you ovulate?”
This time I was embarrassed. “None of your business.” I HAD, in fact calculated I was going to ovulate tomorrow.
“But, it IS my business, Mom. You said I look just like Dad, you said my kids will look just like me.” He looked at me like that made all the sense in the world. He rolled his hand again an again in that gesture that says, “Come on, get it—tell me what’s next!”
“I’m not following,” I said.
“Mom. It’s so simple. It’s the answer to everything. It’s perfect.”
“Ronny, you have to be a little more plain than that.”
Mom. Just think of this: I’m the donor!” He had this wide grin like he was so proud of himself. Like he had just cured the world of all ills.
“What? The donor? You? My son? A sperm donor? Are you crazy? I already told you we couldn’t use a clinic. And—YOU? A donor? For ME?”
“Not a clinic, Mom. You said everybody would find out. But this way, nobody would ever know. Not in a million years. Not anybody. Especially not Dad. It’s perfect. Don’t you see that?”
“I don’t see anything. You’re babbling. And, you’re making me a little frightened.” His father got just like this when some idea got hold of him. He wouldn’t let it go until he made something happen.
“Mom, I want you to keep telling Dad you’re pregnant.”
“Ronny, I can’t lie to your father. It’s too painful.”
“It won’t be a lie.”
“Mom. I want you and me to be pregnant! I want to do it to you. Me and you!”
“Yeah, Mom, I want us to like … fuck and make a baby.”
My face must have gone frozen when I heard my son’s “brilliant” plan.
Ronny left me stunned. “Think it over, Mom,” he said before going to his room.
That was the most outrageous thing I had ever heard. What could he be thinking? I knew he was only trying to help, but his even telling his mother a thought like that made me wonder about if I had done an adequate job bringing him up.
I had done my best. Being married to a career Marine was tough. I was essentially a single mom a lot of the time. I thought I had instilled good values in Ronny. Maybe his dad being away so much had changed his outlook on me.
I spent the next half hour beating myself up about being a poor parent. The only good thing about that was it took my mind off not being pregnant and having to break that news to Greg.
“Think about it,” Ronny had said. Outrageous. Unfortunately, I did think about it: how wrong it was for my own son to have such a disgusting thought.
Ronny came back to the kitchen and went to the fridge for a can of soda. I avoided looking at him. I wanted him to know I was angry. No—shocked and angry and disappointed. I silently hoped he forgot all about it.