Small Rooms

by

10/27/2018

Neighborhood: Manhattan

There’s plenty of porn here, stacked neatly beside a DVD player, polished, spray-tanned bodies that fail to arouse. Opposite the flat screen TV is a small couch, a loveseat really, but I prefer to stand. The entire space is laughably small, more janitor’s closet than state of the art fertility clinic in Manhattan. “Down the hall and to the left,” said the technician. “Press the buzzer when you’re ready.”

Just like that a carefree adolescent discovery is transformed into the single most important event of my life. It doesn’t make you go blind after all. Sometimes it can shape your destiny. Decades ago I would have led a childless existence. Now through in vitro fertilization I have a chance to negotiate with nature, to perform inside this booth slightly larger than a confessional, and then suffer its consequences or celebrate its joy. Like any underdog faced with overwhelming odds, I’m feeling a bit woozy.

I reach inside my satchel for my own stash, DVDs purchased for this special occasion, a vintage classic from the seventies, shapely platinum-blondes seducing handymen and astonished pizza boys, and a Brady Bunch parody where Alice-the-Maid turns out to be quite a vixen.

The plastic cup for my sample isn’t much bigger than a shot glass and it’s within reach on the counter. Lurid images flash on screen, accompanied by a groovy, percussive soundtrack. There is enough lube here to slather my entire body, slip through a crack in the door, and make my escape if necessary.

Everything is where it should be, everything is just right- except for my head. I consider the technician down the hall. I don’t want to keep him waiting. I ponder the receptionist scheduling new clients and the sobs of the heartbroken whose efforts here were futile, one woman crying for her mother when she received the news. I obsess over the drugs inside of me, something called Clomid to stimulate sperm production, and I curse the Cialis that’s currently losing the fight. I recall the blunt conversation my fiancé had with her mother when we discovered our little problem. “See,” she said, “I knew it wasn’t you.”

Scene after scene unfolds and all I do is stare down at myself and tremble. Truth be told, I’m completely dumbfounded, consumed with the knowledge that I am the one to blame for this. This isn’t the first small room that’s changed the course of my life. At seventeen, the only thing I wanted to be was big. My first Google search for male infertility and anabolic steroids produced this headline: Public Enemy #1, an endeavor so fruitless it can be used as a contraceptive. So I’m poised half-naked and sweating, flaccid and filled with dread, while an endless loop of porn plays before me, the perfect punishment for vain and hollow selfishness.

*************

I used to tell myself that I was an athlete not a jock. I didn’t stalk the hallways of my school wearing my game jersey. I didn’t push smaller kids into lockers for fun. I trained alone, long and hard, like it was religion. Somewhere along the way my obsession ran too deep. I stumbled down a wormhole, entering the realm of the Long Island muscle-head.

The guy who ran our gym was huge and back then huge was all that mattered. He kept a picture of himself in his barren shoebox of an office that my friends and I would gaze upon. There he was, number Ninety-Seven posing with his teammates, the 1987 scab replacement team for the New England Patriots. It didn’t matter that he’d played during an NFL walkout and that fans had jeered when he took the field. We didn’t care that he’d never recorded a single tackle in NFL history, or that he referred to women as “pigs” and wore his sweatpants up to his ribcage to conceal a layer of fat. None of this mattered to the kids who were in awe of him. He was Ninety-Seven on that wall and number one in our hearts.

Since I was always there, I took a job cleaning up, vacuuming, straightening dumbbells, and polishing the machines. I’d work out for a while then go paint a wall. Do some push-ups, sweep a hallway. On the night of my senior prom I did flips on a trampoline until it was time to lock up and go home.

Ninety-Seven’s presence was everywhere, his top-heavy, pigeon-toed frame cruising the aisles, barking insults to teenagers who took it as high praise. After hours, a tribe of men would convene outside his small office, bouncers, bodybuilders, and semi-pro has-beens, all of them sporting the same brutish beefiness as Ninety-Seven. They’d comment on each other’s physiques until the door opened and everyone got what they wanted. One evening I was invited inside. I understand that it was done to keep me quiet, but at the time I considered it an honor. I came to be known as The Experiment, and I cherished this nickname as though it actually meant something.

Every subculture has its time worn traditions. Ninety-Seven dispensed drugs the way the Godfather granted favors, humbled men standing reverently before his desk while he filled a hypodermic needle with synthetic testosterone. He’d inspect each syringe for bubbles then beckon the next in line to step forward. Each stunning, narcissistic moron would then offer the Head Moron a slab of rump to inject. “Bryan,” he said to me that night, “if you ever tell anyone about this I’ll put your head through that wall.”

The hormone that had been inserted into me was a man-made, oil based solution administered by a 23 gauge needle. Anabolic steroids interfere with male fertility by tricking the body into thinking it doesn’t have to produce its own testosterone. The follicle stimulating the hormone is never released and the body produces little to no sperm. These effects are reversible, but only if one is mature and wise enough to stop taking the drug.

That summer I reported to college training camp with the same enhanced muscles you might find on a racehorse. I’d taken shots to get big and pills to get ripped. When it was time to bench press for the weight coach I did as many reps as any linebacker, hefting weight that my tendons and ligaments were never designed to support. There was no reason for a punter/placekicker to be that strong. I’d become a tightly wound, juiced-up fraud. Years later, football long behind me and Ninety-Seven’s gym closed, I continued to take an over the counter steroid called androstenedione. It wasn’t as potent as the injections, but it kept my delusions of male strength and virility alive. In fact, the only reason I stopped was because it was made illegal.

*************

I’m standing here up to my neck in irony and it serves me right. This wasn’t a single mistake I can attribute to youth. I’ve earned this defeat over a period of decades. In desperation I switch DVDs and try again. It seems impossible that anything good will come of this.

The premise of the next movie is ridiculous and for some outlandish reason exactly what I need, fake college pledges riding clown-like bicycles down a hallway in the nude, ponytails swaying, naked knees pumping high. Lo and behold, a stomach clenching specimen is produced and secured inside the container. I ponder the scene once more before turning it off. The extraordinary effort these humanitarians put forth into balancing atop those bicycles will never be forgotten. I truly hope every one of them has moved on to brighter things.

I discover later that what little sperm I produced had very low motility. It wouldn’t swim and had to be injected directly into my partner’s eggs, resulting in eight B+ fertilizations and one precious A. The technician appears and I make the handoff.

And what of the woman who will have these eggs placed inside her uterus anticipating a healthy pregnancy, the one who administered fertility shots to her abdomen for twenty-one days, suffering headaches, blurred vision, and nausea only because I was unable to resist the temptation of small rooms, the one who found the clinic, made the appointments, and never judged or questioned her partner’s foolish past? She prefers to stay out of it. It is the one and only condition to her unconditional love. Should anyone ask for her version of this narrative, she would not have one. She did what needed to be done and that is all.

Before exiting the room I decide to pay it forward, leaving the DVD inside the machine for the next anxious hopeful. My fiancé and I have run the gauntlet. After insemination, all of New York City becomes our waiting-room.

************

In the great expanding mansion of my life there is a hallway containing three small rooms. The First and Second are forever sealed and the only one that matters is the Third. Our one and only perfect A now stands for Aubrey. Her room is warm and cozy and guarded by Mickey, the wilds of Brooklyn just outside her window. She’s already a smart and fanciful girl about town, a being so lovely her sleeping form puts me in awe, slumbering peacefully in a world that will soon be hers.

***

JB McGeever’s collection of essays, “Small Rooms and Others” will be published by Unsolicited Press in the fall of 2019.

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§ 2 Responses to “Small Rooms”

  • bruce stasiuk says:

    This piece is brilliant. Interesting from the
    first sentence to the last.

  • Kerriann Clark says:

    Bry-
    Your writing always inspires the want to be writer in myself. Your exquisite choice of words, placement of sentences and paragraphs that leave me longing for the next, this piece is the most raw I think I’ve read of yours. Your honesty and truths I find the most attractive about this story but aside from that, I empathize your past and your need for selfishness on so many levels.
    The fear you possess is another identification I can make, different circumstances but fear is fear. As you described the worry of taking to long in that room I felt anxiety flood my being. Although, I’ll never experience your small room situation, I too experienced rooms not quite as small, having invasive testing that felt much like a violation more than tests and put hopes into the hands of technicians like you did.
    Your past experiences with taking anabolic steroids must have been so difficult to admit. I admire the honesty of your past,as it unfortunately damaged your present. I believe our pasts are paved with dark secrets only we know and you unlocked the door for everyone to read. Brilliant
    Love you soo much,
    Kerri

§ Leave a Reply

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