The fantasy is a musical form that switches gears in the middle to be about something else, or even in a different key. Generally essays are composed as sonatas and/or symphonies (same form): a theme is established, reiterated, taken through a variation or two, and comes to a climax followed by five or six conclusions, the last of which is genuine. This essay will be a fantasy: varied and halting, devoid of high points, ceaselessly striving and failing to end. It begins with an intimate revelation: I have never had an abortion. Thirty years of untrammeled feminine heterosexuality, zero pregnancies. I never wanted children, so I used other methods of birth control, and they worked.
For women who want children, it is not as easy to acquire them as it looks. Responsible men shrink from the attendant responsibilities, while other men cheerfully volunteer to help conceive babies they plan to ignore. Thus responsible men may tell strange tales of how they came to be fathers. “My girlfriend the star clinician and medical researcher is pregnant,” a systems architect will say. “It was a chain of coincidences. She’ll only make love if the room is pitch black. Stray photons turn her off. She always wears a massive blue diamond solitaire ring that the Duke of Cornwall gave to her great-grandmother, and she likes to put the condom on me herself. This time the ring got turned around. You couldn’t say that condom had a hole in it. It was literally in shreds!”
“So this woman can snip DNA out of one cell nucleus and transfer it to a different cell nucleus freehand, but she didn’t notice she was cutting a rubber to ribbons with a rock on prongs?” I ask.
In her defense: “She was drunk!”
Today an M.D. Ph.D. can become pregnant as accidentally as a middle-class fourteen-year-old in 1895. A scholar of American literature proposed to me that we call this turn “the surprise narrative,” and I will abide by her suggestion. There is never a sensible time to get pregnant. No stage in any career of any kind—not excepting the careers of housewives and mothers—easily accommodates a baby, nor indeed any child that has not yet emigrated with the intention of wiring home money after it finds work. The presence of a baby makes keeping up with the laundry a baby generates almost impossible, and housewives will attest that it is much more satisfying tidying up if the family never comes home. Yet the longing to have a family remains and must be sated, ideally with babies shared by responsible partners. That responsible men are surprised by pregnancies is hardly surprising, but that responsible women are equally surprised: That is “the surprise narrative.”
Of course, for the surprise to work, you have to oppose abortion. Not on principle or for everyone. Just in your own special case. “I don’t want to have a kid right now, but if I got pregnant in a stable relationship, I wouldn’t get an abortion.” That was the consensus among the students in a feminist seminar I taught. “If it happens, it happens. I wouldn’t use abortion as birth control.”
“You what? Are you fucking crazy?” I asked. “What do you think abortion is? A hair transplant? A knee operation?”
That isn’t what I said, of course, but it’s the thought that counts. I merely drew their attention to their implicit opposition to abortion, and they looked very thoughtful, as feminists. Probably they were thinking how sad I must feel having killed my babies, but, like I said, I’ve never been pregnant. My friends never made abortion sound like something worth aspiring to, so I went the prophylactic birth control route and have never regretted it. I could not rightfully carry one of those “Marriageable men take note: My fertility has been proven, yet I will not saddle you with stepchildren” tote bags n+1 sells. I mean “I had an abortion” tote bags.
Never wanted children: It sounds like some kind of postmodern pose, but my family has boasted oodles of priests, nuns, and other childless persons for generations. Concern that mankind might die out was not widespread in my family. I have never felt the urge to create a being in possession of its own free will and subject it to mine. We all know where that ends. The Bible describes parenthood in all-too-precise allegorical detail. God dwells happily with likeminded gods, the earth is formless and void and everything’s totally fine, but something’s missing: a person in His image. He makes one: Adam. God and Adam have nothing to say to each other. Adam knows basically nothing. Adam is very, very young, and God is way too smart to project.
He makes somebody else in Adam’s image, hoping it and Adam will get along. And boy, do they ever get along. God kicks them out of His garden. When He relents and tries to establish a relationship with their kids, one kills the other out of jealousy. So much for that.
All He wants is for them to be grateful just once, and obedient for maybe ten minutes, and stop killing each other, but no. God longs to erase his mistake and start over, but He can’t bring Himself to exterminate them. Every time He goes for the clampdown, He ends up relaxing the rules even farther. The Flood: He signs on the dotted line, saying they’re incorrigible and He’ll hold them harmless. – Pure self-destructive spite, why did He do that? Even God can’t manage to take Himself seriously? Human sacrifice: Abraham plays along, God saves his ass at the last minute, big reward for Abraham! Hasn’t anybody learned anything? Exile: No biggie, we love Egypt. Exodus: We express our gratitude … to a calf! God calls up Baal and says, Let My people alone! And Baal says, it’s not my fault they worship me. I never did a damn thing for them. That’s probably why they feel so relaxed around me.
Individual punishments, collective punishments, extravagant promises of collective salvation, major gifts to individuals, nothing impresses the now numerous children of God. God can’t even stand to look at them. He calls Jonah to spy on them and tell Him what’s up, and Jonah says, Why bother? You wouldn’t punish them anyway, you loser-slash-sucker. God is getting pissed off.
They ask for a king, He gives them Saul. And all of a sudden they’re happy. What? What is wrong with them? Saul’s son refuses to touch women, falls in love with a shepherd boy, the shepherd boy takes the reins, sings and dances his way through wars, has people killed so he can fuck their wives: These are major highlights as far as everybody but God is concerned. People are happy as never before. Shepherd, Jr. builds himself a luxury temple, marries half the planet: a golden age. Why didn’t I think of that? God says to Himself, His sarcasm now impossible to ignore. He sends prophets to yell at them. Nobody cares.
God says, You have one last chance. I’m coming for a visit. I’m not going to ask you to do anything, because I know you’re not capable of doing anything. You just have to admit I cared enough to come all the way down here to visit. Obviously I won’t show up in one of my more impressive forms such as fire. I was thinking of a guy who’s good with his hands. And God visited, and God’s children ganged up on Him in the worst way and bullied Him just about to death, which broke His heart. And many believed on Him and were saved. But that still wasn’t what God wanted. Far from it! What He really wanted, all that time, was to turn back the clock—to go back to that sixth day, when the world was new, when they lived in the garden, back before Adam got done naming the animals. He could have said, “Adam, these are your options. Pick one. How about the klipspringer? Isn’t it terrific?” But instead He said, “You don’t like these animals? Okay, what did you have in mind?” Adam was several hours old and already as narcissistic as God, and God could have stopped right there. Small kids, small problems. Big kids, big problems: Everybody knows that now. But on the sixth day, there was nobody who could have warned Him.