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Means of Support
By Caroline Bicks

It's 9:30 on a Tuesday morning, and I'm slinking through the doors of the Harvard Coop. There's no one in the store except for me and a ridiculously hot young salesclerk. He's just the type I would have gone for in college. Probably at a cast party after sucking back a gallon of rum and cokes. Now all I have is a lame tepid latte. And a deadline.

"Excuse me, "I whisper. "Do you carry athletic supporters?"

He looks up from folding his Veritas sweatshirts and gives me a blank stare.

"What's that?"

Oh fuck. I'm going to have to say it. I stare hard at the shower caddy display to the right of his head and spit it out.

"It's a jock strap."

"Oh," he answers. "We don't carry that kind of thing."

I might as well have just puked on him, because I'm clearly the least sexy woman alive.

How did I get here? Twenty years ago I wouldn't have been awake right now, much less cruising the Coop for a banana hammock and defining "athletic supporter" for a guy I'd gladly have made out with.

All I knew was *why* I was here: I'd just dropped my husband, Brendon, off at the hospital for a vasectomy. Before we had pulled out of our driveway a few hours earlier, I had asked him if he remembered everything. This is a compulsive habit I've been trying to tame over the years, but I indulge it at times when forgetting isn't an option -- like, say, when you've left the baby in his carrier on top of the car, or when you're about to let a doctor near your man-parts with a knife.

"Yeah, yeah, of course," he mumbled.

My husband and I are like Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore. He's all about possibilities. He doesn't worry about things until he's already stuck in the honey tree getting attacked by bees. This means that he'll take risks that I won't, and have faith in people in a way that just doesn't come naturally to me. I'd rather ground myself in worst-case scenarios and prepare myself accordingly. That way I'm not surprised when they happen: The house probably will burn down because I didn't unplug the toaster; I will get my identity stolen, it's just a matter of when; and if I call to check in when I'm out of town and Brendon doesn't answer, then he's probably had a heart attack and the kids are playing Yahtzee on his cold, lifeless body. Or making toast in the plugged-in toaster.

Usually this difference in our outlooks works for us. When I'm feeling especially gloomy, he lends me his balloon; and when he's floated too high for his own good, I pop it and bring him back down to earth. When this give-and-take thing works, you actually can't tell where my neurosis ends and his optimism begins.

Still, I wasn't about to trust Mr. Happy Pants on the day of his vasectomy. The doctor had prescribed him a dose of valium to take at home before the procedure -- apparently to "get him in the mood" -- and he was already starting to get groggy as we were pulling out of the driveway.

"Are you 100% sure you haven't forgotten anything?" I asked.

"Yeeeeah," he drawled, his chin hitting his chest.

When we got to the hospital, I let him out of the car and went to park. I watched him lurch toward the revolving doors, and my heart did that flip I've come to know so well since becoming a parent. It sneaks up on me when I glimpse my daughter hanging out, ignored but hopeful, on the fringes of the Cool Girl group, or when I see my son shoving his Webkinz deer into the nap drawer at daycare. It's that mix of total determination and vulnerability that gets me every time.

But this was my husband, not one of my kids. I was definitely treading on some strange new emotional territory here.

By the time I joined him in the waiting room, he was high as a kite.

"I need a jacques shtrap," he slurred.

"What, baby?"

"I fforgot my jacques shtrap."

Seriously? Apparently, there was something he was supposed to bring, and apparently they weren't going to loan him one or let him leave without it. I didn't know who to be madder at, him or the hospital staff. Before I could decide, he was gone. Poof. Like a lamb to the slaughter.

I sprang into disaster mode -- my old familiar friend -- and zeroed in on the doe-eyed receptionist.

"Where can I get a jock strap?"

She hesitated a bit too long. I could feel a Terms of Endearment rant bubbling up inside me: "My husband needs a jock strap in the next 30 minutes! If he doesn't have a jock strap then they won't let him leave! All he's asking for is a lousy jack strap! SOMEBODY GIVE MY HUSBAND A JOCK STRAP!"

I kept my mouth shut, but she must have seen the crazy in my eyes, because she started giving me some half-assed directions to a Target three miles away. If you've ever driven in the Boston area, you know that you don't go anywhere without crystal clear directions and, even then, you're probably still going to get lost. It's a town made for people like me who expect the worst.

So, after pretending to write it all down, I left the office, crushed the piece of paper into a ball, and took the only fool-proof route I knew: straight into Harvard Square.

If only the path that had brought me to this jock strap hunt from hell had been as uncomplicated. Brendon and I have two kids together, but we didn't get them the old-fashioned way. Well, technically we did, but it didn't start the way it happens in cheesy love songs and movies, with him taking me in his arms and saying something like, "I can see my unborn children in your eyes."

This was how I'd always imagined it would happen ever since I started having my Almonzo fantasies. I'd spend hours in my room playing out scenes from Little House on the Prairie where Almonzo would convince me to have crazy sex with him in the barn so I could have his babies, and then I'd go to Doc Baker (after having a fainting episode in the schoolhouse), and he'd tell me I was expecting, and then I'd wait for Almonzo to come back, all sweaty from a day in the fields, to share the blissful news. Then we'd have crazy sex on the table he carved for me as a wedding present.


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