FRESH YARN presents:

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.

But I had to rewrite the script once I met my husband. Early on in the dating process, Brendon claimed he'd be perfectly happy if he never had kids. Not that I believed him when he said this. This was a man who took in his landlord's pit bull after the guy was arrested by the ATF. Parenthood thrives on his type: the kind-hearted optimist. Who else would willingly sign up for 18- plus years of commitment to someone they've never met? In my gut I knew that he was the kind of guy who would easily take the leap into fatherhood.

But I was wrong. He loved holding other people's babies, but never asked me to have his. So, when it came to having kids, I had to become the optimist: "It'll be this great adventure," I promised. "We are going to have SO MUCH FUN."

He wasn't convinced. He reminded me of the sacrifices we'd be making, the permanent changes to our lives, the fact that I like to sleep until noon. I lobbied, cajoled, and wasn't above a little deceptive advertising -- like, "Don't worry, it'll take at least a year." Which I honestly believed. I'd watched enough friends struggle with getting pregnant to know that it doesn't just happen when you want it to. Plus, I was nearing "advanced maternal age" (a fact that the worrier in me secretly loved since it meant I could belly up to the ultrasound bar whenever I wanted). But, as it turned out, I didn't have to wait more than a few months before getting pregnant.

Even though this new "bright, shiny people" me was ready for the ride, I could see that Brendon wasn't. I'm not saying he wasn't there to rub my feet and watch gross birthing videos. But there was this cloud of worry following him around that I didn't recognize, and didn't like. Once our daughter was born, though, we were so absorbed in the everyday, that there wasn't time to think about what we'd left behind. Brendon embraced his fatherhood -- or at least decided to go steady with it -- and we went on our merry, sleep-deprived way for a few years. Drunk with optimism, I pushed for a second kid, too. The sales pitch was a little different this time -- "Every kid should have a sibling," and, "We already have all the stuff, why waste it?" -- but the result was the same. A fast pregnancy and another healthy child. We were crazy lucky. And we knew we were done.

But there was something about the finality of a vasectomy that bugged me. What if I changed my mind? What if Brendon converted to Mormonism and decided to live The Principle? He was born in Utah. It could happen. Plus, what if we were playing with karmic fire by closing the door on having more children? Brendon does this sometimes when he says he can imagine a happy life without kids -- even now that he has them. Hello? Did he not watch a single Lifetime movie? He's just asking for tragedy to strike when he says things like that. I don't want to see our story on TV (even if I could have Melissa Gilbert cast as me).

So, even though I knew the vasectomy was a sensible step, I certainly wasn't going to help him take it. In our house, it's up to me to get Brendon to a doctor's office. He could have an oozing abscess the size of a Ring Ding growing in his mouth and still insist that it's going to go away. That's why I knew he was serious when he started contacting friends for urologist references and then actually following through on them. It turns out there's this whole underground network of guys in Boston who've done it, and they all go to the same doctor -- The Snipper. And before I knew it, Brendon had an appointment with him.

So this was how we'd gotten here: with my husband going under the knife to control a piece of our destiny, and me careening around Harvard Square trying to support him. I never could have imagined this scene twenty years ago, but here it was. And, looking back, its time had come. You see, the problem with being the optimist in a couple is that you look like you don't need any help. Walking around in his "Life is Good" t-shirts, he'd made it look so easy all those years when we were chasing our dreams, losing them, changing them, and diving into jumbo mortgages. It was only after I had to grab the parenting balloon myself that I realized how much work it is to be the one who's always looking up. But he'd still trusted me enough to come along for the ride. And once we were up there, we were dodging the bees together, sharing the stings, but also getting handfuls of the sweet stuff. Now he was ready for us to come down; the least I could do was help him have a gentle landing.

I ran out of the Coop, away from my hunky young salesclerk, and within minutes, was pressing my nose against the window of CitySports. When the saleslady swung the door open at 10:00, I was the first one in. I ran to the back and started scanning the racks of alien merchandise. What the hell was I supposed to choose? Cup? No cup? And how are you supposed to pick size on these things? Jesus -- there's a land mine. I grabbed one of everything, and five minutes later, was out the door heading back to the hospital.

When I got there, it was over. Just like that. I handed the bag to the receptionist, and she passed it through a door in the back. When my husband came out, shaky, but smiling, I expected to feel something dramatic: A major shift in the balance of our marriage; the victory of sterility over hope. But instead, I felt O.K. We'd each given ground and each given support when it came to figuring out our family. We wouldn't be having any more kids, but I think we got something else we needed a little bit more: Because even though he was limping as I helped him to the car, that day we found our equal footing.


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