5230 by Joan Sutton

Samantha set her alarm clock for 5 a.m. every day of the week—including weekends. She had the volume set on two and kept it on her side of the bed not to wake her husband Gene. The soft sound of her alarm lifted  her up with out a moment of lag time. She reached over to turn off the alarm carefully, not

to disturb the fragrant bouquet of flowers that decorated her nightstand. She slowly opened the side drawer to pull out her digital thermometer along with a monthly graph tracking her ovulation schedule. She always took her temperature three times, then took the average to be sure of accuracy. Every twenty eight days, she waited for a day like today. Her temperature spiked up which signified this was the first day she was ovulating; the egg was about to drop and she had forty eight hours to fertilize. Samantha smiled to herself and took a deep breath. Her stomach tickled with butterflies, just as it did every time the thermometer gave her the inside tip. For the last ten months she had been trying to conceive, every month she had the same feeling; this was going to be the month.

Gene slept soundly. He never flinched when her alarm went off. Samantha silently slipped out of bed and crept to the kitchen to brew her fertility tea. She had been seeing a Chinese medicine man that specialized in fertility. He prescribed her a tea that she was meant to drink the days she ovulated preferably before she had intercourse. The tea looked like bark and twigs, smelled awful and tasted even worse, but she drank it gladly.

After she gulped down her fertility potion she walked down the hallway that led to the bathroom. Pictures of Gene and Samantha from around the world decorated the walls. They had pictures from Rome, Venice, Mexico, Hawaii, and from their Tahitian honeymoon. They loved traveling the world and although it was a financial struggle—Samantha made sure every year they traveled somewhere new.  In the center of all of these photos, was their wedding portrait. It was only three years they had been married, but they had been together for a total of ten. Samantha stopped and looked at the picture of them in Rome in front of Trevi Fountain. The trip to Rome was four years before they were married; she remembered tossing the coin into the fountain as she wished Gene would propose. She was so anxious to get married back then and to start a family, but as she gazed into their past, she realized the memories they created traveling around the world were priceless. She knew soon all their time would be devoted to the new little life they were about to create and everything in their life was actually timed just perfectly.

She stepped into the bathroom to brush her teeth and smooth fragrant body cream all over her body. She silently slipped back into bed and pressed her soft naked body against Gene. She let out a soft breath at the nape of his neck and tucked one hand under his boxers pretending she was still asleep. Samantha knew she would need to seduce her husband because he didn’t believe in planned sex. He felt that a baby would be made out of love, not charts or teas or books. She agreed, but she also knew that a little extra information wouldn’t hurt—especially because she was already thirty four and her clock was ticking big time. Gene was easy to seduce in the morning; he always woke up ready. Her morning maneuvers never failed and their sex was always great. She laid there after in a moment of bliss catching a waft of the flowers. This was surely going to be the month; she would bet anything on it.

***

Two years had passed. Samantha’s hopes and butterflies disappeared. She was depressed and desperate. She went through every fertility and hormone test possible, everything came back normal. Nothing was wrong with her. She went to eastern doctors, western doctors, acupuncturists and even a fortune teller. She still did her monthly chart religiously, but she didn’t hide it any more. The digital thermometers and months of charted graphs cluttered her side table. The flowers were gone. The morning seductions turned into a push to wake him up. The sex was very clinical and quick—far from the love making they once knew. She kept a triangle foam pillow under her bed that propped up her hips so when they had sex the sperm would swim down stream. After they finished, she didn’t have the feeling of hope; she had the feeling of despair. She felt empty. Every month she had the same thought; it wasn’t going to happen this month.

Gene also wasn’t happy. He argued that the sex was like a job and Samantha just needed to relax. He became irritable and moody, which was very unlike him. He normally took everything lighthearted and with a sense of humor, that is one of the reasons Samantha fell in love with him. She was always the one who worried and he was always cheerful. He told her she was too uptight to get pregnant, part of her believed him. Mostly Samantha felt guilt. She had an abortion when she was twenty-two years old and never told Gene. That happened years before they ever knew each other and she felt that it didn’t have anything to do with him. It was her skeleton in the closet and she would take it to the grave.

***

Samantha had built a close relationship with her gynecologist, Dr. Lee. Mostly because with all the testing she was a frequent patient—far from the annual meeting most women have for the dreaded pap smear. Dr. Lee also admitted to having trouble conceiving her second child and copped to needing to use fertility drugs. This provided Samantha with a sense of comfort—and hope. After Samantha’s last high tech and painful check-to-see-if-the-tubes-are-blocked test result came back normal, her doctor insisted Gene get a sperm test. Dr. Lee had suggested months ago that he may have slow swimmers, but Samantha was convinced it was her bad karma that kept her from pregnancy. Dr. Lee gave the paperwork for a lab test and a specimen cup to Samantha to give to Gene. All Gene had to do was jerk off in the cup and drop it off at the lab within the hour. The next day Dr. Lee would get the results faxed to her office.  It took Gene over a month to do the test. During those weeks, he constantly picked fights with Samantha and would drive off in anger. He told Samantha her paranoia was the reason she wasn’t pregnant yet. She should really cool it with all these tests and just let it happen naturally.

***

"Hi Samantha…it’s Dr. Lee. Do you have a moment?"

"Sure."

"I have the results from your husbands sperm count. There is no sperm present."

"I’m sorry…what did you say?"

"No sperm. Your husband’s test came back with zero sperm count. A count in normal range would be around 60 million per milliliter."

"Samantha, are you there?"

"Yes. Sorry. I’m just really confused. I’ve never heard of that. Zero…like none? Are you sure? What does it mean?"

"It’s a condition called Azoospermia. Unless……well, are you sure he didn’t have a vasectomy?"

"Yes I am sure. I mean, I think I’m sure. I have to talk to him. What else could it be?"

"It’s rare, but some men are born with a blockage and the sperm never make it to the ejaculation. Do you want me to explain this to him directly?"

"No. I should tell him. I’ll tell him he can call you if he has any questions. I’m sorry—I have to go."

"Samantha, I suggest you see a specialist. I can give you a referral."

"I have to go. Thank you, Dr. Lee. Can you please just leave the information with the receptionist? I have to go. I’ll call later this afternoon."

Samantha sat at her desk for a moment in silence, too in shock to cry. She was at work and had to maintain her composure, but a million thoughts were racing through her head. Did her karma poison her husband? What skeletons did he have in his closet? How could he have zero sperm—did he get a vasectomy? She immediately got on the internet and googled Azoospermia which she had never heard of and couldn’t spell. She knew Gene would never call the doctor. He felt like doctors were just in the business for the money, especially Dr. Lee. He believed that was the reason she ordered so many tests for Samantha. She wanted to get as much information as possible before she told her husband. She wanted to be armed with answers—with hope.

Samantha worked as a copywriter at an ad agency. Amy was the primary graphic artist and over the years they had become close friends. For the last four years, they’ve worked together making ad campaigns for various personal care products like shampoos and sunscreens. Amy was married also and her husband did have a vasectomy. She and her husband decided long ago that kids were not in their future. Amy was Samantha’s confidant. She knew all about Samantha’s quest to have a baby. She knew all of the tests she had been doing over the last two years and she even knew that Gene was having a sperm test. Not too long after Dr. Lee’s phone call, Amy walked by Samantha’s office and smiled in at her. Samantha motioned to her to come in. She walked in and pulled up a chair; she could tell Samantha was distressed.

"Amy," she whispered, "Gene doesn’t have any sperm."

"Shit." Amy was in almost as much shock as Samantha and had no idea what to say to her. She assumed Gene had a vasectomy and never told Samantha, but didn’t peep a word. They both just sat there. Samantha dropped her head in her hands and covered her eyes.

"I have to go. I can’t concentrate on work."

***

That afternoon Samantha walked into her house but somehow it looked different. Empty. Dark. For the last three years everything she did, she did it knowing she could have a baby in nine months. She bought a SUV, she had a spare room painted in soft yellow, and she even hired an assistant at work to take her job while she was on maternity leave. She passed on attending weddings and planning any trips just incase she would be pregnant and couldn’t fly. The hope of her bearing a child was taken from her today. And now she needed to tell her husband he had no sperm. No manhood. No hope in creating a life.

She waited. And waited. She tried calling his cell phone but it went straight to voice mail. He was extremely late; she wondered if somehow he knew he was coming home to such news. Finally, he walked through the front door. He was calm and with no expression, not his cheery self. He kissed her on the cheek and apologized for not calling. He said he had to work late and his phone was out of juice. She sat him down and just blurted it out.

"I got your sperm count back today. You don’t have any sperm. Did you have a vasectomy?"

"What? Slow down. What are you talking about? No I didn’t have a vasectomy. What’s going on?"

"Dr. Lee called me today and said you have no sperm." Her eyes welled up with tears, but she held them back.  "It’s a condition called Azoospermia. I looked it up on the internet. She said you could call her for more information."

"Her test is wrong. How can I not have sperm?"

"She said we need to see a specialist. I made an appointment for Monday. I don’t know what our options are or what to do. I love you. I’m sorry." The tears she was holding back slid down her cheeks.

"I love you too." Gene held her tight.

The following Monday their fears were confirmed by a urologist specializing in fertility. He ran another test that delivered the same results: Gene had no sperm. Samantha’s eyes funneled tears as the doctor went over their options for having a baby: surgery, adoption or a sperm donor. The chances of a successful surgery were one in five hundred and cost seventeen thousand dollars. Adoption seemed too complicated and expensive. A sperm donor would give Samantha the opportunity to physically have the child and at least they would know fifty percent of the child’s genes. But she couldn’t imagine having someone else’s child. With an office decorated with family pictures of the doctor and his look a like son, it was obvious he couldn’t know their pain. The doctor concluded their appointment with a line they were sure he fed to all of his completely hopeless patients, "You know, the father of the child is the one who gets up in the middle of the night when the baby’s crying."

Gene was very upset on their ride home and refused to discuss any of the options. He told Samantha she needed to cool it on the baby thing and just focus on her own life. He told her he didn’t want to think about any baby for at least six months. Not one word. He told her he wasn’t even sure if they should have kids. She was too obsessive. But her clock was ticking, she couldn’t stop thinking about it and he couldn’t make her.

As soon as they got home, Gene raced off in his car and didn’t come home for hours. His phone was off and she couldn’t get a hold of him. When he finally came home, his eyes were glazed. He walked over to Samantha and wrapped his arms around her without saying a word. She wondered if he was crying. When he let her go, he held her shoulders at arms length, looked her in the eyes and told her he loved her. Samantha could see the pain in his eyes and knew he was suffering far more than she was. She didn’t ask one question.

***

"Amy, come in here for a second." Samantha summoned Amy in her office. "Listen to this." Samantha pressed play on her computer with the volume just loud enough for them to hear. A deep voice answered questions about his family, career, literature and even movies. Samantha pressed pause. "This is him. This is 5230. Doesn’t he sound cute? His mom is from Jamaica and his dad is American. He sounds so smart. And guess who his favorite singer is—Seal. He’s perfect!" She smiled with excitement and had a mild case of butterflies in her stomach. "My favorite singer is Seal! We’re only two months apart in age. I’m older. He’s a Cancer. Did you hear him say that Trading Places was one of his favorite movies? Mine too! He’s the ideal donor." Amy smiled and shook her head. She was glad just to see her friend happy for the first time months.

Samantha searched sperm donor databases every night when Gene wasn’t around. He would be upset if he found out what she was up to; he had no idea online sperm banks existed or the fact that Samantha had a platinum level account. She knew everything about artificial insemination. She knew how many vials it took for regular insemination, in-vitro fertilization, how much each vile cost, the process to get the sperm, the legalities, and quality assurance. She knew the procedure like she knew the alphabet.

Once she found 5230, she became obsessed with him. He was a USC grad, six foot four, green eyes and dark skin. Every night she would open a bottle of Cabernet, turn on the computer and escape. There was a certain amount of information about the donors that was free, their height, weight and ethnicity. If you want more detailed information, you needed to pay per report—twenty five dollars to see a baby picture, eighteen to view his entire family history, twenty two for his audio interview and seventeen for his written essay. Samantha only had the courage to order one report at a time and she usually ordered them once a week. She ordered his family history first. He wrote about it siblings, his aunts and uncles and of course his parents. His aunt had breast cancer and died; she imagined how 5230 supported his mother during that awful time. Next she ordered his personal essay. She analyzed his handwriting and came to the conclusion he was artistic because his writing was neat for a man. She was also delighted he liked dogs; she didn’t trust people who didn’t like animals. Finally, she ordered the audio interview. She listened to it over and over. He had a sexy deep voice. She wondered what kind of cologne he wore. Did he drink fine wine? She felt like she knew him, she fantasized about what their baby would look like. 5230 was perfect.

After reading and rereading 5230’s essay and history, Samantha realized it was 11 p.m. and her husband wasn’t home from work yet. He had been coming home late, but she never got angry. She enjoyed her evenings alone and the extra money on his paycheck would really help out, money was unusually tight lately. Something about tonight seemed different. She suddenly got a pit in her stomach, something wasn’t right. Where was her husband? She followed her gut and pulled out his old cell phone bill. The same number came up again and again, more times than her number. Whose number was it she thought. The pit in her stomach got worse. She knew she had to dial the number. An answering machine picked up, "Hi, it’s Heather. Leave me a message and I’ll call you back," in a young flirty voice.

"Fuck! My husband’s cheating on me!" Her heart was racing a mile a minute.

Not five minutes passed when Gene walked through the door.  Samantha could hardly speak. She could hardly breathe. "Hi honey", he said and kissed her on the cheek. Samantha was frozen. He walked toward the bathroom. Now she knew why he took a shower every night he came home late. He’s washing off the sex sweat from Heather the whore. In the fifteen minutes he was in the shower, she packed a suitcase full of his stuff and left it by the front door. He walked out of the bathroom still in his towel; Samantha was waiting for him in the hallway. He stared at her confused. She looked at him in the eyes and calmly said, "Get the fuck out."

"What are you talking about?"

"Get the fuck out! And you know why. I spoke with Heather and I know every thing!" Samantha bluffed.

"Yeah, we’re kicking it. It’s just sex—it doesn’t mean anything."

Samantha almost threw up. She screamed at the top of her lungs. "I’m your wife!" She started to cry and began beating on his arm like she was pounding tough meat. "I’m your wife!" Gene grabbed her and pulled her in trying to hold her. She cried, pushed him away and yelled, "Get out! Get the fuck out! I never want to see you again! I hope you hate yourself as much as I hate you! You ruined it all. I hate you!" Her voice became unrecognizable. She pulled their wedding picture off the wall breaking the glass as she threw it on the wood floor. Splashes of her blood stained the wall as she grabbed the Trevi Fountain photo. She slammed it up against the wall breaking the glass then put it right in his face and yelled, "I can’t believe I fucking wished for this! I hate you!" As she grabbed for more, Gene quickly put on a pair of shorts, grabbed the suitcase and left without a shirt or shoes on. "That’s right, leave you mother fucker! Get out!" She continued breaking every picture on the wall as she cried out loud. When there were no more pictures left, she crawled into the bathroom and cried on the floor for hours.

Sometime around 4 a.m. Samantha mustered up the strength to scrape herself off the bathroom floor and get into her bed. She tore up the months of fertility charts that cluttered her side table as she cried. She continued crying like a baby through the sound of her alarm that went off at 5 a.m. Her eyes were so swollen and red it burned when she blinked. She didn’t get one minute of sleep but she got dressed and went to work. She had no choice. If she didn’t put one foot in front of the other she would stay in bed and cry forever.

***

Two weeks later, she agreed to meet Gene at their house. He told her he had been staying in a motel since she kicked him out. During that visit, he admitted to Samantha it wasn’t just Heather he was involved with; his other lover was cocaine. He admitted to her that he started freebasing cocaine two years ago but he was trying to quit. He told her she was too much pressure for him with the baby thing and he needed an escape. He told her he loved her and he was stupid. Samantha was shocked. She slept next to her husband every night and did not even have a clue he was on hardcore drugs. She felt dirty. She felt ignorant. She wasn’t naïve but felt like a complete fool. He pleaded to her for help and she couldn’t turn her back on him. Samantha helped him get into a rehab, but it didn’t last. He was kicked out for multiple relapses. She helped him get into a second rehab; it ended with the same result. She went to Al-Anon meetings, personal therapy and even went to marriage counseling with him. But nothing worked. He was still lying and using. He swore on his mother’s life he wasn’t seeing Heather anymore, but Samantha monitored his phone bill and knew the truth.

Gene went down hill so fast Samantha felt like she didn’t even know him. His skin got a grey tint. She had to stop seeing him because it broke her heart. The last time she saw him was at their house when he stopped by to pick up some of his things. Somehow during that visit, he managed to steal her checkbook and started cashing forty dollar checks with her foraged signature. He cashed about fifteen checks before she caught on. He cashed five checks in just one day. She cried as she imagined him walking in the bank every hour strung out with grey skin needing more drugs. She closed her account, changed her phone numbers and filed for divorce. His betrayal broke her heart and their marriage. She could never trust him again. She could never ever go back.

Samantha knew that to save herself she had to abandon her marriage. She wished she could save Gene. She wished she could go through the rehab for him. She would’ve given him her arm if she knew it would somehow heal him. But that wasn’t an option. And every book and meeting that she went to told her the same thing. Drug addicts destroy every thing in their path and if you don’t want to go down with them—you need to get out.

***

A year passed since the divorce—the pain was less but still not gone. She spoke to Gene one last time just weeks before the divorce was final. He pleaded with Samantha to take him back but he had living with Heather the entire time. He claimed he was off drugs and Heather was just a back up; Samantha was really his soul mate. Samantha loved Gene more than anyone she had ever loved in her life, but the drugs he chose over her raped their life together life and she would never trust him again.

Samantha walked into Amy’s office and smiled. "Hey Ames, any chance you want to go for a drink?"  Amy had other plans but knew by the look in her friend’s puppy dog eyes she couldn’t say no. She knew Samantha well enough to know when she really needed support and she knew her husband would understand.

They went just around the corner at a restaurant happy hour and sat at the bar eating pretzels and drinking margaritas. A tall, dark and handsome man sat in the chair next to Samantha and smiled. She dismissed his flirty greeting and immediately turned away. She couldn’t imagine dating but he was too delicious to ignore. She turned to take a second look at tall, dark and handsome and shyly slipped him a smile. He introduced himself as Zach. She introduced Amy first, then herself. He explained he just finished an interview for a men’s magazine on the fourth floor of their building. He was waiting for traffic to die down before hitting the road. Zach told them he was a graphic designer and with every word passing through his full lips, Samantha thought he would be a man she could actually date. Rounds of margaritas were flowing as they laughed, talked about his dogs, her affinity for antiques and their mutual yet embarrassing addiction to Survivor. Samantha hadn’t realized three hours had passed.

This was the most time that had passed without Samantha thinking about Gene since their blow up. She had a lighter energy and was genuinely having a good time. Normally when she would go out with Amy or any of her friends, at some point, Samantha would shed a few tears and bring up her failed marriage. Amy hated to do it but had to announce she had to get home. Her husband was waiting for her and she was supposed to be home hours ago; Amy had a new appreciation for her marriage after seeing all of her friend’s pain through divorce.

Samantha stood up next to her friend and said good bye to beautiful Zach. He stood up at the same time like a gentlemen and said what a pleasure it was to meet them both. He asked Samantha if he could call her sometime, she smiled and said yes. Zach grabbed a pen from the bartender and handed it to Samantha with a napkin. As she wrote down her number, Zach said, "I’ll call you later this week. Maybe we can see Eddie Murphy’s new movie."

"He hasn’t had a good movie out since Trading Places." Samantha laughs as she hands him the napkin with her phone number.

"Don’t even go there," Zach says, "that’s my favorite movie."

 

***

 

As a native Californian, Joan Sutton loves traveling the world but always enjoys returning home to the sunshine state and her two BFF’s (Best Furry Friends). After 10 years of procrastinating to finish her BA degree and truly believing that everything happens for a reason, the life changing moments that drove her back into the academic world has added a rich fulfillment personally and professionally. Joan is thankful to be a student at Antioch and to contribute to THQ.

 

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