Coelacanth

I lived in Seattle for a few years in my 20s, in a crappy studio across the parking lot from the coffee shop where I worked. Outside of work, I just wrote and hung out with friends and said yes whenever someone asked me out. Then I crushed so hard on a pedal steel guitar player that I moved to Brooklyn. After several years I wound up in Seattle again.

Not long after I moved back, a customer from that old coffee shop sat down next to me on the 44 bus. I hadn’t seen him in years, hadn’t kept in touch. He was an odd duck, lived alone with his cat, worked from home. There was always the sense that he gleaned a large chunk of his social nutrition each day from our smiles of greeting, the fact that we knew his name, the casual exchange of basic pleasantries. I respected that he was like a creature that lived near a deep sea vent—the solitude and simplicity of his life wouldn’t be for everyone, but he was well adapted to it. This was back when I viewed myself as young and full of possibility. Others as old, limited, gone round the bend. I was a smug, ponytailed angel of customer service.

When he sat next to me on the bus, he didn’t say hello or make eye contact. I was older and thicker and squarer. I figured he didn’t remember me. He was still staring straight ahead when he said, “Did you ever read that book about coelacanths that I told you about?”

I had no recollection of the fish, the book about the fish, or the conversation about the book. My mind was blank except for the way the syllables in the word itself knocked against each other. That I remembered like a song that gets stuck in your head for a whole summer. I laughed his question off and then it was my stop.

Only later did it come swimming back to me: I did read the book. I must have. Why else would I know so much about coelacanths and their rediscovery?

I’m So Not Freezing My Eggs

When I was a student at Princeton in the 90s, people advertised in the school paper for eggs. They were willing to pay as much as $80,000 for the eggs of Princeton students. More specifically, that was the price for eggs from young women with “blonde or light brown hair and blue eyes.” Women fitting my description (“brown hair, brown eyes, Jewish-looking”) could only get about $30,000 for their eggs. I never saw any ads for non-white eggs.

We girls talked about it around the dinner table. Nobody wanted to do it. It seemed shady. “It’s invasive,” said one girl. Another one said, “It could mess up your fertility later—it’s not as simple as they make it sound.” Back then I was idealistic and not motivated by money. That was also a place of privilege, because I had a lot of help with tuition and school costs. I thought about what it would be like to have a biological son or daughter out there, being raised in a New Jersey Jewish or Italian household, going to private school probably. I didn’t want to do it. I saw everything ahead of me—enough money, enough eggs, enough opportunity.

Years later, when a 401k was finally a thing that mattered to me, I thought about that long lost theoretical $30,000. I thought, “If I had invested that $30,000 back then and allowed it to compound, what sort of nest egg might I be on my way to having?” I also began to think, “What if I never have kids, and so it never mattered about keeping my own reproductive system in good shape?” The answers didn’t matter, because I would never have changed my thinking as a kid. It was all hardwired in to my youthful sense of self and integrity.

Now that I’m 37, I’ve spent years churning and cycling through different thoughts and mindsets about having kids. I’ve been single for several years, so I had to call my own bluff about wanting to have kids badly enough to want to be a single parent. I don’t think I do. Mostly, I’ve concluded that I can’t bear to be on the fence. That never having kids is better than this agony of waiting out your last child-bearing years in indecision, with the over-thinking and jealousy and fear and the feeling of being empty. At the end of the day, I am still more afraid of being a parent than of never being a parent. I mean, yeah – I hear there is great love involved, and also that you shouldn’t be ruled by your fears. That doesn’t mean I have the hubris to summon new life into the world.

My wandering back and forth across the line of wanting and not wanting kids has been milder lately, but I still flip flop several times a day. I think about pregnancy. I think about foster-to-adopt. I think about money and fatigue and danger and oceans of regret. Every day I build a case, watch it crumble, build an opposite case. I feel rattled, I feel bad about myself, and I retreat from the subject again. I’m alone with it, and it always seems to come down to the meaning of life and how we’re all hurtling toward death.

Today I heard a radio story about women my age and younger freezing their eggs. How much it costs. What it entails. What the big plan is. Without any dithering or doubt, I thought “I am NEVER doing that.” Twelve hours later, I feel the same way. I think I’m still going to feel this way when I wake up tomorrow.

After the radio made me realize I am unmotivated to see my DNA running around, I thought of all the times something on the radio has motivated me. I’ll hear something and want to rush to produce some answering expression of my own. But I don’t want to reproduce. I know I’m not supposed to freeze my eggs and that any resulting sadness will be livable. I might just bloom too late for things, but I know I’m interested in all of us who are here now. In a few years, maybe I’ll see how much room is in my personal life boat—and whether it seems like I should try to fish someone else out of the muddy water and towel them dry.