He Looks Just Like You
We didn’t pick someone who looked just like me: blond hair and ocean-deep eyes and a squashed torso. Instead, we chose the man who would become our sperm donor because he looked just like my wife, who was going to carry. This was almost a guarantee that our kid would look like her: leather brown hair, bird beak nose, too wide of a smile, and slight runner’s frame.
And we didn’t go to a sterile clinic. We didn’t interview best friends and coworkers to get the second half of DNA for our kid. We did what most millennials do to meet someone: we used the internet. Instead of sitting in waiting rooms and thumbing through folders of laminated profiles, we wrote a personal message through a match site for donors. And by the next fall we had a sweet, shy, silly baby boy.
It wasn’t until we started using daycare that the words so many people had spoken really sunk in. Our daycare provider mentioned needing more breast milk during the day. I said I would talk to my wife and noticed the strange look I got.
He spends most of his day with me, so, sure, his body language and the instinct he has to reach and cry for me probably influence how people perceive our relationship. We didn’t plan for his button nose, though, or his smaller-than-average ears and head circumference. We knew that our kid would for sure look like one of us, I’m just not the “one of us” we’d planned on. And isn’t that how contentment always comes—with a surprise.
Don’t be embarrassed when you say something about his looks and I laugh. I take it as a compliment. I’m constantly worried about not being taken seriously as his parent and the validity of his birth certificate. Thankfully we don’t live in other parts of the country where our rights as parents, especially mine, are not guaranteed. And don’t be surprised when your Hollywood fantasy of turkey basters or fertility shots falls so short of the diverse and sometimes radical DIY ways queer people are making and raising babies. Babies that will grow up and also laugh at your assumptions, and also feel a twinge of pride when you comment, “He looks just like you!”
Liz Hart, Hillsboro
Subsidized or unsubsidized. Deferment. Grace period. Fixed interest or variable. Principal.
Scrolling through page after page of weighty words and technical terms, I am overwhelmed with the prospect of future obligations. There’s a gap between paragraphs—sign here. This section is less important—initial here. My name, my signature, is required over and over again.
The numbers on the screen are larger than in any bank account I have ever seen. I know the agreement is less than great, but what will become of me without a certified, bona fide college education? Community college—how will that put me ahead of my competitors coming out of universities in four years? Stay in state—no one offers the programs I will need for my future career.
A good school, good degree, good internship, and finally a good job. Like my interest, it will all compound, one leading to the other. It’s like they always say at college fairs—college graduates make a million dollars more over their working lives than those who never earn more than a high school diploma. Over time I will profit, there must be a profit, or why else would everyone be doing this?
This all feels inevitable. There are only so many scholarships available, and besides, isn’t everyone a straight-A student these days? Grants have an income limit, and it’s all based off what my parents make, not what I—the person who is actually using the money—am earning. That moving job last summer was only minimum wage and I can only work so many hours during the school year. It all felt like so much money, until it wasn’t nearly enough.
The contract is electronic, no need for a pen to commit myself to years of repayment. Education is priceless, or at least that’s what the educated have always said. Backing out is not an option, the last line is where I sign to seal my fate. I press submit, resolved to settling on the terms I was never able to negotiate anyway.
Karina Agbisit, Portland
In the end, we were defeated by our stubborn desire and passion to raise purebred Hereford cattle. Oh, yes, we fought through beef price freezes, grain embargoes, wheat subsidies, dairy payment-in-kind (PIK) programs. Banks lending money to the commercial cattlemen told them they would lend $600 per bull. We couldn’t survive on that, no matter how many bulls we sold.
The price of land dropped precipitously. No one could afford to pay even $50 an acre. My husband made numerous phone calls to breeders to interest them in the cow herd. They couldn’t afford to feed the cows they did have. Ranchers had their own problems.
We signed a quitclaim deed back to the original owners. We castrated yearling bulls because steers brought more money at the livestock auction. We shipped the cows to the butcher. We paid the vet and the gas man. Now what?
We took our sadness to my parents’ home in Florida. We got jobs to save for a loan payment. We watched TV and worked crossword puzzles.
Three months passed. My husband said, “I need to work with cattle, not concrete.” The healing began when he accepted a manager position for a breeder of registered Herefords. A monthly paycheck provided us funds to eventually square up the loan debt. It was an exceptionally happy time. We made new friends. We baled hay. We cared for the animals. After a few years, the owners held a dispersion sale of the cattle.
Once again, it was decision time. My brother and his wife came to us. “Well, are you two just going to sit here and take care of dairy heifers or do you want to come to Bend? Start another new life?” And so we did. Built a small herd of cows. Worked outside jobs.
Our struggles made us stronger individuals, and we just celebrated over fifty years of marriage.
Rachel Klippenstein, Lakeview
Once, I sat across the table at a busy restaurant with a man while he held both my hands beneath the dim light. As the waitress approached to refill our water he told me that we were terrific. He said, “we work so well emotionally, physically, and spiritually.” I thought of the holy trinity. Had we redeemed each other? The waitress smiled at me, and I wondered if she thought we were married, or at least living together, had met each other’s families. We weren’t, and we had not.
There are no tangible ways to hold on to how a person has made you feel, just faint memories playing on a loop. And so it begs the question: when the dust from a shared love settles after being kicked up for so long between two people, where does it go?
When I think about all the love I’ve given in my lifetime—romantically, in friendships, to family, to interests and passions—I feel small. Not all forms of love are requited, and sometimes when you have been swallowed whole by it, it can be difficult to navigate the overflow. Love is like leftover coins from a trip you took abroad. You return home and realize they are no good in your normal world, but you don’t have the heart to get rid of them, just in case you visit again someday. They sit in a jar on your table, out of sight, always there should you need them. When you close your eyes, you can perfectly remember the weight in your hands, how they jingled and settled at the bottom of your pockets.
Sometimes love is like turning on a faucet, a slow trickle that eventually comes gushing forth, soaking everything in its path. Other times, it feels like burning your tongue on something scalding hot, waiting to be devoured. Knowing you would feel the sting immediately, but having to have it right that second. Feeling the burn as it lingers all day, wondering if normal feeling will ever return to your body. Maybe all the love you have ever felt in your lifetime settles in one place, a river inside you that never runs dry. Maybe it never settles down because it runs wild without the ability to be tamed. Perhaps it isn’t ever settled up because you’re always in debt to the feeling.
Jordan Hernandez, Portland
Four in the Morning
The alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. again. We collectively sighed, the dog too. The cold autumn mornings make this more difficult. We lie still, aware of the seconds passing, wishing they would stop. He peels himself first from me, then from the sheets, stumbling in the dark toward the shower.
We’ve settled into this routine. He arrives on Wednesday, and by the dark early hours of Sunday morning, our weekend is over. While many lie sleeping in their beds, promised one more day of options and choices, we feel the magnetism of our separate lives ripping us apart, again. A cold stagnant air fills the void.
The drive to the airport is quiet. He squeezes my hand, kisses my cheek, tells the dog he loves us, his girls. Then he goes. With the closing of the rear car door, the tears are freed from the corners of my eyes. I pull slowly from the curb and go back to my life alone. It never gets easier, just more routine.
I come home to an empty apartment. The noise of the key turning is loud in the stiff morning air. I slog back to bed. I lie between the covers, where his body was just warming the sheets. I feel his absence. I know he is still here, standing in a line to go far, far away. It is devastating. Every time it is devastating.
My body lies in the same spot where his was. My heart longs for a day when there will not be Sunday mornings like this. He won’t be far from me, living a life different from mine.
When the alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. I asked him not to go. He told me he didn’t want to. He always does. Then, he told me it wouldn’t be this way forever—he always does.
The punctuated equilibrium of our lives, the years of these weekends, have taken a toll. Soon, we say, we’ll both move. Not to his place or mine, but to a new place, for us.
We can sleep into the late morning. We can sip coffee and read. We can put away the luggage on the highest shelf in the closet. We can paint the walls. We can settle into a life together, intertwined.
Nikki Cox, Eugene
To Settle an Estate
This much they can tell me: My friend. My neighbor. My confidante. My partner in crime. Your sister.
My little sister.
They want to know more. To verify.
As did I. My first words when I heard, over and over: “What? What? What? What?”
Then I read the police report. That’s what.
On Friday. Last week.
I just saw her. We went for a walk. She seemed a little sad. We met for brunch. She seemed fine.
Last month. Last summer.
In her apartment upstairs from the gallery. I’ve never been here before.
I stare at the floorboards in her bedroom where they found her. I sleep on the floor in the other room.
Unexpectedly. Oh. Accidentally. Of course.
We won’t know for sure until the autopsy. But, not on purpose.
On purpose, says the medical examiner, and sends me the death certificate.
Wondering why won’t settle anything.
I know what I need to know to settle the estate.
Sell inventory from the business my sister built. Pay off debts. File tax returns. So much to do.
I log in to her accounts, using passwords she left behind: First pet. Childhood phone. Favorite teacher.
Not her. Not my friend. Not my daughter.
So many accounts. So much undone.
Creditors’ letters amass. Julia Julia, one begins, your account needs attention.
I pay bills until the money runs out.
On my desk, her phone pulses with plans and routines.
It’s time to check in, prompts the airline. Please arrive early, reminds the hospital. I’ll be in town next week, suggests a friend. It’s time to get some rest, chirps the health tracker.
Her apartment upstairs, the gallery downstairs, seething with medical bills and reminders and sad messages and self-medication and scrawled complaints in loopy cursive.
I sell some of her belongings and give away the rest. I empty the gallery and close out her business. I tally the totals against the claims.
I ignore the calls and messages, from those who have not heard, and from those who have.
The phone battery runs down and I stop charging it.
Wondering why won’t settle anything. And yet it’s the question we’re left to ask.
J. David Santen Jr., Portland
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