It began with simple mistakes: Andy couldn’t find his keys one day, or he missed an appointment he had scheduled because he forgot to write it down, or he came home from the grocery store with completely different stuff from what Mel had asked him to retrieve.
Then it got worse. Andy couldn’t remember the words to a song he and Mel had sung along to together for years. He spent a whole week of mornings looking for his keys, having no idea where he’d put them. He couldn’t focus on what he was doing long enough, or remember enough details from his week, to write a letter to his mother, as he’d done every day since he had moved away with Mel.
Mel grew upset, then she grew frustrated with Andy for his reticence; then, she grew upset with herself for her frustration. After weeks of arguing about it, Mel took Andy to the doctor. Andy had early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
He wasn’t even thirty years old.
The news devastated Mel. Two things further magnified her pain.The first was that Andy had trouble remembering to feel sad about his condition. She felt like she was bearing the burden all to herself. She asked Andy to tell his mother, so that she wouldn’t have to have that conversation, but he kept forgetting. Mel suspected it was one of the few things he forgot intentionally.
Then there was that fact that, when she’d mentioned tearfully that they’d been trying to get pregnant for years with no success, the doctor had suggested another sort of test.
It turned out that Andy was also infertile.
Mel wept at night for weeks on end. She didn’t know, sometimes, if she was weeping because of Andy or because she would never have the child she’d wanted since she was a little girl. Sometimes she felt glad that Andy didn’t have to share in her pain. Sometimes, she felt resentful.
He still talked about the fact that he wanted a little boy. He dreamed of how they would play baseball together, and how he’d paint their son’s room a lovely butter yellow, like Andy’s room when he was a baby. Andy went to the bank and started a college fund for his son, which, miraculously, he remembered well enough to contribute to every week. How, Mel thought, how can he remember that, but get lost on his way home from the bank when he doesn’t use his GPS?
What Andy couldn’t remember was his infertility. He had no recollection of the test at all, nor of the results. He yearned for a child, as did Mel. So Mel made the hardest decision of her life.
Mel didn’t have the money to spend an expensive fertility clinic. Moreover, she didn’t want her friends and family to know that Andy was infertile. She felt a deep shame about that fact for reasons she couldn’t comprehend. Instead, she began to find men online. Men that looked like Andy, at least enough so that when she told people the child was theirs, they would believe her.
The first time was the hardest. She used a pin to cut a tiny hole in the condom. She hadn’t told the man what she really wanted from him. She never told any of them. Mel didn’t feel beholden to them in any way. She didn’t feel anything for them except a vague sense of disgust, so she never felt the desire to reveal anything about herself.
As she lay there, the man’s sweat dripped down onto her body. Each drop felt like a hot splash of guilt. She tried to tell herself she was doing this for Andy, but nonetheless, every thrust felt like a betrayal.
Mel lost count of how many men she slept with before the pregnancy took. By the time it did, she didn’t even know who the father was. In the weeks before she took the test, she had sometimes slept with two men a day, on top of sleeping with Andy so that she wouldn’t arouse his suspicion. She ached in ways she hadn’t felt since college. When it came time to tell Andy of the pregnancy, Mel had to fight against her stomach, which felt like it was trying to force its way out of her throat with every word that she spoke.
“Andy, I have something to tell you,” Mel said. She hoped that the quaver in her voice came across as excited rather than fearful. A sudden, immense dread at the thought that Andy would come back into his memories just as she revealed her pregnancy descended upon her.
“What is it, love?” he asked. He set his newspaper down next to his breakfast. He reached his hand across the small dining table, looking to support her. He hadn’t lost his ability to read her. He knew exactly what she was feeling from the moment she spoke.
“Andy,” she said, and though the baby was still smaller than a peach, she swore she felt it kicking against her spine, threatening to break her in half. “Andy, I’m pregnant.”
His concern dropped away in an instant. The smile that spread across his face was worth every drop of another man’s sweat that had fallen onto her body. The light that came into her eyes brought tears to her own, tears which she wouldn’t have to explain to a man who had just finished inside of her. He looked like a little boy who had just been told he’d won a shopping spree at a toy store.
When Mel had to tell him again, at first daily and then about once a week, he gave the same reaction. She never tired of it. It made her feel right. It made all of the wrong she’d done into goodness. She thought. Well, that’s what she told herself.
She also told herself she would never to tell Andy, or their child, about her actions. Mel pushed down that little voice inside of her that said, perhaps, her resolution said more about what she truly believed.