The man I'm sleeping with is jumpy and distracted. A glance at his Palm Pilot reminds him he's due tomorrow at Women's College Hospital for a vasectomy. He offers this with an air of jokey bewilderment, as if it's been sprung on him by somebody else.
He booked it himself, of course, just a few weeks ago. And he is a good candidate: three children in their 20s, no desire for more, a healthy interest in sex and a deep-seated intolerance of the humble condom.
I tell him I'll pick him up from the hospital, facetiously offering to bring along a bag of frozen peas for the pain. Naturally enough, my commitment then expands into driving him there, too, and parking the car while he checks in.
When I join him, I find Jack looking small and rather baffled in a quiet sixth-floor waiting room. We joke around, but when I ask if he'd like me to accompany him into the operating room, he doesn't hesitate: yes, he would like that.
We wonder, will the staff let us go in together?
The cheerful nurse who comes to get him assents immediately and enthusiastically. Jack and I make "who knew?" wry expressions at each other, and soon our coats are hanging side by side on the O.R. door.
I perch on a chair watching the trouserless patient, lying on a white paper pad, being swabbed with warm iodine.
I worry that I might be in the way, but the urologist a scholarly, 60-something Japanese-Canadian man begs my pardon as he brushes past me to drop something in the waste bin and then offers me a sort of low barstool on the other side of my prone, sheet-draped lover.
"You can hold his hand and watch," the nurse tells me. It seems I am very much a part of the proceedings Jack's "psychosocial support," a social worker might say.
Watching the doctor locate the vas deferens under the skin and then make a tiny nick in the scrotum for access, I wonder if many women make it right into the procedure itself.
I'm inches away from the surgical steel and gloved hands of a real-life operation, and witnessing this man's most intimate internal parts being pulled from his body, clamped and then cut in two places. (The vas, as the doctor calls it, is a surprisingly chunky cord of white muscle, with a little 1-millimetre hole in the middle. It's surrounded by a slippery, fleshy sheath and bleeds little when cut. I think it rather marine-looking, like the tentacle of a small squid.)
I wonder how it must seem to these calm, kind medical professionals. Perhaps the intent, unsqueamish woman peering at the scissors is this soft-spoken man's loving partner: the mother of his children or a newer girlfriend with children from another relationship? Surely, they think she doesn't want kids and is all over the idea of free, permanent contraception?
I feel a little like we're putting something over on the hospital, that my access has been granted on the (false) grounds of a committed partnership with the patient and not just the (true) grounds of my wanting no pregnancy by Jack down the road.
Silently, I think about how my life has been going and what to make of the events that have brought me here to the minor operations clinic on a snowy February afternoon: childless but so wanting a child, sitting patiently as my current, only sex partner gets himself free and unencumbered for the next stage of his life.
As the doc's expert tweezers gently place rubbery sections of Jack's vas deferens onto waiting white paper towels ("To be sent to the lab." "Why?" "To make sure we took out the right part."), I list the ironies of my being here.
I have witnessed my very first operation a vasectomy in a hospital more widely known for its main specialty, obstetrics. I am proudly present this afternoon despite yearning for a baby of my own.
I feel tenderly proprietorial about his hacked-about sex organs and plan to nap chastely with him on his bed so we can both recuperate" yet part of my heart is still elsewhere.
I've just been through the mill with another man who'd promised to step up to the plate marked "baby" with me, had stalled and then wrung his hands from the sidelines as the right time came, then went.
I fully support Jack's decision to move into his 50s with no prospect of mating with a baby-hungry 30-something... like me. And these vivid, close, gory, interesting events take place on, of all days, St. Valentine's.
This February 14, my gift to my lover was being present on the occasion of his gift to himself and to his future lovers. Trading "gifts in kind" makes me feel interconnected and safe, and this was no exception. But flowers or chocolates would have been much simpler.