I’m visiting my son who lives on a boat in a marina in the San Francisco Bay.
The movement of the boat is almost imperceptible until I stand outside and it seems like the boat is still and it’s the dock that’s moving. I am so sleepy and although it’s 10 AM I crawl back into bed and pull the fake Sherpa cover over my head. I sob for a moment into the nubby polyester and consider sucking my thumb. I try it but get no satisfaction.
I wallow in self-pity, thinking of my unborn grandchild. It’s an imaginary child and I will never hear her laughter or buy him a birthday present. Gone before I knew her. Before he could love me, as surely, she would have, that beautiful, gifted, brilliant child whose photograph would grace my phone and whose drawings would never hang haphazard on my refrigerator but would be carefully framed and hung, gallery style, in my living room. The child of as yet undetermined pronouns who would spend school breaks with me in Florida where we would see manatee and dolphins. We’d marvel at the pink of the roseate spoonbill and watch gators doze by the riverbank. We would, Goddess help me, go to Disney World.
My son has had a vasectomy. Snip snip gone. My hopes. My grandchild.
I thought he was joking until I looked at his face. He’s something of an empath, my son, and knew his decision would make me sad. Since at thirty-two, he had plenty of time, he thought it kinder to not allow me to continue to hope.
He explained his reasons and I pretended to accept his decision without a tremendous amount of regret. If he meets the woman of his dreams she’ll be okay with adoption. I am okay with that. My grandchild does not have to carry on my gene pool, just splash with me in a blow-up one. It’s not looking promising.
But I am grieving and there is no one with whom I can talk about it. How selfish I would feel telling my husband, who lost his first wife and only child before we met. How pathetic I would be to tell my friends who never had children, either by choice or by circumstance, about my sorrow. I imagine telling my friend whose son died by suicide, or the one who is grieving the tragic loss of her youngest to the opioid devil, and how petty and lacking in gratitude I would sound to them. I know this because I sound wretched to myself. I’ve known real grief. The heartache of outliving a child. I can’t compare the end of my fantasy grandchild to such a loss.
Kahlil Gibran told us that our children were not our children, and in theory I believed him. My son is thirty-two years old and lives on the opposite coast of this country where he has decided there is no room for incidental or supplementary new human beings. He is a thoughtful, kind man who is careful to recycle. He gives money to the homeless. He’d like to adopt a cat but worries it would be lonely as he works long hours.
Looking up, I can see the sky and the mast of the boat in the next slip. It’s moving, or I’m moving. I can’t tell which from this warm womb of my own making. I stop sniveling and get out of bed. I watch a pair of ducks swim by like push-me-pull-yous, their reflections distorted and upside down. Watching their shimmering progress, the sadness tries to creep in again. “Duck,” I tell my make-believe grandchild. “See the duck?” I will not diminish its authentic creaturehood by calling it “Duckie.”
I’ve thought of my future grandchild as one more devout than I might long for a visitation by angels. Had I hoped my son and a partner would create a replica of himself that I might have a second chance to get it right? That I might learn infinite patience, never raise my voice, and always be a good role model? Or was I actually hoping for a facsimile of the daughter I’d lost years ago? Would the child have her blue eyes? Her quick wit? Her artistic talent?
I climb the stairs onto the upper deck and peer through the San Francisco fog. It’s a peaceful feeling, this being enveloped in the mist.
Daniel’s workday is finished. He sends a text. “On my way. Be ready. We’re going shopping.”
I assume we’re going to a grocery store. I wash my face and climb over the side of the boat. The grandchild-eraser is smiling as I get in the car. “We’re going to the pot shop, Momma.”
Back on the boat, the marina looked pretty at night. A few slips over is an old boat. Her name, painted on her side, is Carpe Diem.
I have to get used to the idea of never having a grandchild. I’ll still look at the six hundred photos on my friends Facebook pages and click on heart emojis. I’m happy for them, though I may never be a member of that club. I’m here to visit my son, who is real and present, and San Francisco is infinitely better than DisneyLand.
Photo Credit: Eileen Vorbach Collins