The Way It Is Now
No one noticed, at first. How could you? The world is gigantic when you think about it, how can anyone track anything, notice any sort of coincidence? But around here, the first I can remember was when Blair had her baby, and a few weeks later Ricardo’s forklift tipped over while he was on a hill and it crushed him. But who could think that was anything other than an accident? A tragedy, we clucked, all black dresses and heels, handing Blair handfuls of tissues as she balanced the baby on her hip next to the closed casket. Such a fucking tragedy. I think that was the first.
I really started to notice it when my cousin Jennie called me, sobbing, about her sister Clara. Clara’s husband Randy had od’d in the bathroom of the pizza place where he worked, and no one found him until the next day. Their son had just turned six months. I didn’t sob along with her because I didn’t think Randy was all that great a guy anyway, but I still thought it was sort of odd that another dad was dead, another dad of a newer baby. Tragedy is everywhere I sighed to my cat, who butted her head against my cheek in response.
I don’t think the news picked up on it for a few months—like I said, this world is big and it didn’t seem to follow any specific pattern— but after I, myself, had been to four or five funerals of dead dads, new dads, their kids not even sitting up yet, I saw a blip on the news ticker on Facebook, about authorities investigating a rash of young men who had died in some California town. It mentioned, in passing, that the young men were all the fathers of newborns.
And that was when things began to click—that small article about Bakersfield, California.
It was as if we had been sitting in a dark room and someone had flipped on a floodlight. We began listing off the recent deaths of men who had children, and realized with a creeping horror that it was not only way too frequent to be nothing, but the frequency seemed to be rising, seemed to be spreading. What had been one or two coincidences was now something much more insidious: Dads were dying. Not our fathers, middle aged with their 401ks and their golfing on Sundays; they seemed fine, safe. New dads were dying, all before their children turned one. And they were dying off faster with each day. They were dying everywhere.
Once we noticed it, things happened quickly. The Facebook ticker was going crazy every day. More cities, more states, more countries. Mainstream media picked it up and it was all anyone could talk about. Pregnant women, hysterical over the thought of their partners leaving their side, barricaded their doors and windows. Abortions skyrocketed, the thought of a dead baby easier to reconcile than that of a dead husband or boyfriend (I, for one, did not understand this reasoning). Morning-after pill sales were through the roof. The CDC was clueless, but it seemed this was not a sickness that could be identified, vaccinated—the deaths were random, incidental, varied. Boating mishap. Heart attack. In my town, a five- car pileup eliminated three fathers in one fell swoop.
My boyfriend stopped sleeping with me, even though we had been accident- free for six years.
My cat circled my ankles as I scoured the news, fascinated. I reached down to scratch behind her ears.
Eventually, my boyfriend moved out.
Online, a new wave of voluntary celibates cropped up, mostly on the internet, proclaiming women to be the root of this plague—public enemy number one. Reports of increased domestic violence were everywhere, and women, now untrusting of their men, created safe houses, focusing on those who had recently become pregnant. Some women who left their men the moment they saw the double pink lines thought they were saving them from their demise; it still happened, regardless—the father could be halfway to Siberia, but he was still a father, and he was doomed. But no one wanted to be beaten to death because they forgot their birth control. Women found it necessary now to actually stick by each other, regardless of past differences, not just say they were going to support each other like a Spice Girls song. This was real. Racism and classism seemed to melt away as they stood together, burgeoning busts and bellies an impenetrable wall of safety against angry, scared fathers.
I was inspired.
It was such a strange time. The population was slowing, shrinking. Rape was down, panic was palatable. No one knew what this epidemic was, or how to stop it. I, for one, thought it was fantastic—proof that men were no longer needed, not necessary beyond their biological functions.
I began to date, promising only “hand and mouth stuff”—we were all desperate in our needs, but frightened, so frightened, that it never ended at hand and mouth stuff.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m on the pill, and I have a shitload of Plan B in the cabinet.”
(I wasn’t. I didn’t.)
My cat purred at the foot of my bed, a co-conspirator.
I felt it my civic duty to join forces, to take up the cause. Flat on my back, I willed sperm to meet egg, to create a new life and take one away. How the world should be, how nature now intended it. Two pink lines. Every year until no longer possible, if it were up to me. The man above me stifling a sob as he came, relieved and terrified.
Mothers of little boys, bereft with what their futures may look like, doted on them with a pathetic earnestness that I promised myself I would never show. Little boys looked up with the sun shining in their eyes, sticky hands, unknowing and stupid. Little girls grew stronger, harder.
The world had never been more beautiful, more hopeful.
Kolleen Carney is a Boston-born, Burbank based poet with an undergraduate degree in English from Salem State University and an MFA in Poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is managing editor for Zoetic Press, she is the editor-in-chief for Drunk Monkeys; she is a poetry reader for Los Angeles Review. Her chapbook, Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament is available from Grey Books Press. Her poetry and other writings have appeared or will be appearing in Currents, Vision/ Verse, Lunch Ticket, and MassPoetry.org, Golden Walkman, The Watershed Review, Incredible Sestinas, Uno Kudo Vol. 4, A Quiet Courage, Yellow Chair Review, Drunk Monkeys, Clever Girl Magazine, Five 2 One Magazine, and Birth.Movies.Death. She tweets at @KolleenCarney and blogs, poorly, at kolleencarney.com.