Vas Deferens, Bears & Jacob:
Why I Listen To My Children Breathe

Photo by Seniju
Vas Deferens, Bears & Jacob:
Why I Listen To My Children Breathe by Jesse Goolsby

I sit in my car and turn off the radio and wait. I hear the wind and dirt pounding at the windows; I feel the car oscillate, and although I believe myself 100% deity-free (for years at this point), my first thought as I slide the key in the ignition: I picked the night before the apocalypse to piss off God.

I’m twenty-eight years old and Sarah and I have been trying to start a family for six months with no luck. The sex is getting tense and our conversations about sex are getting tense so we decide to lie to the doctors. We tell them we’ve been trying for a year so we can get an appointment to see what’s going on. One of the first things they have me do is provide a semen sample. I comply with the request in a specially furnished hospital room with clear plastic on the couch and drawers full of oddly titled pornography (Nugget? Lemon People?).

Soon, we learn that my sperm have “square heads,” and that this could be an issue going forward. As we get the news I picture mini hammerhead sharks swimming around in my testicles. I say, “Like mini hammerhead sharks?” but the doc shakes his head and Sarah is crying into her palms so I shut up after that. It’s here that I realize Sarah wants this more than I do, or at least is more serious about it. I want to be a dad, but I’m not sure why except that I think I’d be a good father. I visualize Little League games and bike rides, skinned knees and goodnight stories. But this optimistic collage is all I have, and I worry that it’s not good enough.

I reach to rub Sarah’s back and she lets me. The doc lets her cry for a bit before telling me to avoid saunas and hot tubs, and to eat more fruit and test again in six months.

Two months later Sarah finds out she’s pregnant; we celebrate with Chinese food and water, but it’s too soon. A few weeks after our Sweet and Sour Pork, on a cloudy Monday morning, she doubles over outside the gym. The abdominal pain twists her, forces her knees and hands to the sidewalk: an ectopic pregnancy.

Back from the hospital, Sarah rests her head on my lap as I run my fingers through her hair.

“We have to wait three months,” she says. “Three months from today, we’ll try.”

Ella, our eldest daughter, was born on a Monday.

I’m two years old. My brother Jacob is born on a Monday.

My mom has her tubes tied immediately after the delivery. She’ll tell me later that she decided it was time because she had all the children she could ever need: two healthy boys.

One day, a few months after Jacob’s birth, my parents grow worried after he refuses to feed. My mom repeatedly coaxes his mouth to her nipples, but nothing. By evening, his tiny body turns a shade of purple. My parents drop me off with my grandparents and drive the three hours south to a special children’s hospital in Sacramento. A week later, Jacob’s heart and breathing stop there.

Amidst the emotional devastation is the fact that my parents have little money. Funeral and transportation arrangements will be difficult.

The morning after his passing, a nurse my parents have grown close to comes into the private waiting room and shuts the door.

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Jesse Goolsby is the author of the novel I’d Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). His work has appeared in Narrative, Epoch, The Literary Review, The Greensboro Review, Redivider, and the Best American series. He is the nonfiction editor at The Southeast Review.