Finally, I mention seeing bears to the kids, but they show little interest. I offer cotton candy and soon we’re standing in front of a pair of slobbering grizzlies. They’re impressive enough, but what really catches my eye is another exhibit off to the side that no one’s paying attention to: speckled bears.
If a large sloth and raccoon mated, it would look something like a speckled bear, with its small frame and beige mask-like markings across its face. Reading the small plaque, I learn that their natural habitat is exclusive to the Andes Mountains of South America. They’re non-confrontational, solitary animals that just want to eat some plants and be left alone. The two in the enclosure may be two hundred pounds each, if that. They’re lounging in a thin rectangle of shade, and I search for sizable teeth or claws, but there’s nothing of note. I don’t tell the kids and they don’t ask, but I mentally add the speckled bear to the fighting-chance list.
A week and a half after my vasectomy I decide to stay up late and masturbate for the first time post-op. Around midnight, with Sarah and the kids fast asleep, I head downstairs, grab a couple tissues, and sit in the dark. I’m terrified. I pull down my shorts and place my hands on my legs. The two days of frozen peas on my groin, slow decrease of meds, and pain-free days of taking it easy have given me a shallow confidence that this will go well, but now, sitting in the night, I feel my heart working inside me as I consider my rerouted testicles. I close my eyes and begin to sift through my go-to visions: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Angelina Jolie in the unrated Original Sin, some blonde beauty in a porn about pirates, but nothing works. I will my hand to my penis, but I can’t move. I’m melting with nervous energy, listening for creaks on the stairs, and searching for any way out of this. It’s then that I send out a wish for a way to come without touching myself, some on-demand, waking wet dream. I open my eyes, but there’s only darkness and heartbeat.
I attempt a silent pep talk: Everything is okay! You can do this! You are a man! You’ll soon be able to make love to Sarah consequence-free! It will be fun! You can do this! Basic Instinct! Basic Instinct! But I hear the intern’s “Oops,” and I keep seeing his back to me as we leave the room. I run my hands down my thighs and breathe. Then, a miracle: my mind flashes me an image of a topless female pirate. I summon enough courage to grab my penis, but I don’t yet move my hand. If something happens, I think, then it happens.
A little over a month later I wear my Air Force uniform and ride the D.C. metro into the Pentagon with my laptop, a book on the history of airpower, my notebook, a few pens, and a small plastic container of my semen. I’ve accomplished my twenty masturbation sessions, and it’s time to see if the operation has taken.
At the clinic I hand the container to a smiling man behind the counter.
“Sample provided within the last two hours?” he asks loudly.
“Yep,” I whisper and glance over my shoulder.
He studies the cup then wiggles it.
“It’s like the opposite of a pregnancy test,” I say. “You know, hoping for nothing.”
“Someone will call you soon,” he says.
Nine hours later my doc calls me and starts out, “Everything’s just fine, but we can’t clear you yet.”
The doc is still talking, but the voice goes white noise for a few seconds as I imagine re-entering the minor surgery operating room, a new intern, the cauterizing machine warming up.
“You still have a few swimmers.”
I hold the phone to my ear and feel the sweat squeezing through my forehead pores. I come to and there’s a chuckle over the phone line.
“Ten more times, and then bring in another sample.”