GAVIN: Anybody who's ever looked at Melissa could've guessed she'd make a beautiful bride.
Still, as the church doors swing open, I can't believe my eyes. We've been together half our lives, seen the highest highs and--I can confidently say--the lowest lows. And I've never seen her look like this. It's like she's translucent, and the setting sun behind her is streaming through her. My breath hitches and I'm so thankful I'm not on the vent anymore so I can experience it. This is the good kind of breathlessness.
MELISSA: This isn't how I'd always pictured marrying Gavin. I'd always imagined him standing up at the altar; squeezing and spinning me for the kiss; lifting me and running from the church like a bandit at the close of the ceremony, baptized by dried rice or soapy bubbles.
And yet this is just fine, too. I'm laughing and crying and hiccuping as I sit on Gavin's lap, him wheeling us down the aisle for the recessional while the Beach Boys blare from the speakers. There is literally not a dry eye in the house. Certainly not mine. And, shockingly, not Gavin's either. I wipe away his tears as well as my own.
This day almost never happened.
GAVIN: If this had been six years ago, we'd probably be in Fiji, or maybe Belize. Since it's now, we're honeymooning in New York City.
It's technically still spring, and the weather is perfect. Melissa insisted on hauling me out of my wheelchair and onto the grass with her in our shady spot in Central Park. She sits behind me, supporting me in a seated position, arms circling my chest like a brace, while we talk and people-watch.
I feel normal. Well, almost normal. I guess the giant electric wheelchair to the side of our blanket is a clue I'm not. Oh, well.
"We haven't talked about kids in a long time," Melissa says out of nowhere.
I turn my head enough to catch her eye in my periphery. "Where'd that come from?"
She lifts a finger and points. A young family with two boys is having a picnic lunch a hundred yards away. Well, trying to anyway. The boys are wild, cavorting and wrestling and occasionally crying out in outrage over something the other has done. I guess they're about five and seven. It's just a guess, but they do seem about the same age as Heather's daughters, Claire and Lily.
"Cute," I agree, non-committally.
"Cute like an animé character? Or cute like you'd like one of those one day?"
I sigh. "Melissa. You know I want kids."
"I know. That's why I think we should talk about it," she prods.
"Okay. What do you want to talk about?"
I raise my eyebrows, but I'm pretty sure she can't see me. "We need to have this conversation face-to-face, I think."
In response, she scoots out from behind me, carefully lowering me to the blanket. She bends my right leg at the knee and gently rocks my hip until I'm more or less on my left side. Then she lies down next to me, reaches across to grab my right shoulder, and pulls it into alignment with the rest of my now-left-facing body. Finally we can see each other. She grabs my right hand and places it on her left cheek and I smile, seeing her wedding band glint in the sun. God, she's charming.
"When are you thinking?" I ask. I'm scared of the answer.
MELISSA: My palms are sweaty, so I pause at the door of the fertility specialist's office to wipe them on my jeans before grabbing the door handle. I swing it open to reveal a pleasant, tidy waiting room with soothing Muzak quietly doo-doo-dooing in the background. The receptionist looks up and smiles. Then she sees Gavin, and the smile drops.
I should be used to it by now, but I'm not. I'm not one of those angry spouses of a disabled person, constantly jousting with the able-bodied world, but the stares catch me off-guard. Because, to me, Gavin mostly still looks like Gavin. I'm somehow able to see him as he was and as he is at the same time. It's only when I see him through other people's eyes that I realize how...well, disabled he really looks.
The receptionist is frozen, bless her heart. "Would you give me a hand?" I ask, and she immediately runs over to hold the door as I push Gavin's chair in.
He's in his manual chair today for two reasons. One, we've never been to this office before. And, even though I called ahead and specifically asked about wheelchair accessibility, we've learned through hard experience that most people who don't use wheelchairs or live with someone who does have no idea what wheelchair accessibility really is. Especially not with Gavin's powerchair which, at three hundred pounds, and carrying a six-foot-four man, can't navigate even the most diminutive of steps. If we come across one of these impenetrable barriers in Gavin's electric wheelchair, we have no choice but to go hunting for a different entrance (which often as not doesn't even exist). So Gavin's a sport and allows himself to be lugged around in his manual chair, which I can muscle up a step or two, when we're scoping out new territory. And sure enough, when we entered the lobby, I had to do just that.
The other reason that Gavin's in his manual chair today is that his powerchair is not so reliable lately. He's had the same chair since he was injured six and a half years ago and he desperately needs a new one. Insurance will pay for one, but not the one that Gavin really wants, the one that will give him the most possible independence in what is an almost completely dependent life. That one is an additional $35,000.
And here we are in a fertility specialist's office, where we'll be exploring IVF. Which, considering first cycles almost never take, will probably end up costing us about...$35,000.
I make a great salary as a physician, well into six figures. And Gavin contributes a modest, but not insignificant, income to our shared pot. But I have huge debts from undergrad and medical school, and we live with the astronomical, life-long costs of high quadriplegia.
So yes, I'm putting my desire for a child above my partner's need for mobility. I never claimed to be a saint.
GAVIN: The appointment goes basically the way I'd expected it to. Lots of eyebrows raised at Melissa. Lots of "ifs." Lots of ignorance about spinal cord injury.
"Now, are you able to masturbate?" the doctor, a gray-haired man in his sixties, asks.
"Uh, no," I say. "I can't move my arms. Or, um...orgasm."
"Okay..." He furrows his brow, leading me to believe he hasn't even looked at the email my urologist told me he'd sent him. A roomful of girly magazines and all the time in the world won't get him the sperm sample he needs from me.
"My doctor'll collect the sample," I say. "It's a procedure he does in his office."
"Oh," Dr. Rabin says. "How does that work?"
Oh, hell. Do I really have to explain all this? But this doctor is staring at me with an expectant look on his face. "They use a, a rectal probe that stimulates my, uh, prostate. It causes ejaculation. Allegedly." I see Melissa squeeze my hand in my lap. I haven't ejaculated since my accident and we're all running on fumes of hope here. But my urologist, Dr. Spencer, claims it can be done.
"That's certainly one way to do it," Dr. Rabin comments.
Next up is a run-down of my general health and I can't help but wonder why he's not putting the same questions to Melissa who will, you know, be actually carrying the baby. Then he asks me, straight-up, "Don't you think it will be difficult to manage the demands of fatherhood?"
I look him in the face for five full seconds before I say, "Why? Because I work full-time?"
At least he has the decency to blush.
MELISSA: At home that night, we lie in bed and talk about the next couple of months.
"I'm scared of all the shots," I say.
"Wish I could take 'em for you," Gavin says. "I wouldn't even feel 'em." I snort and whack his shoulder.
"Come here," he murmurs. I do.
We make out for a good twenty minutes. Kissing has become a lot more important to Gavin since he lost sensation in his genitals. While it can't get him "there" (nothing really can), it's the closest thing possible for him. We've both read a lot online about disabled sex, but so much of it doesn't apply to Gavin, with his high, complete injury. He can't even feel his nipples, which apparently is, like, a big thing for paraplegics. Fuckin' Pete, lucky son of a bitch.
So we kiss until I can't stand the suspense any longer, and then I break away to straddle him. I pull off my camisole, exposing my naked upper body, and Gavin sighs appreciatively. I still got it. I bend so that my nipples are hovering inches from Gavin's lips. He strains to reach them and I giggle evilly and pull them away. He growls like a disgruntled dog, but there's laughter in his eyes, too. The psychological element of sex is basically the only thing he can experience anymore, so I try to keep things interesting. But even I can only last so long. I'm dying to have his tongue on my breasts, so I move to within his reach, and he begins to do miraculous things with them. My favorite is when he sucks one into his mouth and does something with his tongue that is fast and flicking and sends me into orbit every time. I'm literally panting after ninety seconds of this and my warm center is throbbing with need. A certain kind of need.
I smile shyly and give Gavin my best puppy-dog eyes. "Would you mind if we...?" He knows what I'm asking. He gives me a wry smile, and then a nod. "Okay. Whatever you need, Missy." I beam at him. He really is a good sport.
GAVIN: A lesser man might feel threatened by his wife needing to use a toy to get off during sex. Good thing I left all my dignity at the bottom of a lake six and a half years ago.
Melissa fumbles in the closet and I hear a bump. "You okay?" I call out. "Shit," I hear Melissa mumble, and I know that she is, in fact, okay. Not that I could do much about it if she weren't. My phone is on the nightstand six inches from my head, but it might as well be in China for all the likelihood of my being able to get ahold of it on my own. It's a thought that often niggles at the back of my mind: What if something were to happen to Melissa while we were home alone? I wouldn't be able to help her, or even call for help.
But those thoughts are banished as she emerges from our walk-in closet with a small, locked chest that we keep our secret sex stuff in. She's rubbing her forehead, and I can guess she pulled the damn thing down on herself. "How big a bruise are you going to have?" I ask.
She squints and shows me her forehead. A nice red welt the side of a quail's egg is developing. "Great," I say. "Now everyone at your office is going to think I beat you." She laughs in spite of herself as she walks to the nightstand and sets the chest there.
Then she sits beside me to undress me. Up and over my head goes the white undershirt, and down and off my feet go the flannel pajama pants I wear to bed. I used to sleep in just my boxer briefs, but my body temperature is so hard to regulate now that I need the extra layers. And, of course, I haven't worn underwear since my accident. Melissa removes my diaper, as always without the slightest appearance of revulsion at my need for it. I don't know how she does it. I certainly feel revolted by it. She uses medical tape to adjust and secure my catheter tube out of the way.
When I'm naked, she shimmies out of her underwear and straddles me once again. She kisses my forehead, my nose, my lips, my chin, and a line down my skinny chest. I'm lying too flat to see what she does next, so I whisper, "Hey, get me a pillow?"
"Oh, sure." She reaches to her side of the bed, then wraps one strong arm around my shoulders and uses the other to lever in a pillow that sets me at about a thirty-degree angle. Enough to see what she's doing to me. Which is giving me a blowjob. I can't feel it, but it's still hot. I know she's doing it so I won't feel bad about what comes next, and I appreciate that. Of course, my dick acts like a beautiful woman sucking on him is no big deal. Like an asshole, he remains floppy and limp, despite the oral acrobatics Melissa is performing on him. When I feel she's more than done her part, I say, "Thanks, babe. Your turn." She looks up with questioning eyes, checking in. "It's okay," I confirm.
Melissa sits up and leans across me. She's almost close enough that I could take her right nipple in my mouth. Almost. She rummages through the box and I look down. At the space between us. At my thin and atrophied body, with its perversely soft, round belly. At the way Melissa's flat abs twist and flex. Compared to me, she has the body of a goddess. But then, she always did.
"Got it," she says, from over my head, and sits back on her heels with the object. After I confessed to Trent that I rarely got reliable erections and pills were off-limits due to my blood pressure issues, he'd come back to me a week later with a suggestion he'd gotten from some lesbian friends of his: a strap-on. I only had the vaguest idea of what one was, and since I'd done almost all my sexual exploration with Melissa, she was clueless, too. When we first called up images in a Google search, we were both a little horrified. Melissa swore that she would never use one. That she was fine with a life without penetrative sex.
For about six months.
Then she asked if we could buy one. I won't lie and say it wasn't a blow to my ego. But when I decided to marry Melissa, it was with the knowledge that she was making huge sacrifices by taking me on. She swears she doesn't feel that way, but it's the objective truth. So if my end of the deal is to occasionally wear a sex toy made for women to keep her happy and satisfied in bed, so be it.
MELISSA: I hate to do this to Gavin. But just like the IVF, I've put my needs above his. And it's not all the time or even most of the time. But yes, I do occasionally have a deep need to be filled up like Gavin used to be able to fill me up. Viagra or Cialis are miracle drugs for many spinal injured men, but I'm not willing to risk Gavin's life to get him hard. And there are a patchwork of other options, but they're all less effective and have more (and sometimes scary) side effects. So we've landed on the strap-on. Or rather, I've landed on it. Har har.
I secure it around Gavin's narrow hips and hitch myself up. Before I lower myself onto it, I ask again, "Okay?"
"Yes," he answers, with a bite of exasperation. Jeez. Just wanted to make sure.
I relax my thighs and sink down until the tip of the dildo is knocking at my door. I sigh and sink further, allowing it to enter me. It feels so good to have something inside me. I wish it were Gavin himself, but that's not our life and this is a reasonable facsimile. I begin to thrust against him, moaning low in my throat. After a minute of rhythmic rocking, I swallow and open my eyes. Gavin's are on me, and he licks his lips. "Can I finish you?" he asks.
"Okay," I nod. "But not yet. I'm not there yet." I reach for his left hand, the one with the thin circle of titanium on the fourth finger that tells the world he's mine. First I drag it to my right breast and Gavin groans with desire. I let it drift down till it's lying on his lower belly, at the intersection of our two bodies. I rub it somewhat clumsily against my clit. It's not graceful, but it gets the job done. Or, nearly done. When I'm so close my gluts are quivering, I lift off the strap-on, letting it flail in the wind, and scoot up to Gavin's upper chest. I'm always afraid I'm going to smother him, but he swears it's not like that.
"Yeah, right here," he whispers. I move up further still and I feel his hot breath in my wet vagina. He has gotten so incredibly, amazingly good at going down on me these past few years. I wouldn't say I'm glad he broke his neck and had to learn, but it is a small bonus in what is a mostly-shitty situation. He licks at me, blows softly, sucks on me, flicks his tongue back and forth and up and down and in tight little circles. When I'm crying out in a staccato "ah, ah, ah, ah," he enters me with his tongue and seals the deal.
I topple forward and scoot down so that I'm lying, panting, on Gavin's chest. He chuckles underneath my ear and I both feel and hear the rumble of his deep voice: "I still got it?"
I exhale, "Oh yeah, baby. You still got it." We lie there in peaceful silence for a minute, me still (always) wishing there was something I could do for him. But I know that this--giving me pleasure--is as good as it gets for him. And he says he's accepted that.
When I feel like I can walk on my legs again, I get up and pull the sheet up over him, the dildo comically tenting the covers. I walk to the bathroom, where I fill a cup with water and apply a bead of paste to Gavin's toothbrush. I also grab a warm, soapy washcloth. Though it never really bothered Gavin before, and it still doesn't now, I prefer to clean him up after oral sex. It's just too weird for me to taste myself on his lips. So I gently wipe off his mouth and brush his teeth. I also remove the strap-on, then diaper and re-dress him. Then I slip back into my cami and undies. I crawl back into bed with him, kiss him goodnight, set my alarm for two hours from now to turn him, and have one last thought before falling asleep:
I can't wait to have a baby with this man.