Not long after my thirtieth birthday I went to see a numerologist. I did so on the whim of my new-age girlfriend, who purchased the session for me as a birthday gift.
To me, numerology is the lowest form of supposed psychic energy. Astrology has a certain grandeur to it, appealing as it does to the great void above. Card reading has a sinful allure. But using math to see the future lacks the romance of both the star-reaching pagan and the demon-delving occult, so I went to the numerologist with very little interest in the results.
This happened a while ago, and I can’t tell you a thing about the room or the place or what the woman looked like who did my numbers, which she did merely on the basis of my birth date and time. I don’t remember even what the numbers looked like when she showed them to me. Was it a printout of some sort? A bunch of charts and graphs? Did she scrawl it out in pencil? I have no idea.
But what I do remember are 8s. There were a lot of 8s. And some 3s. There were 3s. Then I remember very surely and succinctly the first thing the numerologist said to me, in a voice that for some reason I recall as Polish, “You will have many children.” And then I remember laughing very loudly and haughtily in the woman’s face.
Never, ever, laugh in a psychic’s face.
The numerologist was a bit red-faced, and we quickly explained away the results in a way that was palpable to me. I was a writer! The 3s and the 8s stood for creativity. The 3s and the 8s meant published books. Of course! That was it, I would have many published books.
I found myself spilling my life story to the psychic, feeling, I think, a little guilty for laughing at her. I stammered, “You see, I can’t have children, I’m forgetful,” I said. “Absent-minded.” “Once,” I said, and I confided in her this embarrassing story, “once I spent five minutes looking for my apartment keys and you know where I found them—my hand!”
I kept going, on a roll now. “You know those people in Arizona who go into Wal-Mart and leave their babies in the car with the windows rolled up, and their children asphyxiate or their brains fry or whatever happens to babies left in hot cars on asphalt parking lots in bum-fuck Yuma, Arizona. You know how everyone vilifies them? You know what I feel for them instead? Deep and sorrowful sympathy. Because if I ever had children that’s what would happen to them. One day, I’d be considering some deep philosophical matter, like whether it was OK to buy more of the Gerber Peaches that the baby preferred, or whether I needed to supplement it with Gerber Peas, and I’d walk right off into the store while the baby’s brain fried, and they’d send me to prison and throw away the key.”
I left the psychic’s room with a spring in my step, thrilled about my budding literary career.
Twenty-three months and eight days later, my first child was born.
Never, ever, laugh in a psychic’s face.
The child’s mother was a different woman than the new-age girlfriend. She was exotic-looking, refreshingly wild, and shared my gallows sense of humor—there were some issues, but it was a decent match.
Here’s how the baby happened: she claimed a hormone-imbalance that kept her from using the pill, and after a month or two of sex with condoms we got bored of the inconvenience and moved to the ever-successful withdrawal method. To be safe, she purchased an expensive German-made natural fertility calculator with a thermometer and an alarm clock. She stuck the thermometer in her mouth every morning and after a few weeks it started giving us good sound German advice. If the light was green we could have sex, if it was red we couldn’t.
Two months later, the German-made natural fertility calculator a seeming success, the green light Germanically correct, we figured why bother withdrawing.
Three months later, my daughter was conceived.
Apparently, the Poles and the Germans were in league.
It was an interesting decision I made. Marriage was not something I’d wanted or spent a lot of time considering. Children much less. But something about the news—which I remember receiving on the phone in the dark in a windowless room—made my hair stand up in bristling excitement. The answer was “yes” to both from the moment I heard the question.
All those 3s and 8s, I guess.
The baby was born. I didn’t kill it. There were mishaps. There were two occasions where the baby rolled off the bed while I was changing a diaper, trying to dash over to get the diaper cream I had forgotten, a deafening thud as baby head hit hardwood floor. There was one time, when the baby had become a walking toddler—and please don’t tell child welfare—when I left a door open, and the child waddled her way across the parking lot of the karaoke bar we lived next to and made her way to the sidewalk of a busy intersection, where she sat down and watched the light rail go by until I ran scared out of my bejesus after her.
But the brain farts were less numerous than one would imagine. You see, from whatever higher power you believe in, I received “the sense”. You can’t understand “the sense” until you become a parent, but if you go over for cocktails with your friends with children, and you’re all drinking wine and chatting, and they suddenly bound down stairs unbidden to keep a bookshelf from crushing a nine-month old, you know what I’m talking about. We just know somehow.
By the way, there’s a subtitle to this story, it’s titled how I accidentally became the father of four children.
Never, ever, laugh in a psychic’s face.
So before I tell you how or why my second child was born, I have a confession to make. I don’t know exactly what people mean when they say they’re “trying to have a baby.” Do they only fuck when the aforementioned German-made natural fertility device tells them to fuck? Do they fuck everyday, just to be safe? Do they insert semen into the vagina with the proper equipment at proper intervals? How does this work for people, exactly? I want details, but it never seems appropriate to ask.
We didn’t try to have our second, but we didn’t not try either. We talked about wanting a sibling for our daughter, but we were arguing a lot, and we weren’t exactly rich. It didn’t seem smart, but in our indecisiveness we got sloppy with our birth control, and into our sloppy lives, four years, five months, and twenty-eight days after the first, my son was born.
Now this was most certainly it for me, I was happy, ecstatic even, to have a son. The baby was sweet and easy, characteristics he still has. But long ago I determined that it was ethically dubious to more than duplicate yourself, so I took a trip to the urologist, and science defeated spirituality, or so I thought.
Polish psychics have ways.
This isn’t the time or the place to go into detail about my divorce. It was ugly and heartbreaking in the way that most divorces are. I felt terrified, because even with “the sense” single fatherhood taxed my limited attentiveness. But something came along swiftly, a woman also divorced, with an open heart, and a thick desire, and a passion for me that I had never before experienced. She was an OK writer too.
She had two kids.
Opportunities present themselves. We can choose to add, or we can choose to subtract. We can choose a farm and abundance, or we can choose the road and a light pack.
Less has always been appealing to me. But if there’s a small grain of wisdom I can impart it’s this: few things come easy in life. When easy comes, don’t bar it access to the feast. Welcome it, cherish it, and keep it with you as long as you can. Difficult will always be there to challenge you. It’s nice to have a companion to meet it with.
I’ve been living with this woman for a year now. We are lousy parents. We send the children down to the basement to play Lethal Weapon XII and watch The Family Guy. I’m not the parent I would like to be—I don’t take them to soccer practice and swimming lessons. I barely manage to get food on the table, much less something nutritionally appropriate.
But I’m realizing slowly that this isn’t what’s expected of me. The children need love.
That’s all, love. And togetherness, they need that too.
Last Thursday, I asked the author Kerry Cohen to marry me. Between us, and the four children, and the ex-spouses, we have a family of eight. In the meantime, I’ve had two books published, with number three on its way next year.
Dear Polish psychic, I believe in numerology now.
But goddess of numbers, I hope that eight is enough.
(This essay was originally performed at The Nervous Breakdown Literary Experience reading in Portland, OR, and was put into essay form for Greg Olear’s Fathermucker blog.)