My father-in-law Bill’s tale of how my wife was conceived ranks high on my list of most unwanted anecdotes. But when he asked if I had heard it before, for some reason my brain could not parse an answer other than ‘no,’ and the inflection with which I said it somehow belied interest rather than the cold hostility I felt towards knowing how my father-in-law and mother-in-law had sex one time.
If only I’d lied and said ‘yes.’
My blissful ignorance was shattered as he chuckled and offered up the account, unsolicited:
“I was working a job in town, so I decided to come by the house for lunch. But Anne, well, she wasn’t expecting me. So I get back, and she’s in the shower, right? So I hid behind the door, and when she came out I grabbed her from behind when she was in her towel, freaked her right out, thought I was an intruder or something. Let’s just say I didn’t have time for lunch!”
We were alone together, which is the only context in which the telling of this story would ever come about. Rachel was at dinner club, and Bill was over helping me do some work around the house. By “work around the house,” I mean more stereotypically masculine tasks that, in general, require power tools, with which I am useless. The task at hand was fixing a ripped screen on our screened-in back porch, which months ago I had punctured with an errant frisbee throw.
How to manipulate my body and objects under its direction has always escaped me. I have no sense of the space it inhabits in the three-dimensional world. Without supervision and direction, I am liable to injure myself with whatever saw, drill, or sander I might be holding just by sheer lack of spatial intelligence. Some may simply call this ‘clumsiness,’ but as someone who lives it, I know this deficit runs deeper and into other facets of life in ways that ‘clumsiness’ does not account for.
“That’s a good story, Bill,” I said. “Hopefully, I’ll have one to tell someday.”
I held the drill up the lathe, carefully aligned it with the screw. But at the penultimate moment, I overcompensated and drilled it in at a slight angle, splitting the wood.
“Fuck,” I said.
To be fair, the telling of the story did not come about randomly. Rachel and I had been trying for a baby for a couple of months, and this was not so much a secret among those eagerly awaiting to be anointed grandparents. Which is strange to think about, our parents knowing we were actively having a certain kind of sex. So perhaps this barrier having been broken was what put Bill up to telling me his own tale.
“That’s so weird he told you that. I can only apologize,” Rachel said to me as we prepared to get into bed.
“It’s alright. The image will fade from my memory. Eventually. Do you think how and when we are conceived has any bearing on our lives?” I asked her.
She snorted. “In my case, I hope not.”
“So what if we conceived tonight? What would that mean for our kid’s life?”
“It would definitely make them comfortable in the presence of animals,” she said, as our cat took up his usual position on the bedside table. For some reason he always watched and always purred loudly.
We stripped down to our minimal attire and hopped into bed. I liked the scheduling we had implemented for our sex life since deciding to try for a baby, harmonizing ourselves with ovulation and setting goals to try several times per week, usually before bed. It allowed me to prepare my mind and body for the encounters in a way that the spontaneous, more romantic encounters that Rachel preferred did not. It was always upsetting when she suddenly got in the mood only for me to have to pee, or find I needed a shower, or have to coerce myself into a playful mood after a bad day at work, at which point the romanticism of the moment was usually washed away, and the quality of our sex seemed to suffer.
I was ready to go as I climbed on top of her, my hands washed, bladder emptied. We kissed as usually did in the way we both knew each other to love, in a way only we could.
“You know, I read that a woman’s orgasm helps with conception,” Rachel said between kisses.
“Oh is that right?” I said, kissing my way down to between her legs. “Finally, a use for the female orgasm!”
She knew I was joking and laughed. “No, silly. Like during. Like cumming from sex with you inside me.”
“Oh, really?” I said, stopping short somewhere past the belly button.
This conversation had been had many times, almost always initiated by me. Like many couples – or perhaps many women – it was nigh impossible for Rachel to orgasm from intercourse, or at least for me to make her do so. We of course addressed her needs in a multitude of other ways that most people can imagine, but it was a constant source of insecurity for me, even though it shouldn’t have been.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Can’t I just do the usual?”
“Well, maybe it will help, is all I’m saying. You’ve done it before; I know you can.”
The one time I had given Rachel an orgasm via penetration was a legendary tale in the canon of our relationship. I closed my eyes and put my forehead on her stomach, recalling the exact circumstances of what happened that time, years ago, in a hammock by Kinderhook Lake.
Rachel’s parents have a summer lake house on Kinderhook Lake in Upstate New York. It was the first time I ever went there, late in the summer after college, after Rachel and I had finally agreed upon each other in our senior year.
Her parents left us alone while they went on the twenty-minute drive into town to get groceries. Considering Bill was the kind of guy who felt comfortable telling me how he and his wife conceived one of their children, he was probably also comfortable knowing his twenty-something daughter and her boyfriend would almost certainly be getting down to business after he and his wife left.
We went swimming in the afternoon. The water was a perfect temperature, cool but refreshing in that way only lakes in more northern climes can feel. I kept touching her legs with my toe beneath the water, making her squeal and doubt whether it was a fish or some other lake monster threatening to drag her under.
We took up residence in a hammock afterward to let the sun dry us off. It was hanging from a tree on the shore of her parent’s property that had a large U-shaped branch jutting over the water, as though God had made it for hammock-hanging. It hung just above the water and was quite small, intended for only one person.
This was no problem for our young bodies, which were opposite poles of a magnet. She wore a sundress over her bikini; I was in my short pink swim trunks. We were totally drunk with sunshine and lust and happiness and the promise of life together, even if we didn’t know what life was yet, even if we didn’t realize that someday sex was to be used between us for the sake of creation, the ultimate consummation of love.
“Did you know that Kinderhook is where the word ‘okay’ comes from?” I said as we rocked in each other’s arms.
“Uhm, what do you mean by that? Like they found the word buried here?” She asked.
“Well, the president Martin Van Buren was from here. And in one of his campaigns, they apparently used the slogan ‘Vote OK,’ which meant vote ‘Old Kinderhook,’ because it was easier to say than his name, and it kind of took off from there. Supposedly. There’re other proposed origins for the word. Now it’s the most commonly said word on the planet. And it all started here.”
“Oh my god, you would know that.”
“You love my random facts of local history. It gets you off.”
“No, you get me off,” Rachel said, kissing me and grabbing my crotch. We were warmed up in no time at all.
“Put it in me,” she said, shifting her bikini bottoms to the side.
“Here?” I asked, popping my head up to look around. The nearest lake houses on both sides of the property were some ways down the lake’s edge, and I couldn’t see or hear anyone out and about, other than faint music on a boat far away. The fabric of the hammock ensconced us on both sides; it seemed like we were in our own little cocoon, like only the gods could see us.
“Now,” she ordered, and I wasted no time shimmying down my swim trunks and obliging.
The rest, as they say, was history. Local history.
“I’ll give it a try,” I told Rachel, coming back up to kiss her mouth again. I grabbed the sheets with both hands and pulled it tight around us, rested on my forearms with my head next to hers.
I tried to inhabit the same angles of that time in the hammock, the way it cradled us and positioned my hips, how close we were to each other, how I tried to keep it from rocking and alerting any neighbors to our activities.
And after a bit, we finished – both of us. A landmark moment.
“How was that?” I said cockily, smiling and rolling off her. The cat purred on the table next to us.
“Eh,” she laughed, employing her usual sarcasm. “It was okay.”
It’s not a story I’d tell a son-in-law someday, but we knew for sure we’d created a child with love.
BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS
What’s the most unwanted story ever told to you?
Do you think the circumstances of our conception has an effect on our life?
thanks for reading. if you enjoyed this sort of story, you may also enjoy this one about wearing khakis:
or for a more serious tone involving the death of a chipmunk and a European candy bar, this one: