I bought my first pregnancy test the winter I tried to go straight. His name was Sean and he worked as the maitre d’ at an upscale restaurant on the same Florida island where I had taken a job as a newspaper reporter a few months before. We’d met at the weight room in the community center and my first thought was that he walked too lightly on his feet. He was tall, rope-limbed, and well kempt, one of a class of young resort workers who shifted between Florida and Maine or Wyoming depending on the season. I was nicely tanned and unable to eat, one of the many side effects of an upending break-up with my college girlfriend, a woman with whom I had once planned to build a two-story house beside a river and have lots of tiny babies who would miraculously look just like us.
My friend Jess actually bought the pregnancy test. She was my best friend on the island and one of the only people I’d told about Sean. When I told her I’d missed my period two months in a row, she was decisive in a way I’d forgotten how to be. Come over to my house, she’d told me, and we’ll figure this out.
That afternoon, I sat on the toilet in Jess’s bathroom, my pants down, staring nervously at a thin stick. Jess smiled at me in the mirror. What I liked best about her was that she didn’t judge me.
“You could wait and do it later,” she said when I hesitated, but I shook my head.
I’d never once used a condom with Sean. That was a secret even Jess didn’t know. I’d sneak into his apartment late at night after getting drunk with friends at a bar on the beach. Afterwards, I’d sneak back to my bed in an efficiency behind a surf shop. The sex was frantic and illicit and satisfied something dangerous in me that I couldn’t name.
I peed and then pulled out the stick and lay it on the counter where we both stared at it, waiting for a line—or two—to appear.
My second pregnancy test came at the end of a mild summer in Iowa, the day after a blue moon night. Again, I didn’t buy it. Marta did. And because she’s always been more pragmatic than me, she bought a package of them online. Cheaper in bulk, she’d said.
I washed dishes that night and she boiled beans and made a salad. It was a day early, but Marta said she’d felt something change inside. She wanted to test. So I lay on the futon tossing a stuffed squirrel to our dog Finn while Marta went into the bathroom with her cup and another little stick.
When she came back, I read to her from a short story by an Argentinean novelist while we waited for something to happen. The stick lay between us, the liquid crawling up its stem. The story was about a young girl in a small town who begins to question her belief in God. At first there was only one line, but a whisper of a second line soon followed. I stopped reading and we stared together at the stick, the second line darkening.
Two lines means you’re pregnant; one line means you’re not. But what does one line and the echo of a second mean?
“There are no false positives,” Marta said. By which she meant: even a faint line is a line. But I was doubtful. Both lines should be solid and clear. You are either this or you are that.
“You go try it then,” she said. “Just to make sure.”
So I went to the bathroom and for a second time peed into a small cup. Only this time, my wife handed me the stick and waited with me for a line to appear. This time, I was the test case, rather than the test.
We placed the test between us and watched as it measured me. We kissed. We talked about baby names and the young girl in the story we’d left half-read. When we looked down again, there was only one line. And in the minutes and hours that followed, my one line held, just like my first line had held ten years earlier in another bathroom, in another state, but before these same watery eyes and exhale of relief.