Monday, July 29, 2013

The Donor

Andrew knocked on the door and pushed his hair out of his eyes irritably. It was too long. He should cut it. His mother had commented to the same effect, and he now felt he was morally obligated as a teenager to not get it cut now. He was not so myopic that he could not see the irony in himself holding it against his mother to suggest such a thing, thus preventing him from accomplishing the task. However, he pushed most of the thoughts away brusquely with his hair. He had other things to consider.

A woman with graying hair tied back into a fraying braid opened the door. She was a few inches shorter than him, but her steely, authoritative blue gaze made her seem half a foot taller. Her skin was relatively smooth for her years, softened slightly by wrinkles but without blemishes or makeup. She wore a blouse that at one time might have been nice but had since accumulated small holes, which she seemed to neither notice nor care about.

“Hello. May I help you?” she asked, just quickly enough to show that she had no desire to entertain visitors without reason.

“Uh, are you Lucetta Holden?” Andrew asked, smoothing his hair back again.

“Yes,” she said. It was a single syllable expressing an unstated but clearly understood idea: What do you want?

“Did you donate your eggs eighteen years ago?” Andrew asked, in that particular tone of a person who had practiced a line many time, seeking out the perfect iteration of not only words but also stress on the syllables and enunciation.

“Yes,” she said simply. Her eyes quickly glanced over, as if cataloging him as a newly discovered scientific specimen. She did not state what was so obviously implied. Neither did he. Several long moments passed where nary a word was exchanged, only glances, as if each expected the other to somehow broach the topic and harness the elephant in the room. Andrew was very uncomfortable.

“I suppose you should come inside. Would like a cup or tea, or water?” she asked. She opened the door more widely.

“Um, no thanks,” Andrew said. He pushed back his hair again. Her home was Spartan. It smelt very clean, faintly of vinegar and lemon juice. No whiff of dog, cat, or even human odor. Andrew wondered if she lived alone.

She seated herself on one of the two chairs in the sitting rooms whose only ornamentation was a single upright piano, whose reams of music stacked on top of the instrument revealed it too had a utilitarian purpose.

“Am I correct in assuming your parents do not know you are here? And if I am not mistaken, you learned about me recently,” she said, segueing roughly into the subject matter. She was keen and sharp, and it seemed like she was trying to remember the social mores she had flushed from her memory to make way for other things.

“Yeah,” Andrew said awkwardly. “It was kinda an accident that my dad let slip.”

“I would like to remind you that while I am a contributor to half your chromosomes, there is still substantial epigenetic changes that occur within the womb, which your mother would be all responsible for. In addition, the environment cues pre and post partum are known to be extremely influential in the characteristics we have as individuals. Thus, your mother is very much still your mother. Any deep, philosophical conversation about who you are may be best reserved for her. If you wish to have any knowledge of myself that might affect your life, it would be limited to the medical history of my ancestors, which I assure you, is quite fine. My parents are still alive and my grandparents lived well into their eighties. No heart disease, no diabetes, no depression, no cancer besides early stage prostate cancer in my paternal grandfather at eighty three,” she said quickly.

This was not quite the conversation Andrew was expecting. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, just not this. He sat back on the edge of his seat, wondering if he was about to be booted out from the living room of his progenitor so quickly. He had driven all the way here.

“What are your college plans?” she asked, more softly. “You are going to college, yes?”

“Uh, yeah. I got a scholarship to the University of Arkansas,” Andrew said.

“And what will you be studying?” she asked.

“Chemistry, I think. I mean, you don’t have to declare a major until later, but I think chemistry,” Andrew said. There was a faint nod of approval.

“I have yet to hear that academic preference is a genetic trait. Any particular reason for chemistry?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I mean, it’s kinda like a puzzle, right? Our lives are made of chemistry. It’s not quite so esoteric as physics or as inexact as biology. You do chemistry, right?” Andrew asked, inelegantly wavering between crude vernacular and more refined eloquence.

“Yes, I study the application of carbon allotropes in solar cells,” she stated factually. She paused before adding, “Perhaps if you live up to the potential I believe possible of you considering your genetic makeup, you may be a graduate student in my lab.”

Andrew laughed, the only thing possible when being introduced to such forward and unhidden declaration of conditional love. “Haha, no nepotism?” he asked.

“I am afraid that is frowned upon in my academic field,” she said with a sly smile of someone who did not display emotion with any regularity, did not often indulge in the communal pleasure of light-hearted banter, but had a fine mind which was more than capable of wit.

Another moment of silence rasped on. She did not seem uncomfortable with it. She looked out the window with her thumb to her chin, as if considering some intellectual conundrum without any concern as to how else might be in the room.

“Why did you do it?” Andrew blurted. “Donate your eggs, I mean. My parents don’t know you. I asked. So why did you just give your eggs to strangers.”

“When I was in graduate school, the associate professor who ran the lab next to mine discovered that she was infertile. She had waited for tenure attempting to have children, and she then realized that an earlier surgery to remove a few ovarian cysts she had permanently scarred her ovaries to the extent that she could no longer produce eggs. They eventually found an egg donor, and their healthy baby girl was born nine months later,” she said.

“So, you like wanted to do it in their honor or something?” Andrew asked.

“Or something.” She nodded.

Another silent moment passed. Suddenly, she stood up. “I must be going into lab. One of my graduate students needed additional assistance in setting up an experiment and I have a grant to write,” she said.

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Andrew said, standing uncomfortably. He pushed the hair out of his eyes. The pair made their way to the front door again, which she opened.

“Well, it’s been nice talking to you,” Andrew said, attempting to tie up the unconventional, abbreviated conversation.

“Likewise,” she said with a curt nod. Andrew turned to leave, glancing at his watch. The dialogue had been much shorter than expected.

“I do not believe I caught your name,” she said. He turned back.

“It’s Andrew. Andrew Solis,” he said.

“My grandfather, your great-grandfather, was named Andrew,” she remarked. “I would recommend either growing your hair out to the extent it can be a restrained by a ponytail or similar mechanism over the summer or else cutting it short. The state that it is at now, you risk being balded by a Bunsen burner in your chemistry lab next year, Andrew.”

“I will keep that in mind,” Andrew smiled. He had driven two hours for a ten-minute conversation, and, strangely, he did not regret it.

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