Wednesday, June 23, 2004
One hell of a conversation
Well, Doug was wrong. When Natalya came by this afternoon, she just stood there gaping when I opened the door. I let her gawk for a moment, then told her to come in. She was sorry for staring, but I said that's everybody's first reaction when they find out.
She sat on the edge of the futon, saying she hadn't believed me, but had her guy check it out because there were things about Alexei (though she said Martin at first; as one might imagine, she did that a lot). That when he disappeared, half of his moving boxes from July were still taped up, especially the ones marked "comics" and "games"; that he wouldn't get references to movies sitting on his shelf. And then the clincher was when she talked to Kurt and Wei, they described a Martin Hartle totally different from the man she knew...
"You didn't tell them, did you?"
"No, by that time I was starting to believe, and it wouldn't be my place, and, besides, I'd look like a loon."
"Good... It would be awkward, since Kurt and I..." I let it trail off.
"Ew! I don't know what's nastier - that, or that Alexei has a son who's older than I am." She shivered in a way that more or less approximated skin crawling. "And I thought the five-year age difference between me and Martin was a little weird."
"This does more or less put conventional standards of freakiness out the window."
Neither of us wanted to talk about sex more, so she just looked around the apartment, which can be done fairly quickly. "Do you even want to know what Mar... Alexei's place is like?" Not really, I said. She could understand that. "I could help you move to a nice place. I owe you that much."
As much as I'm starting to wonder where I'll be living next week, and would like some more creature comforts, I told her that she didn't owe me anything. Alexei had hurt us both, but that didn't make me her responsibility. If anything, I said, I owed her; if I'd been a little more proactive last year in investigating Alexei or warning her...
Well, she said, for the most part he didn't seem like something she needed to be warned about. Best boyfriend she ever had in some ways. Sweet, courteous, liked things other men found boring. Did the right thing even if it would cost him. It just seemed hard for her to reconcile this with a man who would steal someone else's life or just leave her. She could understand him not demanding to be placed back in his comatose body - that would take a kind of self-sacrifice she knows she didn't possess - but becoming Martin must have been his call. And the worst part is that ever since she heard all this, she had started making excuses - that he fled to the West Coast so that he wouldn't have to be near the son who had orchestrated this, or that he had arranged to keep my mind from being stuck into the comatose body, or that he was just too much man to be able to handle being a woman. But then she remembers that someone is dead because of this, and she sees this tangible sense of what he took from me and the original Michelle...
Hey, I tell her, lots of us have loved people who do things we sharply disapprove of. Take my father's business partner. He and dad were the closest of friends. I was named after him, and called him "Uncle Martin". He was even older than Dad, but practically family. And then, when I started dating Becky Nagoshi in high school, I found out he was a horrible, horrible racist. To this day, I try to make excuses, that he'd served in the Pacific during WWII, or that he was a product of a different time, but the fact is, you expect the people you care about to rise above such things and do what right. And you should.
"That's just begging to be let down." I supposed it was, but I was brought up to think high standards are better than settling.
She smiled, and she has a really pretty smile. "Would I have met those high standards?"
"In terms of being cute, absolutely. And you seem like a great girl - smart, independent, and ridiculously open-minded to accept what you've learned this week. I'd have hoped for a second gate, I think. How 'bout you; would you have gone for the full Marty?"
"I don't know; I generally stay away from the comic book geeks. I mean, we never would have met, would we? There's no way you would have been at the ballet that night."
"Not a chance."
"Still, I'm really glad to meet you now. I'm glad you're nice, that you don't seem to hate me, that being a selfish jerk wasn't something intrinsic to that body. It's a pattern with Alexei, isn't it? He defected without his family, he moved across the country rather than live near his son, he left me. So that sort of thing probably comes from him and not from you."
"What's it matter?" She had clasped my hands, and was starting to give me a look. I removed her hands from mine and started doing the lecture-pace. "It's like I tell Mags, I say I'm Martin because it's convenient, and it's who I remember being, but folks like me are composites. I mean, I like to have sex with men. A lot--"
"That's not where I'm going with this!"
"Not saying you were; just that the Martin you know is who he is. I'm who I am. How the pieces fit together to make us that way may be important to someone like Maggie, who knew us 'before', but for those of you who only know us 'after', it's irrelevent."
"Not to me! Damn it, Marti, I need to know which pieces come from where!"
"Why? How could it possibly matter?"
My turn to stare open-mouthed, and stagger backward to sit on the futon.
"Missed my period the first week of March. Took a test. Martin...Alexei was shocked, but happy. Proposed right away. I told him that I had money, that I didn't need to be supported, but he said... he said kids need two parents. He said it was just a matter of when, not if. It made me so happy, and then he left. And now I'm ashamed, and trying to hide it."
"I... I didn't realize."
"Only four months along; a loose dress like this can still cover it up. And it's silly to worry too much, because the fact that you're still pretty Martin-like and he's still pretty asshole-like seems to prove that who we are is less nature than nurture. But still... I'm glad my baby's got 'your' genes and not 'his'."
"May I...?" She nodded, and I touched her abdomen; I could feel a bump under her dress; no kicking or anything yet. "I'm going to be a father. Huh. That's a sentence I'd given up on ever saying."
"This poor kid is going to be so confused someday." She grinned bigger. "If they ever track Alexei down, you should get some sperm frozen. Be both the mommy and daddy."
"Not for a loooooong time; I'm not close to ready to be someone's dad, let alone someone's mom. It's a thought for later, though. It would, of course, have to be artificial insemination."
"Oh God yes." She hugged me. "I'm so glad you're nice. I'll totally understand if you say you don't want any part of this, but I hope you will. But think about it. Lord knows that's all I've done the past two days."
"I... I will."
"Good. Now, here's my cell number, and where I'm staying while I'm in Boston - and yes, there really are people named Buffy; we went to school together. I'll be here until Saturday; we really should get together and just hang out before I go back home - are you free the rest of the day?"
I looked at the clock and was like, oh shit, I've got to look at an apartment. Then she felt bad about keeping me. But I promised that I'd try to squeeze her in sometime Friday, since I had the afternoon off. She made me promise.
Been hours, and I'm still digesting this. I suspect I will for a while longer.
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