Part One: The Chase is on!
There comes a time in the life of most men when they decide to stop living like some goddamn college student and build themselves a life. This urge can stem from one or both of two sources:
- Internally, as a result of passing a developmental milestone — such as a thirtieth birthday.
- Externally, as reaction to a life-changing event — such as a health crisis, or the constant carping of a spouse or girlfriend to whom the quiet ticking of her biological clock has turned into a series of booming gong-blows portending the steady deterioration of her ovaries.
For Schwimmer it was both, but in a specific order: serious girlfriend and marriage first at age thirty four, then reproduction to shut her hell up.
It’s not that Schwimmer didn’t want kids – he didn’t mind the idea so much. He was a little worried that he’d be able to take care of them, simply based on the state of most all of his possessions (his car hadn’t had an oil change in a year and a half) and his stunning lack of success at owning pets (all of whom had either died or disappeared quickly after taking up residence with him). He could barely take care of himself, how was he to take care of another life?
But he also knew that he’d have help from his wife and that his worries about being able to step up to the challenge were unfounded. Once, when he was eight he’d attempted to comb and part his own hair, but was unable to get the part straight. His mom eventually took care of that for him with a few deft, casual strokes and then told him to dress for school. As he buttoned his shirt he looked in the mirror at that impossibly perfect demarcation in his scalp, which his mom had achieved with such ease, and was overwhelmed with anxiety and doubt; I can’t even part my own hair, how am I supposed to cook my own meals, keep an apartment, do a job when I grow up?
He knew, deep inside, that this was part of growing up. He’d develop these skills over time and would rise to the occasion as it came, and he did. Fatherhood would come to him as readily as parting his hair.
But it didn’t.
It didn’t come at all. Two years of regular sex yielded nothing but orgasms and soiled linen. His wife failed to spark – her womb resisted his best efforts. This was actually okay with Schwimmer, who was a bit of a fatalist and believed that children would come when they would come, but his wife was not of that same philosophical school. She wanted kids and she wanted them now. If something was wrong then it would have to be fixed.
But it was not that simple for Schwimmer because he had a secret. In seventh grade he’d gotten ill. The actual details of that illness were swathed in gauzy mental cotton, because a very high fever was involved, but some of the more humiliating memories remained quite clear. At four o’clock in the morning his parents had awakened to the sound of furniture crashing around in the living room. His father pulled out a billy club he kept under the mattress and tiptoed out into the darkened room to find dazed young Schwimmer building a tent out of blankets and chairs and muttering to himself about turtles. He was burning up.
They rushed him to the emergency room, where they discovered that his left testicle had swollen to the size of a ripe Valencia orange. Schwimmer remembered quite clearly the parade of physicians, orderlies, random passers-by who marched in and out of his clothy cubicle to peer at his adolescent genitals. But after they admitted him and placed him on a very high-dose antibiotic IV drip, his memory of the next few days was a vague series of fever dreams featuring swollen cow udders that hung ponderously over his head as he floated across a blasted dreamy heath.
The fever broke and his testicle began to shrink. He was appalled to discover the initial diagnosis had been venereal disease, which made him a snickering laughingstock of all the nurses in the ward. They came in and out of his room with smug little smiles. Over the next several days, so many people needed to inspect his genitals that he wondered if it was even necessary to pull up his blankets to cover them. Perhaps they should be framed and hung on the wall for easier viewing.
As a tender early teen, he suffered this outrage on his modesty poorly. Eventually the diagnosis came in and it was not VD, which would have been impossible anyway. It was “Epididemitis”, described as an inflammation of a sperm-carrying tube running from his testicle to his urethra. The infection spread to his testicle, causing it to swell. His father had suffered from exactly the same infection back when he was in the Navy, so apparently the men in his family were prone to it. In fact, his dad used to joke that he’d produced two boys because he shot only from the right.
Schwimmer left the hospital knowing much more about his reproductive anatomy than he felt he should have for his age. He also knew there was a very good chance that his right testicle was now serving a mainly ornamental role, and that he could be infertile. This didn’t bother him at all; in fact it was a source of secret comfort. Years later when no less than two of his buddies from his high school football team were forced to withdraw from college to make decent women out of their knocked-up girlfriends, Schwimmer reveled in his luck. There would be no awkward announcements, no recriminations, no emotional gales in response to insensitive questions like “How do you know it’s mine?” or “Well, uh, what do you want to do?” he would be spared all that.
But not any more: The Sperms had come home to roost.