Don't get me wrong. I'm not nostalgic for Julian, thanks to Julian. Nor am I particularly yearning for some meaningless sexual encounter, thanks to Claudia. So why am I still bothered by this birth-control thing?
Some months ago, Julian and I were talking languidly in my bed. The lights were out, we were drifting off. By that point in our relationship, I'd already figured out that he and I moved at very different speeds when it came to sex, and if it hadn't happened by that point in the evening -- with the lights out, the conversation lulling -- then it just wasn't going to happen. Sex is not unlike a tennis match: You rise (or sink, in this case) to the ability of your partner. It follows, then, that being with someone less sexually curious than yourself will do horrific things to your confidence. Shyness, fumbling, uncertainty: It was all back, in full adolescent force, with Julian. He was the first boyfriend who made me feel that I should wear a nightshirt to bed when he slept over.
Imagine, then, my veritable shock when he reached across and put his hand under said shirt, and gently tweaked my breasts. I turned toward him, and yes, I thought, perhaps we were turning a corner with this sexual thing. Maybe it just took time. I pulled off his T-shirt and was just about to ... "Wait." I whispered. "Do you have any condoms?" Even in the dark I could see his eyes widen. "No. Do you?" "No."
We sighed. He rolled off me. Fluffing up his pillow, he settled his head down and started to close his eyes. "Wait a minute!" I leaped out of bed. "I'll find my diaphragm. Just one second." I ran into my bathroom. Squinting, I flipped on the bright light. There it was, under the sink, sleeping peacefully in its blue plastic shell, wrapped in a purple felt Cutty Sark bag and lodged between an aspirin bottle and a can of Scrubbing Bubbles. I checked inside the bag: the diaphragm gel, the applicator, all there. "One minute!" I called.
Hurry, hurry. Opportunities like this didn't happen often, and with Julian, who knew when and if it would ever happen again? I held the little rubber yarmulke in my left hand and unscrewed the top of the gel with my teeth. Squirting a blob in the center, I spread it around the inside with a finger, all around the rim, just like the nice woman had taught me at Planned Parenthood many moons ago. Except, now the diaphragm was slippery, and as I tried to fold it in its little taco shape, I could hear Julian in my bedroom, moaning something about it being late and he was tired. "Hang on," I said, before ...
Kerboinngggg!!! The rubber saucer slipped out of my fingers and sailed across the bathroom, landing with a plop in the bathtub. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. A little of the gel must have gotten past my lips as a familiar numbness covered my tongue.
"Courtney, just forget it," Julian was saying. "Come back to bed." "I'll be right there!" I screamed. I picked up the diaphragm and inspected it. There was what appeared to be a faint dusting of Comet on one side of the rim, but I couldn't be sure. Maybe it was a remnant of cornstarch that I'd been instructed to dust it with faithfully after each use, to keep it pliable. I thought quickly: If I washed it, dried it, and started all over again with the gel, the folding, the inserting, then checking to see if the cervix was covered, there might still be time, the moment might not be lost. But then again, it might be nicer to just go to sleep.
A few weeks earlier, Julian and I had discussed me going on the Pill, but I had resisted because I didn't want to gain weight or get depressed. (The fact that I knew that our relationship was not long for this world may also have played a role.) I had considered the cervical cap, but like most barrier methods, rejected it on the grounds that it contributed to urinary tract infections, to which I was extremely susceptible. Condoms were employed without very much enthusiasm, when we remembered to buy them. The diaphragm ... well, besides the infection risk, did I need a better testimonial against that primitive method than what had just transpired?
What was left? The evil IUD? The drastic Depo-Provera? Norplant? I'd just seen ads in national magazines and newspapers reminding those women who'd had it surgically implanted five years ago that it was now time to go back in and get the little match sticks surgically removed. That didn't seem right or auspicious either.
"This is ridiculous," I said, when I crawled back into bed. I meant everything: us, the sex, the false starts, and most of all, birth control.
"I agree," said Julian. "You can bet that if men got pregnant, we'd have a lot more options. If they can put a man on the moon, how foolish is it that you're still in the bathroom, battling it out with your diaphragm?"
"Well." I lay down in the darkness. His pronouncement left me speechless for once. I curled up around him, safe in the knowledge that because of that glimmer of understanding, we still had a few good weeks left.