Child birth was stark raving pain not because my son’s head tore my cunt, tip-to-tip, and then left me gaping and bleeding, but because I fought my own body to give birth to him.

Part of me wished to keep my son with me forever.

But in the end, I had no choice. If I didn’t push him out, it hurt worse; and then the doctor said something about my son going into respiratory distress. “You have to push,” the doctor said.

So I pushed until he was here in the world with the rest of us, bumbling around with our best laid plans.

We never know what will become of them.

I haven’t been the same since.

I used to attract young men. This started in college because at thirty-one, I was a non-traditional student. Later, in graduate school, when I was a graduate teaching fellow, my male students hit on me.

Finally, I sought them out, men younger than me. They were travelers on their way somewhere else; they prepared me for something.

Nine years ago, Micah offered to talk to my son about not having a father.

Micah didn’t have much of a relationship with his own father.

“I know how your son feels,” he said.

Except in 2001, Micah didn’t understand sacrifice yet.

For the Art and Craft of Writing class we took together, he wrote an essay about his ex girlfriend’s abortion and described the fetus as bird shit against a dark window. How could I forget?

Micah was only twenty-two with waxed curls and glasses. How Jewish he looked. How slim and well dressed and effeminate. A boy never filled his jeans like that. Micah was an oxymoron. I loved what he said to seduce me.

“Did I mention I would have blown Allen Ginsberg?”

We were in college. I was a writer too and wrote about human sexuality, a lot about gay men, gay erotica.

On the floor of my living room it was hard to tell if I was in charge, but the way Micah blinked at me behind his glasses was precious.

In graduate school, I wrote something for him, “A Letter from Her Muse.”  We were a writing cliché, like Henry Miller and Anias Nin in reverse. What did he learn from me?

Micah went onto graduate school himself. He described my smile in a poem as a sneer once. I was hard on him about his novel.

Ty lost his birth mother when he was three years old and then the one who’d adopted him was dying of cancer.

His body trembled beside me on my couch so I swept my tongue through his teeth then pulled a wad of gum from his mouth.

Ty reminisced a summer his first year out of high school, a place he’d gone to cut vines off marijuana plants for two-hundred dollars an hour.

This woman had lived in the forest there, he said, a beautiful woman surrounded by children.

“I wanted to get lost in there,” he said.

I put his hand on my breast because he was too shy to do it himself.

Later, he came too fast then lost the condom inside me, so I reached in and pulled it out like a stillbirth or something.

A month later, Ty got a girlfriend pregnant and was afraid he wouldn’t finish college, so I told him, you can do both, be a father and go to college, to which I received this response. WHOEVER THIS IS STOP TALKING TO AND TEXTING MY BOYFRIEND.

So he couldn’t hide with me anymore.

Aaron lived with his parents. His girlfriend had left him. She was in nursing school. He’d broken his back in an ATV accident.

Aaron wanted me to write about him. He wanted to see what we looked like on my bed in front of the closet with the sliding glass doors. I bought all those Mr. Happy condoms.

Aaron liked “Le Disko,” by Shiny Toy Guns. He wasn’t happy, which was why he was with me: my maternal instinct, my once milk-filled breasts.

When my son was an infant, he used to cry and my breasts would ache and tingle so immediately I couldn’t wait to go to him and pick him up then direct his mouth to my nipple. He’d latch on and suck.

How many of them arrived doing what they wanted?

That was what I tried to tell him. Create your own destiny. You can’t expect other people to do it for you. So Aaron described a road trip to Las Vegas and then making his living doing construction work, or maybe he’d become a journeyman, or a roadie for his favorite band, Pearl Jam.

I told Aaron to go.

“What?” he said. He thought I was joking.

Aaron came back and stood outside my apartment door pounding on it one night after midnight and scared the crap out of me until I said no enough times he struck the door so hard I knew the knuckles of his hand bled into the rain on the sidewalk.

“Bitch!” he shouted as he walked into the arms of the world.

Christian arrived at my door with a bag over his shoulder. From the cold, he stepped wearing a knit cap and glasses; he was like a muscled reed in jeans with a five o’clock shadow. He was in Portland for a Chris Cornell concert. His girlfriend wasn’t with him. I gave Christian pizza and a bottle of water.

Soon enough, he took notice of my ten-year-old son across the room playing Guitar Hero and explained a rating system to my son: ten for the most amazing experience ever and one for the worst.

He wanted to know how my son would rate the game.

“Eight or nine,” my son said and then gazed at the traveler’s shoes.

Christian looked at me. “This game of life, I’d give it about a seven so far.”  His shoes were neither polished nor scuffed.

“I’m going to be an artist,” my son said. “I’ll double major in Art and Japanese in college then live in Japan with my best friend, Zach.”

“That’s cool,” Christian said, and I could tell he meant to encourage him.

Christian lied on our couch under a string of Christmas lights framing a Marilyn Monroe poster I’d saved from a dumpster. I’d carried the poster over my head during a rainstorm, this heavy, cardboard thing, but I just had to get her around a corner and then up three flights of stairs.

When I’d hung her on the wall, I’d detected no water stains at all.

I also pulled a kitten from a dumpster once, five weeks old, flea bitten and starving. I sometimes wondered how she’d survived a dumpster and how long she’d been there, and who did that sort of thing to a kitten?

Christian glowed under the lights, softened. He looked at home here, relaxed. He wore a necklace like teeth around his neck. Which highway had he traveled to get here, 206? I sat curled in a chair and sipped a beer, something to fill me. He had the kind of mouth that was beautiful because of its full line and becoming redness. I could have sent my son to bed then. I could have kissed Christian. The sex would have felt maternal and sweet.

At least, I imagined it.

“I want to go to New Zealand,” he said.

“So why don’t you?”

“My girlfriend,” he said. “She’s clingy.”

Across the room, my son ripped through “Sabotage,” by the Beastie Boys like a rock star, one of our favorite songs.

“You mean you don’t want her to go with you?”

“I mean . . . yeah, I guess I want to do it myself.”

“So do it.”

“We own a house together. She’s in love with me. Going would be selfish.”

“You’d rather regret it then?”

“No. I don’t know. Just leave her?”

“Yeah,” I said.

Later, I tucked my son in bed with a kiss and a night light on. When I got to the door he spoke.

“Mom, when I go to college, you won’t be able to come with me.”

“Oh,” I said. “Can I call?”

“Yeah. But you can’t come to Japan either. You can call.”

Japan was far, far away. “How often can I call you?”

“Maybe . . . once or twice a week, not too much.”

Lately, we played this new game. My son grabbed hold of my leg and then refused to let go, so I dragged him across the floor behind me until finally the weight of him slowed me down and then hurt.

“Honey,” I’d say. “Can you let go?”

“No,” he’d say. My son thought it was hilarious. “You’re going to take me wherever you go.”