Doctors told us couldn't have babies the "normal" way, so we had to do IVF. (I've written other essays about this. Here's one.) But back then, we were poor. Like, poorer than we are now. I was in grad school, Steve was working as a reporter for NPR ($24,000/year! woot!), IVF--$15,000 a cycle back then--was not really an option.
Until, miracle of miracles, John Bennion (who I didn't know) asked me to teach a writing class on a study abroad class in England. In England, IVF was $3000. Which was what I'd get paid for teaching.
But the catch:
This was not an ordinary writing class. It was a *wilderness* writing class. We wrote while hiking more than 200 miles, over seven mountains, in the space of six weeks.
And I did it while on IVF hormones.
I don't know about y'all, but my reactions to hormones are... extreme. So I was puking, fantasizing about killing people, generally feeling miserable, suicidal most days, and, of course!, I was hallucinating.
Well, one day we were hiking in the forest in the hills above Milton Abbey. It was a twenty mile hike that day (I think), and I was exhausted. I was so exhausted that I started to feel like my spirit had floated outside my body, connected only to my toes.
I hiked for awhile, staring at my disembodied spirit.
But then the spirit-that-looked-like-me started talking:
"You could be rich, you know," she said.
I had never really cared about being rich. But suddenly, it seemed like a really, really fantastic idea.
"And you could be famous." She was smiling. "People will adore you. There will be throngs of them. Cheering. Just because you're there."
She went on and on like this. And it was all seeming more and more appealing, everything she was saying. My insides were starting to churn with something I'd call... lust, maybe.
Just then one of the other hiking students accidentally bumped into me. (It could have been Jamie. It could have been Jessie or Elise, I actually don't remember who it was.)
The spirit who looked like me said, "When you're famous, no one will bump into you."
And I started to get really angry.
The spirit said, "You can make it all happen you know. It's simple. Watch."
Then I saw her standing at the edge of a cliff. Her face was filled with bloodlust and I felt the same thing, spinning around in my stomach. And she took that girl that had bumped into me and pushed her over the edge. And smiled.
"Who ARE you?" I said (in my head)(this whole thing was happening in my head, I promise no one really got pushed over a cliff). "Because you are NOT me."
And then the spirit snapped back and I felt almost like myself again.
But when we finally got to Milton Abbey, there was a pamphlet about how it was built.
A man named Athelstan was walking in the forested hills above the future Milton Abbey. When suddenly, he started to hear his own voice talking back to him.
"You could be great," said his voice.
"You could be the greatest king that ever lived."
Athelstan really liked the idea of being the greatest king that ever lived.
"It'd be easy," said his voice. "All you'd have to do..."
Athelstan believed his voice, though.
He went down and burned an entire village--with its people--to the ground.
Milton Abbey was erected in the empty space left by the destruction.
When I sat inside the abbey, sitting on its cold stones and reading that pamphlet, I wondered: was it a real demon who talked to me in the forest? One whispering bloodlust to kings and kerrys?
I couldn't tell you for sure.
But if I were you, I wouldn't hike in those hills while on hallucination-inducing drugs.
ps: Sam was conceived during that round of IVF. Just so you know. :)