by Yong Takahashi
All the years Sandy waited to be filled with life, I knew
I was only injecting her with emptiness. I went along on her
quest to have children, thinking she would eventually give
up. Over the years, she completed countless fertility tests,
researched adoption agencies, joined a surrogacy group. And
worse, she hoped.
Sitting in Sandy’s latest fertility clinic, I squeeze her hand. I
study the floor to avoid looking at her. Only when she
touches my thigh, do I stop tapping my foot.
After the last test concluded she was fertile, she pushed me
into having tests of my own. I knew by my senior year of
college that I was drying up. The sperm donation center’s
director had sat me down and explained my choices. Being
twenty-two years old, I shrugged it off. In my mind, I would
deal with it later.
The doorknob turns and I catapult out of the chair. The doctor
slides into the office and shakes his head.
“Please sit,” he says.
“Is it bad news?” asks Sandy.
“Have you discussed the alternatives we spoke about after
our last visit? There are other ways. You could adopt. You
could use a sperm donor.” Dr. Weinstein offers several
Sandy looks at me but I stare straight ahead, studying the
diplomas on the doctor’s walls. I try to stand but she tugs at
“Let’s hear him out,” she says.
“I’m done.” I push the pamphlets away from me and walk out.
“I’m sorry,” I hear Sandy say to Dr. Weinstein.
“I understand, dear. Give it some time.” Dr. Weinstein’s voice
gets smaller as I escape down the hallway.
Sandy chases me to the parking lot. “This is nothing to be
ashamed of. A lot of couples do it.”
“I can’t,” I say, opening the car door. “I just can’t.”
I’m grateful Sandy is silent all the way home. I stop the car
outside our gated building. Sandy felt this place would bring
us better luck so we waited a year before a condo opened up
at this prestigious Peachtree Street address.
“I have to get back to work. Are you going to be okay?” I still
can’t look at her.
“Yes,” Sandy whispers, climbing out of the car.
“See you later.” I drive off before she can say anything else.
* * *
A few months ago, I had caught the beginning of a
documentary about sperm donors. One of the donors found
out he had one hundred and fifty children. The doctor had
promised there would be no more than six children, but greed
My head swirled with worry. I wondered how many of my
children were out there. I didn’t have time to write down the
name of the donor registry because Sandy walked into the
room. I quickly changed the channel to her favorite show,
Curiosity over what the children looked like had pulled at me
now and then. Dr. Weinstein’s mention of donation made me
wonder about the life that would never be.
After eight hours of sitting at my desk and thinking about
how to avoid Sandy, I come home to an empty house.
Relieved, I hurry into my office, and lock the door. I Google
“sperm donor,” and after a few minutes I find the donor
I pause. What if someone contacts me? The website assures
all inquiries will be kept confidential. That gives me a slight
level of reassurance.
Holding my breath, I click on the link. They only need two
pieces of information – the name of the sperm bank, and the
donor number. Allendale Clinic. Enter. 2000-799. Enter. The
donor number was the first year sperm was donated, and the
donor’s personal identification.
The home screen appears and I open up the chat room. The
children are calling each other diblings, slang for donor
siblings. I can’t breathe. It’s too much to digest in one
sitting. It’s incomprehensible. What I exchanged for seventy
dollars a jerk turned into real children.
Each child has a link. I click on several pages. There are the
photos I wanted to see and much more. The videos play
sounds of laughter, cooing, talking. I’m mesmerized by first
steps, falling off bikes, and birthday parties.
One of the links is marked “Urgent.” Do I really want to see
it? I’ve come this far. How can I stop now?
I click on the link and see a beautiful girl dressed in a
bouncy, pink dress. Perfection.
I click on the video. A woman smiles, pauses, and wipes a
tear from her cheek.
“Hi, my name is Jenna. I have breast cancer. My daughter is
six years old. I don’t have any relatives. I don’t know where
to turn.” She waits as the camera turns to the girl.
I stop the video, breathing in deeply. I stare at the stranger
dying of a disease I have put out of my mind. I try to collect
myself and resume listening to her plea.
“It would be wonderful if one of the dibling families adopted
her. I don’t want her to grow up in foster care.” She puts her
hands over her face but her tears burst through her weakened
“I will ask my wife,” a concerned father comments.
“I will pray for you,” is repeated several times by other
“We’re all family, and will always be bonded,” is the last
I try to close the page but my hands are trembling. I shiver
looking for an afghan. Images of my mother, long buried,
stand before me. She tried so hard to hide her pain. “I will
always love you Jake,” she had told me. “Someday you will
have children of your own and you will know there is no love
greater than between parent and child.”
I drag myself back to the laptop and lower myself into the
chair. I dial the number at the bottom of the page.
“Hello?” Jenna’s voice is barely audible.
“Mommy, who is it?” asks a squeaky voice.
I pull the phone away from my ear and begin to hang up.
“Sorry, hello?” she asks.
“Umm, hi. I saw your page on the registry.”
“Oh yes, are you a dibling parent?”
“No, not exactly,” I say.
“Who are you?” she asks.
“I’m the fa—I’m donor number 2000-799.”
“Oh.” The second of silence seems to go on forever.
“Mommy, mommy, let me talk,” says the smaller voice.
“Just a minute, Danielle,” she says in a weakened voice.
I sat back in my chair. Danielle.
“Sorry, what did you say your name was?” she asks.
“I apologize. Jake. Jake Elliot.” Danielle’s mother falls silent
“My name is Jenna. My daughter is—”
“Danielle. I heard. That was my mother’s name.”
“Oh,” Jenna says again.
“Beautiful name. That’s what I would name a girl if I had
one.” I smack myself in the forehead. I’ve said too much.
“Jake, I’m feeling a little sick tonight. Could we speak
tomorrow? I need to verify your story with the clinic. You
“Yes, of course.” I bite my lip. What if they tell her how many
donations I made?
* * *
Days pass while I go through the motions at work and at
home. I berate myself for opening the door. Why did I call?
What will I tell Sandy?
Jenna finally calls me at work. “The clinic verified your name.
Do you want to talk?”
“Sure. Tomorrow?” I ask before thinking.
“Do you know where Caribou Coffee is on North Highland?
Can you meet there tomorrow, around ten in the morning?”
“I look forward to it. See you then.” I slide my phone into a
drawer. I can’t talk to anyone else today.
The next morning, I arrive at the coffee shop at nine. I need
time to gather myself before I meet the mother of my child.
Shortly after ten, I notice a woman in her mid-thirties moving
slowly down the sidewalk. I run over to meet her.
“Are you Jenna?” I ask as I offer my hand.
“Jake, it’s nice to meet you,” she says and stumbles.
I hold her up by the shoulders, steadying her.
“I’m sorry. The weakness comes and goes so suddenly.” She
“My mother had cancer. I know what you’re going through.” I
put out my arm and she holds onto me until we reach a chair
inside the coffee shop.
Jenna smiles. “Can we just get to it?”
I nod. “Of course.”
“What made you search for her?” asks Jenna.
“I was curious about all the children and I came across your
page.” I bite my lip. “Sorry, I’m sorry.”
“There is no need. This is quite new for both of us.” She
looks down at the table.
“What does she know about me?” I ask.
“Nothing. She’s a bit young. I always planned on telling her
when she was older.”
“I know what it’s like to be alone after your mother dies.” I
follow the grooves in the table with my index finger.
“I’m sorry this brings back sad memories for you.” She purses
her lips. “I have a friend in the police department. I had you
checked out. I couldn’t risk—”
“I understand,” I assure her.
“Would you and your wife like to meet her?”
“My wife?” My eyes widen.
“She was in the investigation report,” she says.
“I haven’t told her yet. I didn’t know if anything would come
of this. We’re having fertility issues. I didn’t want to upset
her.” I close my eyes. I’ve said too much again.
“Maybe this is too much responsibility for you,” she says.
“Maybe it is but I want to meet Danielle. I will tell Sandy
when it’s appropriate.”
“She doesn’t know about any of it – the donation, and
children?” Sandy’s mouth is slightly open as if she isn’t done
“No, I was ashamed. Not about Danielle or the other kids,
but the circumstances.”
“That part I do understand. I never told my friends either.”
I wipe the sweat from my palms on my pants.
“How about three o’clock tomorrow? Danielle will be back
from school then.” Jenna waits for my answer.
“Okay, I’ll see you then.” I wonder what I will tell Sandy now.
“Can I give you a lift home?”
“No thanks. The doctor said I should try to exercise a bit. It
will give me time to think about what to tell Danielle.” She
jerks up and down before she is able to steady herself.
* * *
The next day, I drive by the craftsman-style house several
times. The fourth time I pass by, I notice Jenna peeking out
her lace curtains. I park on the street, thinking it too
intimate to go on her driveway. Jenna cracks open the thin,
yellow door which seems too heavy for her.
“Hello, please come in,” Jenna says. “She’s here but she’s
trying on all her dresses. We haven’t had a visitor in so long.”
Danielle bolts out of her bedroom door. “Hi, my mommy said
we’re going for ice cream.”
“Yes, anywhere you want,” I tell her.
“Mommy! He said anywhere I want!” Danielle smiles. “I got
my school pictures today. Do you want to see them?”
“That would be great.” I wipe my forehead with the back of
Danielle pulls a large, white envelope out of her backpack.
“Look, Mommy said I’m the prettiest girl in the world.”
“Yes, you are,” I confirm.
“Do you want to look at my baby pictures?” Jenna and I look
at each other.
“Okay,” I choke out of my scratchy throat.
“Do you want something to drink?” asks Jenna.
I wonder if she has alcohol. “Water please.”
Danielle runs over to the bookcase and points to an album.
“Can you get that down? I have to put my picture in it.”
Jenna returns with a glass of water.
“Thank you,” I steady my hand before taking the glass from
Danielle sits on Jenna’s lap and giggles. “Tell him about the
“This is her first birthday. That’s her first step.” She
continues to flip through the years.
“This is my first day of school,” Danielle announces.
“I’m sorry. It’s too much.” Jenna sits back in her chair.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“Danielle, why don’t you finish getting dressed and then we
can go get ice cream.”
“But.…” Danielle crosses her arms and pouts.
“Go on, I need to speak to Mr. Jake.” She smiles lovingly at
“Okay,” Danielle says as she trudges to her bedroom.
Jenna shivers slightly, pulling a blanket over her shoulders.
“What are your intentions? I don’t have that much time.
Some of the other families want her.” Jenna stops to catch
“I don’t know. This was so unexpected.” I’m still holding
Danielle’s photo in my hand.
“I thought she would be happier with blood relatives. I grew
up in foster care. I always wanted a family of my own. Now
she’ll be alone like I was.” Jenna’s body rocks as she tries to
contain her tears.
Danielle runs back into the living room. “Can we go now?”
“I’ll wait outside,” I tell them.
Jenna stumbles onto the porch. Danielle pushes on the back
of Jenna’s legs so she won’t fall over. I turn away from their
“I want extra sprinkles,” Danielle sings as I buckle her seat
“She’s excited about leaving the house. I haven’t been able
to take her anywhere for a while.”
Once settled in the car, I watch Danielle from the rear view
mirror. She sings a song to herself, then giggles.
“Are you Mommy’s boyfriend?”
My face warms. “What do you know about boyfriends?”
“Jeffrey is my boyfriend at school. He said he is going to
marry me. Are you going to marry Mommy?”
Jenna’s cheeks turn pink this time. The color seems to bring
her back to life. She was probably beautiful once.
When we reach the ice cream shop, Jenna gives Danielle a
quarter. “Go get a toy from the machine and let the grownups
“Yay!” Danielle bolts to the vending machines and studies all
“Jake, I’m sorry. I pushed you back at the house.” Jenna pats
I place my hands in my pockets and rock back and forth on
“Maybe we should meet a few more times before you make a
decision. And you could bring Sandy next time.”
Danielle comes back to us and grabs my hand. “I want a
sundae with whipped cream and sprinkles.”
I smile at them. “Let’s have dinner tomorrow.”
Jenna and Danielle both nod.
* * *
It’s been two weeks since the doctor’s visit. Other than the
cordial “hellos” and questions about dinner, Sandy and I
haven’t spoken about our future. She’s looked at me, staring,
waiting for me to say something. But, I have ignored her.
“We have to talk,” Sandy says as I try to scoot past her. “I
don’t understand your reluctance about discussing other
methods for having kids. You were so happy when your
cousin adopted Mae-Lin. You threw a baby shower for Howard
and Mike when their gestational carrier delivered Sam. You
always seemed so understanding.”
She reaches out to me but I turn and go to my office for my
laptop. I hand it to her.
“This is what I’ve been doing. I’m so sorry for hiding this. I
just didn’t know how to tell you.”
Her eyes widen as they wash over the screen. “What the hell
is this? Have you been donating sperm? I thought you were
having an affair, watching porn, anything but this.”
“I did it a million years ago.” I shift feet, unable to stand still.
“All these kids? Yours?” Sandy’s face tightens for a moment
then tears spill down her face.
“You gave it all away!” Her cheeks become dark as ripe plums
and the veins rip across her forehead.
“I’m sorry. It was before I met you.”
She shakes her head but words fail to escape her mouth.
“I’ve been meeting with Danielle, my…and her mother.”
“Say it! Your daughter.”
“Her mother has cancer. She wants us to adopt Danielle.” I
blurt it out. I don’t have the words to cushion the blow.
“Are you considering this?” Sandy looks at me through a flood
“I wanted to ask you what you thought. We were going to
“But she would be yours, not mine.” The laptop falls out
Sandy’s hands and crashes on the floor.
“Does the clinic have any more sperm? We could try to have
our own baby.” Her words gush out and her tongue fights to
catch up with her brain.
“No, I won’t do that,” I tell her.
“Why?” She grabs me around the neck and shoulders.
“It seems wrong to start another life when one that already
exists needs us. Will you meet her?” I rub her arms. “Can
“Are you crazy?” Sandy runs into the bathroom and slams the
I touch the doorknob but think twice about forcing the door
open. With the barrier between us, I feel safer about telling
her the truth.
“I needed the money. My father remarried shortly after my
mother died. The step-monster sent me away to boarding
school. She didn’t want my father to have a relationship with
me. When I graduated high school, he sent me a check for
college along with a note asking me not to come back home.
I haven’t seen him since he dropped me off at Westchester
Academy. No holidays, no spring breaks, no summer
“He started another family with her. To me, sperm was just a
way to earn money. In my mind, it didn’t make a family. I
had been alone since I was ten years old. Then you came
along. You had the perfect family. I couldn’t tell you. It was
too painful and I didn’t want to lose you.”
“All this time, I thought it was me. My own mother said it
was my fault. She’s been throwing the fact that Shane’s wife
is pregnant in my face.”
“No one can measure up to your brother in your mother’s
eyes. You know that.”
“Mother suggested we try hypnotherapy with Shane to help
us get pregnant. Do you know how embarrassing that is,
asking your own brother to help with your fertility issues?”
“I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?”
“Just get out,” Sandy yells through the door.
After hours of pleading with Sandy to come out of the
bathroom, I pack a bag and check into the Westin hotel.
Calls, texts, and emails go unanswered for weeks.
* * *
Jenna asks me if I really want Danielle. She needs a decision
quickly as her doctor told her she probably won’t live to see
next summer. Preparations will have to be made to ready
Danielle for the transition.
Three donor families have stepped forward to take Danielle.
The best option is one that has an eight-year old girl from
one of my donations. They want a sibling for their own
daughter and are ready to make Danielle a part of their
I sit on the park bench at Piedmont Park and watch Danielle
twirl around in the sequined, purple dress I bought for her. I
pull out my phone. Sandy still has not reached out to me. I
bow my head and take in a deep breath.
To her, I’m more than Donor Number 2000-799.
Yong Takahashi placed first in the Chattahoochee Valley Writers
Conference National Short Story Contest and in the Writer's Digest's
Write It Your Way Contest. Her works appear in Cactus Heart, Crab Fat
Magazine, Emerge Literary Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Hamilton
Stone Review, Meat For Tea, River & South Review, Rusty Nail
Magazine, Spilt Infinitive, and Twisted Vines.