SHORT STORY CONTEST
DONOR NUMBER 2000-799
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 pamphlets.
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 my shirt.
“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 prevailed.
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, Modern Family.
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 registry.
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 fingers.
“I will ask my wife,” a concerned father comments.
“I will pray for you,” is repeated several times by other parents.
“We’re all family, and will always be bonded,” is the last entry.
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 again.
“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 understand?”
“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 blushes.
“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 interrogating me.
“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 my hand.
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 her.
Danielle sits on Jenna’s lap and giggles. “Tell him about the pictures.”
“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 her daughter.
“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 her breath.
“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 intimate moment.
“I want extra sprinkles,” Danielle sings as I buckle her seat belt.
“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 talk.”
“Yay!” Danielle bolts to the vending machines and studies all the choices.
“Jake, I’m sorry. I pushed you back at the house.” Jenna pats my shoulder.
I place my hands in my pockets and rock back and forth on my heels.
“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 of tears.
“I wanted to ask you what you thought. We were going to adopt anyway.”
“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 you—”
“Are you crazy?” Sandy runs into the bathroom and slams the door.
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 vacations.
“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 family.
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.