Inconceivable

Planet Keanu

I measure my life in temperature. I take my basal temperature the first thing every morning with a special thermometer that has an extra decimal point. Then, I record it on a paper chart that looks like a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox from 1984. With a series of dots, circles, and x’s, I plot out my follicular and luteal phases. I have become a high school science experiment.

My chart used to be a series of erratic ticks, because my luteal phase was too short and my temperature was never what it was supposed to be. Ovulation is part of the luteal phase. It’s the time that either an embryo takes roots in your uterus, or it doesn’t. When you ovulate, your temperature spikes up several small fractions of a degree. My doctor told me that if your temperature is up for 12 days, you are most likely pregnant. My temperature was never up for more than four days. It felt masochistic to have to visually track my weak cycle.

Hormone therapy is supposed to prime my body for a longer luteal phase, to give the embryo a better chance to stick around. On my second round of hormone therapy, my luteal phase started getting longer. As if I was turning the clock forward into daylight savings. My temperature was up for four days, then six, then eight. My uterus felt busy and tender. I could even tell that I was ovulating, because it felt like someone punched me in the abdomen. A painful ovulation is a hopeful one.

The pain subsided, but my temperature stayed around 98.45. I ticked the days off, feeling calm. For the first time in two years, I was patient with my body. My husband and I speculated whether or not this time felt any different. We decided that if nothing else, my body was getting into the fight.

***

As a teenager, I used to measure my life by the number of times I watched the movie Speed. Keanu was my first hard, impossible crush. Speed came out when I was 14, and I was its perfect audience. To be fair, my Speed reverence wasn’t just about Keanu. It was the ensemble, Sandra Bullock, and thumbless Dennis Hopper and I discovered later, also thanks to the script doctoring of Joss Whedon and Quentin Tarantino. Speed even made Jeff Daniels tolerable.

There was something enchanting about Keanu’s gum-chomping, cocky, straight-arrow combination of pure confidence and pure anguish—something, I think every tween girl can find at their core. Keanu was pretty, but he was emotional. He behaved as if he was invincible, but made invincibility look hard. I can thank him for the next decade of chasing pretty boys who hurt.

My room was, in a horrible decision, painted mauve. Right in front of my bed, I hung a Speed poster. The mauve made the poster stand out even more than it would against my other floral decorations. I would lay in bed at night, look at that poster, and wondering how I would meet him.

I imagined the scene. I’d probably wear the jeans with the hole in the knee and that black sweater I took from my mom’s closet. We’d talk about his band Dogstar. I’d tell him that I was sorry he is often compared to Ted “Theodore” Logan and that he sometimes gets cast as just a pretty face. I’d ask if he hates that every article mentioned his name meant “cool breeze over a mountain.” I’d tell him I admired his attempts at Shakespeare, or his work in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But, I’d admit that I liked knowing what it meant. I’d be attentive, and be sure to really listen. Or, maybe we wouldn’t need to talk at all. We’d just sit and watch the ocean and be deep together.

***

John Wick is the most violent movie I’ve seen this year. It’s an artfully crafted underworld of assassin culture, incredible stunts, and sleek black suits. Directed by two a-list stunt coordinators, it’s surprisingly funny for a movie who’s best line is, “Oh.”

In its two hours of fluid violence, Keanu plays a mythical retired assassin who left the business after finding love. He’s older, settled in an ultra modern mansion, driving a 69 mustang. When we meet him, his wife has just died of natural causes. As a last gift, she has a puppy delivered to Keanu’s door, to remind him how to love. Keanu and the beagle—possibly the cutest doomed animal since Drag Me to Hell—get acquainted with each other, sleeping and eating together, until one day a clueless Russian mob boss’s son (played by Lilly Allen’s brother) breaks into Keanu’s home to steal his Mustang. The mob goons attack Keanu, and in a last savage blow, they kick the puppy to death. A plot point that feels shameless and highly manipulative, but the movie knows what it’s doing.

Keanu is dragged back into the killing business on a mission of vengeance for his puppy. Blood­letting and neck­breaking ensues. To get back in the game, he has to break through the concrete floor he’s poured over his stash of gold assassin tokens (used as black market currency) and his expansive arsenal.

John Wick is also proof that Keanu is still a physical marvel. He looks incredible for someone who just turned 50. His strength doesn’t look steroid-addled. It’s seems born from haunted grace and steely determination, and it makes a slew of beautifully choreographed fight scenes. In long, unbroken shots, Keanu shoots, kicks, and punches through five or ten guys at a time. His fighting transcends what could be a violence orgy, and it becomes a physical manifestation of the character’s grief. Keanu still has that vulnerability that affords him a certain depth, even when his character is purely reliant on action and comic timing.

***

On the twelfth day, my temperature dropped. I took the pregnancy test anyway, as my due diligence, but I knew what the result would be.

Without a second glance at the single stripe, I immediately threw the test in the trash and got ready for work. That’s the result I was used to, and why should it be any different?

On my way to lunch later that, I saw a puppy leading his owner through a crowd. The dog wasn’t a beagle, and the owner definitely wasn’t Keanu, but those minor details are irrelevant. There was something about the way that Keanu loved that dog in John Wick.  It was his tail wagging, beagle beacon of hope.

It hit me with an unusual clarity why I was so crazed over Keanu when I was younger. I remember suddenly feeling new things, like longing. A kind of longing that was new and ridiculous. I felt my world open a little. Right there on my lunch break, I was back to my 14-year-old self, back to the edge of adolescence and puberty.

***

At a recent party, a friend was trying to figure out what the fuck it was about Keanu Reeves. That is to say, my friend was trying to articulate what made Keanu so enjoyable to watch, even when he was in a schlock like Johnny Mneumonic.

We talked about his comic timing, his innate stoicism, his graceful physicality, but my friend wasn’t satisfied those answers. There was something there, but could that something even be described? Could it be unpacked and examined? Is there a there there?

As we picked apart Keanu, I tried to decide whether or not the wave of nausea I was feeling was a symptom of pregnancy or just another side effect of my hormone therapy. A friend of mine who had an unwanted pregnancy in college told me that the only sign that she was pregnant was her sudden rock hard abs. Another friend who recently had her second child knew each time because her nipples felt a certain way. Another felt like she was about to get her period, because, as she described her uterus, “It felt like it was doing something.” I’m constantly looking for the something that will tell me.

***

Everything is on hold when you’re TTC (Trying To Conceive in infertility forum-speak). I might not be pregnant, but I could be at any time. My body is always pre-pregnant. I question the clothes I just bought, the coffee I’m still drinking, why I’m still running so much. All decisions are thrown with doubt.

I’m tired. I’m tired of thinking about pregnancy tests, temperature charts, and deciding if I’m really a drink til it’s pink sort of person. Should I read another entry at fertilehoughts.com and get depressed? Does that bloating mean pregnancy? Is that cramp a signal?

***

It was the nineties, and I didn’t have the Internet, so my Keanu obsession limited itself to posters, Seventeen and a 1995 Vanity Fair article with Keanu draped across his motorcycle on the front cover. I even resorted to collaging: There is a picture of me glued to a friend’s high school scrapbook underneath a caption that says “Planet Keanu.”

One afternoon, my mother told me that she had heard on the news that Keanu had fallen off a horse and broke his neck. “That Reeves guy you’re always talking about.”

I was, in a word, destroyed. Could it be true? What if he never walked, or never ran after a bus again? Who would play bass for Dogstar? There was no other information on the news—none of my friends had heard anything. Desperate, I did what any normal, internet-less tween would do. I wrote him a letter.

Psychologists say that teen infatuation has more to do with the admirer than the admired, and I wish I could remember what that letter said because it might solve some riddle about me. But it went something like this: “Are you paralyzed? My mom said that you fell off a horse and that you will never walk again. Please let me know if you are okay. Just send me a letter one word: okay.”” I put a stamp on the envelope, but I’m fuzzy about whether or not I actually mailed it.

A day later, I found out it was Christopher Reeve. I was relieved – and then felt terrible about my solace.

***

When I dream of a positive pregnancy test, I’m worried that I’m starting to fantasize about a positive pregnancy test the way I used to fantasize about meeting Keanu. When I start to think about what I will feel like, what I will say to my husband, I feel like I’m in my old mauve bedroom staring at a poster of Speed. I’m worried that it’s just as impossible, that I wouldn’t know what to do if it did happen.

In three months, I’ll be considered geriatric in fertility terms, my doctor is going to “kick me out” if the next two rounds of my hormone therapy don’t work. I’ll have to move on to a fertility specialist—something that isn’t covered by insurance.

I might have to stop fighting soon. Which is why I crave narratives that are about stretching and pulling and pushing the body, ones that are about keep going. One of the propulsive things about John Wick is that he keeps fighting. He kills an entire club full of people, gets bandaged up at the assassin hotel by a doctor specializing in assassin-ry, takes some pills, sand keeps going. The hurt had to be for something.

Jen Girdish lives in Washington, DC, with one very tall husband and two average-sized cats. Her work has appeared in the The Morning News, Awl, and McSweeney’s, among others. She is at work on an essay collection all about herself.