Excerpt on To Play at God, Article

Guests said they’d never seen anything like it. The wedding of the decade, some called it.  At least the wedding of 1995. And if you weren’t invited, it meant you simply didn’t make the list of Who’s Who in the city’s Spanish and Greek communities.

Cristina Lopez and Alesandro Stephanidis borrowed from the best of both cultural traditions for their big day. Carrying a bouquet of orange blossoms, Cristina strode down the aisle in an elegant designer gown that showed off her svelte figure. Her tanned face and upswept mahogany coiffure were concealed by a lace mantilla veil, the same veil worn by her mother and her grandmother on their wedding days.

At the front of the cathedral, Alesandro turned and smiled back at her. He was slightly taller than his diminutive bride, and had dark good looks inherited from both his parents. With his thick black hair, olive-toned skin, and brown eyes that were almost too pretty for a man, everyone told him he looked just like John Stamos. As the ceremony proceeded and the Stefana crown ritual joined them in marriage, family and friends were sure only wonderful things lay in store for these two.

Afterwards, a Spanish guitarist serenaded the guests as they entered the reception hall. He played with passion and elegance. A feast of paella, lamb with Orzo, baklava, and so much more was served. Ouzo and sangria flowed freely. There was also passion, but no attempt at elegance whatsoever, in the music performed later by the Greek band. The circle dancing and eating and drinking went on for hours. Many of the younger guests partied till the sun came up the next morning.

Following a month-long honeymoon cruise, they settled into married life. Of course, compared to some young couples just starting out, things weren’t all that difficult for them.  Their wedding gift from Alesandro’s parents had been a condo in a gated community. His family owned a successful chain of Greek restaurants and money was no issue for them. Custom furnishings gave their place European flair, and there was a shiny new BMW in their underground parking garage.

Alesandro, the only son, was being groomed to take over the business when his father Ari retired. Cristina’s background was less privileged.  Still, she had a promising career with the local operations of an international airline. This meant lots of opportunities to fly to all sorts of exotic places. For a while, life was as good as it could get for Cristina and Alesandro.

Six months later, for the first time as a married couple, they joined in the Christmas gatherings of both families. For them, the holiday was celebrated twice—two weeks apart—according to the different Catholic and Greek Orthodox calendars. But they got the same message from both sides. It was time for them to start a family.

They were fully expecting this. Their families tended to be old-country traditional after all. Lots of babies, starting young, was what they wanted for the couple. Cristina and Alesandro easily brushed off the hints.

After the holidays, the pressure continued. Perhaps not surprisingly, Ari pushed the most.  He was anxious for them to start the next Stephanidis generation. Cristina’s widowed mother Bianca went on about it, too. Still, the young couple wanted a few more years of freedom before being tied down with babies.

Around the time of their first anniversary, the hints started to bite.

“Come on, Alesandro! What the hell are you waiting for? You’ve had your fun. Now you’ve got family obligations to think about.”

“We have lots of time for babies, Papa. Cristina wants to work a few more years.  Things are going really well for her right now with the airline.”

“Why is she making all the decisions? Aren’t you man enough? We’re talking about our future, after all. As a family and as a business. Don’t let us down!”

It was a stand-off after that.

­­The two men hadn’t spoken in ten days, but Alesandro couldn’t stop thinking about what his father had said. Having a child right away wasn’t actually such a bad idea. And Ari was making his life so difficult about it. Accusing him of being intimidated by Cristina and her agenda. Well, he wasn’t about to be intimidated by her. Or by anyone else. Ever.

“I’ve been thinking, Cristina. Let’s try for a baby now. Why hold off? We can always hire a nanny so you can go back to work after.”

It was twilight. He’d just brought two balloon glasses of cognac to their loveseat in front of the fireplace. His idea of a romantic setting. Maybe she could be seduced into changing her mind.

“Where’s this coming from, Alesandro? We agreed to wait a few years. And when it does happen, I want to raise our babies by myself. Not leave them with some stranger.”

So much for the seduction.

“You know everybody’s counting on us. And my parents have been so good to you. Why ignore how the rest of us feel?”

“I can’t believe you’re siding with them against me! Don’t try to bully me about this, Alesandro.  It won’t work. I’m not going to change my mind.”

And she didn’t.

Two years later, the time was finally right. For both of them. Cristina stopped taking the pill. Then they followed her cycles closely and made extra time for sex when she was ovulating.

But the perfect couple did not get pregnant, even after a full year of trying.

It was twelve months of  growing  frustration.  Everything else in their lives had come to them so easily, why not this? And, of course, they had to cope with the reactions of their families. Cristina found it difficult to deal with her mother’s pity.  Her mother-in-law’s reproaches were even worse. What was wrong with her anyway?, was Agnes’ message. Too delicate? Too much for her to handle? So disappointing for everyone. Poor Alesandro!

It  never occurred to any of them that the  problem was with him, not her. The couple only discovered this after they were referred to Dr. Alan Wilcross.

At their first appointment, he asked them about their medical histories. Then, he thoroughly examined both Cristina and Alesandro and found no physical anomalies with either of them. Bloodwork and ultrasound and other tests were scheduled, but it was the semen analysis that revealed what was wrong. Alan explained at their second visit that Alesandro had an extremely low sperm count.

Alesandro’s reaction was no surprise to him. Alan had seen his type before, and he was not a fan. Right from the beginning, there’d been that alpha male attitude that sprang from extreme privilege. The upfront presumption it was the woman’s fault.  Then, after learning the truth, the initial disbelief followed by anger and embarrassment.

Alesandro didn’t have to say a word. It was all there in the way he puffed up his chest and shook his head in denial, as if doing so would change the diagnosis.  Then came the curt statement that they’d go for a second opinion.

Just another entitled asshole, Alan thought. But who said he had to like all his patients?

Alesandro couldn’t get out of the clinic fast enough. Cristina drove them home, and he sulked silently beside her all the way.

He let loose as soon as he closed the front door of their condo.

“Jesus Christ! What a disaster! Imagine if my father found out. It’s bad enough he insults us about going to see a fertility specialist.”