February 16, 20--
Please, please, write back as soon as you get this and tell me you're okay. Your email address keeps bouncing and when I call you I alternate between busy signals and "mailbox full" messages. But the folks at the post office say they're pretty sure they can still deliver letters, though delivery is going to be slower than it was before all this craziness started... I'm going to make three copies of this letter and mail them at different post offices; I hope you get at least once of them. I'm at Robert's apartment, the address above. We canceled the honeymoon trip because of all the flights being grounded and the general chaos.
We were so bummed when you told me you wouldn't have enough vacation time to come to the wedding, and I almost thought about postponing it so you could come, even though the church was already reserved and the invitations were already at the printer. But it's a good thing you weren't there, really. At least I hope so. Please write and tell me things are better where you are. All the guests who came to Athens for the wedding are wishing they'd found a good reason not to come, and the local folks are wishing they'd had some reason to be in Atlanta or Augusta or somewhere that day instead. I hear on CNN that things are weird all over, and terrible in a lot of places, but I haven't heard anything about Bowling Green; tell me what's happening there? Athens (actually Clarke County and I think about six other counties mostly to our northeast) is one of the worst areas in Georgia for suicides -- when I went back to work every bed in the place was full, with over forty people admitted in the last twelve hours with various injuries caused by unsuccessful suicide attempts, and St. Mary's is full of them too, I hear; plus a similar number of accident victims as anywhere else. I'll explain why in a minute. It's probably best to take things in order; I'm getting ahead of myself.
The wedding was almost over when it happened. Whatever 'it' is; we're starting to figure out what but we still don't know how or why. The preacher was asking Robert one of the last questions and he suddenly faltered and looked pale. Just then I felt horribly queasy and nauseous for a second, not long enough to throw up, and then it got better but I still felt bad. Weird, mostly in my belly but kind of all over. And I glanced from the preacher to Robert and I saw he was looking bad too. For half a second I thought he was having second thoughts and was about to yell "No, actually, I don't!" and walk out, but then I thought, it's probably the rehearsal dinner. We all got food poisoning and it's hitting us all now at the worst possible time. Al, Robert's best man, was looking kind of queasy too, and so were the other groomsmen and little Tim, who was our ringbearer. (He's already nine, can you believe it? He was, what, only six when you saw him last, right? Anyway, nine is old enough to know better than to do what he did a few moments later -- but I'm getting ahead of myself.)
So the preacher said "...to have and to hold, from this day... um..." and then he stopped. It seemed like forever before he spoke up again, but I guess it was only a few seconds. Then "from this day forward, till death do you part?"
Robert was feeling weird too, we all were, and he could tell I wasn't feeling well too. He told me later that I looked like I was about to pass out, and the bridesmaids didn't look much healthier. He whispered to me, "Do you feel okay? Should we find a doctor now and finish this later?"
"I'm okay," I whispered back. "Let's get this thing done!"
Then he said aloud "I do," and the preacher asked me the question, and I answered it, and somehow we muddled through the last few minutes of the service without any of us passing out or throwing up, although I think a few people in the congregation did. The organist missed his cue by a few seconds and hit a few wrong notes, but didn't do too badly considering the way he must have been feeling. I was pretty annoyed when I saw that Tim had his right hand down the front of his pants, scratching his crotch in front of everybody, but I didn't know what the look on his face meant until later.
As soon as we left the sanctuary Robert said he had to go to the restroom. I said I did too, and we kissed and went off in different directions -- the closest restrooms were on either side of the vestibule. Liza followed me into the restroom half a minute later, and then Paula and the other bridesmaids, with Heidi dragging Tina by the hand and Tina saying she didn't have to go -- she's Robert's niece, and our flower girl.
I was looking at myself in the mirror and splashing my face with water and so forth, trying to figure out what was wrong. The weird feeling was fading, but really slowly. I still have traces of it now, two days later.
Liza and I talked about what was going on. She was feeling pretty much the same way I was, and had felt the same momentary nausea just when Robert and I were getting to our vows -- and then it turned out all the bridesmaids had felt it too, and even Tina, though for her it wasn't as bad.
While several of us were talking Paula had gone into a stall to pee. When she came out she cleared her throat to get our attention and said, matter-of-factly, "It looks like my clit is gone."
Well, within a few minutes all of us had checked ourselves and found the same thing, or rather, the same nothing. We talked about what had happened for another minute or two, but got nowhere, and decided we'd better go to the reception. Robert was standing in the vestibule just outside the ladies' room waiting for me. Someone was talking to him, one of his uncles I think, and he excused himself and came over to talk to me.
"Honey," he said in a low voice, "I've got some bad news. Something really weird."
"Me too," I said. "You first."
"This..." he held out his wedding ring, and I saw then that he wasn't wearing it. "We're going to have to get it annulled. Non-consummation, I reckon."
"What?" I asked, feeling worse than ever.
"I felt sick for a moment there during the wedding, then just weird and wrong; I couldn't quite figure out why at first. And when I went to the restroom and looked at myself... Well. You can see I still look the same with clothes on, but... I'm not a man anymore, not where it counts."
He was blushing, and talking quiet so no one would hear us, and it took me a while to get the story, but basically: he had a vagina. And so did Al and the groomsmen and Tim... their penis and testicles were clean gone, and apparently, though they weren't quite sure, their prostate as well.
"Tell me something," I said, "do you have a clitoris?"
He blushed brighter than ever. "I, um, I'm not sure. I didn't really look that close. It's just too new and weird."
(I'm abridging this of all the interruptions. Every minute or so someone would come up to us and say it was a beautiful wedding and congratulations but they weren't feeling well and they thought they'd leave now and not stay for the reception, so it took us a while to get through this.)
"Come on," I told him. "We'll find someplace private." We went down the hall off the vestibule and found a Sunday School classroom. On the way there I told him what Liza and the bridesmaids and I had found out about ourselves. I pulled him inside, closed the door, pushed a chair up against it, and closed the curtains, then told him, "Take off your pants."
He argued a bit, but I said, "I'm your *wife*. And a professional nurse. Either of those reasons should be good enough for you."
I examined him then. Among other things I confirmed that, yes, his prostate was gone, and he didn't have a clitoris any more than I had.
"This isn't really a vagina," I told him. "It's like maybe a little boy's idea of what a girl is like down there when he's heard about how girls are different from boys but hasn't ever seen one up close."
"Al was saying something about how it didn't look right," he said; "his, I mean, not mine -- we all examined ourselves separately. But -- however it happened, I mean, we can't be really married, can we?"
"We don't know what caused it. For all we know it'll reverse itself as suddenly as it happened. And I'm sticking with you anyway; you can't get rid of me that easily."
But it was sinking in then. We'd been saving ourselves for each other our whole lives, and now it looked like all our savings were in the same failed bank, with no FDIC in sight.
We looked at each other without saying anything for a few seconds, and then hugged and kissed, and I said, "Come on. People are waiting for us."
But not many people, it turned out. Way more than half of the congregation had left early. The caterers were nowhere to be seen, but the few guests who had stayed for the reception weren't letting that stop them from helping themselves to the food already laid out. They were standing around talking in low voices in small groups, more like at a funeral than a wedding reception. But when we came in most of them gave a cheer -- maybe not as loud or as long as I would have expected, though.
My mom came up to us right away. "Where did you disappear to?"
"I'll explain later, in private," I said. "Sorry. We can do the photos later."
"Maybe," she said. "I haven't seen the photographer since we left the sanctuary."
"Where's Dad?" I asked, looking around and not seeing him.
"He went out to the car for something," she said.
Robert's parents came over to us then. Both of them looked poorly, his father a good deal worse than his mother. Robert's father asked him something in a whisper, and he nodded in confirmation. Then I said, "He told me already. You don't have to whisper. You too?"
He nodded, ashen. "And Dad?" I asked Mom.
"Him too," she said. "All the men in the church, as far as we can tell."
"What if it's all the men in town, or all the men in the world...?" Robert said. "We should listen to the news. Doesn't the church have a TV or two somewhere for showing educational videos?"
But just then my dad returned. "I've been listening to the radio in the car," he said. "The local news is saying what happened to us is happening all over Athens and in some other nearby places, Lexington and Commerce for instance. NPR doesn't say anything about it happening elsewhere, but something weird is going on pretty much everywhere -- something different in every city, and several different things in the bigger cities."
"What things?" I asked.
"People in part of Washington D.C. have four arms now," he said; "that includes the Capitol and the White House... and in another part of the city, where the NPR studios are, they have another thumb where their pinky used to be. There were several other weird changes reported from other big cities that I don't remember, but the important thing is that there were a bunch of plane crashes all over the world at the moment the changes happened, and a few more since then. The FAA has grounded all flights in or to or from the U.S. until further notice."
"So, change of honeymoon plans, I reckon," Robert said.
"You might can still stay in the Westin tonight," Robert's father said (he had been going to drive us to our hotel in Atlanta that night, and then we were going to take a shuttle to the airport Sunday morning) "but I wouldn't recommend it. I expect things are going to be crazy, and probably worse in big cities than around here."
So after the reception, which didn't last as long as we'd expected -- after another hour it was just Robert and me and our parents -- Robert's father gave us a ride to Robert's apartment, and we spent the night there. We watched CNN for a while, and heard about the tripods in Chicago and the "centaurs" in northwest Atlanta and Marietta, who were having to learn to walk all over again, and dozens of other changes that had happened to people in dozens of other places, but nothing about Athens, -- or about Bowling Green, as I mentioned before. After we turned off the TV we undressed and went to bed, but -- well. I'll just say that we don't seem to have any erogenous tissues anymore. After we found that out, we just held each other until we fell asleep.
Sunday morning I woke up early, and felt Robert there next to me, and because I remembered we were married now a good ten or fifteen seconds before I remembered what else had happened yesterday, I was exploding with joy for about that long. Then I remembered everything, and felt horrible, but not quite as bad, I figured, as Robert was going to feel when he woke up... I got out of bed carefully, trying not to wake him, and went to the toilet, then came back and sat on the edge of the bed for a while, watching him. Then he woke up, and from the expression on his face as he saw me sitting there, and then the change in it a few seconds later, I could tell he was thinking and feeling much the same things.
We talked more about what had happened to us while we fixed and ate breakfast, without coming to any conclusions; then we watched the TV news for a while to see if, just possibly, planes were flying again and it would make sense for us to hurry down to Atlanta before our putative departure time. Of course they weren't. After a little further discussion, we showered and got dressed for church; we were too late for Sunday School, just in time for worship. There were more people there than usual, but a lot of the people we knew weren't in their usual places. Hardly anyone said anything explicit about the changes. The pastor alluded to them generally in his prayer, but not in his sermon -- which I suspect he had written several days earlier. A few people commiserated with Robert and me on our honeymoon being spoiled so -- without of course saying exactly what they thought had spoiled it...
On the way home we heard some local news on the radio, including something about the suicides and the injuries from failed suicide attempts. When we got home I called the hospital and asked if they needed me to come in, and of course they said yes. Just as Robert and I were saying our vows, all the sick and injured people in the hospital (and elsewhere, apparently) got suddenly well; but within minutes the emergency room was admitting new patients, accident victims first and unsuccessful suicides a little later, faster than the rest of the hospital could discharge the ones who'd gotten mysteriously well while losing their reproductive systems.
Robert hadn't said much all day, and I was a little worried about him, but it sounded like I was needed badly at the hospital, so I went.
It was crowded, with three patients packed into a lot of double rooms and two people into single rooms -- every kind of failed suicide attempt you can think of, some with not quite fatal blood loss, some with gunshot wounds, or various kinds of poisoning and overdoses, some with likely brain damage from carbon monoxide inhalation... Plus a few hundred people who'd been in car wrecks Saturday right after the changes happened, themselves or another driver losing control when the nausea overtook them. The region between us and Atlanta, Monroe and the small towns to its north, had far more accidents than their little hospitals could handle, and we got the some of the overflow from there too. And the emergency room (I heard from some other nurses on my lunch break) was overwhelmed not just with actual injuries, those due to the changes plus the usual background level, but with people (mostly men) panicking about the changes and wanting to be examined. Various doctors had examined themselves and other people and found pretty consistent results, so they were turning away most of the people without actual injuries.
What they found, looking at men (or former men), was pretty much what I'd seen when I examined Robert: no penis or testicles, no prostate, a sort of pseudo-vagina. And inside, no ovaries or womb or anything, either... Someone said they were starting to do genetic tests, but couldn't figure out what the results meant yet. As for the women -- or former women? -- we had not only lost our clitoris, but all our internal reproductive organs as well.
When I got home from work, pretty well exhausted, I found Robert in bed. He wasn't asleep, wasn't reading, wasn't watching TV; just lying there. I worry about him. I crawled in beside him and after a few moments he held me, and I told him what all had happened at work and what I'd learned.
He started talking again about getting the marriage annulled, but I said: "The same thing happened to both of us; neither of us has any reason to marry anybody else, now or ever, as long as this weird change lasts. So why not stay married even if we can never consummate it? I'd rather be with you than anybody else, even if we're like little kids, brother and sister, instead of the kind of husband and wife we expected to be." Right after I said that, I thought: Or two sisters. But I didn't say it.
We're both going to work today; we decided to save our vacation time for when things calmed down and we could have a honeymoon trip of some kind, if not the one we'd planned. I'll stop here and get this letter ready to mail on the way to work -- then more copies of it at other post offices later in the week, when I have time to get over to Monroe or Commerce, if I haven't heard from you by then.