Originally published in Entropy Magazine
I was lying on my lofted bed in the basement of my freshman dorm when my mother called to ask if I was pregnant. The only light came from a small standing lamp in the corner, giving the room a strange orange glow. I was surrounded by posters of Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and the Grateful Dead. My heartbeat quickened. I wasn’t ready to have this conversation.
I asked how she knew. She explained that I had told a friend who told a friend who told a friend who told a friend who told my parents. And they were angry, scared, disappointed, and embarrassed. They needed to know. They needed to know right now.
I let out a quiet, yes. I could hear my father’s anger seeping through the phone, his dark brows furrowing in some mix of concern and disbelief. They asked me how many weeks along I was and whether I was going to keep it.
I started to cry. Five Weeks, yes, I think so.
My mother took the phone off of speaker and asked me whether I had considered the alternative. I hadn’t. We had already picked the baby’s name. I wrote them poems and spoke to them in my sleep. Helen, Tommy, Helen or Tommy. They had my brown eyes and curly brown hair, with his pale complexion and rosy red cheeks. Their giggles rang between my ear drums as I drifted in and out of consciousness each night. “Mommy,” they called, happily, reaching their tiny arms out towards me.
I hadn’t considered the alternative. Flashes of life in a dingy, one-bedroom apartment in Junction City, Kansas flashed before my eyes. I aimlessly placed the second set of Army tags he had given me in my mouth, running my teeth along the rubbery edge.
My mother thought that we did it on purpose— getting pregnant. I had known too quickly for someone who was not trying. But the truth was, I just knew. I got that from my mother— the woman who claimed that her third child named herself in a dream. I had been on birth control, but when my period did not come, I could feel the warmness, the ache in my belly. I dreamt about the child at night, I touched their soft, new skin and held them to my aching breast. I sung them soft lullabies and thanked them for choosing me. I told my boyfriend, even before I had taken the pregnancy test, that I knew.
My aunt had come down to the college to see me. She told me it was okay. She told me the story of her friend who was twenty-eight and married, who still decided to have an abortion. It is okay to not be ready. I was scared and when the romance of the idea of my Helen or Tommy wore off, I was left with visions of isolation and destitution. My aunt drove me home in relative silence.
When I arrived at my family home I was bleeding and vomiting, exhausted. My mother took me to the doctor the next day and found that there was blood in my womb. I was relieved. It is okay to not be ready.
I called him the night before to tell him I was considering having the surgery— a D&C. It stands for “Dilation and Curettage.” My mother told me that when she miscarried my grandmother said, “Sometimes you just need a Dustin’ N’ Cleaning.”
Through the phone, my boyfriend screamed at me. “Monster!” He said. Monster. Monster. Monster. It rang in my ears like the tolling of some cathedral bell. Monster. Monster. Monster.
He blamed my mother for poisoning my mind while I sobbed, lying on the white carpeting next to my bed. “Please, babe, please I am so scared. I don’t think I am ready. Please. The baby might not make it anyways.” But he persisted as I clutched my stomach, begging him to give me relief. To love me through it. He threatened to text my parents, to figure out how to come out there to stop it.
I wept all night, sometimes so hard that I choked, my chest aching, a thin film of snot running from my nose to my chin. He called me thirty times, but I had stopped answering the phone. Early the next day, my mother woke me. I threw on sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt. The nurse that I had spoken to on the phone told me I would want to wear something loose.
My stomach was turning. The morning sickness should stop in a few days. My mother drove me to an unassuming red-brick office building with a single white-haired man standing outside holding signs that said “Murderers.” Four years later, I will stand outside of a different local clinic so I drown out anti-choice protesters, I will hold encouraging signs up to cover their signs, I will wash their hateful chalk markings off of the pavement.But that day, I just lowered my face and hoped that he could not see me.
We walked up to the tenth floor. The office itself was just as unassuming as the building— forms, nurses, exhausted office staff. They called my name twice and I rose and walked back. They laid me down for an ultrasound. “Blood around the womb,” the doctor noted, “Not necessarily fatal.”
A nurse told me to undress and handed me a cotton dressing gown before leading me into the operating theater. The metal of the table was cold and the fluorescent lights overhead disorienting. The anesthesiologist walked over, speaking quietly, efficiently, through her mask. You’re going to feel a little sting. I turned my face away from her gloved hands as she brandished the needle that she would use to start my IV. I have always hated needles. She pushed me back onto the table, “Okay, now, count back from one hundred.” 100…99…98…97…96. Monster. Monster. Monster.