Condensation gathers along the windows, and giant teardrops slide down the pane. The air inside sweats heavily, leaving its imprint on our booth seats and the table. I have this habit of tucking my hands underneath my thighs when I’m cold, but the seats are sticky, so I interlace my fingers and hold them in between my legs. It’s no wonder people get sick easily. We Floridians have to wait for the air conditioning to kick in while slowly roasting in our vehicles. In other moments, we find ourselves in the sun in search of the next blast of cold air. Cold air junkies. Wouldn’t that make for a great bumper sticker? A funny little hardy har har for tourists to take home from their visit to the Sunshine State.
I have taken my mother out to Red Lobster for her birthday. I peruse the menu, flipping the pages back and forth even though I already know what I’ll choose. I am a creature of habit. I like the same things, well, some of the same things, one of them being pasta covered in alfredo sauce.
“What can I get for Ya’ll, or do you need a minute?” The server looks between the two of us, but mostly at me when she says it.
“No.” I look at my mother for confirmation. I think we’re ready.” She gives me a blinking stare the way Dora Explorer looks at her audience. “I don’t know what to get. You pick,” she says and sets the menu down. She knits her fingers and places them over the menu. I can feel the air she kicks up beneath the table as she swings her crossed-over ankles back and forth. Even though she’s lived in this country for more than 35 years, she looks to me for help in navigating around the country she calls home like she’s a permanent tourist.
She speaks English well, but she sees the mouth of a native speaker move and doesn’t always understand the words that come out of them. I find myself repeating things to her often. Sometimes I throw my hands up in frustration because I don’t want to keep explaining myself. Our conversations, more often times than not, end with me saying, “Never mind.”
“I’ll order the full crab alfredo, with the salad and caesar dressing,” I say without hesitation. My leftovers will be eaten when my kids get home from school. “She’ll have the shrimp platter, and we’ll have two waters with lemon.” My mother makes the easy things complex. Today, I wish the only thing I needed to fret about was what to order.
“Okay, I’ll get that right in for you.” She tucks our order in her pocket and asks the booth behind me if they need a refill.
I choke down a few bites of food before pushing it to the side. The cheddar biscuits brushed with butter leave grease spots on the napkin where they sit. The sight of the grease forces me to divert my eyes to a black and white photo of a boat docked, the water lapping against the boat, forever frozen in place. A bleak existence is placed on the wall to fill an otherwise empty space. I count the days, and then I count them again, hoping for the numbers to change. I am late. This can’t be happening.
“Anak, eat.” She pushes her plate towards me filled with shrimp that is either fried, grilled, or sautéed.
“I’m not that hungry.” There’s a rise in my stomach that I feel making its way into my throat. I breathe in and out slowly through my nose and push the feeling away. I manage to choke down a biscuit, so she doesn’t see the silent protests my insides are giving me. I look at her from across the table and wonder how she would react if I told her my little big secret. No, no, no. I cannot do this to her.
“What is it?” She can read something on my face.
“I’m just tired.” I avoid further eye contact, and she continues to eat.
When we arrive home, my debit card is missing. I pat down the pockets in my bag, hoping to feel that familiar rectangular plastic, but it’s not there. The bag could store three days of clothes and family size snacks or a toy terrier. I’d like to crawl into it myself if I could.
I am an irresponsible human being that can’t remember to do one simple thing. I call the restaurant. They have my card. It’s in the safety deposit box. They can send it out, but it will take a few days to get it to my address. I tell them not to bother, I will call for a new one. There are far more critical things on my mind.
# # #
I call to tell him that I think I’m late. We have only started seeing each other recently, but long enough for me to be in this position. It only takes one time. Isn’t that what I was taught in Ms. Duncan’s 8th-grade sex education class. I stop by the drugstore before I go to his place. Two tests. Both positive. I linger in the bathroom, looking at my face, mad at myself and the poor choices I have made to get here. We go over the pros and cons. There are more cons. I’m going through too much right now. I have already realized there is only one way out of this, and he’s thought the same thing, but that began the second I told him I was late.
I ran a 50k that weekend. It’s a humid morning, not much different than any other day, but the humidity isn’t a factor for me. Bursts of hot flashes pulsate through me as I wind along the single dirt path, delving deeper into the forest. I’m going to hell is a persistent chant that follows me while I run faster and faster until I reach the end, but I can’t run from this. At the finish, I share a celebratory drink with strangers. Another race finished. I place first in my age group. The prize is a blanket, not big enough to cover my shame.
# # #
I have a cup of black coffee in the morning. He says he can’t drive me there, but he’ll pick me up. He has to go to work. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
I’m going to hell… I’m going to hell… I’m going to hell…I nod. Can’t you call in sick? Doesn’t any of this matter? I scream inside my head.
“Just call me when you’re done.” He kisses me on the cheek before heading out the door.
I nod again. I want to crumble, but I will take full ownership because it is my body.
It’s in the morning during the middle of the week. I have called a taxi. The driver doesn’t turn on the radio during the twenty minutes it takes to arrive at the office. There are two people outside picketing. Both dressed in long-sleeve button-up shirts and jeans. One is a teenage boy, the other an older man, possibly his father. They come towards me, but the driver shoos them away and walks me to the door.
“Are you going to be alright?” He asks. He’s a complete stranger, but he knows what this place is. He knows why I have come here.
“Yes,” I say, but I am far from alright.
Wood paneling line the waiting room, and a brown speckled commercial-grade carpet cover the floor. It’s clean and sterile. There is a single sign saying that no bags or cell phones are permitted beyond this point. Under no exceptions are the patients allowed to have anything on their persons, and no, they cannot hold my things for me. I rush out to see if the taxi driver is still out there and ask him if he could keep my wallet and phone for the time being. I’m not rescheduling over a technicality. I tell him it should only take an hour. He has some stops to make, and then he says he’ll circle back.
I proceed to the receptionist’s window the second time. She asks for my name, identification, and payment. She slides over a clipboard with papers to sign. I sit down in a hard plastic chair while the fluorescent light zings above my head. The form asks for my name, address, date of birth, emergency contact, and if I have any allergies. Other papers inform me of the privacy laws. I hand it back over and sit back, not sure what to do with my hands. I fold my arms against me and wait for my name to be called.
Only then do I see the other women in the waiting room. I make eye contact and smile at a woman in her 20’s sitting across from me. She says she never thought she’d be in a place like this. “I thought only ratchet girls came to places like this.” I’m not familiar with the term ratchet, but I understand the context. “I’m too young to have a kid, and my boyfriend’s a dick.” She continues, “I’m a waitress, and I can barely afford the life I have now.”
A woman next to her speaks up, “You’re doing the right thing.” She pats her hand with a smile. I learn that her aunt has come with her for support. The other women nod in acknowledgment.
Another woman speaks up, “I have two boys of my own from my first marriage. My boyfriend and I just aren’t ready to have a child together. We get along great, but we’re not even sure where our relationship is headed. She opens her phone and shows me a picture of her boys. “They are five and seven.” Her boyfriend took them to Legoland for the day while she was here taking care of things.
A woman leaning against the wall chimes in, “I have three kids. I love ’em all, but I can’t have another. I’m a single mom. I just can’t.”
When they turn to me, I tell them my relationship is too new for this. I have kids of my own from a previous marriage, and there’s just no way.” They nod in agreement, and for the first time, I feel like this is the right decision.
My name is called, and I head back to the prep room. A nurse takes my height and weight and does an ultrasound. I don’t look at the screen.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
“Yes.” I have made a wrong decision getting myself into this mess, and I now have the chance to make things right. I no longer worry about what everyone will think of me, not my mother, children, or God.
She leads me to another room where I’m instructed to take my clothes off from the waist down. She hands me a disposable hospital gown to drape around my waist. I’m in a sitting position with my legs in stirrups. Exposed. I wait for the doctor to come.
He quickly scans my chart and tells me I’m not that far along. “You’ll feel a slight pressure.” He turns on a machine. I turn my head away. My insides are being sucked out with a vacuum. It’s over in seconds.
“Alright, we’re all done here. You weren’t more than five weeks along. There wasn’t much there.” He gives me a gentle pat on the knee.
“How do you feel?”
How do I feel…Relieved. “Fine,” I say confidently.
“You might want to consider getting this procedure done.” He gives me a little pamphlet about sterilization. “It stings a little, but after that, you’re all set. It’s very effective.”
I nod. I want him to stop talking.
“Just give my office a call if you would like to do it.” He takes off his gloves, throws them in the garbage, and he’s off to the next patient. It was like he was saying, “Do this thing so you won’t find yourself here again.” I’m on the defensive now, but I don’t say anything. I’m not that type of woman, and I feel unfairly judged. I instantly hate him for it.
The nurse begins to speak to me, “Here is the post-op information. You’ll feel cramping, and you’ll start bleeding later. There will be a lot of blood. But if at any time you feel light-headed or have shortness of breath, go to the emergency room. Do you have someone to drive you home?”
I nod. It’s the only thing I feel like I can do. No one is left in the waiting room, but I wait a few minutes before he arrives to pick me up. He gets out of the car and opens the door for me. I get in and close my eyes.
Later that night, I cramp and bleed out for what seems like an hour, hunched on the toilet. That evening before sleep overtakes us, he says, “You know, I was kind of excited about the baby.”
I never allowed myself to imagine what the child would have looked like. I didn’t care to think that far ahead. What an asshole. I couldn’t believe he was going off about actually wanting it. I pretend I’m already asleep.
Days, months, and years have passed. I’m no longer with him. I stayed with him out of guilt and shame for what I had done. It didn’t work out. It was never meant to.
# # #
I am remarried for the third time in my life and became pregnant after a few months. We were elated when the test revealed the results. Nine months later, I gave birth to a healthy girl with full lips and big brown eyes. When she was three months old, we learned that I was pregnant once again. During the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020, another beautiful baby girl joined our family with features that match her father’s.
There came a time in my life when I was given a choice to make a hard decision. I will not judge people for the things I do not understand because I am not them, and they are not me.
About the Author
Desiree Haros is an essayist and blogger at www.desireeharos.com. She has a Master’s of Arts in English and Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Her work has been published in The Talon Review, Free Spirit, and Hive Avenue Literary Journal.
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