“Am I speaking with Lauren?”
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you need to come back right now. We just got your blood-test results in. They were late. Our machines were backed up today. You’re Rh-, ‘Rh negative,’ and that means we need to give you a shot—you need to come get this shot within the first three hours of taking the first pill, or your body will attack itself, the medication, and this could kill you.”
“Can you get here as soon as possible?”
It’s been two and a half hours since the first pill. I writhe there, as I had been for two and half hours, anguishing and summoning the audacity to get up and walk. To live.
Thirty minutes away from the Planned Parenthood in Yonkers, New York, I was a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College, unable to explain why I wasn’t coming home for
Thanksgiving. It fell on my father’s birthday that year.
In a cacophony of sweaters and my coveted wool coat, I put on a scarf and got into the most excruciating thirty-minute cab ride of my young life, at about nine o clock at night on the twenty-second of a November.
I’d managed to lure a boy from high school, whom I had known was in love with me, to come to visit during the break—having had no idea what to expect from this abortion business.
Hollow affection, easy to control, Nathan would fill the bottlenecked wound of the assault. Of what was coming. I was sure of it. I would be utterly wrong, but not concede.
Just make it to the god damn bathroom, hit the button. “You don’t have time for the waiting room,” I remember looking down at my hands, green and shaking. I had never seen my skin that color before.
“I need to use the restroom,” I say, though I’m not sure audibly, as I blew past the front desk and don’t care to lock the door behind me. I didn’t make it off the toilet before my vision spun out. Intuition got there first but I wasn’t listening; I came the closest I’ve felt to death.
In a last-ditch effort, I extend my right arm, flinging my hand out to the ADA guardrail, and find the emergency button.
Caught with my pants down, two PP nurses rushed in with the shot, falling to the floor to meet me there and saving my life. So began the equally long and excruciating cab ride back to Sarah Lawrence College. So began my initiation into the realities of womanhood.
The Ancient Greeks would call that anagnorisis, from “ana,” back, and “gnorisis,” to make known. When combined the literal translation means recognition, used to denote a revealing of something—most often the true nature of a character or person’s circumstances. The following day at about two o’clock in the afternoon a Frankenstein’s monster fleshy citron, which looks like a lemon but is in fact not a lemon, came out of me. I flushed it down the toilet. Where would it go? A far more prickly shame than I had since known swept me into its tide. I should’ve prayed for it, I remember thinking. I did later, hoping it was not too late.
After that November, I would further entrap myself in one casual, flash in the pan ultimately merely sexual encounter after another, fashioning my exploits into innumerable simultaneously meaningless and traumatic relationships.
My secret returned, many years later, to find me in Berkeley, California. He had followed me there, just like he had New York. Had I invited him?
It was unsettling to know Nathan had been there, I had allowed him into the tumultuous fold of my existence and he had been traumatized. He had seen so much of my unfurling destruction. He knocked me senseless in resentment and retribution. It was a good thing he was wasted—he probably would’ve got a cleaner shot.
Some five years had passed since that twenty-second of November, him sitting there, watching me mourn. Enough time had twisted on be certain, we were the ever-present heroes and villains of our own lives.
The police were called.
I left him there, screaming and hulking from his two hundred pound six foot five frame, as I sprinted off, up the dark winding hill of Berkeley Hills’ Euclid Avenue, into something and anything away from the turmoil. The last thing he said to me is neither the first nor the last time I
will hear it.
“WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE SO FUCKING DIFFICULT?” I never have the answer.
About the Author
Lauren K Dougherty is a nonfiction editor, essayist, instructor, and sometimes painter from Palm Springs, California. @laurenkdougherty on Instagram.
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