There Will Be Blood
The nurse examines my cloudy pee with the lavender stick inside.
Baby, you pregnant.
Water sprouts from my face as I imagine the mahogany mass of cells now attached to my uterus.
Don’t cry! You have so much more to offer a child than so many people here. You have your education and a good job, you see what some of your students come from!
I swallow hard, understanding that I will be judged for what I am considering.
You have a lot of time to think, but don’t wait too long. Getting an abortion at sixteen weeks is just ridiculous. I’ve seen kids walking at sixteen weeks. Never mind, I shouldn’t have said that, but God did this for a reason, sugar!
Inside me, a secret: I no longer believe in God. I request a blood test.
Your urine test was glowing positive, drawing blood isn’t necessary...
But I want it in blood, piss doesn’t feel like proof.
The small-town clinic buzzes with nervous energy, and I am the cause. A new nurse wraps a tourniquet around my tiny arm and my blue vein emerges. I hope this pinching will somehow render me unpregnant. The needle penetrates that thin wall of skin (you know where) and I watch, wondering if the baby is small enough to be sucked out through this new orifice.
On my way out of the clinic and into the Louisiana sun, the nurses cower behind glass booths, avoiding my eyes. They know I am a Northerner, they can probably smell pro-choice on my skin like salt on sea. I am sure they have seen me at School Board Meetings (the whole community attends) bowing my head, but refusing prayer; so much for separation of church and state - the local pastor often prays swaying in unison with the superintendent. I lie and tell my students that I am Jewish, simply because they have never met a Jew. They shudder at the thought.
What do you mean they don’t believe in Jesus?! Who ELSE IS there?!
I try to explain the countless religious beliefs here on our planet, but I’ve already lost them to a field of Spring daisies.
My pollination exam took place during my planning period. I borrowed my coworker’s SUV since my car was in the school’s parking lot with a flat (rough day). I sat down on the grassy curb where the sun had warmed the cement. I wished I was in an oven. Valentine’s Day had just passed and I thought of our hotel room, of my see-through bodysuit with its relevant red hearts. The rooftop in New Orleans, with the Greek statues and buzzing filtered pool. How my boobs seemed swollen in their Mardis Gras costume. I reminisced on all the whiskey sliding down my gullet, the countless cigarettes inhaled. I sat behind that large, black, borrowed monstrosity and weeped.
A few blocks down the road, I appeared back in my classroom. I researched possible abortions in this old-world-god-forsaken state. I glanced up, on one wall there was a “painting” of Abe Lincoln; adjacent, a black and white photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. holding his head in his fingertips. Above him, his words read: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” And although I tend to agree with Martin about nearly everything, I wanted to drive this “light” out with what felt like darkness. I did not plan to exile my loathing.
I was careful to hide all the internet tabs before my students came through the door. Each of their heads bobbed up and down as they strolled in and grabbed their binders. I thought of those heads as tiny slime balls emerging from expectant mothers. Grasping pregnancy, did they grow bulbish with satisfaction or bloat revulsed?
Can I really banish this ripening?
* * *
We joke that Mickey will make our child ugly (charming potato-head). I know that this mass of cells, when grown, will rely mostly on its personality. Mickey’s brown eyes are set deep into his face, his freckles and tattoos are scattered about his body in clusters, his reddish hair is unmanageable (not in a sexy way). I think of him when he was young: naughty, cumbersome, everywhere, and so much smaller than he has grown to be. I used to pretend he was my son. The irony is jolting. I attempt to rationalize this conjugation: three-quarters of our parents are retired, I am twenty-four, he is joining the union, we could name him Sonny.
When we lie in bed and talk about our fertilization, we spot a Brown Recluse on the ceiling. He is a Louisiana native, hoping to poison us gentrifying New Yorkers. We square up, standing beneath him, considering eviction. With a broom handle, Mickey’s arm extends long enough to puncture this creature. Suddenly, killing a living thing requires heightened moral conviction. The broom jabs at the ceiling, the spider scurries, so small and fast. Stop! I say and we retreat to reclining, eyeing the earthly brute from our position across the breach. As the chestnut arachnid approaches the bed, panic drowns kindness, and we recommit to our siege. Once the brown being is bloodied and dead in a napkin, we examine its shapely remains. Definitely a brown recluse, we reassure one another, comparing the deceased with a googled image. A memento mori to the eradication of our unborn: and although it is not yet living, it too will soon be dead.
* * *
Women seeking abortions in Louisiana are required by law to go to “counseling” twenty-four hours before scheduling “the removal”. There is a single clinic in Baton Rouge with a one star rating, I consider death due to infection and chose, instead, the one in New Orleans with four stars. I take the day off work and drive to the delta born of the Mississippi River. I traverse over bayous; aloft the shallow, murky Blind River - with fish in its waters and shacks on its banks. The whole scene teeming with Cypress Trees dressed in Spanish Moss. After an hour, I am advancing on the final stretch over Lake Pontchartrain, the threshold to The Big Easy. Alligators bob and surface - their eyes black pearls above the brackish water. This estuary eventually empties into the Gulf - an oust for the outlaws; a liquid aisle to Mexico.
The clinic resembles a home. It is a pale yellow ranch with bars covering the windows and porch. There is an Azalea bush, surrounded by Louisiana Dwarf Palmettos and Autumn Sage. There are bayous running along the street, muskrats comb their shallow depths.
There are many men on the stoop when I approach, they part. We do not address one another, a cause for pause in Crescent City. Inside is full of women, there are no empty chairs. I see why the men have been sequestered. I am immediately shuffled into a bathroom, told to pee (four drops) and then Baby, go sit down in there. I am number Six. We will all be referred to as numbers for the remainder of our stay.
Abortion in Louisiana is broken into a three day ordeal. Day 1- Counseling. Day 2 - Abortion. Day 3- Sonogram, just in case there are parts of the fetus left behind (one wouldn’t want to go into septic shock!) Counseling kicks off with a VHS from the 1990’s reminding women of their options: foster care, adoption, and our duty as a females to procreate. It cautions viewers: Getting an abortion should be of your own! free! will!
* * *
I am transported back to middle school drug awareness. Five of my close friends and I attended a kind of group therapy, where Mrs. Marsten would play similar videos about the dangers of acid, heroin, crack and ecstasy. The background was always a dark party with slender kids a bit older than us putting pretty pills on their pink tongues, or sparkly needles into their premature veins. Their heads would roll back in pleasure as their frightened friends frantically waved, screaming in the lights of the ambulance. No other students went to these sessions, I guess they’d flagged us as provocateurs. The videos worked on me though - mostly the images of ecstasy burning holes in the brain. I steered clear, took it serious, said no to smoking bananas in the stairwell. Thus, one could imagine my dismay at the sight of Mrs. Marsten covertly smoking a Parliament Light. My mouth fell ajar while her tattooed reddish eyebrows furrowed in relief.
* * *
The videos are comprised of women holding their faces in their hands, the pictures slow and still and words appear. Purple background, black letters. Have you considered all of your options? A gentle, condescending voice questions us. There are audible groans, sighs, huffs; eyes roll and necks tilt back - thin skin exposed. There are eleven of us in this multi-functional waiting/counseling room. To my left, there is an older blonde woman. I can tell she smokes cigarettes by looking at her pocked skin and slight frame. Over her shoulder I can see on her chart that she’s had an abortion before, I feel better. Across from me there is a tiny Latina girl, number Five. She is pretty with large eyes. She touches her boobs as if they hurt badly, her IPhone lights up her features. Next to her there is a curvy black woman, number Three. She is beautiful with curly hair. They’re both wearing sweatpants, which seems ideal.
The quiet of the morning was jolted by a new patient. Before she spoke, I could tell she had been there before. She had a blanket with her, she was prepared. She expelled breath before taking her seat, predicting how long we would be there. Wanting to remedy her frustration, she turned to her audience. She cracked jokes about her sex life, told us her husband didn’t know where she was, and she hoped he’d gotten the chi’ren up for school that morning, she’d stayed by her momma’s that night. Took the truck and left.
Imagine her, number Twelve, in a pick up truck speeding down the Causeway. The foggy Louisiana morning like soup around her; music and heavy air intertwined, the Gulf in the distance. Her husband would see her after the procedure tomorrow and say, You too happy, sensing that she’d gotten something off her chest. Her ghost baby now floating over the horizon, a drifter with a sack attached to a stick, sauntering slowly in the direction of freedom. Twelve rustled in her bag, she had snacks - crackers with peanut butter. I looked to her for guidance, my guilt reframed with laughter.
After watching a series of videos, we were herded, like cattle, into waiting rooms designated for specific procedures. Blood work, ultrasounds, and then we’d wait to see the doctor and be “spoken to” in-person instead of by a television. All the while, the receptionists could be heard yelling: Over here, baby and Don’t ask these stupid questions, of course we are not going to talk you out of it - THIS IS AN ABORTION CLINIC! and Gentlemen, you’ve got to GO, we’ve got nowhere for our ladies to sit. Number twenty-three! Number twenty-eight! It was a busy day. Each room was a different clique: at one point someone from the room next door crossed into our room and I immediately sensed an intruder.
In the blood work waiting room, I sat with Twelve and Three. Three was holding a picture of her sonogram. Twelve asked, Why you got a picture? Why you wanted that?
Three looked up from her black and white cone-shaped internal receipt, Because I don’t want to get an abortion. This wasn’t my idea. I want the baby.
Twelve shouted, horrified, Didn’t you see the video! You have to do this of your own free will! It’s your body, nobody can force you to do anything you don’t wanna do! Why didn’t you wait, wait, wait, until it was too late, and they didn’t have no choice other than to accept your decision?! At this, Three started to cry. A moment later she stood up and threw out the sonogram picture. It hung to the lid of the garbage can.
This umbra, a forlorn parting. No sack on a shoulder-stick, instead, a stretched premature arm reaching across the partition between life and death, into our ether, grasping emptiness. An almost-mothers bowed head in reckless abandon, a sad vacation.
[We cannot live here together and it is you that must go.]
As I sat with my arm out, waiting to be pricked, I listened to the two nurses talk about their Valentine’s Day weekend, how they were hungover at work. I considered my blood test the prior week and my own thoughts about Valentine’s Day. I looked at their supplies spread over the room. Deeply organized, yet held in shower caddies. I watched to be sure the needle was clean. I let my mind wander for a moment, but looking down to hold the cotton ball, I saw the nurse bringing a small plastic vile towards my vein. Queasy, I asked: WHAT IS THAT FOR? She giggled, It doesn’t go inside of you (I’d prefer it to a fetus). Later I realize it’s used to test the patient’s blood type. Mine is B positive; I simper.
Next, I am due for my ultrasound. I am scared to see this bean like mass of potential. It is small, shaped like a potato, just like the Latina girl said it’d be. I am only five weeks, which really means three (they count from your last period), so it does not have a heartbeat yet. I am relieved to not be made to hear this.
Since I am so newly pregnant I must take the abortion pill instead of having the blastula sucked out. This will require extended time and bearing witness to the blood-clot-baby coming out of me. I decline the picture. I wipe the gel from my vagina, get dressed, and walk back to the room with the girls numbered 1-12.
Some of them have gone. If you are over 9 weeks pregnant, the price increases by one hundred dollars for every additional week. Two girls were too pregnant to remain. They do not turn up again. Now they will be forced to change their minds, to reckon with their first decision and then look into the eyes of their child - the baby desperado, unable to be exiled.
We are all waiting for Doctor Mary Gardner to arrive. Gardner is the last name of the boy in high school who got away. Who lied about his house, his parents, his cat. Who kissed me on a rock in Central Park, holding a bottle of red wine, after a long day at City Island. I am glad I was not yet sexually active. We may be there 5 more hours, so I let the past mingle with the present. We begin to relax, to share stories. Telling one another how we knew we were pregnant. This is a union, made solely for women, grown out of the wet grounds of the City That Care Forgot.
We are called by our numbers to see Dr. Gardner. Terry, the women at the front desk preps us with some information so we’ll have less questions for the doctor and take less time:
Whether you receive suction aspiration or drugs, you must come back for a follow-up ultrasound. In either case, pieces of the unborn may remain in the uterus and will need to be eradicated.
I see Dr. Gardner out of the corner of my eye. She is in her 60’s wearing clogs (so am I), she is dressed in floral (so am I), she has short red hair - partly dyed, partly natural. At this point there are so many people in the clinic, I am not sure what New Orleans would do without her and the nurses. She explains where to go to fill the prescriptions, since CVS and other pharmacies refuse, knowing what she’s “up to”. She told me she had been giving abortions since she first opened her GYN practice. Understanding the importance while living in antiquated Louisiana, a state that doesn’t grant normal rights to people. (History does hang around in more than one way here.) Her eyes glaze over as she reminisces: her boyfriend in her twenties opened one of the first abortion clinics in New York in the 1970’s. Bonnie and Clyde: Vacuumed Babies Edition.
I think about my boyfriend, Mickey, cooking and curing meat at the Country Club: the hue a similar crimson to what will soon spill out of me.
I pick up the prescriptions, their names burn immediately into my consciousness - Mifepristone, Misoprostol, Penicillin, and 800 mg of Ibuprofen. I am experiencing heightened awareness, every gesture is cinematic and symbolic. The pharmacy is a converted house with a drive-through. I park and go inside, when I hand the pharmacist my prescription through the plexiglass half-oval, my body is tense, clenching.
I take the first pill that evening and wait. I am eager, knowing with more time comes more sentience. Under my eyelids, I can almost see it dispersing into my organs and rusticating the entity. By lunchtime the next day, I am bleeding out. In a few hours a clementine-sized blood clot emerges in the toilet. It floats, buoyant for a moment, before sinking against the porcelain. I find myself waving goodbye as if to a dead goldfish. I cannot bear to flush, I stare, carried into an alternate existence where this brio is breathing.
I know it was a boy. I can feel it when I see a young kid zipping through a playground or teasing his mother. I can sense it when I stare at pregnant bellies, swollen and bloated with essence. In the air around me I feel maleness, following like an invisible balloon on a string - this phantom sprout. I am sure, when I look at Mickey’s overly-fertile Irish family, I can almost see him bouncing on his grandfather’s knee. Or when Mickey’s chocolate-drop eyes penetrate my daily mistakes, urging always onward. And I believe in reincarnation when a boy-child of a stranger makes eye contact with me across a busy street or train platform, and grins.
I imagine these ethereal moppets, traveling through a portal: a clinic, a vacuum, a toilet -- some through hangers and other unseemly devices. I picture them in the purple light of the Western Mountains, somehow grown, and on horseback. Their eyes sad rivers remembering what women who weren’t ready, what women who were forced, what women who were afraid of the propagating men, chose.
[Sorry son, there ain’t room in this town for the both of us.]
They tip their cowboy hats, in acknowledgement, hold them to their chests - chin to chest, with a single teardrop that hits the floor and rains through the portal of the great divide, down from a cloud and into the Gulf; tropical escape.