Finalist, 2017 Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction
Pulp. A soft, wet, shapeless mass of material.
No fingers or toes or pupils or teeth or hair. Just a heartbeat. Supposedly.
Pulp. Floating. Within. Something separate. Not part of the whole but made from it. But not it. Something else. Someone else. No, something.
When I think (or speak or write) that she was a she, how can I be certain? Because a poet told me that the child she never had was a girl. Because my friend also got pregnant and her baby was—is a girl. Because I was (am) a girl. It didn’t feel like a she. It was. She was (is?).
Shapeless. More like a small blob of skin (?) or tissue or blood. I found it in the toilet after I stood to flush. I wrapped it in toilet paper. The doctor had said to expect blood clots the size of lemons. Not the shape or texture or form. Roughly the size of. I wrapped it up and put it back into the bowl. Flushed it. Just an it; not yet a she.
I cried then. Because it hurt. Like menstrual cramps with more bite and claw. Maybe my body knew what I was doing. What the pills were doing. The pulp floating around in me—for five weeks and six days according to the first appointment. About nine weeks when I took the pills in the clinic. Nine weeks and a day when I took the other four. Small, white, round tasteless melt-in-my-mouth pills. Tucked between teeth and cheek. Weeks of spinning and not eating and drinking beer and vodka and sometimes water. Weeks of not wanting to stand up or sit up or be up. My body knew before I knew.
January would have been her birthday. She would be two this winter. Not would be. Would have been. Could be. Could have been. Should be? Should have been?
Soft. Like skin that was never there. Never whole. I think the blob I fished out of the toilet was soft. I only grazed it with my fingertips. It didn’t look like a baby. There were no arms or legs. No eyes or lips. Maybe it was just a blood clot. Maybe. I thought about cutting it open. Dissecting it. Seeing if there was something inside. But I didn’t.
My best friend took me to the clinic. Her car battery was dying. I waited in the parking lot while she went inside to ask someone to jump her car. One of the nurses came outside to help. She saw that I was crying. She told me they were going to help me.
One of the protestors on the sidewalk asked me to pray with them that morning. A blonde woman with a sharp voice. I shook my head. She said they would be waiting. If I changed my mind. If I wanted to talk.
The first pill stopped the production of progesterone. A hormone that sustains pregnancy. I swallowed it in front of the doctor. Washed it down with a plastic cup of tap water while she watched. Pills seemed less invasive. Felt more natural. Compared to hospital gowns, clammy nurse’s hands, and cold tile. It felt safer. Safer than metal or suction. Safer to lie bleeding in my bed. In the dark. Eyes half-closed and head cloudy from codeine. I wanted the sickness to stop. They gave me pills for that, too. Swimming in my stomach. Dissolving.
Wet. There was a lot of blood. The pulp was sticky and red and smooth-shaped. My (our) blood soaked through panties and pads and stained sheets. Heavy blood. I do not remember the smell. Maybe pennies. Face-down on asphalt. Turning green from raindrops. I bled for over a month. Less and less each day. Like the doctor said. Like the crumpled papers on the bottom shelf of my bedside table said. With a phone number listed if I ever had any questions. I never called.
I found one of the pill bottles in the kitchen cabinet last week. It expired a year ago.
Promethazine. For nausea. It has my name on the label. I do not know who put them in the cabinet. I wonder if anyone uses them. My red-capped back-up pills must have been thrown out. In case the first four did not make me bleed everything out, there were four more. They are not there anymore. Missing or misplaced. I am afraid to ask.
Mass. A body of matter. No definite shape. A body. The beginnings of a body? Even without fingers or hair?
The waiting room was crowded. I laughed at magazines with my friend. Or stared at the carpet.
The small buds. Different colors. But they did not bloom. Stilled and silent. But the clock on the far wall kept ticking and hours passed.
The women were my age and older. Only one of us was crying. Her boyfriend (?) tried to kiss her. She turned away. One woman yelled into her phone. Another told her friend about the first time she had been to the clinic. This felt almost normal. But not quite. Not with the angry men and women outside. One woman was at least seven months pregnant. She stood, hands cradling her stomach. The others held posters up at us. Bloody. Tiny body parts. Mutilated. I tried not to look.
I did not speak to the women in the waiting room. We all wore sweatpants and messy hair. The nurses had said to dress comfortably. The ultrasound appointments took hours. Hours of waiting and confirmation phone calls. Their pre-recorded voices flat and fast and confusing. They dragged on for five or 10 minutes. We sat, pens ready, hands shaking. We just wanted to hear the code at the end of the call so we could jot it down and hand it to the nurses. So they could say we had heard the state laws. About mandatory ultrasounds.
Material. What kind? How much? Man-made. Natural. (A bit of both). But very little. Almost nothing. More blood than skin. No bone. All pulp.
I had two ultrasounds. Before and after. Virginia state law (at the time) required transvaginal ultrasounds. Not gel-on-the-abdomen methods. Our bodies were invaded. I remember biting my fist to keep from gasping. And staring at the ceiling. Cold. Naked under my hospital gown. Being prodded on the inside by a doctor who had to force a smile. I think I would have liked it if she had been angry. Angry for having to shove something inside me. For having to ask me if I wanted to hear the heartbeat, see the ultrasound, know if I had twins. All state law. All mandatory. I said no to everything. And I bit my fist until she was done. When she left the room to let me change I crossed my legs together. I wanted to close myself. I was too open.
I did not give her a name. I only whispered and wondered and sometimes my hands cupped themselves around my stomach. But I let them fall. I did not keep her. But I still think (and speak and write) and remember.
I never took a copy of the ultrasound. I read about women who have the photos. They keep them in cardboard boxes. Hidden in the backs of closets. Underneath beds. With a layer of dust on top. Swept away. But never forgotten. Are they alone in those boxes? What other photos are with them? What keeps them company? I never took the photo. Or buried the blood clots. But I remember; I will not let myself forget.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Judith Doyle