Trigger Warning: Some of the content in this essay may be upsetting to some readers.
“Abortion Completed.” That was the description of Services Rendered on the hospital bill Mom didn’t pay. I was sixteen when it happened, and inherited the bill when I was living on my own at eighteen. It was in collections.
I called the collection agency and got “This is Sharon, how can I help you?” Okay, her name was probably not Sharon, but who remembers the names of the people they call to bitch at about their cable service or to arrange an appointment for their car maintenance or to figure out how the hell they are going to pay a bill that they never knew existed? So, let’s just call her Sharon.
Sharon’s voice was businesslike and I knew to my belly that she had the power to take all of the money I would ever earn. My intestinal tract rumbled.
“Can you afford $100 each month?” said her crisp voice.
“Um, I don’t think so,” I said, trying to sound like an adult. Failing to sound like an adult.
“Can you afford $75 each month?” Her questions didn’t feel like questions, but orders.
“I… I don’t know.”
“Can you afford $50?” Her voice was losing its crispness.
“Well?” I said.
Sharon’s crisp voice was starting to be Sharon’s annoyed voice. “How much can you afford?”
“I suppose, maybe, um, $15? If that’s okay?”
“Fine.” Her crisp was back. “So you are agreeing to send us at least $15 each month until this is paid in full?”
“Yeah?” I winced at my voice that was stuck in childhood. I was an adult and adults are supposed to sound decisive. “Yes,” I said, firmly.
I was feeling firmly certain that I was actually lying to Sharon.
But it was handled. Me adulting. Paying off the bill for the completion of what I thought had been my miscarriage, but according to the hospital, the collection agency, and my mother who never paid the bill was actually an abortion. Half an abortion. Which they had to finish up at the hospital on a day that seemed forever before.
“We’ll need to perform a D-and-C,” the doctor had said to my mother after my pregnancy test came back positive. I had no idea what a D-and-C was or if I even heard it right, I was still in shock over the fact that Mom just found out I had had sex.
Mom was pretty shocked too. I was her Straight-A student. Her good girl. And I was failing to be perfect. Mom’s pursed lips and terse nods to the doctor told me so.
“Has she had any surgical procedures before this?”
“Does she have any allergies?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Does she smoke or use drugs?”
I could feel Mom’s eyes glare into the reddening skin of my right cheek until I said an emphatic, “No.”
“Do you have insurance?”
I felt my mother thinking the word “slut” at me.
And how slutty was I on that post-Summer-of-Love, nearly-AIDS-epidemic day?
I was a damned cliché.
I‘d slept with one guy who I considered my boyfriend, mostly because he said I was his girlfriend, and he said “I love you” so I thought I was supposed to love him too. It all was so fast, and he was my first serious boyfriend and “I love you” turned into kissing and caressing. Caressing turned into touching. Turned into “If you love me you would.” And once you would, you had to and had to and had to. There was that expectation that every date would go there. I stopped being a girlfriend and became that orifice he plugged his penis into.
Until my period didn’t come and I stopped taking his calls.
For what was an eternity in sixteen-year-old-hood, I just wouldn’t bleed. Then the blood came for days until that one day of extreme pain and frequent trips to the toilet. Until the moment when something slipped out of me and splashed toilet water onto the back of my butt.
It was this oblong thing, brown and shriveled, like the world’s worst dinner roll vomited whole into a toilet bowl. I may have been behaving stupidly, but I wasn’t stupid. It was my child floating in a pee-yellowed-blood-reddened swirl of water.
And I flushed it.
But the bleeding didn’t stop. I bled through underwear, jeans, shorts, sheets, blankets. I bled until I finally told Mom that I couldn’t stop bleeding and we went to the doctor – a man who berated me for flushing the dinner-roll-fetus and dropped me into a hospital room for the night.
However…… there are always howevers in these things.
You see, it wasn’t a miscarriage. Not quite.
I’m not saying that I went to a clinic and they half-assed the process. I thought I might be pregnant and I was a currently-being-stupid-sixteen-year-old refusing to be forever connected to that asshole-ish guy. So I took diet pills and I slammed my fist into my stomach as hard as possible. I half-prayed to the gods I had in my arsenal, the gods of self-mutilation, panic and over-the-counter diet supplements, that they would take away this thing growing inside me. Then I punched myself some more in the stomach, in the face, in the thigh, while ghosting the boyfriend and taking more diet pills. I burned my emotional incense to the gods of Dexatrim and scared girls.
And it worked.
It’s just – the problem with half-praying for something? The gods only half-answer your prayers.
By Sally K Lehman