I was nineteen and you were twenty four. We met in a drama class during January interim session, it was a required class to fullfill the general education requirements for graduation. There were fifteen students enrolled in the class and you arrived a week late, after the class had officially started. You told the teacher you got caught up in the storm back east over the winter break. You said you drove all the way from a small town in Kentucky back to Oregon and didn’t think you’d even make it here for fear of hitting black ice. But, you made it after all.
You stunk of nicotine and liquor, but still managed to retain that southern charm that I imagined probably got the teacher to allow you to remain enrolled in the course, even though you had missed the drop deadline by five days. You thought that charm of yours could get you out of anything. A flash of your smile, a drop of your gaze; it was gold. And you, you, you…were careless.
I caught you looking at me on a Friday when we were all supposed to be in our small groups. You weren’t in my group. You were off to the side as your group worked on the assigned project. I felt your eyes on me and watched as you caressed my stomach with your slow gaze and made your way up until you finally met my eyes. So brazen in your stare, you didn’t look away. I remember the transculent blue of your eyes as their intensity buried me in my wake. You must have been told you were beautiful your entire life. You carried a confidence, an axiom regarding your beauty with you wherever you went. As I rested in the warmth of your masculine repose, you smiled lazily.
I remember when you finally asked me out, using less than ten words in total. I was something underwhelming, as though you didn’t need to wait for a response; you already had your answer. You picked me up on a cold Saturday night and put your arm around my shoulder and said it might snow tonight. Or rain. We drove to the home you shared with your room mates, one of whom was your brother. He was a stocky thirty something whose face brightened when he saw me. He said my name was pretty and asked if I wanted a beer. I said yes. You got really drunk, really fast. I didn’t keep tabs on how much you were drinking, but quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to go home that night. There was no way you were going to be able to drive and I was too far from home to walk. This was before the era of Uber.
I was sitting on your worn couch when you laid out a stash of pills on your rickety coffee table. At this time, more guests had arrived. Mostly other guys you knew from school. I didn’t know anyone but you, really. When you offerred me a non-descript pill, I declined quickly. You shrugged and popped it in your mouth. After washing it down with the remainder of your beer, you kissed me abruptly. You must know what it’s like to kiss a smoker, you seemed like a guy who had kissed a lot of girls. You tasted like blackened toast. Like dirt. Like an arid summer. Just as quickly as you kissed me, you left, descending into the fog of strangers. I sat there, silent and confused as I sipped my beer. To my suprise, you returned a minute later, handing me another drink in a bright red plastic cup. You took my empty beer can and told me to have this one. You said you made it yourself.
My memory after that moment plays like an old movie. It flickers, the quality is wanting, and the sound is warped. Flashes of your bedroom, the darkness, and the weight of your body are all that remain. I woke up the next day with bruises. I woke up sore. There was a loud knocking on your door and an angry voice asking to come in. You got out of bed to let them in, in a haze, I remember an unfamilar face hovering above me and I grabbed the bed sheets. It was then that I realized I was naked; the cold Oregon morning air hadn’t quite registered until then. I may have screamed, I might not have; the sounds have been warped. You pushed the face away and laughed. Then you tore away the sheets; I may have screamed, I might not have.
I don’t remember what we talked about that morning or how I managed to get dressed. I do remember looking at you solemnly as you drove me home. I remember the way the early morning light reflected a discernible emptiness in your eyes. As the sun moved from behind the cloud coverage, an insurmountable hollowness within your eyes was exposed. They weren’t beautiful, they were like a deep well; cold and dark. You squinted and said something about the frost on the ground.
I found out in early spring, eight weeks later after you had long forgotten about me. After our encounter, you avoided me on campus. You stopped coming to class shortly after that night. Some classmates asked me if you were okay. Our teacher stopped me on the way out of class one day and asked if you were all right. If you needed help. I remember giving the same line that I gave others: I really wouldn’t know. February marched past us, and the spring semester was in full swing. March came and went. I remember the first week of April smothered me as I made my way to the student health clinic to confirm what I already suspected. You should have seen the look on the student nurse’s face as she relayed the results to me, as though she was more pained by it than me. Her eyes turned glassy and her voice soft, I thought that I might have to comfort her. I remember looking at her and then suddenly feeling like I couldn’t breathe. You had stolen all of the air from my lungs, and I was going to suffocate.
I tried calling. You never returned my calls. I sent you text messages, all of which went unanswered. It was a few weeks later when I saw you descending the stairs with a young, cute blonde at school. She was laughing at something you said. You asked her to call you later as she went one way and you went another. The sound of your southern drawl as it echoed in the hallways shattered me as I turned on my heels. I wondered, years later, if you saw me that day, rushing in the opposite direction. I wondered if you too felt a little shattered. After all, unlike me, you remember exactly what happened that night. That morning. I wonder if people like you can shatter.
It wasn’t painless. People make it seem like you go in, and a doctor waves a magic wand over your uterus and all is as it was before. People don’t tell you how it’s actually two stages. First, they give you these pills that force your cercix to dialate. I took them and remember walking home as the medication went into effect and felt like someone was reaching up inside me and pulling me apart. Two hands had their grip on either side of me and were pulling as my body faught against this onslaught. I sat up in my bed that night because it was too painful to lay down. I slept for less than two hours that night.
Early the next morning, I went in for the final stage and put on the paper gown. Just like the Ani DiFranco song, they took my blood and my urine and I gave them a few hundred dollars. Pushed back onto a metal bench and asked to count backwards from 100. I may have gotten to 97. When I woke up, I was in a large room with at least a dozen other women who all avoided eye contact with each other. Some had partners by their side, but most of us didn’t. A brusque nurse told me to get up after my blood pressure had steadied. After I put on my clothes, she ushered me into a room where she lectured me on safe sex and proceeded to push at least a dozen condoms into a paper bag. The message I receieved that day was loud and clear: this is all your fault, don’t ever forget. I looked at the nurse as she proceeded to review pamphlets on the IUD as her voice faded and I felt myself drifting away. I barely got out the words, I’m going to faint, when I hit the cold linoleum floor. She pushed a button and more people entered the room. They opened one packet of smelling salt, then another. Then another. I felt myself being lifted up and thought for a second I was dying. This is what is like to die. I felt lucky, I felt redeemed. What’s that saying, a life for a life?
I don’t let myself get caught up in that reductionist rhetoric anymore. Because I’m not a child anymore. I’m forty years old now and you are, ironically, an elementary school teacher. You work for a great school district not too far from my home. You’ve aged, your skin not as taut or replesendent as when we were in college. But neither is mine. My heart isn’t as light either, and my trust not so easily won. After the procedure, I walked home alone. They kept me longer than they expected, and I remember listening in as the doctor on duty chastized the nurse for rushing me out of the recovery room earlier. He said something to the effect of, all of this could have been avoided if you would have just given her some time to recover. I thought, as an IV pumped fluids into my body, well not all of this. They released me as the sun was making its way behind the mountains, it was May and the days were just a little longer now. I was told I wold bleed for a few days and feel a little discomfort. I bled for four days.
You have bled for zero days. I’ve been keeping count. And when I saw you yesterday, sitting in my audience, just a few rows in front of me, I couldn’t help but relish in your horror.
Yes, it’s me and I’ve been waiting two decades for this moment.
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