Counting Down From 10

Art by Chris Garcia I sat holding my roommate’s hand, continuously adjusting my position to make the best of the uncomfortable chair. I could feel slight tremors going through her fingers like little bumps on a road, but she tried her best to stay steady. I flashed a less-than-toothy smile at her, assuring her everything was alright.

“Hey,” said the not-so-strange stranger sitting next to me. “Wanna hear something funny?”

“Anything,” I replied, trying to break the tension.

“Over the summer, my co-workers made me watch a documentary about a guy with a 132 pound scrotum.”

My roommate and I both laughed, probably too loudly, before looking at each other awkwardly.

Just then, a woman emerged from behind a wooden door and began to stumble over a name. “Ch-Christab—?”

“That’s me,” I said before she could finish.

“Come with me,” she said as she turned her body back towards the door.

I stood and trailed behind her, and entered into the first of three rooms I would go in that day. I had hoped someone would wake me up, tell me that my life wasn’t really becoming a deleted scene from Gossip Girl.

No one woke me up.

---

One night in early September, my new(ish) roommates and I decided to throw a housewarming party for ourselves. We had punch, we had red Solo cups, we had ping pong balls, we had a cardboard cutout of Obama and bright orange traffic cones. Not to brag, but we had set things up to get weird.

The party went as any party does, and it would have been damned if I had not kept up my history of sloppily making out with a not-so-strange stranger. And since a guy I had a flirtationship with had decided to surface at the party, I went with it.

Drink after drink, the night continued and somehow we ended up making out on top of an orange traffic cone. Hand-in-hand, we kicked everyone out of my room and closed the door.

The next morning, I woke up with a dull ache in my head and a knot in my stomach. I found $20 in my bra, then remembered I had made my one-night partner give it to me for Plan B. Just in case, of course.

I climbed out of bed and forced myself down to CVS to spend $40 that probably wasn’t necessary. When I got home, I ate a bagel and swallowed the small pill, then allowed my hangover to lull me back to sleep—it was easier than I had been the night before.

My first year at Emerson seemed to be eating the life away from me, my college junior self not used to the academic rigor that was an education where the professors actually cared. I was tired all the time. I would wake up, go to school, go home, and crash. It was a never ending cycle, but it made a month and a half go by rather quickly.

On the Monday after a weekend full of tequila, I decided two weeks had been long enough without a visit from my monthly friend. I made an appointment with Health Services on campus and went through the day, patiently waiting for 2:00 p.m. to roll around.

I finally arrived at the 3rd floor of Union Bank, my phone buzzing with texts of encouragement saying things like don’t even worry about it, or you’re definitely not pregnant. I knew that I wasn’t—I had taken Plan B. This was just a precaution, to put my mind at ease.

I couldn’t help but be nervous, though, as I sat alone in the waiting room, spinning my phone and tapping my foot until a nurse called my name.

“Christabel?” she said, questioning the pronunciation like most people do the first time they read my name.

I stood without saying a word, following the woman in the white coat to a small room.

Despite having the form I filled out in front of her, she looked at me and said, “What brings you in today?”

“My period’s late,” I replied. “I’d like to take a pregnancy test.”

She handed me a cup and pointed to a bathroom, “Just go right in there. Pee in the cup, and put it in the metal door when you’re finished.”

I nodded then walked into the bathroom and took a deep breath, unintentionally inhaling a big whiff of cheap bathroom cleaner. I followed her directions and went back to the office where I continued to spin my phone.

“I forgot to ask you,” she said a few minutes later as she walked back into the room, closing the door behind her. “What did you want the result to be?”

“Negative, obviously,” I said, almost chuckling at the prospect of being excited to have a baby with a year left of college.

“Well, it is positive. You are pregnant, but you do have options.”

My ears started ringing; my hands started shaking; my stomach was turning over and over and over again. I started to hyperventilate, I started to cry. I had to call my mom, I had to text my roommate, I had to call, I had to text.

While the nurse was trying to comfort me, I shook her off and said, “I have to call my mom.”

“Okay,” she said. “But maybe after that we can put the phone away?”

I mumbled an “okay” back to her, not paying attention to what she was saying. I hadn’t even told my mom that I was going to get tested. Hell, I hadn’t even told her I was sexually active (jump cut to that scene in Juno).

She answered me on the second ring.

“Mom,” I said, attempting to breathe as deeply as possible without breaking down in tears. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Please don’t be mad.”

“Sweetie, what’s wrong?” she asked. “I won’t be mad.”

“I-I—” the extremely slight composure I had held for 20 seconds decided to run away and hide at that point, “I’m pregnant. I’m so sorry. Mom, I’m so sorry. Please don’t be mad.”

She sighed on the other end of the phone, “It’s okay honey, I’m not mad. How do you know?”

I explained where I was to the best of my ability before hanging up, and turning to the nurse.

Suddenly, my emotions jumped to the side. As the nurse started pulling out pamphlet after cliché pamphlet, complete with stock photos of smiling women explaining which each of my options were, I said, “No. I know what I have to do. I can’t have a baby.”

She nodded her head, walking me through the process of calling Women’s Health Services in Brookline, making an appointment for that Friday. When I couldn’t talk anymore, she took the phone and talked for me. The nurse gave me her email address and walked me to the door, before giving me an awkward hug and saying, “It’s going to be okay.”

---

I immediately regretted telling anyone that I was going to take a pregnancy test, because they all searched for answers like a nosy suburban mom after she finds out her daughter’s ex-boyfriend’s lab partner’s cousin is gay. I didn’t want to tell them, I didn’t want to tell anyone, I just wanted to get it over with, to get to Friday.

After going back and forth, I decided I had to tell the not-so-strange stranger from that fateful September night.

It was a warm Tuesday afternoon in October when we met on top of the hill in the Boston Common. As the sun shined down, I answered questions like, “How could this happen? Are you sure it was me? What are you going to do?”

I told him I was having surgery that Friday, and that I expected him to pay half the bill.

“Surgery? What do you mean...?”

“An abortion, you dumb ass. I just...don’t want to say it,” I remember saying to him.

“Oh,” he said, relieved. “I want to come with you.”

I looked at him, shocked, and said, “You really don’t have to do that.”

“I want to,” he said. “I think I need to.”

---

All of my friends that knew said I was doing the right thing; even my friend who had a child of her own said I was doing the right thing. The logical part of me knew that it was the right thing.

But a very small part of me struggled to believe this. That’s what lead me to doing probably the worst thing someone can do when getting an abortion. I googled “post abortion syndrome,” or PAS.

Scores of religious websites donned my screen, page after page of people saying I would have a form of PTSD from making this decision about my life. I read it and let the words soak into my brain. They jumped off the page and slapped me in the face, making me feel overwhelmed with guilt and sadness. I had never felt as alone as I did in my room in the early hours of that Wednesday, tears hitting the keyboard and rolling onto the bed where the very deed had been done.

Wednesday passed and I sat holding my stomach, thinking about what was in there: a cluster of cells made up of half of me. And about what wasn’t in there: chocolate covered strawberries.

Before I knew it, Friday had arrived and I was sitting in a cab on my way to the clinic at 6:30 a.m. I followed the directions: wear comfortable clothes and shoes, don’t eat or drink anything for 12 hours before the surgery, bring $600, don’t pee before you come.

So there we were, sitting in the uncomfortable chairs in an uncomfortable position in an uncomfortable situation, waiting for what seemed like forever.

They called my name and I entered the first room, a quick therapy session.

“Is anyone making you be here by anything other than your free will?” a short haired woman asked me.

“No,” I replied.

She continued to rattle off questions until she let me go. Then another woman came to get me, squeezing my arm for blood pressure and taking samples of my blood.

After I left the examination room, I sat down in the waiting room again. Next to my roommate, holding her hand. The third and final woman came out.

“Christabel?” she said in a clear, confident voice. I got up and followed her, trying my hardest not to look back.

She led me into a dimly-lit room where the main feature was an elevator. She pressed “B” for basement and asked me what I was studying in school. The elevator dinged before I could answer, and she walked out the metallic doors into a sterile looking hallway. The carpeted floors from upstairs had been replaced with teal vinyl, and the walls were painted a stark white. She led me to a bathroom and instructed me to undress and put on one of the dresses from a basket on the floor. I picked the first one, an autumnal floral smock which was obviously hand sewn, folded my clothes neatly, left the bathroom and handed them to the woman.

I walked in bare feet to another room. It was as clean as the hallway, with everything neatly arranged around an OB/GYN exam table. A doctor stood in the room alone, distracted by her own affairs. When I walked in she greeted me, without a smile, and guided me to the table. Another woman, the anesthesiologist, walked in and searched for a vain while another nurse asked me how I was doing. I absentmindedly said, “All right,” and stared up at the bright light shining down on me. The anesthesiologist leaned over and blocked my view of the light, placing a mask over my face and said, “I’m going to count down from 10, and you should fall right asleep. 10, 9, 8, 7….”

---

I woke up in a leather chair, drunk on anesthesia. I shook myself back into reality to the best of my ability, and shouted obscenities at the nurse in the room until she came to my side.

“I wanna go…” I mumbled to her, waiting for her response. She handed me a packet and a paper bag with painkillers and a prescription for birth control and antibiotics. Oh, and a pamphlet about Plan B.

“Have you heard of Plan B?” she asked me. “You should keep it in mind.”

My anesthetized self couldn’t help but laugh.

---

It took almost a year for me to come to terms with my abortion. Despite being surrounded by supportive friends, I felt like I was on a deserted island, where everyone could see me struggling to build shelter, but no one could reach me. My heart kept breaking, and every time I would pick up the pieces it would all fall apart again. One day I would call myself selfish for suctioning out my cluster of cells, the next I would feel selfish for even thinking that it was my cluster of cells. One thing was for certain, though, I thought about it all the time. For months afterwards, I would feel wrong if I hadn’t cried at least once in a day. My hormones were adjusting to the birth control and to not being pregnant, placing me in the middle of a sandstorm.

But eventually my heart stopped breaking. My brain stopped needing to comfort my heart, because I realized that I had made the right decision. I struggle to feed myself and keep myself healthy, I let my emotions get the best of me. I’m still a kid. While young people can make great mothers and fathers, I just realized that it wasn’t for me. Instead of raise a child before I’m ready, I want to wait until I know I’m ready.

That time just isn’t now.