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Not Me

Image by Michelle Leman from Pexels

Giant teardrops of condensation formed at the top of the windows before sliding down the glass. The humidity hangs in the air inside the restaurant making it both wet and cold at the same time like a body unable to regulate its temperature. I have taken my mother out for her birthday.

A hostess leads us to a booth and I scoot into the seat immediately sliding my hands underneath my thighs for warmth. My palms have picked the residue of stickiness left after it’s been wiped down. I flip the laminate pages of the menu back and forth knowing my order. It is the same dish. Always the same dish.

But a shiver creeps down my spine and a piece of me is unraveling. It is an end to the sameness. My mind doesn’t want to think about it right now. It’s my mother’s birthday. I watch my mother observing her menu with the same sort of reverence as if she were studying the Bible.

The server looks between the two of us, but concentrates her attention on me. “What can I get for ya’ll, or do ya need a minute?” she asks.

I raise my eyebrows and shoot my mother the look of “You heard her, right?” Her return reply is a blinking stare like Dora the Explorer waiting for a response.

“I think we’re ready,” I say with authority. She’s lived in the US since 1978. has lived in the US as long as I’ve been alive, yet I am her public speaker. She speaks English and understands it when spoken slowly, but the rapid rate of native speakers gets her flustered and confused. The result is most people think she doesn’t speak the language. I want to shout, “She does speak English. Just talk slower.” Instead of explaining, I continue being her aficionado of all the things pertaining to English and the American culture.

“I don’t know what to get, Anak. You pick,” she says, knitting her fingers over the menu. I can feel the air she kicks up underneath the table as she swings her crossed ankles back and forth.

Most of the time, I throw my hands up in frustration because I don’t want to keep explaining myself. Our conversations often end abruptly with me saying, “Nevermind.” the word signaling the end of my explanation to her. The aficionado has to draw a line somewhere.

My mother adds an unnecessary layer of complexity to the easiest of tasks. Today, I wish the only thing I needed to fret about was ordering food.

Our food arrives and I choke down a few bites of pasta before pushing it to the side. The cheddar biscuits brushed with butter leave grease spots on the napkin. The sight of them forces me to divert my eyes to a black and white photo of a boat docked. The water lapping against its side, forever frozen in place.

I get lost in my head. The part that told me I would deal with it later has become noncomplacent and I begin to count the days. I count them again, hoping and willing the numbers to change. I am late. This can’t be happening.

“Anak, eat.” My mother pushes her plate towards me. The mix of smells from the garlic and shrimp butter send my stomach reeling.

“I’m not hungry, ” I announce out loud for the first time. There’s a rise in my stomach making its way into my throat. I breathe in and out slowly through my nose and push the feeling away. I manage to choke down a biscuit, so she doesn’t see the silent protests my insides give me. I look at her from across the table and wonder how she would react if I told her my little, big secret. No, no, no. I cannot do that to her.

“What is it?” She can read something on my face.

“I’m just tired.” I avoid further eye contact, and she continues to eat.

When we arrive home, my debit card is missing. I pat down the pockets in my bag, hoping to feel that familiar rectangular plastic, but it’s not there. The bag could store three days of clothes and family-size snacks or a toy terrier. I wish I could shrink and become small enough to crawl into my bag and hide.

I am an irresponsible human being who can’t remember to do one simple thing. I call the restaurant. They have my card. It’s in the safety deposit box. They can send it out, but it will take a few days to get to my address. I tell them not to bother; I will call for a new one. The sameness has already begun to unravel.

I call to tell him I think I’m late. We have only started seeing each other recently, but long enough for me to be in this position. It only takes one time. Isn’t that what Ms. Duncan’s eighth-grade sex education class taught me?

I stop by the drugstore before I go to his place. Two tests. Both positive. I linger in the bathroom, looking at my face, mad at myself and the poor choices I have made to get here. We go over the pros and cons. There are more cons. I’m going through too much right now. I have already realized there is only one way out of this.

I run a 50k that weekend. It’s a humid morning, not much different than any other day. But the humidity isn’t a factor for me. Bursts of hot flashes pulsate as I wind along the single dirt path, delving deeper into the forest. I’m going to hell. I run faster and faster until I reach the end, but I can’t run from this. At the finish, I share a celebratory drink with strangers. Another race finished. I place first in my age group. The prize is a blanket, not big enough to cover my shame.

I have a cup of black coffee in the morning. He says he can’t drive me there, but he’ll pick me up. He can’t miss work. “I’ll see you later, okay?”

I’m going to hell… I’m going to hell… I’m going to hell… I nod. Can’t you call in sick? Doesn’t any of this matter? I shout the words in my head.

“Call me when you’re done.” He kisses me on the cheek before heading out the door.

I nod again, but he doesn’t wait for a reply. I want to crumble. We created the problem together, but because it is my body I must accept complete responsibility for our actions.

It’s still morning in the middle of the week. I call a taxi. The driver doesn’t turn on the radio during the twenty minutes it takes to arrive at the office. There are two people outside picketing, both dressed in long-sleeve button-up shirts and jeans. One is a teenage boy, the other an older man, possibly his father. They come toward me, but the driver shoos them away and walks me to the door.

“Are you going to be alright?” He asks. He’s a stranger, but he knows what this place is. He knows why I have come here. This newfound knowledge increases the turmoil I carry within. He knows.

The wave of guilt and shame washed over me like hot coals. I deserve to feel this way. Shame on you, Desiree. You wretched piece of filth. These are the words of my inner critic. The man waits for an answer.

“Yes,” I say, but I am far from alright.

I step inside the building. Wood paneling lines the waiting room, and a brown-speckled, commercial-grade carpet covers the floor. It’s clean and sterile. There is a single sign saying no bags or cell phones are permitted beyond this point. Under no exceptions are the patients allowed to have anything on their persons, and no, they cannot hold my things for me. I rush out to see if the taxi driver is still there and ask him if he could keep my wallet and phone for the time being. I’m not rescheduling over a technicality. I tell him it should only take an hour. He says he has some stops to make, but he’ll circle back.

I proceed to the receptionist’s window the second time. She asks for my name, identification, and payment. She slides over a clipboard with papers to sign. I sit down on a hard plastic chair while a fluorescent light zings above my head. The form asks for my name, address, date of birth, emergency contact, and allergies. Other papers inform me of privacy laws. I hand it back over and sit, not sure what to do with my hands. I fold my arms and wait for my name to be called.

Only then do I see the other women in the waiting room. I make eye contact and smile at a woman in her twenties sitting across from me. She says she never thought she’d be in a place like this. “I thought only ratchet girls came here.” I’m not familiar with the term ratchet, but I understand the context. “I’m too young to have a kid, and my boyfriend’s a dick.” She continues, “I’m a waitress, and I can barely afford the life I have now.”

The woman she calls her auntie says, “You’re doing the right thing.” She pats her hand with a smile. The other women nod in acknowledgment.

Another woman speaks. “I have two boys from my first marriage. My boyfriend and I aren’t ready to have a child together. We get along great, but we’re not even sure where our relationship is headed. She opens her phone and shows me a picture of her boys. “They are five and seven.” Her boyfriend took them to Legoland for the day while she took care of things.

A woman leaning against the wall chimes in, “I have three kids. I love ’em all, but I can’t have another. I’m a single mom. I just can’t.”

When they turn to me, I tell them my relationship is too new for this. I have kids of my own from a previous marriage, and “there’s just no way.” They nod in agreement, and for the first time, I feel like this is the right decision.

My name is called, and I head back to the prep room. A nurse takes my height and weight and does an ultrasound. I don’t look at the screen.

“Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

“Yes.” I have made wrong decisions getting myself into this mess and now have the chance to redeem myself. I no longer worry about what everyone will think of me, not my mother, children, or God.

She leads me to another room where I’m instructed to take my clothes off from the waist down. She hands me a disposable hospital gown to drape across my waist. I’m in a sitting position with my legs in stirrups. Exposed. I wait for the doctor.

He quickly scans my chart and tells me I’m not far along. “You’ll feel a slight pressure.” He turns on a machine. I turn my head away. It’s over in seconds.

“Alright, we’re all done here. You weren’t more than five weeks along. There wasn’t much there.” He gives me a gentle pat on the knee.

“How do you feel?”

How do I feel? Relieved. “Fine,” I say confidently.

“You might want to consider getting this procedure done.” He gives me a little pamphlet about sterilization. “It stings a little, but after that, you’re all set. It’s very effective.” I consider it for a second. I don’t ever want to see this place again. I want to run far away, speed up the time, so I’m not thinking of the time I did the thing I never imagined.

I nod. I want him to shut up.

“Give my office a call if you would like.” He takes off his gloves, throws them in the garbage, and moves on to the next patient. It was like he said, “Do this thing so you won’t find yourself here again.” I’m on the defensive now, but I don’t say anything. I’m not that type of woman. I feel unfairly judged. I instantly hate him for it.

The nurse speaks up, “Here is the post-op information. You’ll feel cramping, and you’ll start bleeding later. There will be a lot of blood. But if at any time you feel light-headed or short of breath, go to the emergency room. Do you have someone to drive you home?”

I nod. It’s the only thing I feel I can do. No one is left in the waiting room, but I wait a few minutes before he arrives. He gets out and opens the door for me. I get in and close my eyes.

I cramp and bleed for an hour, hunched on the toilet. That evening before sleep overtakes us, he says, “you know, I was kind of excited about the baby.”

I never allowed myself to imagine what the child would have looked like. I didn’t care to think that far ahead. What an asshole. I couldn’t believe he was going off about actually wanting it. I pretend I’m already asleep.

Days, months, and years have passed. I’m no longer with him. I stayed with him out of guilt and shame for what I had done. It didn’t work. It was never meant to.

I remarried for the third time and became pregnant after a few months. We were elated. Nine months later, I gave birth to a healthy girl with full lips and big brown eyes. When she was three months old, we learned I was pregnant once again. During the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020, another beautiful baby girl joined our family with features that match her father’s.

There came a time in my life when I made a hard decision. I will not judge people for the things I do not understand. Because I am not them, and they are not me.

“Yes,” I say, but I am far from alright.

Wood paneling lines the waiting room, and a brown-speckled, commercial-grade carpet covers the floor. It’s clean and sterile. There is a single sign saying no bags or cell phones permitted beyond this point. Under no exceptions are the patients allowed to have anything on their persons, and no, they cannot hold my things for me. I rush out to see if the taxi driver is still there and ask him if he could keep my wallet and phone for the time being. I’m not rescheduling over a technicality. I tell him it should only take an hour. He has some stops to make, and then he says he’ll circle back.

I proceed to the receptionist’s window the second time. She asks for my name, identification, and payment. She slides over a clipboard with papers to sign. I sit down on a hard plastic chair while a fluorescent light zings above my head. The form asks for my name, address, date of birth, emergency contact, and allergies. Other papers inform me of privacy laws. I hand it back over and sit, not sure what to do with my hands. I fold my arms and wait for my name to be called.

Only then do I see the other women in the waiting room. I make eye contact and smile at a woman in her twenties sitting across from me. She says she never thought she’d be in a place like this. “I thought only ratchet girls came here.” I’m not familiar with the term ratchet, but I understand the context. “I’m too young to have a kid, and my boyfriend’s a dick.” She continues, “I’m a waitress, and I can barely afford the life I have now.”

The woman next to her says, “you’re doing the right thing.” She pats her hand with a smile. Her aunt came with her for support. The other women nod in acknowledgment.

Another woman speaks. “I have two boys from my first marriage. My boyfriend and I aren’t ready to have a child together. We get along great, but we’re not even sure where our relationship is headed. She opens her phone and shows me a picture of her boys. “They are five and seven.” Her boyfriend took them to Legoland for the day while she took care of things.

A woman leaning against the wall chimes in, “I have three kids. I love ’em all, but I can’t have another. I’m a single mom. I just can’t.”

When they turn to me, I tell them my relationship is too new for this. I have kids of my own from a previous marriage, and there’s just no way.” They nod in agreement, and for the first time, I feel like this is the right decision.

My name is called, and I head back to the prep room. A nurse takes my height and weight and does an ultrasound. I don’t look at the screen.

“Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

“Yes.” I have made wrong decisions getting myself into this mess, and I now have the chance to make things right. I no longer worry about what everyone will think of me, not my mother, children, or God.

She leads me to another room where I’m instructed to take my clothes off from the waist down. She hands me a disposable hospital gown to drape across my waist. I’m in a sitting position with my legs in stirrups. Exposed. I wait for the doctor.

He quickly scans my chart and tells me I’m not far along. “You’ll feel a slight pressure.” He turns on a machine. I turn my head away. It’s over in seconds.

“Alright, we’re all done here. You weren’t more than five weeks along. There wasn’t much there.” He gives me a gentle pat on the knee.

“How do you feel?”

How do I feel…Relieved. “Fine,” I say confidently.

“You might want to consider getting this procedure done.” He gives me a little pamphlet about sterilization. “It stings a little, but after that, you’re all set. It’s very effective.”

I nod. I want him to stop talking.

“Give my office a call if you would like.” He takes off his gloves, throws them in the garbage, and moves on to the next patient. It was like he said, “Do this thing so you won’t find yourself here again.” I’m on the defensive now, but I don’t say anything. I’m not that type of woman. I feel unfairly judged. I instantly hate him for it.

The nurse speaks to me. “Here is the post-op information. You’ll feel cramping, and you’ll start bleeding later. There will be a lot of blood. But if at any time you feel light-headed or short of breath, go to the emergency room. Do you have someone to drive you home?”

I nod. It’s the only thing I feel I can do. No one is left in the waiting room, but I wait a few minutes before he arrives. He gets out and opens the door for me. I get in and close my eyes.

I cramp and bleed for an hour, hunched on the toilet. That evening before sleep overtakes us, he says, “you know, I was kind of excited about the baby.”

I never allowed myself to imagine what the child would have looked like. I didn’t care to think that far ahead. What an asshole. I couldn’t believe he was going off about actually wanting it. I pretend I’m already asleep.

Days, months, and years have passed. I’m no longer with him. I stayed with him out of guilt and shame for what I had done. It didn’t work. It was never meant to.

# # #

I remarried for the third time and became pregnant after a few months. We were elated. Nine months later, I gave birth to a healthy girl with full lips and big brown eyes. When she was three months old, we learned I was pregnant once again. During the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020, another beautiful baby girl joined our family with features that match her father’s.

There came a time in my life when I made a hard decision. I will not judge people for the things I do not understand. Because I am not them, and they are not me.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Non-Fiction, Personal Narrative

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