No Matter What by Tracey Levine

On the day I found out that I was pregnant I went to a bar and drank heavily with my boyfriend. It was early afternoon and I had a spicy bloody Mary and followed it up with a few craft beers. He drank the same. We stretched our arms across the table and held hands, like newlyweds. The word shot-gun came up. We certainly weren’t getting married, not that we never would. We’d decided before my pregnancy test appointment at the clinic — I didn’t want to pee on a store-bought stick, that we weren’t parents. Not yet. My eyes filled from the horseradish and then after they just filled. though the nurse entered the examination room beaming, as soon as she saw my face she sat down and put her hand on mine. She told me it was all about circumstance. When she was filling out some paper work with her back to me a few minutes later, I texted my boyfriend ‘positive.’ He responded with ‘OK’ from the waiting room.

At the bar, I ate a bowl full of hot wings feeling happy after the tears started to dissipate. Maybe it was the booze-high, but I wanted to kiss my boyfriend for the first time in a few weeks, since all of the symptoms started. At the bar an hour later my stomach made noises, anti-digestive glupping sounds that had a bit of an Orca whale’s moan in them. All of the spice and alcohol was a bad idea. We had scheduled the abortion for ten days from then.

I was an hour late to my boyfriend’s housewarming party. I brought ice cream and I don’t even like ice cream. But he hadn’t any desserts. I saw the panic in his face, the lack of order with the party food, and went to work. I should have known I’d slide right in regardless, putting things into bowls, fixing the music problem with a table I drug out into the backyard, finding an extension cord. I felt pregnant, but wasn’t sure what that even meant other than I was having cramps I’d never had before.

I drank wine and then some beer and it helped. We had mutual friends who showed up, some my close friends, and I wanted to tell them that I’d peed all over my hands trying to pee into a cup. My boobs were so sore I imagined they were like those glass globes filled with lightning sold in novelty shops. Every time I put a finger to them a laser immediately and very thickly came at it. I could have had the room laughing with these things but empathy is hard. I worried someone would notice how my breasts had grown like Pinnochio’s nose, but I guess I was better off as I just had to cross my arms over them, tight like a straight-jacket. I just kept smiling at all of them.

Those ten days were tough. Every day I told my boyfriend: “I’m a ticking time bomb!”

I texted my best friend in another state: “I don’t know how women do this without booze!”

I knew that there was the Internet, but I firmly denied its access to a world of motherhood where I could easily find information about how to relieve some of my symptoms. Something started happening to my ribs that I could only cure with a little whiskey and I started taking laxatives. I had never used laxatives in my thirty some years of life up to that point. When I was at work, I drank too much coffee and drifted down hallways and into my office, not at all nauseous, but so entirely full. I eventually referred to my condition as an invasion of the body snatchers, which the only two people I told about my state accepted like one has to relent to a detour sometimes.

A week before the abortion, I visited my nieces. I thought about skipping this because of my condition but I missed them. When I walked into their house that day my brother had his newborn daughter latched to his belly like a parasite as he lay atop a couch covered in the debris from a rough morning. His life was so different from mine. I cleaned up the living room, careful to be quiet as they slept. Their mother came home and my brother left for work. At some point, I nestled the infant into me and looking into her face made me realize how lucky I was. The two-year old woke up and the plans changed. She was a monster, grabbing at anything, screaming, and instead of being annoyed by it, I saw her as an extension of my subconscious. I managed to get a few minutes on the floor with her, she rubbing my cheeks and brushing my hair with her fingers as I did the same to her. Then we all went to the mall.

I pushed the double stroller, but I was so uncomfortable I thought that maybe I shouldn’t be walking. The older girl squiggled her way out and tore into the mall. I ran after her, leaving the infant with their mother who still wasn’t up to a postpartum run.

The mall was filled with young families. There was some mother-centric event even my sister-in-law balked at when we’d landed in it. There were tables and tables of things to keep kids occupied, organizations that hosted fairytale parties and personalized photo shoots. There was a stage where young children danced like they were ten years older than they were. They drew a crowd. lunged and ripped my niece up from the floor after hobbling from shoes that chafed my heels, the middle of me twisted but she belted me in my chest anyway with her head and elbows and squealed. I held onto her, close to the ground, dragging her in the most undignified way. I looked away from the cult of motherhood as they watched me, until my voice and straight-jacket grip, brought my niece back to her senses. I wanted to vomit because I think I had to but I couldn’t. My niece calmed and we walked back to her mother and sister like it never happened, she looking up at me with crystalline eyes. Then she took her hand out of mine and walked beside me like an adult.

The morning of the abortion, I stood at the corner across the street from the clinic waiting for my boyfriend who was parking the car. There were about five protesters in front holding an adult body-sized poster of a fetus. I refused to read the words around it. I stared at their subtly smiling faces, and then my boyfriend grabbed my elbow and startled me. I turned to him and said, “Look at what you left me with.”

I pointed at the protesters and started across the street, straight at them, my boyfriend behind me and apologizing. I wanted him to feel shame. One of the protesters told us, “Jesus has a better way.”

Inside, at the front desk, I met a face that met my face with contempt. He was older and pointed to a door and asked me to throw out my coffee. I did, and then I started to cry under my sunglasses, letting my boyfriend take my hand as we pushed through doors that held a poster that read ‘No Matter What’ in a muscular type. We descended the stairs to the surgical center and had a seat in the lobby.

I kept my sunglasses on and my boyfriend kept my hand as I scanned the room. It was pretty full with only one other boyfriend but many women, mostly slouched and silent except for a few couplings who crouched over phones watching something they played loudly, their devices almost drowning out the sound of the movie that was on. I recognized Martin Lawrence in drag. The TV was small but many trained their eyes on it and I kept thinking that someone would say something. But we all sat like criminals in church. Two women next to me started up a casual conversation about the various abortive methods. I’d chosen the best in their opinion.

After a while, I ripped my hand from my boyfriend’s hand, took off my sunglasses and rubbed the skin right under my eyes, staring at the movie. He told me he loved me and then I looked at him, knowing that he meant it and that he also hadn’t any idea of what else to say. And then, for about an hour, every ten minutes or so I was called back for some tests and then a sonogram. I didn’t look but I really wanted to. They made it quick.

When I was brought back the final time, I was walked into an examination room and told to put the pair of extra panties I’d brought that were lined with a pad behind a back pillow on what looked like a dentist chair on wheels. That was where I would recover but the chair would be in another room at that point. Then I was left alone and I disrobed, put all of my things into a plastic bag as I was told to, and then, naked but still in my shoes and draped in a paper gown, I was walked down a hall to a cell-sized room lined on three sides with obviously donated couches. I sat on the one across from a tube television. Two women were in there with me on another couch. Both had their arms crossed half between a cradling gesture and pissed off. They were bored and about my age and of the same ethnicity. I looked at them several times but I didn’t see and couldn’t sense that they looked at me at all. The movie we stared at was that one with Amanda Bines when she pretends to be a boy in high school, a remake of a remake, and everyone wants to date her somehow. It was past the part where they explain why she even does it. She was on a date when I was briefly in that room, and all of the girls fight over her. I was called out of the room first.

I was put in another dentist chair. It was a different color from the one I put my panties on and it had stirrups. My anesthesiologist introduced himself as a nurse secured my legs. The door I came in from was shut and another directly across from it was opened where a medical team stood prepping. My team, I assumed, but my attention was drawn to the anesthesiologist who had a substantial, but trim, white beard. He explained where he was going to put the needle in. I thought of how hungry I was, as it was late morning and I couldn’t eat because of the sedation that was seconds away. The needle was in and the doctor came out and introduced himself, spared me all of the details, maybe even neglectfully so, aside from how long it would take. After minutes, it would be over. And then, as my arm started chilling from the stuff going into it, the anesthesiologist told me that I was going to see something I probably never saw a man do before. I moved to see what he was doing, getting fuzzier, and the last thing I heard him say was, “I’m going to clean up after myself.”

And then he smiled with his lips closed.

I came to and was immediately lifted from the chair. There was a person on either side of me, guiding me by my arms. When I arrived at a room with a wall of windows, the light was so pleasant that I wasn’t alarmed when I realized my legs were numb. I was put onto my dentist chair, and told to lay back. The first face I saw was an older woman in street clothes, not scrubs, who pet my head and gave me a plastic cup with water in it. She then retreated to a chair and hunched over what she’d picked up from the seat- knitting needles attached to something in the process of being knitted. She resumed. Her grizzled hair was wound illogically around her head. I looked at the windows across from me, at the concrete wall outside of them that had upside down unicorn horns made from tornadoes coming down from the top of the wall. They made me so happy. I knew I was high, but I was high so I smiled and looked around the room. There was only one other girl and she was far away. The gray-haired lady gave me crackers and I thought, or maybe I said aloud, “It’s taken me a long time to get to the abortion room.”

I was given some orange juice just then, told to drink it down, and then was encouraged to get up and test my legs. I thought about what I said or thought. I was really relieved. Then I could feel my legs and my crotch although it didn’t ache like I imagined it would. My skin still bristled with warm fuzz from the drug. I went into the bathroom and saw that there was only some blood on my pad. I told the gray-haired lady and a nurse about it as they had told me to do. They were happy to tell me then, that I could go.

The nurse took my arm and I longingly looked back out of the window at the white plumes, at the water damage that was still so beautiful to me. I almost asked to stay a bit longer, but that didn’t seem possible. I had an urge to wave as I was walked through the narrow halls at the workers there that I passed. When I arrived in the lobby, I was let go. My boyfriend stood up and came to me. I told him that I was dizzy, and he said, “Let’s get out of here.”

Before I even tried to climb the stairs, I fished my sunglasses out of my purse and put them on. I took my boyfriend’s hand and we left that place for the mid-day heat of an intensely sunny day. It made me feel disgusting and weak, but I really just wanted to sit in it for a while, let it burn and absorb into me ensuring that most of my thoughts would have to melt away before taking shape. My boyfriend asked me what I wanted to do, and I started panicking as we stopped back across at the spot where the morning started. The protesters were gone. Even they must have schedules. I couldn’t be alone. I knew that but I wanted so badly to be left. I forcibly told him to go get the car. I’d wait there, but there was nowhere to sit. I yelled, “There’s nowhere for me to sit!”

He held me and I squiggled out, but then I allowed my boyfriend to walk me across the street to a chair and table in front of a café. He went inside and got me a coffee. He started away, pointing a finger at me as he back-walked for a moment, telling me to stay. I looked away and drank the coffee and it was so good.

I thought about the yoga class I went to the night before and how angry I was then. Pregnant women aren’t supposed to invert but I did, shamelessly. Moving through that yoga practice, I pushed my breath through me, but my head got stuck on things. I thought of some co-workers laughing at my frustrations because I didn’t have kids, didn’t know exhaustion, over the course of many years, how they mentioned my freedom like a shackle. They laughed at my childless, unmarried life, feigning envy that was laced with true envy. I realized then that if I wanted to I could never make a decision for myself again, and then on my back, legs and arms splayed with upward facing palms, in corpse pose, practicing release, I couldn’t help but realize that I was pregnant. Then the lights came on after three intonations from a bell executed by the careful hands of the yoga teacher.

I sip my coffee and people-watch, becoming aware of a difference in myself. I think how silly this is. I hope that my boyfriend has walked slowly to the car, even stopped and meandered, maybe window-shopped. I stare down every person that walks by me noticing as much of them as I can, wanting so desperately for them to catch me watching them so they could see me for who I am. But not one of them so much as flinch or slow; each stroll past entirely wrapped up in whatever it is that they are into in this particular moment.

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Tracey Levine
Tracey Levine teaches creative writing and film courses at Arcadia University where she coordinates the creative writing concentration for undergraduates. She earned a BFA in screenwriting from University of the Arts, an MA in English from Arcadia University, and an MFA in fiction from Syracuse University. She has worked on many documentary projects for WHYY and her creative writing work has appeared in Verbal Seduction, Metropolis VoxPop, A Manner of Being, Literary Mothers, The Literary Yard, The Halcyon Review and The Philadelphia City Paper. She currently lives in Philadelphia with her cat and boyfriend. She is a yogi and plays darts in a dart league and is hard at work on a collection of short fiction and a longer thing, but a poem or two comes out every once in a while.
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