TOO MANY TO NAME
Iím late. For a man, that means you were supposed to be somewhere to meet someone half an hour ago. For a woman, it means the difference between living your life exactly as you did yesterday or having it change in every way imaginable. So this morning I found myself sitting in a cushioned wooden chair at Concern for Women fiddling with my fat silver rings, twisting them around and putting them on different fingers. The wooden walls had little crafts hung on them, cross-stitchings in Popsicle stick frames, along with posters that said Jesus Saves and God Loves All Living Creatures. Not like at Planned Parenthood where posters said Reproductive Freedom and Pro-Child Pro-Family Pro-Choice. Iíd just put six droplets of urine into a little tube and a woman with stringy brown hair and glasses held a clipboard, asking me questions to distract me from incessantly leaning over the tube waiting for it to show one line or two.
"Okay, Amanda, have you ever been pregnant before?"
I tucked my hair behind my ears. I knew I should have splurged the eight bucks and just gotten a home pregnancy test at Osco.
She stared at me for a minute before I realized she wanted me to expand on this. "I was eighteen so it was about three years ago." She continued staring. "I had an abortion."
"Okay," she made a mark on her clipboard. "If the test were to be positive today, what do you think youíd do?"
"I donít know. My abortion didnít really bother me, I mean I donít have regrets that haunt me and drive me nuts like the girls in those pro-life documentaries do, but I donít really want to have another one. I donít really want to be a parent though, either."
"I guess so."
She smiled and went off about how wonderful a choice that was. She talked about how I could pick the family who would raise it and how they would foot all my medical bills and do all this kind stuff to support me throughout the pregnancy. I felt a tinge of excitement when she said that and I imagined myself talking to all these couples who would want to raise my baby. I decided they would have to have character, be laid back and funny and raise him with music and love and teach him to be open minded and take him camping and encourage his talents and individuality. And I imagined some couples being phony in desperation. Being overly nice to me, talking about how they would raise my kid in a great suburban area where all the houses look the same and thereís no trees and thereís a great school system and theyíd teach him all these values and help him establish a relationship with God. And I could just smile and say, "Iíll get back to you."
"Okay," she looked at her watch, "next question. Would the father be involved?"
"I have no idea. He really hasnít called me in awhile. I donít know whatís going on with us." She marked her clipboard and I imagined running into Kevin downtown, my eyes all teary and bloodshot, after Iíd gotten positive results. Iíd tell him that I needed to talk to him about something important and then he would have to call me and be alone in a room with me and talk to me about his feeling for me. I imagined him crying and telling me he didnít want me to have an abortion and he wanted to be there for me through the whole thing and help me pick out the parents and be my Lamaze coach and help me quit smoking and stay at home with me when everyone else was out drinking and doing other things pregnant people canít do like cliff diving and riding roller coasters. After all, Iíd be pregnant over the summer. Iíd be due in September. The baby would be a Virgo, I figured it all out last night, and Iíd name it Nature if it was a boy so he could go by Nate if he didnít want a hippie name, and if it was a girl Juniper or Maggie even though their adoptive parents would just rename them anyway. I canít help it, I name everything, I named what I aborted. Justin Daye Hurley. Like I said, I name everything, my car, my houseplant, my sewing machine.
I donít ever talk much about Justinís father. I didnít really know him that well. Iíd see him at parties, but he did a lot more standing shyly in the shadows and staring than trying to get to know me better. His name was Todd and he was shorter than me. He was cute and athletic and from a small town so he had that naïve, innocent Iowa charm. A mutual friend had given him my phone number and he was calling me before I could even put a face with his name. Heíd tell me I was beautiful and unlike any other girl heíd ever known. He told my friends that I enchanted the ground I walked upon. I guess thatís why he raped me. It was easy to get the money for the abortion from him. He was right down at the ATM as soon as I told him with a stack of crisp new twenties and I never saw or heard from him again.
"Okay," the stringy hair lady was about to ask me another question when her watch beeped. She moved her head to look at her watch. I moved my head to look at the tube on the wooden table in the corner. One blue line. What does that mean? Is that good? Above the table a yellow flier read "one line negative, two lines positive." I looked at the tube again. Then back at the flier and at the tube once more. I sighed to show I was relieved.
As I gathered my bags and tied my scarf she handed me a plastic bag full of bound brochures and a tiny Actual Size pink plastic fetus. "Why donít you take this anyway. Thereís some good stuff in here about post-abortion trauma." I opened my mouth, but she shook her head and said, "you might not be feeling it now, but itís bound to come up someday. It might take seven or ten or twenty years, but believe me, it will." Thatís what you get for going to a pro-life organization.
* * * *
Around the time of my abortion my gerbils had babies. A litter of six, they were all tiny, hairless, pinkish purple and veiny with skin over their eyes and big heads unstable on their shaky, ugly bodies. Iíd lie on my stomach on the carpet with my chin on my folded hands and watch them through the glass all huddled up in a bedding of cedar chips in the corner. The mother would lie on them, feed them, kick their bedding over them. Sometimes, if Iíd been staring at them too long, sheíd pick them up by the skin of their necks, one by one, with her teeth and move them all to the far corner. I sucked in every time she did that. Iíd heard stories about gerbils getting scared and eating their babies before their eyes opened and they grew fur and got cute.
I started to guard the cage in fear. Afraid that while I wasnít looking something would happen, like my little brother reaching his grubby little hand down in the cage, touching their soft flesh, the mother freaking out and eating the babies right up. If I had to leave my house for any reason, even if it was just for five minutes, Iíd get home and run down the stairs to where the cage sat by the TV and ask Mikey, stretched out in the Lazy-Boy, "you didnít touch Ďem, did you? Tap on the glass? She didnít eat any of them did she?" He didnít have to answer or look up because Iíd already have them counted, breathing a sigh of relief.
As the babies grew old enough to feed themselves and be sold to the pet store, the mother had more. She ended up having three litters in several months. They just kept coming. The pet store was stocked and we had trouble giving the gerbils away. We had to get more cages. The babies had babies.
I started to have nightmares about them. Gerbils in my sock drawer, crawling up the walls, gerbils in cages, in the cabinets, hairless gerbils, cute baby gerbils, mother gerbils, scary, huge, talking gerbils. Everywhere. Too many to name.
* * * *
After I got the pregnancy test results, I went to the bar even though it was two in the afternoon and I chain-smoked cigarettes and drank my favorite red beer because I could. I kept looking around hoping to run into someone I knew, someone who knew I was having the test today, so I could show them my big smile and tell them how happy the news made me. But, I didnít see a soul and found myself staring at my beer and thinking about Kevin, wondering if he would ever call me again. And I thought about cliff diving and roller coasters and how I never seem to do either anyway.
So a few hours later I went to a Sister Circle, seeing as it was a full moon, hoping the energy Iíd get from a roomful of women would help my period along. There were a lot of women there, a lot of mothers, and with them, a lot of babies. One of the mothers was a year younger than me. Her daughterís name was Savannah and she had big puffy cheeks and was teething. Her mother carried her around as we all milled about the kitchen stirring sauces and sampling foods and putting crackers on platters. She held Savannah out to me and said, "This is my daughter."
I smiled and nodded.
She continued holding her towards me for a moment before she asked, "Do you want to hold her?"
"Um," I moved my arms out to take her, then pulled them back quickly, reached for her again, then dropped my arms. "I really havenít held a baby in a long time."
The last baby I even touched was my cousin Emma, born one week after my abortion. My aunt brought her to my house and I stared at her while she laid in her little carrier on the floor in front of our fireplace, where logs and newspapers were all set and ready to be lit. The rest of the family was in the kitchen crushing ice for margaritas, laughing, and producing food smells. I stroked my palm over her little fuzzy head and put my finger in her fist and tapped her pug little nose and put my face up to her tummy so I could smell her and wondered at her long and beautiful eyelashes. I wanted to tell Aunt Maggie I would baby-sit for Emma whenever she needed me to, but instead I got up and walked upstairs to my room because I didnít want my mom or anyone else who knew about the abortion to see the way I looked at Emma and interpret it as regret. The next time I saw Emma she was old enough to feed herself and say "Mandy" and hold on to the back of my shirt as she followed me around.
"Oh, come on, Itís not something you forget how to do. Sure you donít want to hold her?"
I shook my head.
My friend Jenn, however, jumped out of her seat and with outstretched arms said, "Ooh! Give her to me! I want to hold that little angel." Just like a woman does.
Jenn held the baby on her hip and bounced around. Iíd forgotten about that. The baby threw her arms up and down smiling, gurgling. Standing next to her, I kept reaching my hand out towards the baby with intentions of touching her. My hand would come close enough for me to feel her breath and Iíd quickly draw it back to my side. The other women there would stop to touch, tickle, and make gurgling little baby words to her face as they passed by. Once, I had my palm almost touching the top of her soft head when a brown stinky shaggy dog came sniffing at my crotch. "Oh! Arenít you cute?" I dropped to my knees and scratched his ears and rubbed my nose against his and buried my face in his fur.
A Sister Circle is supposed to be a spiritual thing. We eat dinner, we drink wine, we shoot the shit for awhile, we gather in a circle on the floor and hold hands. Everyone gets a chance to speak, to share feelings and get support from other women. Then we bust out the instruments, hand drums, shakers, tambourines, guitars and make some noise. We chant and sing songs that are supposed to get us in touch with the Earth and ourselves and some goddess. I just like the release I get from making music and itís nice to be around a lot of women. I have so many guy friends.
During the Circle, a lot of the women talked about how nice it was to be around so many children and babies tonight. They talked about the miracle of birth, the power of motherhood and how wonderful it felt to see the love between a child and mother. When my turn came to speak, I closed my eyes for a moment, then looked around at the supportive women smiling at me. Savannah began to cry and her mother broke the circle to hold her and pat her back. I opened my mouth, then closed it.
"Um, I just wanted to say that being around all these children and mothers," I paused and closed my eyes, "is reallyÖ making me sadÖ because IÖ missÖ my mom. Thatís it." And that kept all the women and mothers smiling. The talking part of the Circle lasted longer than usual tonight. And we only got to make music for about ten minutes before it would become rude because it was past the childrenís bedtimes.
I walked home a little sad, which is weird because I usually feel pretty good and energized after Circles. And now I sit on my couch, twisting and fiddling with my rings, staring at the muted TV screen, listening to the eerie, buzzy silence of my apartment. The plastic bag Iíd gotten from Concern for Women lies on the rough carpet at my feet. After looking down at it a few times, I pick it up and start shifting through the brochures. Parenting. Health. Childcare. Forgiveness. I open that one, but itís just full of Bible passages, so I toss them all on the floor and take out the plastic fetus and stare at it.
Big head, closed eyes, tiny little arms and legs all curled up. I make a fist around it. I hold it in my open palm and run my finger over the lines where the plastic mold is glued together. On its side it reads, "Preborn 12-13 weeks." I lift my shirt a little and place it on my naked belly button, let it just lie there. After awhile it begins to move up and down with my heartbeat. Up, down, up, down. I push my stomach out and it rolls off onto the couch. I pick it up and hold this thing. This thing that will never be alive. This thing I will spend the rest of the night finding a name for.
Date of Birth: 8/6/77 Location: Iowa City, Iowa Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Publications: Earthwords, Undressed Awards: Certificate of National Merit from League of Innovation for Literature, Runner up in Icon's fine arts competition in nonfiction