labor

CW: blood and other lady stuff

In the end, as in the beginning, the narrative arc of the summer is dictated primarily by the demands of my body. (No, not those demands. Well — mostly not those demands.) What are you going to do with your summer? asked my best friend in Vermont, my boss, my aunt.

I’m going to fix my body, I told them. I was tired, all the time. I had mystery hives that broke out every day if I didn’t take medication. (Which made me tired, all the time.) There was something else about low iron. I couldn’t figure out what was what. Weight piled on, pound after horrifying pound. I was going to fix this.

M came down with a cold-that-was-more-than-a-cold just hours after the last day of school ended, and I told her that sometimes your body waits until it knows it can rest. I came down with the same cold, four days later, just hours after they left for Vermont for the summer. Looking back, being confined to the couch for a week was probably exactly what I needed.

Two weeks before the girls were due to come home, I went to the doctor, because there was no use waiting anymore. I just bled, and bled, and bled, until finally one morning in the shower I could smell it, hot and metallic, and I groped around for something to hold onto but found only slick, wet tile. So I pinched my legs together and sat on a big square pad on the exam table, the kind I’d sat on 14 years ago when my water broke, listening through the walls to the thrum of fetal heartbeats, told the doctor that no, I wasn’t sure I was done having children, at least not sure enough. Not because I want to have more children, but because I don’t want a body that can’t have them. I gripped the paper sheet as a ponytailed nurse handed the doctor reams of white gauze and those awful giant q tips, took the bloody ones back, dropped them at arm’s length into the trash, a look on her face that was somehow pinched but still neutral.

“This is a lot of blood.”

(I know it’s all fine, that this is what happens when you’re 41 and get more-than-a-cold, when one domino knocks another until May’s fever becomes July’s hormonal tornado.) The doctor writes me a prescription. She wants to do an ultrasound. I schedule it knowing it will yield nothing and cost more money than I want to pay for nothing.

“We’re going to figure this out, don’t worry,” she tells me, peeling off her gloves and gesturing for the nurse to leave the room. “Use anything you need here to clean up.” She closes the door behind her, and I grab a fist full of tissues. They shrink in my hands when I wet them hurriedly under the faucet and leave beaded trails of cold pink water when I swab pointlessly at my thighs.

I pick up the prescription, and of course the bleeding stops on its own; I toss the unopened bottle into the junk drawer. It becomes clear to me that I need to utilize my last few days of bloodless freedom, which I endeavor to do, with gusto, until I’m confronted Sunday morning with desire’s darker sibling, swooping down on me in the kitchen as I pull bowls from the dishwasher and stack them on the counter.

The 1–2 punch of insistent physical need followed by cathartic full-body weeping is not unfamiliar; it shows up a few times a year and in fact is in many ways convenient. I’m not, to my knowledge, crying incessantly about anything in particular, but as usual my body knows better. Come on, let’s have it. I cast grief after grief into the receding tide. Finally.

I cry in the kitchen, and then I cry in the guest room, and then I cry pacing up and down the hallway. My friend Julia texts me: “do you want me to come hug you?” I do not want her to come hug me. I want to cry in the kitchen, then cry in the guest room, then cry pacing up and down the hallway. By Monday morning, it’s gone. I couldn’t cry if I wanted to. “I think I’m going to take a boxing class,” I tell my best college friend over FaceTime. (I’m not going to take a boxing class.)

I go pick the girls up in two days, and I’m trying to get some more stuff done before I do. I’ve had trouble, lately, concentrating at work. People ask for things, and I want to tell them to back off, that I’m not ready to talk to them yet, but it’s already 10:00. I feel like I’ve shown up to school without brushing my hair or that I left the stove on, but it’s more than that, something more urgent. I tell myself that I need to figure it out, but I wonder now if it’s the other way around.

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