Barbara Ann Branca
I REMEMBER HER HAIR -- A CAUTIONARY TALE
I remember her hair: dark, luxuriant. It was piled up high, flowing down her shoulders or gathered loosely into a ponytail. He was a gentle soul, a guitar slung over his shoulder. Together they were leading a candlelight vigil against the Viet Nam war. But she was late. No period.
She tells him. He says he loves her. He loves children. But they are students about to finish college. He will support whatever she wants to do. She wants to explore life, expand into her potential before motherhood. She talks to friends and friends of friends. Then someone knows someone who can make her problem go away. Manhattan--on the west side someplace. How much? Whatever you can pay. She tells him. He is so sad. They talk. They cry. They scrape together $25.
They have a first name, an address. They head up the elevator to the room number written on a scrap of paper discarded and meant to be forgotten forever. A motherly woman greets them and quietly leads them into the kitchenette. On the counter sits a tray with steamy hot water, metal instruments and a length of pink rubber hose. Wan March light comes through the window.
“This really won’t hurt at all, it will just be uncomfortable,” the nurse says matter-of-factly, inserting speculum under the light of a gooseneck lamp. “Just lie still,” the nurse says sensing her wanting to bolt. “Now I’m going to pack you,” reaching for the sterilized length of hose as rosy as labia. She coils the entire length inside, snug against the uterine wall, putting pressure on the placenta and fetus. Pressure will eventually pull everything free.
She lies there, stunned with the procedure’s simplicity: no cutting, no pumping, no sharp metal. She will not walk out of there unpregnant. “It will take a few days.” Turning to him, the nurse instructs, “Take her out for walks, not too fast, not too slow. Eventually, the rubber will start to come down on its own and she’s going to bleed. Watch her every minute.”
She sits up slowly. Everything below the waist feels wrong. The nurse gives her a fistful of white pills—antibiotics. “Infection is the biggest danger,” she says, concerned. Grey and pink pills for pain.
“You kids are so young.” She gives them a five back for a taxi up to their friend’s apartment.
She puts on an aqua and white nightgown and swallows a pink and grey pill to sleep. He in jeans and a tee shirt, promises a long walk in the morning.
The next day they walk the neighborhood. She’s wearing his baggy sweatshirt. Back to the apartment, a little soup, more pain killers. It's not budging. Sleep there that night and the same routine the next day and the next. She’s thinking that it’s not going to work. She’s risking infection and will still wind up pregnant. Don’t forget the white pills.
They need a change of scene. She wants to go to a bio lecture. He says he’ll be there after class and kisses her gently. His heart is so big. She’s trying to shrink hers.
She learns about the mangrove swamp, the cypress knees. She's drawing a diagram when there is heat and pressure. She’s sweating, she can’t concentrate. Just breathe. Will there be blood under the seat? Nobody is paying attention to her. They’re in the mangrove swamp. She IS the swamp.
Miraculously, class ends. One little step at a time into the ladies room to relieve an indelicate torrent of piss and blood. She puts on a pad. Finished. Although he tried being with her every step, he really couldn’t be there at the end of this road. He said they were killing their unborn child. She thought they were putting their love on hold so they could fight for a bigger cause.
They met after class. “I have to get rest.” They caught a Checker to the apartment. When she went through the box of pads, he went out and got more. But when she finished the white pills, he didn’t know how to get more. She felt hot and cold at the same time, a pain in the pit of her stomach. He ran down to the bodega to get her something to eat. She splashed water on her face and looked in the bathroom mirror. Reaching for the hairbrush to tame her pony tail made her feel faint. She made it to the couch. He was back in a flash, but it wasn’t soon enough. Gently, he carried her to the narrow bed. She was shaking violently. He covered her but her berry lips were white as they shaped “I love you.” He screamed silently. Was it too late? And from the next apartment on scratchy vinyl, Joan Baez was singing, “There but for fortune go you and I, you and I.”