Lucy is pregnant. She calls the clinic and makes an appointment for her fourth abortion. She is twenty-three.
The first: She is sixteen and gets pregnant on a mattress on a Wednesday afternoon. The boy is a year younger than her, and she has to talk him into it. It is a school day, and they have come to his parents’ house after eighth period. Walking through the door, she is affected by the tall ceilings and thick afternoon light streaming through the windows. The boy’s mother looks at her son and shakes her head with an indulgence that moves the girl, who likewise believes that he is better than his personality suggests. When the boy tells his mother that they are going to watch a movie in his room, she says to leave the door open. He takes Lucy’s hand as they walk up the stairs, and she feels like herself, only freer; she feels like a girl.
When they go into his room he shuts the door. The boy has taped blue and red blankets over his windows, and the room is darker than the rest of the house. The feeling of being hidden fills her with a golden joy, and she doesn’t miss the sunlight. There is a mattress in the far corner of the room; the sheets are wrinkled and navy blue. The room is a mess; she likes that too. There are boxers and tennis shoes and diving trophies and lighters and crumpled gum wrappers and empty prescription bottles and bent hangers on the floor, desk, table, and chair. She lies down on the mattress, mimicking the movements of her parents’ housecat. He puts a on a DVD—Queen of the Damned—and lies down beside her. She feels bright like the sun in that split second before an eclipse. They start to kiss; his hand, trembling, stops when he realizes how wet she is. She squeezes her thighs together and he reacts.
They undress. He asks her to “suck on it.” She says they should have sex (it’ll be years before she calls it “fucking”), but he repeats his request for a blowjob. He is a virgin and knows she isn’t. She’s been having sex for two years, but has avoided blowjobs ever since the time she was thirteen and a guy told her that it turned him on to see how ugly she looked with his dick in her mouth. She pulls the boy on top of her and guides his penis into her. The moment before entry, he says “please.” She never forgets this.
She doesn’t tell him when she finds out she is pregnant. Her friend, a tense, petite blonde girl, drives her to the Planned Parenthood on Beach Boulevard. On the drive, they smoke a joint and listen to a CD featuring a woman with a guitar and a strident voice. Her friend kisses her on the cheek before she goes in, then stays in the car, burning her fingers on the end of the joint. Inside, Lucy signs in with the woman at the front desk and pays $425. A friend’s mother gave her the money. She has decided to take mifepristone, the abortion pill; the word “surgical” disturbs her.
Lucy and her friend have had a long discussion about the merits of the pill versus the surgical procedure. The phrase “less invasive” has come up at least ten times. They are both secretly proud of using the word “invasive” so casually. Plus their recent feminist education has imbued anything “invasive” with an air of rape. They both agree that letting a male doctor (how could he not be?) vacuum the zygote out of her would be somehow less woman-positive than self-inducing a miscarriage in her bedroom while her dad is at work and her mom is at the town center Christmas shopping.
A nurse takes Lucy to a private room and explains how to take the pills, warning of the inevitable cramping. When they get back to Lucy’s house, her friend leaves for an unexpected family dinner. Lucy goes upstairs, turns on the television, and takes the first pill. The next eight hours pass filled with a pain that Lucy didn’t know hours could hold. She feels as though a hand covered in ground glass is holding on to her uterus, digging its nails in and squeezing. Between bouts of throwing up in the bathroom, she lies in the fetal position on her bed beneath a large poster of Johnny Depp smoking a cigarette while playing piano, and bleeds, and prays to a God she hasn’t believed in for years. After a while she feels like crying, but the pain persists.
When it is over she feels exhausted in a way that is almost beautiful, like the battered feeling of swimming in an ocean only hours before a hurricane.
The second: Lucy is nineteen and in love for the first time. She has brought her boyfriend—a long, lanky boy with Arabic features and uneven dreadlocks—home with her from college. During dinner Lucy sits next to the same friend who drove her to the clinic years ago. The girl now lives with her boyfriend, who is thirty and has a condo on the beach. Lucy and her friend drink a lot of red wine during the meal, feeling very adult with their men and their dinner-party dresses. Lucy’s friend becomes very drunk and laughs loudly at everything she says, which appears to embarrass the boyfriend, who seems sober despite having drunk more than the rest of them. In a fit of laughter, her friend reveals that Lucy has read her boyfriend’s diary and is suspicious of his friendship with a girl who lives in their dorm. Lucy is mortified and her boyfriend spills his wine, breaking the glass and staining the cream carpet beneath the table. They leave quickly and climb into the parked car.
Her boyfriend moves his hand up her leg from his place in the driver’s seat, and Lucy immediately pulls off her underwear and climbs over to sit on top of him, facing away from him. He seems surprised but unzips his pants and pulls her down onto him. She holds on to the latch on the roof and lets him set the pace of their fucking, which is faster than she would prefer. He pulls her down and moans, kissing her neck, and apologizes for coming so quickly. Lucy is only concerned with the diary revelation and moves back to the passenger seat, hoping he is tipsy and distracted enough to forget about it. They head back to her parents’ house with the windows down, careful to drive the speed limit. This is the first time they haven’t used a condom.
Nearly two months later, they are driving to the abortion clinic together. Lucy has known about the pregnancy for over a month, but had to wait six weeks to let the fetus develop; it needs to be visible on the sonogram for the surgical procedure. Lucy has weighed her options and decided she would rather tolerate morning sickness and sore tits for a few more weeks if it means five minutes of pain as opposed to eight hours—invasiveness be damned.
In the waiting room she makes jokes with her boyfriend about the other couples there: the visible discomfort of the boys, hands flat on their jeans and eyes on the floor, and the inescapable misery of the girls. When she is called back, Lucy’s boyfriend touches her arm and says, “Good luck.” This makes her laugh a little too hard; she feels giddy and unreal. A nurse takes her into a small room where she changes into a blue paper gown. The woman pricks her finger and gives her some pills, then takes her blood pressure. Darkness creeps inward from the edges of her vision, and the girl feels lightheaded. She asks if the pills are supposed to have this effect, and the nurse says no. Lucy tells her calmly that she is blacking out.
The nurse, a large white woman with giant breasts, puts her arm around Lucy and leans her back on the bench, fanning the girl’s face with her clipboard. She rubs her fingers over Lucy’s forehead and squeezes her earlobes. Lucy is conscious, but everything in front of her is black.
“It’s alright, sweetie,” the nurse says in a different voice than she’d been using previously.
Gradually Lucy’s vision returns and she drinks water out of a paper cup while being led to a different room, where girls sit on couches wearing the same paper gowns. For the next hour Lucy talks and listens to the girls who want to talk or be listened to. One girl is fifteen and swears she’s never skipped a birth control pill. Another woman already has four kids and says she loves them but can’t afford another. There is a Mexican girl who doesn’t speak much English and cries on Lucy’s shoulder. Lucy tells her she looks pretty when she cries and repeats it until the girl understands and laughs. There is a black girl who sits on the edge of the couch looking at the wall and won’t respond to any questions. One by one they are called away until only Lucy and the silent girl remain.
She thinks about the other girls and decides she loves them. She does not think about her boyfriend in the waiting room. She does not think about the boy in high school or the Johnny Depp poster. The nurse calls her name, and she is taken into a surgical room where she lies back on a table and puts her feet up in stirrups. They cover her mouth to put her under twilight, which Lucy has read will not obscure the pain but will cause her to immediately lose her memory of it. (Later, all she remembers is one moment when she thought, but did not feel, that she could feel everything, and she squeezed a nurse’s hand.)
She wakes up in the recovery room to the sound of the fifteen-year-old girl crying in the bed beside her. She puts on the clothes she brought with her—pajamas and her favorite rainbow-star socks—and is led out the back entrance, where her boyfriend waits in the car. He smiles at her when she gets in and asks her how she feels. She says “blurry.” He asks her to repeat herself. She doesn’t.
As they drive home, they listen to a book on tape about dragons and smoke a blunt he rolled during her surgery. She feels weak and happy and wants the drive to last forever.
Last time: Lucy doesn’t know when she got pregnant. Barely a year after the second abortion, she and the same boyfriend have been living in a house with two other couples. They often move toward each other in the morning, fucking on the bright sheets while she looks at the parsley growing in the flower box in the window over the bed. The sunlight refracts through crystals resting on the windowsill: kyanite, malachite, spirit quartz. She doesn’t love her boyfriend anymore, and it only makes him want her more.
Not knowing what to do about it, she fucks him in the mornings to feel like a decent girlfriend, then leaves to read in a secret park on Chalmers Street. Only tourists go there, and she never has to worry about seeing anyone. What did she read the morning she got pregnant?
Her boyfriend is not there for this abortion; he is studying lemurs in the rainforest in Madagascar and cannot be reached by phone or computer. When she told him on the phone a week before he left that she was pregnant, she didn’t know what response she wanted. She acted tough and made a joke about it being old hat, just another trip to the chopping block. Then she waited every morning for the next seven days for him to show up on her doorstep. Now she is driving to an old friend’s house to take the abortion pill in their bedroom, even though her friend is out of town. She cannot wait alone again through those six weeks of feeling full of something terrible and lovely; she has chosen the agony instead.
She climbs through the window and walks through the quiet house; she has always loved quiet houses. She gets a glass of water in the kitchen, then looks through a stack of DVDs in the living room. She goes back to the bedroom, puts on the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, takes the pill, and lies down.
It is as bad as she remembers. Afterward she feels empty.
This time: It’s been three years since the third abortion, and Lucy meets a man in a coffee shop during the summer. They spend all their time drinking coffee and reading and watching movies and smoking cigarettes. She is in love by September, and is pregnant by the first snowfall.
When the test reads positive, he is in the room with her. Lucy’s first thought is how young the expression on his face makes him look. How childlike. Looking at him, Lucy feels a hundred years old.
“Don’t worry,” she says. “I’ll get an abortion.”
Lucy doesn’t think much about whether she is a good or bad person. She’s not afraid to think about it, she’s just not sure it matters. She feels full of something ineffable. She is in love. She is nauseous. She is horny. She doubts. She smokes cigarettes. She wonders what the baby would look like. She counts the days until her six weeks are up. She dreams about putting red lipstick on a little girl with brown hair. She dreams about having sex with an octopus, like in Hokusai’s The Dream of a Fisherman’s Wife. She makes the appointment. She throws up outside a coffee shop. She colors a seal violet and blue in a coloring book. She doubts. She reads a poem. She wonders about herself, and draws no conclusions.
Image by Pink Sherbet.