by Dot Hearn
I was seventeen-and-a-half and it was the last week of my junior year. My periods had been erratic—long and heavy and frequent—ever since they’d started when I was ten. I’d never bled less than seven days, and the longest was thirty, which only stopped because the doctor gave me an injection. My period usually returned after two weeks, maybe less; rarely did I have an uninterrupted twenty-one days of non-bleeding.
When I was fifteen, the family doctor put me on birth control pills to see if that would regulate my periods.
“Are you having sex?” he had asked, with a smile meaning he knew I was a good girl and wouldn’t do that.
“No,” I had said. With a smile to convince him that I was.
I didn’t tell him about my cousin. I didn’t tell him about my friend’s friend at the beach, at his parent’s house, once at our house.
“Well, that’s good. But I’m going to put her on birth control pills, Mother, if you don’t mind.” He nodded to my mom, who was sitting in the patient’s chair. She nodded back but looked horrified at the thought. He turned his gaze back to me. “I’m concerned you might become anemic if you keep this up. We need to get that bleeding under control.”
The Pill helped my periods move closer to normal, but they were never predictable and did not stick to the white pill/pink pill schedule. Still, I obeyed the doctor’s orders and took the pills every day, regardless of my bleeding or not bleeding.
So, when I was seventeen and it had been four weeks, then five weeks, since my last period, I didn’t mind. I looked on it as a gift from Mother Nature and relaxed into the lack of cramps, the extra tampon-free days. But when it hit six weeks, I made an appointment at the county health clinic for a rabbit test to see if I was pregnant. With me being on birth control it seemed impossible; but I had to rule it out.
The first test was inconclusive. They required a two week wait for a second test, which showed that, yes, I was pregnant.
The nurse and I crunched numbers and it looked like, if I carried this pregnancy, the baby would be born in early February. Which meant Randy and I would become parents two months after our planned elopement to Reno on my eighteenth birthday. There was no way I could hide a pregnancy that far along from my parents; I’d seen pictures of my mother when she was carrying me.
I wasn’t ready to be a parent and didn’t think I ever wanted to have children. After grilling me for fifteen minutes to make sure I wasn’t sleeping around, Randy was the first to mention abortion. I was sure he loved me, but I knew that Randy would be a terrible father. He shouted at me often, suddenly enraged over a small infraction, like the time I bought him Pepsi because the corner store was out of Coke. I’d often heard him lie to others about things he’d done, places he’d been, and people he knew; but I was afraid to contradict him because of his temper, so I kept quiet. I didn’t know how he’d treat a child.
I remember the institutional green of the waiting room walls. And the drive from Salem to Oregon’s only legal clinic, in Portland, with my best friend Marja in the back seat, Randy at the wheel with the $200 in his pocket, and his hand caressing mine whenever traffic allowed.
I remember taking the Valium when we arrived, which the nurse said would help me relax.
I remember that the procedure room was white and bright.
I remember lying on the table. I remember not feeling.
I remember Muzak over the sound of the machines.
I felt cramping down there.
I felt cold down there and then cold in waves over my body.
Then it was done. They gave me orange juice and told me to lie still for thirty minutes and that they’d come back to check on me.
The doctor handed me a prescription for antibiotics and left. The nurse left.
Randy came in.
I was groggy and said it was nothing at all and I was fine.
We left the clinic and headed to Rose’s Restaurant, one piece of the story I’d told my parents about why I had to go to Portland, though they didn’t know Randy was with me. For dessert, Randy ordered a slice of the eight-layer German chocolate cake. “To make the lie to your parents real,” he said. Meaning that he knew I didn’t lie well and this was his contribution to the truth and keeping my parents from losing their shit before we were married. He smiled, exposing his dimple. “Soon, you will be in charge of your own life,” he said, patting my hand before returning to the last bite of cake.
I don’t remember what I ate for dinner. Or if I ate.
I don’t remember where we bought the medication.
I don’t remember if we went to the movie in my story.
I do know that I spent the night at Marja’s house.
Three days later I was heading to Sacramento with my mother for my great aunt’s funeral. I was still taking the antibiotics in secret every six hours. I’d wrapped the pills for the trip in individual white and red Trident gum wrappers and hidden them in an old gum package, with pieces of actual gum stuck in between. I kept the pack in my large blue shoulder bag, along with a new pack I’d taken pieces out of, which I could hand to my mother if she asked for gum.
I let the saliva collect in my mouth and swallowed the antibiotic before it melted. I offered the pack of pure gum to my mother as we headed south on I-5. With her eyes still on the freeway she shook her head, no.
Dot Hearn writes stories. True stories and fictionalized stories and fiction with dabs of truth. She believes in the cross-pollination of art and writing, of theatre and a creative life, of dancing and words on the page. Her published works include essays, poetry, short fiction, radio scripts, and creative nonfiction. Publications have included Hippocampus Magazine, Altopia Antholozine, Prism, Six Sentences, Hermana Resist’s Voices Against Violence, Sudden Radio Project, Blink Ink, and Letters from the Void. She is currently working on a memoir, as well as a short story collection which has turned, not surprisingly, dystopian.