I tell myself I’m going to make her laugh before I leave…

by El Sanchez

November 28, 2018

El, my period is late.”

I froze in place for a moment, clutching my cell phone in silence before slowly melting into a nearby chair. “How late?” I asked. “Like, almost two months,” Michelle answered, with the upturned tone and cadence of a question rather than an answer. Michelle (not her real name) was my best friend since freshman year of high school. Just a few months earlier I had moved to Seattle from our small hometown in Washington State following the failure of an early and unnecessary marriage. Michelle had moved from the house she had shared with myself and my then spouse to Seattle a year earlier to attend art school. I was excited to put some distance between myself and the emotional responsibilities of my first divorce, as well as some much-needed distance between myself and my MANY embarrassingly sloppy drunk post-separation hookups in my hometown. Unfortunately, Michelle and I only had a month or so to reconnect before she had “fallen in love” with some creep she met from a Missed Connection on Craigslist. I’ll call him Dave because that’s pretty close to his actual boring-ass name. Between their many breakups and makeups, we barely had time to mourn my personal heartbreak.

“El, I don’t know what to do, “she sobbed, “I’m scared.” The truth was, I didn’t know what to do either, but that’s not what you tell your best friend. Instead, I came up with a plan. “Let’s both go buy a pregnancy test right now. en we can take them at the same time and call each other with the results.” I thought the camaraderie of simultaneously taking a test would help her to feel less embarrassed and alone, plus my own period was three days late. I could not only be a supportive friend, but also give myself peace of mind in the process. She agreed to this plan and we both hung up the phone. I hurried to the grocery store, purchased the test and a pack of cigarettes, then smoked a fresh one on the walk back to my apartment. Once inside, I opened a PBR which I sipped to calm my nerves and help me pee. I unwrapped the stick, peed on the end, placed it on the edge of the sink, and waited. I wasn’t worried for myself, but I felt anxious for Michelle. It was very likely she was pregnant. I wondered whether she would keep the baby as a terrible attempt to keep Dave in her life. The alarm I had set on my phone sounded. I sat on the edge of my bathtub, holding my phone tight as I prepared for Michelle’s inevitable phone call and grabbed the stick o of the edge of my sink. I glanced at it as my phone began ringing. I held my breath as I pressed the answer button. “El??” her voice cracked through sobs, “I’m pregnant.” I paused for a moment. “Me too,” I replied.

HOW HAD THIS HAPPENED? I screamed over and over in my head. Truthfully, I knew. I had been having sex with a cis dude and hadn’t been using condoms. I mean, we did sometimes, but there were also times I would drunkenly rip them off and whisper something I thought sounded sexy in his ear like, “I hope I don’t regret this,” which, as I write this, I realize isn’t sexy at all (and I also realize I’m writing “drunken” as a description far too often). In addition to my lack of experience with (what I assume straights refer to as) “getting goofed in,” I wasn’t on birth control because I was too lazy to have my prescription forwarded to a pharmacy in Seattle and had decided the pills were unnecessary since most of my sexual partners post divorce did not have penises. Michelle wasn’t sure what to do, but I was positive. No question, I was having an abortion.

It felt odd making that decision, as I had always been pro-choice politically, but had never been in the position where I actually needed to make that choice. I knew I wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a child. The dude I’d been sleeping with for two weeks was one of the part-time managers at a theater I worked, and he had a girlfriend he planned on getting back together with once she graduated from college in New York. Nothing about my life seemed appropriate for a child. The only decision left to make was if I should I tell him, but that decision was made by my mother when I called her to tell her the news. “You’re going to tell him, right?” she asked. “I’m not sure,” I replied. “I don’t really want to deal with any weirdness.”

“El,” my mother said sternly, “you absolutely have to tell him. He has the right to know. Plus, he needs to pay for it.”

I agonized over the best way to do it. Should I seem emotional or levelheaded? Would a lack of emotion cause him to think I lacked human empathy? OR, would acting emotional make me seem like I was overreacting? Scott (his fake name) came over later that night and everything went as planned. Beers, bad movies, boning, the usual. Only this time, I requested he goof in me. He obliged. Afterward, he breathily commented, “We probably shouldn’t do that, you could get pregnant.” I calmly turned over on the mattress pad that I had stuffed into a walk-in closet in my studio apartment, making it my makeshift bedroom. “No worries. I’m already pregnant,” I said, feeling positive I had chosen the best way possible to share this news. After an hour of hyperventilating and asking uncomfortable questions, Scott requested to go to the clinic with me. So we made a date, our very first date in the daytime.

Michelle eventually decided she would terminate as well so I scheduled our appointments on the same day to support her. Unfortunately, Dave was there too and moved their appointment earlier in the morning to avoid me. e morning of the procedure, I wore the required baggy pants and shirt, picked up some coffee from Starbucks, and went with Scott to Planned Parenthood. My first observation in the waiting room was the amount of women there who were also in baggy clothes and holding coffee cups. I wished we could acknowledge each other with some kind of wink or nod, but reminded myself everyone’s experience was different and my “day at the office” attitude about this could feel fucked up to some people. Plus, for all I knew, they were just there for annual paps. I turned my attention to the television, which was playing an episode of the Bonnie Hunt Show. I had no idea that was a thing.

Finally. They called me back and I knew it was almost time for the procedure. Scott said he’d see me “back there” and we awkwardly laughed for some reason. In my gown in the room with my feet in the straps, I was struck by how casual the whole thing is. We were basically in an average exam room. There were no bells and whistles, just a machine, one doctor, and one nurse’s aide. They asked me if I wanted Scott in the room. I said sure.

As the procedure begins, they tell him he can hold my hand. We look at each other and realize we haven’t held hands before. During the procedure his chair faces the wall behind my head. As he holds my hand with my legs up in the air, it’s almost like I’m giving birth and he’s there to cheer me on. Behind my head on the wall is a giant diagram of a penis. It’s oddly quiet. I decide to break the ice. “Hey Scott,” I ask. “What are you up to?” “Oh, just looking at a diagram of a dick,” he replies. “How about you?” “Meh, not much, just having an abortion,” I reply. The nurse laughs, then muffles her mouth. The doctor cracks a smile then shakes it off . She seems disappointed in herself and tries to make small talk with me. Knowing I work at a movie theater she says, “So, El, are there any good movies playing right now?” I can barely hear her soft voice over the sound of the machine. “Dr. Kyle, I really want to answer your question, but I’m kind of in the middle of an abortion right now … ” I respond. The doctor cracks a smile again and almost lets a laugh slip. I tell myself I’m going to make her laugh before I leave.

When it’s over, I’m lying in a comfy chair in the Recovery Room where your abdomen is covered in heating pads and nurses ply you with crackers and soda. I request as many snacks as possible to hoard for later. I know I’m not going to want to walk to the store later, plus I love free stuff . I see a small group of women crying together in a corner of the recovery room, and two of them are chewing on granola bars. A nurse walks by and I grab her attention. “Excuse me?” I ask, “Can I get a couple granola bars?” She pulls out various things from cupboards nearby and does not look at me. “We don’t have granola bars,” she says, still avoiding eye contact. She leaves the room.

A few moments later, my doctor enters the room. She nods in support at the crying women and then walks over to me. “Well, El, you’re all ready to go. Is there anything else you need?” she asks. “ Yes, actually,” I reply. “Can I have a granola bar?” The doctor stares up at the ceiling before repeating the same lie as the previous nurse. My painkillers are wearing off and I don’t have time for bullshit. “Listen,” I reply quietly, gesturing for the doctor to lean in. “Do I have to cry to get some Nature Valley in here, because I WILL.” Doctor Kyle looks shocked for a second before letting out an audible laugh. I feel victorious. She brings me some granola bars. As I stand up to leave, Dr. Kyle walks over to me with a bouquet of flowers in a glass vase. “I want to present you with these flowers. We always give flowers to the final patient of the day.” I look around the recovery room, and the three women are still there. “But I’m not the last patient,” I respond, confused. Dr. Kyle leans in close to me and whispers in my ear, “I know you’re not the last patient, but you’re getting these flowers because you’re the funniest abortion I’ve ever performed.” She hands me the flowers, and the story of the greatest achievement of my comedy career.

It’s been eight years since that day. I went on to marry Scott a few years later, only to divorce him some years after that. I had a second abortion a couple years ago, which ended up being less funny—both on my end and the experience itself. I came out as trans non-binary two years ago, which has helped put so much of my life into perspective. Also, three weeks prior to writing this piece, I had my first child. I have since found out that abortions are not similar to giving birth. Abortions are much easier. I am extremely glad I had both of mine when I did.

Four months after my first abortion, I performed at my very first open mic, having been somewhat encouraged by Dr. Kyle. Four years later, hours after my second abortion, I performed a standup set that night, as well as a musical performance as a member of my Michael Bolton cover band Lightning Bolton, where I managed to do my patented stage-dive/knee-slide at the climax of “How Can We Be Lovers” despite the cramps. I’ve gone on to have a semi-successful comedy career, something that was a dream I’ve had since I was a little kid, and something I never would’ve achieved if I hadn’t had that abortion. In fact, now that I think about it, it’s something that may end now that I have a child. Damn it.

photo by Elizabeth Rudge

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