I’m dreaming as the news blares out of my clock radio. A dazed three-year-old freezing in the rubble in Syria, a koala bear paralyzed by flames closing in on him in an Australian forest, a mink being dragged to a killing chamber in Denmark. Weird how I take the most gruesome things happening in the world and weave them, still half asleep, into my dreams.
Images of the three-year-old, the koala bear, and the mink fade as I sit up in bed, leaving me with an aching back and a knot in my chest.
I force myself to the bathroom and splash cold water into my eyes. Eyeliner clings to my lids and blurs the borders of my face. My breasts appear bloated, my nipples darker in the mirror. I’m over a week late for my period.
As I approach the Margret Sanger Center, I see a group of women in front hoisting a placard with large bold letters: Abortion Providers Are Heroes. The women, even the cop trying to help one of them hold up the placard when she doesn’t really need his help, smile their approval as I pass.
In the lobby I notice a giant portrait of Margret Sanger. Her sharp, unambiguous eyes and pointed mouth seem to shout the words engraved on a plaque below the portrait: “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.”
Is a fetus the size of a poppy seed, four hundredths of an inch in length, a part of my body? I wonder as I approach the receptionist.
The nurse is brutally thorough. “You couldn’t pay me to relive my twenties,” she growls as she methodically jams the vaginal, cervical, and anal swabs inside me. How can the bitch be so dumb as to believe my only worry is being free of herpes, gonorrhea, or papillomavirus, and so blind to the time bomb ticking inside me?
When I reach Washington Square Park, I settle on a park bench overlooking the fountain. The elm trees kissing the air help me breathe easier. Two little girls on the park bench beside me squeal with delight as they portion out bread crumbs to a gaggle of pigeons clustered around them. The pigeons let out a chorus of coos as they gobble the bread crumbs. I watch them, thinking of a poem I once read about children, the tiny ones who live in a land of giants and never give pain to things that feel alive to them.
When I get back to my apartment, I immediately reset the clock radio, resolving to take a break from the next day’s horror show.
This morning I flip from side to side in bed, half dozing, and try to blot out the day. But the sunlight streaming in through the window keeps me awake—and children blabbing and giggling outside. I squint down at them on the sidewalk in their little yellow blazers secured safely to each other by a long red chord, guided by two teachers in front and back.
I’m tempted to call Jeff.
I remember the first time I laid eyes on him in Wicked Willy’s on Bleecker Street. He stood out from the other NYU students, weird in his matted hair and threadbare tank top. He swaggered over to me, wordless, relying on his buff bi’s and tri’s. I played the angel whore to get him to dance with me. And it always had to be feet in the air when we fucked. He never had a clue that it was the fear in his eyes that intrigued me.
And that day we were leaving the Morton Williams weighed down with groceries. A homeless guy propped beside the building lowered his eyes like he was too ashamed to look at us. A scabby dog lying beside him jumped up and peered at us with imploring, bloodshot eyes. I pulled out a ten-dollar bill for the homeless guy.
“You realize he trained the dog to do that.”
Yes, I thought to myself. Now they both can eat.
I’m not gonna call Jeff.
Tonight, the dream images batter me like huge wounded waves that moan and howl.
When I wake up I only remember fragments. A little girl stops crying, hoping her mother will get bored and stop smacking her. A teenager punches her mother. How can the daughter avoid inflicting this ghost shit on a child? The daughter who slithers from one hook-up joint to another in the East Village.
Standing by my window in the warmth of the morning sun, I remember my grandmother who birthed three stillborn babies and was first to hold me.
“You were filled with such tiny, lovely things,” she told me. “It would have been hard to replace you.”
I still see her smiling at me tenderly, the boldness in her eyes, and the time she always took to tackle my questions.
Yes, there’s time, I realize, and let the questions well up inside me: What foods are off the menu? How much weight gain? Vitamins? Exercise? Sex?
I barely catch my breath as I enter the office of the student counseling center. I’m twenty minutes early.
Sitting there waiting, I recall what my grandmother told me and start to breathe easier. “I can’t talk to you now, Poppy Seed,” I whisper, “but soon. I have great, grandma stories to tell you.”