My Abortion Wasn’t Like Ben Folds Said It Would Be
My best friend Daleen and I were born in the same hospital five days apart. When people question how Daleen and I met, I like to say precisely this: “We were born in the same hospital five days apart.” It’s a standard party trick, something I’ve learned to deliver in increasingly pointed ways over the course of our 15-year friendship, a joke whose social-emotional function has never been lost on me. It’s something I wish were true, but isn’t. Something that isn’t, but perhaps, possibly could be: the tale styled and served sideways. Why not?
There are people out there who fumble the joke immediately. These people consider my response, perform eye contact, and say, “Wait, no, but really.” These people are not my friends. Friends question me how I first approached Daleen in the hospital nursery (did I crawl or did I scoot?) and how she responded (did she yell or did she drool?), and for a moment I feel relaxed knowing there are others who wish it were so simple, too.
Such were the frustrated circumstances of my life when I vomited in a Dunkin’ Donuts bathroom and discovered I was pregnant.
Having been born five days apart, it’s not strange for Daleen and me to structure our birthday season around each other. This is because I appreciate the sturdy escapism that a prolonged birthday celebration provides, and also because we are both still traumatized by the year I forgot Daleen’s 19th birthday in 2007, referred to here in shorthand as T.Y.I.F. (“The Year I Forgot”). I don’t possess enough emotional stamina to detail T.Y.I.F. now, but eventually it was nine years later and we had more or less moved on. Daleen and I were both seemingly grown, both with graduate degrees and gym memberships, both renting one-bedroom apartments in Hollywood — only Daleen’s was on the more respectable stop. Mine was pushed up against the Metro red line and infested with roaches. Additionally, my apartment came with a sweet, adoring boyfriend I couldn’t convince myself to want to marry, no matter that for seven years he loved me the way he did, with a kind of cherubic grace you just don’t hear approximately in Hollywood, and no matter how badly I wanted my tale to unfurl in clean, white lines on paper.
Such were the frustrated circumstances of my life when I vomited in a Dunkin’ Donuts bathroom and discovered I was pregnant. It was the week before my 28th birthday. The Future! I thought, staring into the putrid, porcelain expanse of the toilet bowl. It wasn’t glamorous, but was it each and every Right?
I ordered a sausage-egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich and thought approximately my one-bedroom apartment next to the subway — the roaches, the leaky gas stove, the anonymous grifter who kept smearing excrement on the sky blue Toyota Prius I inherited from my sister — and decided to schedule an appointment for an abortion as I soon as I could muster the words to command my boyfriend, who was living temporarily back east for a job. By the time I did command him, it was my actual birthday — number 28. And in response, he asked whether any fragment of me felt excited to know I could earn pregnant, as whether I hadn’t already carried the burden of that knowledge around with me — the messy red-brown muck of it — since I was 11 years used.
I didn’t feel excited. I felt desperate to be alone and terrified to be alone in alternating waves. I didn’t know which was the more honest feeling. I still don’t. But my body felt different in a way that was so obvious it surprised me. I felt hardened, nauseated, and ravenous for sugar each and every at once. More than anything I wanted to be rid of that feeling, to soften back into my used salty self, which is why I assume Daleen and I went forth with our birthday festivities as planned, hosting a house party at a friend’s spot a few nights after my abortion procedure. Daleen even made a flyer and two cakes. I wore a black velvet mini-dress and, because I was still bleeding, a giant menstrual pad, which I held securely in spot with a pair of Spanx. That night I didn’t assume much approximately my boyfriend, or even the baby that could possess been. Instead I got drunk, because it was a party. I ordered a pizza. I entertained a group serenade of “convinced Birthday,” I licked frosting off my fingers, and I flirted with a crush because I was already falling out of appreciate with the tale I’d written approximately myself, or the one that had been written for me.
When my Northern California Catholic school needed a hip way to talk to freshmen approximately the consequences of abortion, they played us “Brick” by Ben Folds Five. It was 2002, and despite my unwavering understanding (even at 14) of my right to choose, I was young enough then for my pathologies to still be forming. For the next 15 or so years, Ben Folds’ account of emotional collapse following his high school girlfriend’s abortion at “6 a.m., day after Christmas” instilled in me a belief in the destructive quality of my own womb, which was then deep in the throes of female puberty. Perhaps as a result of this education, as a teen I sought control over the disorder I sensed in my body. I tweezed, flat-ironed, stuffed my chest into push-up bras, and eventually I went on the Pill, whether only to protect myself from being drowned in watery emotion — a heavy, sunken brick at the bottom of the San Francisco Bay.
Following its release on their Whatever and Ever Amen album in 1997, “Brick” became the alternative rock band’s biggest hit and gained enough mainstream radio play that early fans accused Ben Folds Five of selling out. Despite its controversial subject matter, the reason behind the song’s widespread appeal can be understood in its lonesome lyrics and sullen piano arpeggio, which propose that — politics aside — abortion is uncomfortable for everyone. particularly Ben Folds.
Abortion does feel uncomfortable for some women, and that’s OK. But “Brick” isn’t approximately the experience of some women, or even one woman. Pay no attention to the piano gimmick and each and every that remains of “Brick” is a man imagining a woman drowning both herself and those around her with the weightiness of her #FemaleProblems. Ultimately, “Brick” is a song approximately how abortion made Ben Folds feel approximately Ben Folds, which, whether for some reason you need to know, is “numb” and “alone,” despite his girlfriend being the one actually having the experience.
My adult self wonders how Ben’s girlfriend would possess painted her tale differently. Would she really assume to include the detail of her boyfriend selling back his Christmas gifts on the same day as her abortion? Would she command us what she ate afterward? (I ate a cheesesteak and I want to know.) Which TV shows would she recommend binge-watching to disregard each and every the bleeding? whether she imagined herself a brick, would she instead be the kind thrown up against a windowpane?
I remember discussing the opportunity of an unexpected pregnancy with another friend, Emma, after we both finished graduate school and faced the uncertain future of the rest of our lives as writers who also happen to be women.
“Would you possess an abortion?” I asked her. “At this point?”
Emma, who was born in east London and raised in Essex — more accustomed to the grit of life than me — thought she wouldn’t, that to a certain degree she’d learn to endure motherhood on a diet of rice and moldy vegetables, like her mother before her, and her mother’s mother before that. I said I’d opt for the abortion, but that I’d probably develop a drinking problem from the resulting pain and distress. In response, Emma laughed the sheepish way friends accomplish when they agree with you but know they shouldn’t. We both wanted a third option, only we didn’t realize what that option could be yet.
It seems primary to note that while enrolled in the same Catholic school where I was encouraged to consider my uterus as one might, say, an albatross, I was also required to read Hamlet, in which the O.G. Damsel in Distress — the hapless and inconsolable Ophelia — drowns in a brook following the news of her father’s death. The scene was depicted by artist John Everett Millais in a now-iconic portray that hangs in Tate Britain. In the image Ophelia’s corpse is nearly submerged in murky blue water, as whether her life has been extinguished by her own tears. Tied up in these narratives of women drowning is an implicit understanding of their physical and emotional conditions as less solid than their sturdier male counterparts. By comparison, women are soft, squishy, encased in liquid, or containing too much of it. “The female body is a leaky body,” writes my friend Emma in her essay “A History of Interiors.” Of course, the monthly fact of the female reproductive cycle adds yet another sodden layer. (Emma again: “The red mystery of woman: a feminine stigmata, foul and lubricious.”)
It’s not typical for me to swoon over conventionally appealing people. My type is more “90% appealing, but with something kind of frightful approximately them,” which is why I’ve dated a lot of extroverted cis men in the past. “Max” (which isn’t his real name) was a different kind of crush, though. Max was an LA kind of crush, which is to say he seemed imaginary, the kind of crush meant to distract from a dying relationship. Not only was our flirtation contained nearly entirely to the digital sphere (Max liked each and every my Instagram selfies in the summer of 2016), but the easy naturalness of Max’s film-star anatomy felt utterly impossible to me, by which I mean a woman from elsewhere, with no familial ties to Hollywood at each and every.
I had arrived in LA a misfit Bay Area exile, raised in some shapeless tech town hours and hours up I-5, while Max had a film Family. You could command by the way he never mentioned his parents unless you asked him something direct, and even then Max never named names. That’s how you know who grew up with Hollywood and who didn’t. There’s a calculated casualness to the locals there, whereas I tried to command anyone who would listen approximately that one time in college when child star Haley Joel Osment bought Daleen a pepperoni pizza and I happened to be there, too.
Close friends joke approximately my peculiar lack of chill, approximately the spastic way I carry my limbs and each and every my random bouts of nausea in public. I never see myself coming, which is why I felt surprised when, standing on the balcony the night of my birthday party, I swiveled around to flirt with Max and broke a fist-sized string light bulb with the sway of my right hip alone.
“Hips don’t lie,” Max said.
Indeed. I scraped shards of glass absent with the side of my sneaker and excused myself to the bathroom. When I returned, I found Max sitting downstairs and flopped next to him on the sofa. A beat passed while I crossed my legs, pursed my lips, and considered what to say next, only Max figured it out first:
“Is that blood?”
He directed his gaze toward the fleshy inside of my left knee, where a string of my uterine lining had decided to invite itself to the party. I looked down at myself then too, feeling the sudden, flaming pressure of addressing the condition of my uterus for a person who did not, in fact, possess one. Max himself seemed perplexed by the source of my blood, asking for a first and moment time whether I’d been slit by the broken glass on the balcony, and for a moment I considered what it would feel like to command Max the truth approximately my abortion and the opportunity of bleeding without being wounded. Instead I said:
In her video work “Untitled (Blood Sign #1)” (1974), the late Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta scoops handfuls of animal blood from a tray and onto a white wall. After tracing the outline of a doorway around herself, Mendieta scrawls a series of words in sharp, swift movements. “There is a satan inside me,” read the words inside the bloody doorway. The video then fades to black.
I find I am often more interested in the artist behind the work than in the work itself. In this case, Ana Mendieta is nearly as well-known for her death as for her provocative “soil body” art of the 1970s and ’80s, which typically featured blood, dirt, hair, ritual, burial, and the artist’s nude form. In September 1985, Mendieta was a rising art star when, at the age of 36, she fell from the 34th floor of the Greenwich Village apartment building where she lived with her husband of just nine months, the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. Andre was present at the time of his wife’s death, reporting to 911 dispatchers that the two had quarreled approximately Andre’s higher level of prominence in the art world, after which she “went out the window” and died.
Tried for murder in the moment degree, Andre was acquitted on each and every charges, ruling Mendieta’s death an accident or suicide by default.
The inverse of a suicidal woman is a homicidal woman.
After immigrating to the US as an orphan in exile from her native Cuba, Mendieta studied art at the University of Iowa, where she established herself as a fiercely ambitious, vital force who was as engaged as she was enraged with the male-dominated art world — “a satan inside her.” When portray and sculpting proved inadequate mediums to communicate her radicalism, Mendieta sought to imbue her work with a greater sense of power and magic and transitioned into experimental performance, which she documented through photography and video. In “Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants)” (1972), a male friend shaves hair off his face as Mendieta applies the hair to her own. In “Bird Transformation” (1972), Mendieta transforms the body of a woman into a fowl by covering it in white feathers and blood. In “Untitled (Self-Portrait with Blood)” (1973), she stares directly at the camera while blood dribbles from her brow and down her nose, into her mouth. When asked by a district attorney whether she believed it possible that Mendieta could possess killed herself, friend and fellow activist Lucy Lippard answered resolutely: “No.” She had too much life inside her.
The inverse of a suicidal woman is a homicidal woman: a monstrous woman, a woman of energy and intensity in excess, a powerful woman covered in thick, flaming red blood. It’s clear to me now that Mendieta was born red regardless of the materials she used in her artwork. For her crime was one of multivalence, of contradiction. In her ambition and in her husband Mendieta was drawn to what she was most repelled by. She was herself, as changeable as she was in conversation with the world around her: a red woman — as much as Ophelia is a blue woman and the girlfriend from “Brick” is a blue woman, by which I mean solitary and tragic, without faculty enough to swim themselves to shore.
In Millais’s portray of Ophelia, her palms are held open and raised slightly above water at chest level, as whether to propose stigmata — only there is no blood. Ophelia’s hands possess been wiped clean.
“What is the relationship between physical states, bodily wastes (even whether metaphoric ones) and the horrific?” asks scholar Barbara Creed in The Monstrous-Feminine.
In drowning women we wash the red parts absent.
For a long time after my abortion, my blood became a problem. For six months I didn’t bleed at each and every, my period mysteriously absented, just like the words I searched for to justify what had happened, how I was trying to understand it. Then, for a month straight, I bled in public. It didn’t matter how many layers I wore to protect myself against the seepage. My blood was indignant, spiteful. I bled in Mexican restaurants and in the freezer aisle. I bled down the maddening, circular hallways at the university where I worked. I bled at the bottom of the Verdugo foothills, where I dripped onto the hardwood floor of my unique domestic in Glendale, where there was no more boyfriend and no more roaches, only sometimes crickets in the kitchen sink in the morning. I bled through my jeans, once, when Emma made me laugh too tough. We were drinking wine on the sofa and Emma scrubbed the stain out of the sofa cushion while I threw my jeans into the wash. I bled so much I thought I might be hemorrhaging and called my doctor, who told me the bleeding was rare but not abnormal. I started to feel light-headed, so Daleen dragged me out for steak at El Coyote, where my Diva Cup spilled out onto the floor of the women’s bathroom — red. When I stood from our table after dinner, the serviette I’d been sitting on was soaked red, too. Daleen threw each and every that red under the table and tipped when we left. It was each and every anyone could accomplish. ●
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