This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for nearly two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
I sat in a wicker chair on our front porch and rested my hand on my belly. The dishes clattered in the distance and I felt a compulsion to yell in and ask if Mom needed help with cleaning up, but I wanted to be alone and so I stayed outside. We’d spent the day at the creek, taking photos, fishing, and enjoying the weather together. As always, my mother had brought the camera.
“Do something silly!” she demanded, holding the camera up to her eyes.
And in that moment, all I had thought to do was twirl my hair with one hand and stick my thumb in my mouth. As I looked at the Polaroid, I thought that I looked like a child myself—way younger than 18. Way younger than someone’s mom should look.
I kept my hand on my belly. There were two hearts in my body now, but I didn’t feel any different. I thought about how weird that thought was—that right at this very moment—I had two hearts, and that the next day, I wouldn’t.
I got high in the morning and walked to the clinic by myself. Everything in the waiting room was a sickly pink, and I looked around at the panicked faces, waiting for someone to call my name.
They took me into the doctor’s office first, and asked me a flurry of questions. I didn’t know the answers to half of them. I thought that the doctor sounded hostile and judgmental at times—but then reconsidered and thought that maybe I was just being sensitive. They covered the side effects and what to expect, and before I knew it I was being led into a new room.
Everything smelled different here, like a mix of Clorox bleach, rubbing alcohol, and a very faint hint of iron. It was the kind of smell that I’d always associated with hospitals, fear, and blood. And everything was white. As the doctor helped to guide my legs into the stirrups, I wondered if there would be a lot of blood, and for the first time I felt truly alone and paralyzed by fear.
The nurse stood by my side and flashed down a confident smile, placing her hand by the edge of the bed.
“Okay, are you ready?” I heard the doctor ask.
I nodded. And then, realizing he couldn’t see me, I mumbled a quick “yes.”
The first time I noticed the machine nearby was when it whirred into life—purring silently and reassuringly, as if telling me “I’m good at my job; don’t worry.” I looked at the two little jars connected to it, and braced as I felt a slight pinch. I grabbed the nurse’s hand and looked up at her.
“You’re okay…you’re okay…” the nurse whispered, giving my hand a quick squeeze.
I kept my eyes fixed on the jars and then suddenly—without warning—a bright crimson splashed against the pristine glass. I stared at the explosion of color, transfixed, until the nurse followed my terrified glance, realizing for the first time that the machine had slid into view.
Years have gone by since that day, but the image hasn’t been worn old by time. I don’t regret my decision. I regret that it was such a lonely one, such a stigmatizing one, for a fragile young woman.