I have been fortunate enough, or maybe lazy enough–I’d never visited a Planned Parenthood. I say “fortunate” because once I was at the age to start caring about my sexual health, I was also receiving a state-funded medical card which covered all medical expenses related to family planning (At 18, I was deemed as living below the federal poverty line). This meant that I didn’t have to think at all about the dollar signs lurking inside the local clinic’s waiting room window. I could go in and have pretty much anything swabbed, tested, or drawn free of charge–so long as it fell under the umbrella of family planning. (I don’t know if you’ve ever been a woman, but “family planning” can be applied to a lot of our doctor visits.) I lost this benefit when I started graduate school and began earning a living wage, but it didn’t matter because I had access to the subsidized university clinic, where my maximum copay was $10 for health services.
I have been so fortunate.
Fast forward, and I find my health benefits at the mercy of a religious institution that deems contraception as being the devil’s mischief. Fertility! Ovulation! Sperm! Sex! Drugs and rock’n roll.
There’s a student in my office who needs help. There’s a student in my office who for some reason, does not feel cared for, feels somewhat unseen, feels like what they feel doesn’t matter.
Caring is not coddling, although I have been accused throughout my life of being a coddler. A past supervisor wrote on my end of year evaluation that I had a unique way of “holding students’ hands” while empowering them to take responsibility. Something of that nature. I smirked at her as she wrote the statement, knowing full well how she saw me, a coddler. Too gentle with the freshmen she had entrusted to me. Too considerate, too flexible.
And I know…you have to be careful. You have to find a space where you’re not freaking them out, but where the fire is lit. You have to find enough in there to push back on, to get them motivated, to keep them from getting pregnant or drunk or high or lost in their life. Not enough and they get lazy, “it will all work out”; too much and they freak, “I can’t do it.” I struggle with walking that line. But I’m trying. I’m trying because this student is sitting here and unsure of themselves, and they’re crying, although they don’t reach for the tissue box I’ve strategically placed at their elbow.
I want the best for them, but it’s hard to turn them in that direction when they haven’t yet discovered what their best could be, when they haven’t yet shown the world who their best is. But I feel it, that ache, and I remind them–you always have a choice. Always. To feel this way or not. To end up here again or not. And every choice you make can get you one step further from this feeling, until it is a distant acquaintance, rather than your clinging shadow.
“Things aren’t so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered.” -Rilke
But the problem is not that I write the words down–it is that I choose to live in the words. They’re not my escape–they are my pursuit.
Kafka: “I write to close my eyes.”
I write to remember the dreams I have when I’m awake.
I’m going to be happy. How old were you when you decided to be happy? I’m going to be happy because there are so many things to appreciate, but also I’m going to be happy because there are so many shitty things I will never forget.
Despite the staples in your wrist, despite the baby’s shitty diaper, despite the desolation of your home, despite the weird stale cigarette smell, despite the brevity of our visits, despite my inability to tell you what you want to hear, despite the fact that you continue to break and re-break my heart, I will be happy. I am happy.
I’m tired of feeling this block. I’m tired of hitting this wall. Despite everything you do, I love you, and there’s no sense in channeling my energy into the fight any more. There’s no sense pretending I can shut it off. No sense in threatening–after almost 30 years I’m obviously not going to stop loving you. Despite you.
It can no longer be, I should; instead, I’ve decided it will be I want.
I have the mental fortitude to be happy, so I will.
I wrote this for you.
You think you are not the girl who thinks this way. You cramp and you ache and your neck stiffens. You say, “I don’t really know what kind of girl I am.” You wake up in the morning to your alarm, feeling like you’ve forgotten everything, anything. A body in a bed with a purpose. You plant your feet on the floor because it is what you do in the morning.
I heard a song on the radio, and it made me think of, well it made me think of a time when you were happier, jumpier. A time when your skin was too tight on your bones and the only thing that relieved the tension was moving, moving, closer to him. There was a memory of that same excitement, but I could see how you failed to conjure up those same feelings. The missing made you sad. The absence of. I wondered, why did you do that? I wondered, how did you get here? I wondered, is this how you want it to feel? When this song plays on the radio is this the reaction you want for always?
You think I don’t notice when your chest tightens and you have to take a moment to breathe through it. I know why you like that Drake song, “That’s why you want to have no sex, why you want to protest, Why you want to fight for your rights.” You don’t have to say. You don’t have to get into it. Sometimes, you close your eyes, and I know what you mean. “If your star takes you to the deepest ocean, then swim.”
I so badly want all these things for you, but you have to believe in them too. You at least have to listen. I think you forgot…
She asked you, “Are you learning anything about love here? Is your idea of love narrowing down to a practical matter of who you’re going to bed with or marrying or living with? Or is your idea of love expanding so that you’re able to love more things about the world and make love happen around you? You have a chance in any discipline to think about love as an opportunity to develop a moral core that’s going to create health, well-being, and generosity around you.”
But you forgot how to answer. You have no idea how to form the words for the things you’re undertaking. So swim.
Words matter, they say. I sit down to write the words and I stop. Talking about it to solve it is an illusion, they say. Fleshing it out is not a thing. To write it down confirms it. Takes out all the space; sucks the air out of the room.
Being a woman is being told you don’t know a thing you know. Being a woman is being told your worth is always less than you deem it. Being a woman is that the stuff in your head is not viable. The stuff in your body is inconsequential. Being a woman is constantly fearing you will be found out.
Here I am.
Maybe this stuff inside me is as base as they say. Maybe there is no other purpose for me than to reflect you. Absorb and reflect. Negotiate and repurpose.
A man speaks to a woman slowly. A man tells a woman a joke. A man makes a suggestion to a woman. A man enters a woman’s space. The woman thinks, I’ve heard all this before. I’ve given up my space before, but for you, for you I will make an exception. I could create you or I could break you, but for you, I will make an exception. It doesn’t change anything.
I want to live in a world where dogs have faces like coyotes and foxes. Where the trees lose their leaves. Where we can have free ice cream and lunches in the ocean and endless books on short shelves. Wine in plastic cups.
I want to live in a world where we hurt. We hurt so we can recover.
We recover to change–to try again.
Is that you knocking on my door, on my heart, on my conscience?
I want to live in a world where babies don’t lose the sparkle in their eye: where we keep that brightness on the pupil. I feel like I’m just getting it back–that light in my eyes. I’m not ready to lose it again. To give it up.
It’s always been about more than my body, but maybe you will never understand that.
The personal is political.
I went for a run and tapped out peace with my toes.