by Emma Bolden
“This is so depressing,” I hear a woman say. “I am so depressed.” I don’t have to see her to feel uncomfortable, which, along with nothing, is the only way I feel lately. I’m sitting with my mother in my OBGYN’s waiting room, in which everyone seems similarly uncomfortable. Women who want children but can’t have them are forced to sit with women who are heavily and happily pregnant. The infertile stare at the fertile’s beachballed bellies; the fertile stare at the infertile’s flat stomachs. There could at any moment be an act of aggression. The fertile could lob a box of IUD pamphlets into the enemy camp. The infertile could respond with bottles of Clomid. It could escalate quickly.
I cross my legs and look down at my book. I’m not reading, just looking at it and then at The Depressed Woman, who I now see is also the mother of two children. One of her two children is a boy, newly toddling, his gait made awkward by the diaper bulging beneath the tiny waistband of his tiny jeans. The other is too tiny to toddle and sits, instead, on her mother’s lap. She is too young to look obviously gendered and so The Depressed Woman has gendered her by putting a wide lavender hairband on her head. There’s a rosette attached and it’s larger than most of the baby’s face. Only her mouth is visible. The headband and attached rosette fall further and further down. I worry about blinding. I worry about suffocation. I look at the same sentence — To mourn excessively — over and over, without actually reading it.
Another woman sits down with The Depressed Woman; maybe she’s her sister, or her friend. She’s watching the spot on the toddler’s back where his diaper bulges outwards. She’s listening to The Depressed Woman, who is now saying that this has really put a damper on her day. I look at the sentence again – To mourn excessively – and then at The Listening Woman. I want to see how she feels about The Depressed Woman, if she feels uncomfortable or nothing, so that I will also know how I should feel. This has become a problem for me lately, knowing how I should feel. The Listening Woman does not seem depressed or dampened. On top of her lap sit her two hands, their fingers interlocked. She moves her hands and the fingers rub against each other, the way that sticks move against each other when someone is determined to start a fire. “It’s not depressing,” The Listening Woman says. “It’s a baby.”
“But I don’t want it,” The Depressed Woman says, and in a tone more petulant than sad or scared. “I already have two.”
“Well, you’re going to have three, and one more won’t hurt.” The Depressed Woman is not having that. She lets The Listening Woman and the waiting room know that she is not having that by making an “umph” noise in her throat. It’s impressively loud for a noise made in the throat, just as her conversation is impressively loud for a conversation made in a waiting room. Half of the waiting women smile furiously at the screens on their phones. Half of the women look terribly angry at the terrible waiting room magazines. I’m trying not to look at the magazine covers, at their photographs of new mothers smiling violently above their infants’ heads.
“I’m not understanding this,” The Depressed Woman says. At first it seemed accidental, her talking so loudly. Then I realized it was no accident. She’d paid for her visit and picked up her prescription for prenatal vitamins. She’s still here because she wants us all to hear her, to look up from our phones and terrible waiting room magazines, to smile or look terribly angry at her instead. I’m starting to realize that it doesn’t matter to her if we smile or look terribly angry, as long as we’re looking at her. I look down. Excessively, the book tells me. To mourn excessively. “How did this happen,” she asks the waiting room. “How? How? I’m not understanding this.”
The Listening Woman isn’t fully listening anymore. She’s started watching her phone’s screen and stopped watching the toddler. He stands under the water fountain, reaching up to the button that tells it to spit out water, and using the water to sprinkle the row of seats by the bathroom. One of the waiting room women has put down her bad magazine to watch his bad behavior. She gathers her purse and moves across the room, looking significantly at The Depressed Woman, who only glares back briefly. “You had sex,” The Listening Woman says in the direction of her phone. “That’s how it happened.”
The Depressed Woman moves her head slowly from one side to another, as if watching an impossibly slow tennis match. “This is so depressing. I was going to get birth control and they just had to do a urine test. They just had to.”
I shift in my chair, moving one leg and then the other. I’m starting to feel hot in strange places – the back of my neck, the skin under my eyes. I wonder if I’m having a hot flash, if the very last of my natural estrogen has finally gone the way of the ovaries that produced it: away. I don’t know if that’s what I’m feeling because I don’t know anything I’m supposed to be feeling, two months after my radical hysterectomy. I only know that I’m supposed to feel, somehow and without my own will, changed. I look down at my book: To lose, forfeit, or misplace a love totem. Nothing makes sense. I can feel myself breathing.
“Why can’t they just give me the shot? Wouldn’t that take care of it?” The Depressed Woman isn’t talking to The Listening Woman anymore but to everyone and everything in the room: the silk irises and their vases, the corner they sit in, the chairs and the carpet they sit on, the women who are sitting in the chairs, my mother, me. I feel heat under my cheeks. I feel my mother shifting in her chair.
“You okay?” I nod an answer because I can’t look at her. My cheeks are so hot that I’m afraid she will see and think I’m about to cry, at which point I will definitely cry, so I look down. The page says misplace a love. The Depressed Woman roots around with one hand in the purse sitting next to the baby on her lap. She’s still shaking her head, still telling us how dampened her day is. I feel something inside, something like lightning, something that might be classified as anger. I try to remember: is anger like lightning?
I realize that I’m speaking; I’m saying to my mother, and very slowly, and in a whisper too loud to sound like my own, “I would like to go over there and tell her what depressing really is.” My mother looks up from her bad magazine. I can see the small crevasse between her eyebrows, the one that shows up when she’s worried about me, which she always is when I don’t use contractions. I know that I can’t keep looking at her. I know that if I do, something terribly embarrassing will happen, like someone shouting or crying in a waiting room, and then I’ll realize that I am the someone doing that terribly embarrassing thing.
My mother is thinking the same thing, I guess, because she shifts her legs and says, “I know,” then she shifts her legs again and says, “Do you want to sit outside?” Her finger appears in my peripheral vision and points towards the glass door, which leads, miraculously, to a glass entryway with a bench and another door. I shake my head and look down. To lose, forfeit, or misplace. I try to count to ten and breathe, like the therapists on television say you should do. I try to identify what I’m feeling. I look at another sentence – To be stricken with sensitivity to light. It isn’t helpful.
“Let’s call your daddy,” The Depressed Woman says to her lap, to the baby and the purse sitting precariously on it. “This is all his fault. This whole damn mess is his fault and he better have a good idea of how to fix it.” And then everything looks too bright, the way lamplight looks before the bulb blows, and I can feel my chest moving and the heart moving inside of it, squeezing and sick. I tell my mother that I’m going outside and then I’m in the glass entryway beside the bench. Then I’m pushing the door open and standing outside. It’s June. I’m wearing a dress with black leggings underneath and it’s too muggy for both. I can’t tell if I am too hot. I can tell that I am in a great deal of pain, that I am dizzy from anemia, that I am wandering strangely in this strange new body that is, in most ways, indistinguishable from the body that included a uterus and ovaries.
My reproductive organs caused a lot of problems—endometriosis, adenomyosis, a fibroid the size of a grapefruit, Polycystic Ovarian Syndome—
and they were supposed to take most of their problems with them. But the surgery had been fast: too fast for my surgeon to excise endometriosis, too fast to strip away the fibrous bands of scar tissue that bound all of my pelvic organs to each other, too fast to take care with incisions and sutures.
I hemorrhaged for the first time three weeks and four days after surgery. Within seventy-two hours, I had hemorrhaged for a second and third time. After that, the bleeding lessened but happened, consistently, every day. No one can quite say why. It could be a blood-filled cyst, or a hole in the cuff constructed in the place of my cervix, or the result of residual ovarian tissue. When my bleeding didn’t stop, my surgeon’s office stopped answering my phone calls, and so I returned to my regular gynecologist’s office, trying to find a way to stop the bleeding or at least to understand it.
I wonder if I’m about to cry, so I look down at the sidewalk and wait for the crying to happen. It doesn’t. I wonder if I should be crying. It seems like the right thing to do, but I can’t start crying, or else, I can’t stop not crying. I can’t stop feeling the heart in my chest and my heart can’t stop moving inside of my chest. I stand by the front door and wait for another few minutes, just in case. Then I set my teeth tightly against each other and walk inside.
After another appointment in which my doctor came no closer to understanding why my body insisted on bleeding, I apologize to my mother. I say I’m sorry. I say, “I never do that. I never just lose it like that.” She tells me not to apologize. She tells me to stop feeling sorry, that she means it. She tells me that I’m going to have to feel things, that I have to let myself have feelings. “That’s the only way, baby,” she says, “to get through this and to the other side.”
When I do feel anger, I am surprised. I’m surprised not by the anger itself but by the direction the anger takes. I am not angry at my surgeon or the Depressed Woman or the body I live inside of or the God who, I occasionally believe, put me in this body. I am angry instead at myself. I am angry at my own anger. I am angry at my own inability to put myself inside of the Depressed Woman’s body, to understand that she may have been angry at her own body or at the God who, perhaps she believed, put her inside of that body. I am angry at my inability to remember that my mourning, my loss, differs only in its details from others’ mourning and loss. That everyone who lives in a body must by their own body feel betrayed.
Emma Bolden is the author of two books of poetry, Maleficae (GenPop Books, 2013) and medi(t)ations (Noctuary Press, 2016). She is also the author of four chapbooks of poetry — How to Recognize a Lady (in Edge by Edge, Toadlily Press’ Quartet Series, 2007), The Mariner’s Wife (Finishing Line Press, 2008), The Sad Epistles (Dancing Girl Press, 2009), and This Is Our Hollywood (The Chapbook, 2013) – and one of nonfiction, Geography V (Winged City Press, 2014). Her poetry and prose has appeared in such journals as The Rumpus, Prairie Schooner, Guernica, and Copper Nickel. Her work has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily’s Web Weekly feature, Best American Poetry 2015, and the Best Small Fictions 2015. She was the winner of the 2014 Spoon River Poetry Review Editor’s Prize, the 2014 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose from Gulf Coast Magazine, and the 2014 Prime Number Magazine/Press 53 Contest for Flash Nonfiction. She currently serves as Senior Reviews Editor at Tupelo Quarterly. An Alabama native, Bolden received a BLA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.