“Give me your arm,” said the round, blonde nurse. “This will relax you.” She tightened the rubber tourniquet band, and slapped the vein out of hiding.
As she slid the needle out, Adam’s face turned a white sheet of paper. “You’re going to be OK,” he said. “Really. You close your eyes. Imagine something else.”
Whatever the nurse administered allowed me entrance into another, half-lit world. I was a slug on concrete. My eyes felt like two buckets of brown dirt. I almost didn’t realize the doctor had entered the room.
Before he put on his gloves, he placed his warm hand on my knee, and said, “This baby will find its way back to you. I promise.”
His words grew inside me like a wild rose, and I tilted my head back in discomfort as he adjusted the speculum. My long, dark hair draped over the exam table paper.
Above me, a mural of a dimly lit forest. I imagined I entered those deep woods, walked along a stream, smelled the earthy green mix of leaves and grass, and below Adam followed every move the doctor made: his hands as they opened me up, and then my eyes as they stared at the forested ceiling.
“Are you OK, Loren?” Adam asked, his voice muted by the thicket of my forest.
We first met in July 2003 at a house party. Adam smiled at me from across the backyard, my beer in hand, his cigarette ashes carelessly falling into the damp grass. We smoked lots of weed that summer, and made love under the hammock in his dad’s backyard, our backs on the pebbled ground. At the end of August, he was to return back to Poland, and we cried creases into the corners of our eyes in front of the departures gate, our palms pressed, our heads buried in one another’s neck. We would find our way back to each other.
In 2004 I went for my graduate degree in Brighton to be closer to him while he worked towards his M.A. in Warsaw. We spent the year traveling back and forth between London and Warsaw, and planned long weekends in Paris, Berlin, and Prague, making our way back to each other each time. In 2005 we moved back to the states and signed a lease to our own apartment. We had everything we dreamt of.
“Loren, honey, you’re going to feel some pressure, now, but don’t resist,” said the doctor.
“Let go,” said the nurse.” “Breathe in and out.” I could hear the crunch of her rubber soles on the floor, and the swoosh of her thighs as they rubbed against her stockings as she fluttered around the room. She reached for a bag, and held it open for the doctor.
Above me, the forest was alive. Ferns waved in the wind, fireflies twinkled and buzzed. The ground steamed with fresh prints in the mud, and a beetle rested on a peeled log.
“Now you’re going to feel some sucking,” the doctor said over the hum of the vacuum. “I want you to take a deep breath now.”
I pulled on my medical robe and curled my toes as the vacuum whirled and sucked between my thighs.
“No. No. No.,” I repeated.
I let go of my medical robe and Adam’s hand and began to cry while the doctor scraped away the life inside of me as if it were a collection of seeds in a cantaloupe. I was an empty, cold cave. Inside, no movement. Not a pang or a tickle, but a plop, a splash in a plastic bag the nurse tied together and rushed far away from us.
The small ball of blood and tissue rested at the bottom of the red biohazard bag. What inhabited could’ve been anything: a dead bird or a kitten, it could’ve been a chicken heart or an eye. The tiny bagged bead, formed weeks ago under the scattered wind and stars, led a quiet life, and despite a once wanted exit, I never thought how hard it would be to say goodbye.
Two years before I ended up on the gynecological examination chair, Adam and I laid flat under the hammock in his dad’s backyard and named our future daughter: Teegan or Teagan. We played with variations of the name. There was hope in her name, a certainty we’d let her play in our half-finished garden, twigs in her hair.
“Loren, I’m going to clean you up? You’re going to feel something cool, ok?” The doctor wiped down my inner thighs, his cloth dampened with stream water. The rough fibers scratched against my skin. It would be impossible to ever feel clean again.
I whispered to Adam, “I want them to give her back.”
“Who?” he asked, in a voice low enough as to not wake the dead.
“Teagan. I want them to give her back.”
Adam stood up, bent his body over mine, and began to sob for all of us: man, woman, and the lost child. “I am so sorry, Loren. I am so sorry.”
After the doctor finished cleaning me, he nonchalantly threw the bloodied rag into the sink. I curled into a fetal position, a flower reverting back to its original seed.
The nurse covered me with a blanket. “I want to go home.” My voice exclaimed, muffled by the curl I had made of my body.
“We can do that. We can go home,” Adam said. “Let me help you get dressed.”
Adam collected my clothes from inside the clothing cubby. Behind the curtain, a wet speculum sat on a stained paper towel next to the doctor’s used rubber gloves. Every part of the room, a reminder of our love gone terribly wrong, the brutal honesty of our truth, a child never meant for the world, maybe a daughter we’d never see.
“Sit up so I can help you with your underwear,” he said. I sat up and the blanket slid off my legs to the linoleum floor.
“How can we ever be OK, again after this?” I asked. Adam tied my hair behind my head.
“We’re going to be fine,” he said. “You’re going to be fine.”
“I know that.” I paused. “And I don’t know that.”
“Come on, let me help you with your shoes.”
As Adam tied my shoelaces, he sucked back his tears, snorted, and sniffled beneath me—the same reaction he had when I told him I was pregnant, and didn’t want to follow through term. We were too young, too poor. I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to him. The truth: I didn’t want to be a mom.
“Let’s go,” he said.
We didn’t speak to each other on the ride home. I listened to the music on the radio, and rested my head against the window. Outside, tall buildings and overgrown glass cubicles continued to grow.
At home life didn’t change. We went to work, made breakfast, brewed coffee, did the laundry, and went out for dinner with friends, but we never addressed the aftermath in the room, the silence that kept us from growing.
One month later while we were putting laundry away, Adam told me he was going back to Poland, and there was no discussion. His departure was non-negotiable.
“I don’t know when I’m coming back,” he said. “But I think we both need time to heal.”
He kept folding clothes, and tied knots out of matching socks.
“I want to talk about what happened,” he said.
“You can talk to me,” I said.
“But I can’t. I can’t talk about it. It’s like it happened, and didn’t happen. I need to know you at least wanted our baby.”
I paled under the bright light of the Edison bulb.
“I didn’t,” I said. “And now that’s all I can think about, and I regret it. It’s all I can think about.”
He sat down on the bed, on top of the pile of laundry. “I can’t stop thinking about the napkins in the sink, and you calling it…her by name.”
“Please don’t go. Don’t leave like this. I want to make this work,” I said.
He bowed his head, put his elbows on his knees. “I want to make it work, too. But I don’t know how.”
I sat down next to him. Adam turned to me, his eyes desperate to find an answer.
“What if that was the baby?” he asked.
The slope of his skull bobbed up and down, and then mine followed, and we entwined, grabbed at our bodies, tried to fit hands wherever we could, frantic to hold each other, to console pain visible.
Adam pushed me away, and walked out of the apartment, into the street as the cars drove around him. He disappeared, and I let him even though I silently longed for his return.
Two weeks later he showed up at the foot of my bed, unshaven, his skin red and blotchy.
I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “Adam?”
“Can I lay with you?”
I moved over to my side of the bed as he undressed down to his boxers. We sat next to each other and gazed at the wall for a few minutes.
“I’m so sorry, Loren,” he said.
I turned to him, and held his hand. “You don’t have to explain.”
Adam tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear.
“Come here,” I said.
We tangled under the white comforter amongst the worn in pillows, his stomach against my back, and my back against the softness of his chest.
We wept in each other’s arms, all the pressure dissipated, before we let go.
This is what healing looked like: I stepped further into the dense bramble, the thicket. The sun shook overhead. I was a rotted flower in the brush, poison ivy. I went deeper. A family of birds nested in moss as a fox curled beneath the fog. Under my feet, worms in the mud, a foamflower. In front of me, a path of stones lit the darkness.
The next morning, I woke up, and Adam was gone.
Note: This piece was originally published in July 2017 by ROAR