Five years ago today I spent the eve of Valentine’s Day having the doctor remove tissue from my cervix to test for cancerous cells. If I were not such a stickler for scheduling my annual PAP smear practically to the day each year, I could be telling a very different story right now. I cannot stress enough the importance of self-care, both physical and emotional; this includes the relationships in which we engage.
“You’re going to feel a pinching feeling, just remember to keep breathing,” says the doctor.
A pinch. I can handle a pinch. My tolerance for pain is far above average. I have five tattoos. I don’t take medicine when I have a headache. I don’t look away when I get blood drawn. I can handle a pinch. I look up at the ceiling and bite my bottom lip as I try to mimic pranayama breathing. Six counts in through the nose, six counts out through the mouth, clear mind, keep breathing. I can handle a pinch.
“Five,” calls out the doctor, as the nurse takes a piece of me and places it in a test tube. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” I say, still biting my lip. I can handle a pinch. My mind wanders. I feel vulnerable. Wide open. Exposed. The pinching does not bother me. The pain does not hurt me. I just want the doctor to be finished. I want to put my clothes back on. I want to sit by the lake, disappear in a crowd, cry behind my sunglasses.
“Eleven, wait no, ten,” says the doctor. The nurse takes yet another piece of me, places it in another test tube.
“Eleven?” Asks the nurse.
“No, no, ten,” replies the doctor. “I said eleven. I changed my mind. Ten.”
Six, five, four, three, two, one…. One, two, three, four, five, six. I keep breathing.
“How are you doing?” asks the doctor.
“Not bad, a little uncomfortable,” I reply. She keeps pinching, collecting little pieces of me. Pinching. Twisting. Pinching. I want her to finish. How normal is abnormal? Questions pass in and out of my head; I push them out, focus on my breathing. I’m not breathing to decrease the pain of the pinching. I’m breathing to keep the tears inside my eyes, distract my mind. More pinching. More numbers. More breathing. I think about how I can get in contact with Dr. Schwab, the only doctor I’ve ever really trusted. She would have answers for me that didn’t sound like text book recitals. She knows my story, she doesn’t judge me. Maybe I could talk to Dr. Schwab.
“Five, eleven, eight, two, ecto?” Asks the nurse
“Five, TEN, eight, two, ecto.” Affirms the doctor.
I hear the doorknob to the exam room turn, the door opens ajar. “Who’s there?” asks the doctor.
“Somebody’s in here!” exclaims the nurse. I hear the door close. “They really need to move that exit sign.”
“Isn’t there an arrow?”
“Yeah, but it’s not very big. People are always confused, looking for the exit.”
I wish I could exit… More pinching ensues.
I feel as if I did something terrible to deserve this pinching. I’ve defiled my body. I’ve disrespected my inner temple. My vindictive rampages, crimes against myself, overindulgence. Self-destructing acts overshadowed by entitlement and self-righteous justification of free will. I’m responsible, I protect myself, I take care of my health. I’m not nineteen anymore there’s no excuse for these non-committal, blatantly avoidant, non-relationships. I’m diminishing the power of my womanhood. What was I trying to prove? Breathe. Remember to breathe. Is she done yet?
“Almost finished, just cleaning up,” says the doctor. She explains the results will be in next week. She’s leaving town, another doctor from the practice will call me. Nothing inside me for two weeks: no sex, no tampons, no douching. I’ll have to use pads next week for my period. She’s used some medicine to stop bleeding, don’t be alarmed by it. If I have any questions I can call her the first week of March. From the point of her phone call Thursday night, to the end of our visit Friday morning, she’s asked me several times if I have any questions. I feel as if I should have more questions, but maybe for now I’d prefer to not ask. What is it she wants me to ask her, anyway? Shouldn’t she just tell me???
She leaves the room and I dress as quickly as possible, gather my belongings, beeline to the exit. I get on an empty elevator and look at myself in the mirror, when did I become this… this woman? Two floors down more people get on the elevator and I divert my gaze. I check my phone for a signal, but it was still searching. In the lobby I find enough bars to make a phone call, keep walking, dial. No answer.
I walk outside and turn on my iPod. There’s no combination of words I could put on the back of a postcard, no song I could sing but I can try for your heart… For a split second I feel alone. I get over it. I can physically feel where the doctor had pinched away my insides, or maybe it was a mental thing. Our dreams, and they are made out of real things, like a shoebox of photographs with sepia-tone loving… Tears well up from the depths of my heart. It isn’t the pain. I’m not scared of what the results could reveal. I don’t even know why I’m crying. Love is the answer, at least for most of the questions in my heart, like why are we here? and where do we go? and how come it’s so hard?…
My phone vibrates in my coat pocket and I answer it. “Hello,” silence, “hello…” static. I hang up and keep walking. It’s not always easy, and sometimes life can be deceiving, I’ll tell you one thing, its always better when we’re together…
I call him back. “Hey… are you busy?” Of course he is. “Oh.. ok… no, nothing I just left the doctor, I’m walking around downtown, I’m meeting up with my sister at noon…I’m on Michigan and, I think, Ohio…” There’s a lot of static on the other end. He probably has me on speakerphone. I breathe in a combination of cold February air and sunshine, try to hide the vulnerability I can hear in my own voice. I could use a hug. I don’t ask for one. He says something, I can’t really tell what; I think he asks me how I’m doing. “I don’t know…” My voice quivers, I don’t think he notices. ” Nevermind… I’m just going to go to Starbucks and wait for Rebekah.” He says he’ll call me right back. I’m confident he won’t.*
And all of these moments just might find their way into my dreams tonight…I think about what my doctor said. Nothing inside me for two weeks; no sex, no tampons, no douching. People still douche? No sex… When the morning light sings and brings new things… No sex… But tomorrow night you see that they’ll be gone too, too many things I have to do… I don’t even want to have sex. I’m tired of giving away little pieces of me. But if all of these dreams might find their way into my day-to-day scene I’ll be under the impression, I was somewhere in-between… I disappear in the hustle and bustle of a late Friday morning crowd downtown, taking conscious breaths with each step, claiming back little pieces of myself, determined to emerge a new woman. I can handle a pinch.
*He didn’t. For weeks. And that was pretty much that.