Quid Pro Quo


It was early in the morning, and she was several weeks late.


You could see the faint hint of sunlight trying its hardest to break through the thick, grey cloud cover looming over Renton, WA. You could also see it failing. This is not uncommon in the Pacific Northwest, where eight or so months out of every year the weather is a gloomy, pitiless bitch doing the utmost possible to bring you down. It’s all about those few months of summer, though, the ones that make it all worth fighting through.

Elliot Smith’s voice echoed throughout the tiny bathroom of her studio apartment, as she went through her second desperate drink and third desperate pregnancy test. This was not the first time she’d been forced to use one, but it was certainly the most worrisome. A cynical attitude towards organized religion — constituting something between outspoken agnosticism and quiet atheism — didn’t stop her from praying like hell that the nausea she was overcome by was a consequence of last night’s binge drinking, and not one of morning sickness.

20 years is simply not enough time spent in 21st century America to raise a child (not a healthy or functioning one, at least). Children should never be put in charge of raising children, because that’s how lives are ruined. Her parents were not supporters of this belief, but neither were they of her dropping out of college, living alone, or any number of the societally questionable life choices she had made over the past two years.


“I’ll try anything once” was her chosen motto of justification.


Undergrad had been a furious blur of bottom shelf liquor and mediocre sex for the one and a half semesters she’d managed to endure it. Having been the first in her family to give up on higher education had made her less of a pariah in their eyes and more a paragon of inadequacy. This was something she had gotten very good at pretending not to care about — for good or ill, with ill being the more likely.

So she sought affirmation in the form of male affections, usually taking the form of physical lust; but she was aware of that, and had come to terms with the adverse social effects of open promiscuity. Falling victim to “slut shaming” first necessitates a degree of shame for one’s behavior, of which she bore no discernible amount. Though this courage was commendable, it had also led to the hardship of her current predicament, sitting on the tile floor, waiting for urine and a piece of plastic to reveal some miraculous solution to the prospect of a wasted life.


You always hear about these things happening, then always manage to convince yourself they’ll never happen to you.


Positive. Again. Third time anything but the goddamn charm. News of genuine duress will commonly elicit temporary cognitive paralysis, often taking the form of a single word or phrase repeating as one’s inner monologue. “I’m so fucked”, filled the caverns of her grimly frozen mind, just as the adrenaline did her veins — both were very much unwelcome. Prayers be damned. This seemed as good a reason as any to abandon faith in any form of Faith.

Right. Shit. Fuck. What to do? She started by cracking another beer, which didn’t bode well for her success as a mother to be. Behaviors such as these make a compelling case for pro-choice arguments. An aborted fetus is better than a drunk one, if you’re really honest with yourself about it. The local Planned Parenthood had been her go to for birth control and blood screening since high school, and the head nurse there was always understanding of her proclivities, supportive of her choices. It was difficult to imagine that would be her reaction this time around.

“Stop the slaughter” and “Courageously abolish abortion” were the second and third placed finalists in the running for signs held by protesters outside the clinic, but “Planned Parenthood sells baby parts” took the cake — no contest. Never had she tried so hard to disappear, nor had that ever felt so impossible to achieve. She’d have had more luck crawling into her own womb and extinguishing the embryo that brought her there.


Pro-lifers have a funny way of making you want to stop living.


The waiting room seemed bleaker and more barren than usual. Everyone there would much rather be somewhere else, waiting for results on anything from terminal illness to quarterly annoyance (some people just can’t seem to wrap their junk). A bowl of cheap condoms sat atop the counter of reception, filled with off-brand rubbers whose wrappers’ feeble attempts at comic relief fell rather far short of the mark. It’s strange to think that, under certain circumstances, having chlamydia can make you the most fortunate person in a room.


Chlamydia is a very pretty word for such a decidedly un-pretty condition.


After that came further waiting, and paper work, some questions, and then more fucking waiting (strangely enough). It was starting to seem a lot like the legislative powers that be were trying to make it as difficult as possible to go through with a life decision that was difficult enough to make in the first place, like they were trying to let as much time pass for the already profound guilt to sink in and take hold such that she might change her mind, and go back home, and raise a child as a child, and in so doing ruin a life — well, more like two.

So she’s sitting in the head nurse’s office, whose walls are plastered with a bizarre mix of anatomical diagrams and pseudo-motivational posters (the latter of which succeeded in being both ineffectual and inappropriate), and listening to the woman’s procedural monologue which was delivered in very much the same tired, rehearsed tone that a public school sex-ed lecture is. This had the effect of bringing her back to sixth grade, dreams of professional success, a happy marriage, planned pregnancies, etc; that had the effect of bringing her down.

And she’s wishing the seminal culprit were there just so that there was someone there, or that she was able to say she knew who he was, or that she hated herself less for not [being able to]. As the nurse’s homily goes on, peppered with platitudes and feigned sympathy, she drifts in and out disaffectedly, occasionally picking out phrases like “in the event of complications” and “minimally invasive”. It all felt very surreal, removed, especially after being handed a bag of condoms and laminated pamphlet — which seemed at once patronizing and enabling.


Then she took a life, or saved two, depending on your choice of pro.


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