IUD, Condoms, You

IUD, Condoms, You
Photo by Liz Henry (copied from Flickr)

Photo by Liz Henry (copied from Flickr)

Maggie says I’m still in love with you, but then Maggie says a lot of things. In a tiny voice just above a whisper, she told me yesterday she walked into a pawnshop and almost bought a gun. We were lying in bed, in her apartment and I was just about to fall asleep when she began telling me about her day, and in particular the part of her day when she walked into a pawnshop and almost bought a gun. Suddenly I was no longer about to fall asleep.

“Why would you almost buy a gun?” I shouted. “Who walks into a pawnshop and almost buys a gun?” She started to cry and then I felt bad and asked if she’d been thinking about hurting herself with the gun. She said something in her tiny voice that I couldn’t hear and I shouted, “What?”

She said, “It really frightens me when you shout so much.”

It would only take about a minute to break up with her. You haven’t told me I should but you have suggested that if I did break up with her you wouldn’t necessarily think it was the wrong thing to do, and I haven’t even told you about the pawnshop and the gun. The gun is the problem. She thought about buying the gun yesterday and didn’t. But tomorrow she might also find herself in the vicinity of a pawn shop and walk inside, and looking at the gun case ask herself if there’s anything that prevented her from buying the gun two days before that would not necessarily prevent her from buying the gun now and then remember me, tonight, breaking up with her. “That one,” she might then say. “With the brown grip.”

I decide I’ll wait until I can determine she’s no longer suicidal, which I’ll calculate by factoring the number of times she smiles, laughs or discusses plans for the future against the number of times she cries, mentions harming herself, drinks herself to sleep or over-medicates, or otherwise expresses hopelessness with her life or the fate of the world at large. For every positive I’ll add one and for every negative I’ll subtract one, and when she gets to 50, let’s say, we’ll break up.

I say, “Do you want to hear a joke?”

She says, “Can you come over?”

“What did the rabbi say to the priest?”

“I think I’m going to kill myself,” she says.

Is it your fault I’m in this impossible situation? It would be very easy to say yes. It would be very very very very easy. In just one motion, one forceful thrust, you pushed me out of your arms and into hers, this whacko, which is both now incredibly fraught with impossible situations and also very efficient use of movement, like a ninja. It’d be very easy to say that you’re to blame for this impossible situation if I was the kind of person to shirk responsibility and look for the first person besides myself to blame, which I’m not. Is this your fault? Maybe. Yes. It’s your fault, fine, but that’s not what’s important right now. I’ve already forgiven you, which you know and is why you haven’t apologized for pushing me away and into the arms of this whacko, because it’s unspoken. Yes it’s your fault and you’re sorry and forgiven and we don’t even have to say a word about it. More important than who’s to blame and forgiving you is what to do now, what a good person would do, someone who wouldn’t shirk responsibility and look for the first person besides themselves to blame but do the right thing, someone who might even make you reconsider past decisions you made re: you and this good person because of this good thing they’ve done in the face of an impossible situation that you may or may not have thrust them into.

I remember the first time I slept with you was on your couch in debate of whether or not we should start sleeping together. You said before we decided we should make sure we were first physically compatible, which I thought was an excellent idea. “Go slowly,” you said. “Very very very very slowly.” Then your roommate walked through the door and in the rush to cover my bare ass with a blanket I couldn’t tell what your conclusion was re: our physical compatibility, but you had already put your pants back on and were suggesting I do the same.

On our third determining of our physical compatibility, the condom broke. This didn’t seem like such a problem until the next morning, when you counted back the days since your last period and realized we might have a situation.

“We might have a situation,” you said. We were standing in your kitchen, waiting for the water to boil. According to the internet, we had 72 hours to make a decision, and so we weighed the pros and cons. “On the one hand,” you said, “I’m not getting any younger.”

“On the other hand,” I said, “we’re both broke.”

“Then again,” you said. “He or she, I think he, would be very handsome and intelligent, funny and cultured, I could read to him from Jeeves & Wooster and teach him about comedies of manners, and can you even imagine how well-adjusted he would be? Especially since both our parents were pretty conspicuous with the mistakes they made with us so we’d definitely know what not to do.”

“I can,” I said. “But on the other hand, my dad’s side of the family has a history of depression, and my mom’s side of the family has a history of dementia, and I don’t think we ever really correct our parents’ mistakes but just swing from one extreme to another, though I would like a boy. Seymour.”

“Seymour.” you said. “That’s a really good name.”

72 hours became 48 hours became 24 hours became 12, and eventually we came to the decision we came to because we both felt like we needed some control over the situation and this seemed like the only decision that allowed us that. There were 6 hours left when we drove to the Walgreens. You walked up to the pharmacy window and I held back and felt like I was underage and waiting for you to return with my change and a bottle of peppermint schnapps. We split the cost, $25 each.

The pharmacist told you that there were two pills, to be taken 12 hours apart, and to expect severe cramping. You took the first one right there in the Walgreens parking lot after we got back in the car. It was almost four o’clock and I did the arithmetic in my head. I said, “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to be there when you take the second pill,” and you said, “I don’t think so.”

“But I’d really like to be there.”

“You can call me,” you said. “At four in the morning, to make sure I wake up.”

You dropped me off at my apartment and when I leaned in to kiss you you shook your head, which at least gave me something to think about for the next 11 hours. I took a shower. I scrubbed the grout in the shower, I scrubbed the toilet. From the bathroom I moved on to the kitchen, refrigerator first. I threw out anything closer to its expiration date than date of purchase. There was still a quarter of the lasagna we had cooked together and I ate it, standing at the kitchen counter, so I could then clean the casserole dish. I defrosted the freezer, and with the melted water that dripped on the floor I cleaned the linoleum. I don’t own a mop because they’re disgusting vectors for bacteria, so instead I got down on my hands and knees with a roll of paper towels and scrubbed, and when I was done with that I took another shower.

After the shower I moved on to the bedroom. I reorganized the books on my bookshelf from alphabetically to binding color and then back to alphabetically. I took out the garbage and smoked a cigarette and then decided to walk to the convenience store for some beer. I drank the beer alone, in my bedroom, and stared at the cat, who was giving me the night eyes. My thoughts flooded with geometric ratios vis-à-vis the unoccupied space on my bed. I threw up the beer in the toilet, which now needed to be scrubbed again.

At 3:45 I called you and the phone rang four, five, six times before you finally picked up. “Just a minute,” you said, and I heard you turn on the light, then open the drawer to your bedside table. You must be getting your glasses, I thought, which you only wore immediately before and after going to bed. “You’re early,” you said. “15 minutes.”

“I know,” I said. “I wanted to make sure you woke up. Are you ready?”

“Just a minute,” you said. “Don’t be so impatient.” I heard you take a long drink of something, probably water or juice or maybe even a glass of wine. “Goodbye, little Seymour,” you said. “Maybe next time.”

You gave me a one month head start to start dating other people before you began determining your physical compatibility with others, and I spent the month trying to coax from you a reason to hate you. When you explained to me your jealous proclivities I began going on dates, just in case. Then Maggie. When I first met Maggie she seemed wholly unaffected by even my very best jokes, and then when I was about to leave stuck her tongue down my throat and said she wanted to see me again. Was it the right thing to say yes, okay, I’d like to see her again too? It wasn’t to have my jokes not laughed at again, and maybe only a little bit her tongue down my throat, and it wasn’t either so that you could then invite some other guy onto your couch to determine your physical compatibility with him guilt-free, and yet I admit to a moment of brief, glowing righteousness with the thought of telling you that you were now welcome to do what you would, guilt-free, a gift to you from me who couldn’t afford it but even more couldn’t afford not to delight and surprise you.

Yes, then, that was the right thing to do by you and also the right thing by me considering my primary objective at the time was to do right by you, but all things being equal was it the right thing to do by her? It would be very easy to say no. On our second date, again at her apartment, we slept together. I saw the scars on her wrists and asked her what happened. She said she’d been sad, said that no one had come to visit her in the hospital and I said, “But you’re not sad now, right?” and she said “No,” and I didn’t press the matter.

Maggie lives across town in a neighborhood of boutique shops and specialty grocery stores called the Alphabet District because each street begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. She lives in a third-floor studio on K Street. Because of the neighborhood’s popularity I’m rarely able to find parking closer than F or O, and even then only for 90 minutes at a time unless it’s after seven when there’s never any parking anyway. It also requires taking at least three freeways to get from here to there, which are all the reasons why I say I never want to come over. The truth is her apartment makes me sad. It looks out on a brick wall and she never cleans or does the dishes and I can very easily imagine one day walking in on her unconscious body and then what it would be like to walk the six or seven blocks back to my car to follow the ambulance to the hospital.

She made me a copy of the keys to her building less than two weeks after we met, against my objections. “What if I’m some kind of psychopath?” I asked. “What if I’m emotionally unstable?” She said it was just a precaution, that she was always losing her keys or locking herself out and needing someone to call and let her back in. Even though I have her keys I still buzz her apartment to be let inside, either to let her know two minutes early that I’m here or to make sure I don’t walk in on her corpse, I’m not sure. She buzzes: alive.

I knock on her door. I don’t normally knock, but I’m trying to establish a sense of propriety here and knocking seems like a good start. “Hello,” she says when she opens the door and I say, “We need to talk,” and then I just start talking, about when it is and is not appropriate to say she’s thinking about killing herself. Like when appropriate: when she actually thinks she might kill herself and when not: literally any other time.

“You can absolutely not say you’re going to kill yourself,” I say. “Unless you actually think you might kill yourself, in which case absolutely tell me, but if you want me just to come over absolutely do not tell me you think you might kill yourself because that’s just like the boy who cries wolf, which doesn’t end well for anyone. Except the wolf.” I extoll the virtues of life and how if she kills herself it will overwhelm me with sorrow, which I only say because suicide is one of the few acceptable situations when it’s okay to use hyperbole.

She seems to be enjoying herself, which I’m not expecting. When she opens the door and when I explain the moral of the boy who cries wolf and especially when I describe my overwhelming sorrow, she doesn’t appear to be someone who is or up until recently has been contemplating suicide. She is smiling.

“I’m sorry if I upset you,” she says. “I didn’t mean to make you worry.” She places her hand on her belly. “The truth is, I’m pregnant.”

There are parallels to be drawn between you and Maggie, patterns to find if I had the desire and wherewithal to find them. For example, you’re both female. You’re both probably smarter than I am. You both have brown hair and have flirted, briefly, with the proposition of bangs, and if one squints hard enough both bear a passing resemblance to my mother, who will be so relieved. She won’t care that her grandchild comes from chaos and will admit to me, finally, that this is more important to her than any other measure of success I might have otherwise achieved. It’s almost worth all this just to be able to tell her. “Hello.” Pregnant pause. “Grandma.”

I can’t decide if this is a negative or a positive, a plus one or minus one. Does that make me a terrible person? You assure me it doesn’t, but I don’t know. I call you on the phone, tell you I have something important to tell you but resist telling you over the phone because I don’t want to waste your sympathy hug, because the silver lining to every tragedy is that I can tell you about it later and maybe later you’ll confuse your pity for love.

“Were you careful?” you ask.

“Yes,” I say. “I went very slowly.”

“I mean,” you say, “did you use protection?”

“Oh,” I say. “Yes.” Yes. When she was trying to romance me I thought of you to protect myself from being romanced. Also condoms, most times. Also she has an intrauterine device, or IUD, which I often confuse with IED, or improvised explosive device, which is not at all the same thing. So yes, protection, and in order of their purported efficacy: IUD, condoms, you.

Jacob Aiello is a writer and co-founder and curator of Soft Show (softshow.org), a bi-monthly experimental reading series that weds improvised live drawing with fiction and nonfiction read aloud by the authors. His own short stories are forthcoming from Drunk Monkeys, Menacing Hedge, Litro Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly and Stealing Time, and have appeared in Storychord, The Portland Reader, The Portland Review and The Wordstock Ten, among others. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, dog and four cats, and is now hard at work amassing a collection of short fiction consisting of far too many pronouns.

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