By Ashley Bowen
The waiting room was designed to be friendly, to calm your mind with muted colors and open space. Chairs were arranged in intimate groupings, encouraging idle talk between strangers. Dappled sunlight streamed from windows built to withstand gunfire and hostile eyes. We all chose to be there.
Nobody wanted to be there.
Pamphlets littered the small tables nestled between chairs: happy couples holding children, a teen girl looking alone and forgotten with a hand resting on her still flat stomach. Each a physical reminder for us to make better choices next time, preparing us that there would be a next time. The pamphlets hardly mattered now. We were already diagnosed with an unwanted pregnancy. We were already in that waiting room.
Entrance into the waiting room required the ringing of a bell. I read somewhere that a royal birth was announced with the ringing of bells throughout the kingdom, a joyful cacophony of sound. The celebrations would last for days, citizens filling the streets, tears in their eyes. Perhaps it’s a fairy tale I’m remembering. The bell heralding our arrival buzzed, a timer having hit zero, a wrong answer, a signal to move the criminal from one cell block to another. A mechanized voice greeted us through security glass, tiny and unaffected by the emotions stamped in bold strokes on my face—black fear running from temple to jaw, green envy painted over my eyes, a vivid blue strength underneath it all, emanating from the hand I grasped tightly on my own. Maybe the glass obscured it? Identification was surrendered as a friendly sign notified us that we were under constant video surveillance. My husband and I passed through the twin doors together, hands still connected.
Sitting amongst the roomful of women, we sought a sense of normalcy not readily found perched on maroon and teal upholstery. Fanciful histories were invented and whispered into each other’s ears, leaving no room for our own circumstances to be confronted. The room’s collective voice remained hushed, showing a respect only afforded to the dead and dying. To be heard, to laugh, was to taunt the reaper into visiting, a meeting we had willingly shown up for. The click of a door handle, the muted whoosh of a door moving over carpet preceded the arrival of the nurse. Her presence was desired and feared, loved and hated. A name would be called. Did I want it to be mine? Did I need more time before walking that lonely path edged in maroon and teal? The pattern repeated: click, whoosh, name. Hushed conversations. Click, whoosh, name. Over and over. Then, click, whoosh.
My name is called.
It was a solitary march to the door. Husbands were not allowed in the exam room, and would only be permitted to come back later if I chose to invite him. The reality of pro-choice is more complicated than just one question. Did I make this decision on my own? Was I coerced in any way? Would I like to see a picture of the fetus? Would I like to know if I am carrying twins? Would I prefer the surgical method, or a pair of pills so that I can have an abortion in the comfort of my own home? Would I like my husband to be with me after the exam?
No, I did not make this decision on my own. My husband and I agonized over it for weeks. No, I chose not to see the picture. Yes, I chose to know if there were twins. I chose the pills. I wanted my husband with me for the entire process, but that was not a choice I was afforded.
A second waiting room welcomed me after the exam, smaller, colder, and with far fewer pamphlets than the first. One other woman waited alongside me. She was calm. She was confident. She was everything I needed at that moment, and I do not even remember her name. My imagination conjures her as blonde with an oversized belt buckle and work boots. A cowgirl. She told me that this wasn’t her first time here, and with three children already at home, she didn’t want any more. She’d done the pill option before, but she’d pick the surgical option every time from now on.
“You get it over with in one day.”
Cowgirl was eventually called away for her procedure, and another girl replaced her in our small waiting room. We did not speak to each other.
Reunited with my husband in yet another room, blindingly bright as only medical spaces can be, I was handed the evidence of the choices already made—pills and instructions. Take this pill now. Take that pill later. Take it at home. Do not go anywhere after you’ve taken it. My choices had run out, the maroon and teal path stretched out before me as we walked through a waiting room yet again. A set of twin doors deposited us back into our life. No bells rang out.
I have few memories of the physical effects of the pills. I do not dwell on the child that would have turned seven this year. I can forget for long periods of time the pain that preceded my choice. But I do remember the waiting room. The outdated chairs with worn wooden armrests, the gentle whoosh of the door, and the buzzer announcing new arrivals. The women, sitting with a loved one, a friend, a parent, someone they trusted with their biggest secret. We were sisters in loss. We, the women who made a choice and were now sitting in a dazzling sunlit room on maroon and teal chairs.
Ashley Bowen is an aspiring author and student in Pueblo, Colorado, where she is the General Curator at the local zoo. Between taming lions and charming snakes, she is working on her first novel. Her work has been previously published in Tempered Steel.