I was bleeding after sex. In order to understand this problem, I had to get a lonely sonogram of my pelvis on a cold Wednesday afternoon. At the same time I became obsessed with a man—MF—who only ever had a passing interest in me. I could tell you these stories as though they were separate events, but in fact that’s simply not true. There was a twin-ship to these happenings. They were like bodies lying next to each other on a borrowed mattress, back-to-back they breathed in unison waiting for the other to fall asleep first.
The sonogram room was like being in a dark closet. I was wearing a paper gown, but I could have just as easily been naked. The gown opened in front, and immediately the radiologist poured that blue goo you’ve seen in movies all over my stomach, chest and pelvis. I remember wishing I had kept my socks on because the goo was that chilling. My radiologist was a woman with shocking and unnaturally dyed red hair. She spoke with a heavy Russian accent and was probably years younger than she presented. While I was lying down in the dark room, she pushed and pulled my body with a kind of indifference that felt vaguely maternal. Almost as though she were one of those women that helped you try on your first bra in a JCPenny’s department store. I can still hear my mother saying, These ladies have seen so many breasts. There’s no need to be embarrassed. The radiologist was the same, she only saw me as a sack of flesh, not as anything that could or couldn’t be desirable, and this comforted me. Sometimes I thought MF only saw me as a sack of flesh too, but not in the good way, not in a medicinal, motherly way. He didn’t want to help me; he just wanted to consume me. Or maybe not. I hadn’t heard from him in awhile.
The radiologist asked me when my last period was. I told her the 25th of October and that I was due to get it the next day. She gave a small nod, but said nothing more. I told her that I was getting the sonogram because I was bleeding after having sex. The truth was the bleeding was not new, but I’d had so little sex in the past two years it was hard to track it as a pattern. It was hard to confront the reality that I wasn’t having sex. I used to walk into a room with the bravado of a girl who gets fucked on the regular. For months the not-having-sex became a painful secret, evidence that my identity was morphing into something new, something I didn’t quite understand. And then I met MF.
MF asked for my number on October 1st, and 22 days later we had sex. He had long hair that he kept in a ponytail, and a broad chest that I like to feel the weight of on top of me. He wore either work boots or very bright white sneakers and when he told me his first name, his tongue curled around the letter L in such a way that I knew we would eventually fuck. MF called sex “making love,” which is out of vogue for people my age, and especially out of vogue for a man who deals in the currency of cool. I tried to stop myself from thinking it meant anything. Still I felt a shadow pass over my heart. In my phone, I have a note about the first night we slept together: 4-5 times, sometimes good, sometimes bad, a bit of a jackhammer. But in my diary, dated October 28th, I have something different written down:
“There is a moment after you come where you just hold onto each other and it feels like somebody poked your body with tiny holes and let all the sunshine flood through. With MF it was when he told me that he could feel me come (though had I even come?) and he said it was like a golden road opened up in front of him. It was when he took me up to the roof and we slow-danced in the drizzle. It was in the muscles of his arms flexing as he picked me up.”
Incidentally, the 28th was MF’s birthday. I sent him a happy birthday text; his reply “Thanks Lacy!” meant nothing and also spoke volumes. Two days later, at a dinner party at my house, I passed around the phone asking people to read the message and tell me its meaning. Should I call him? Or should I wait? I felt the tremor of an earthquake that I had painstakingly tried to avoid. I already knew how this story would end. So did all the women at my party. Though they tried to reassure me that this time it would be different.
The first time I thought MF wasn’t as smart as me (I want to say that I thought he was dumb, but that’s really too vulgar) was when he asked me what I thought of painting. He was a painter, but I couldn’t tell yet if he was driven by something, or if he was just another cool dude hoping to get laid at Art Basel. My real artist friends, the ones who’d gone to grad school and did residencies, all thought MF’s work was infantile. They would flip through his Instagram and laugh at all his art, scoffing at all the photographs he took of himself painting. Sometimes I joined in—ha, I can’t believe he uses a palette! But, mostly I wished I had never shown my friends in the first place. I didn’t really care what his art was like; I only cared about the way I felt when I was around him.
In spite of my friends and also because of them, I had some serious ideas about art. I told MF that even though we were taught to read from an early age, to be involved in literature and engage in narrative structure, we weren’t taught to do that with visual art. So a painting was hard to understand because it was literally hard to read—I had to use a language in which I wasn’t fluent.
In return he said, “You just look at it. That’s all you have to do.”
I wanted to believe that he meant, possibly, that the first impulse you have in looking at a painting is the most important—that your initial emotional response is the most telling. But I think I’m giving him too much credit. Also, even if he did mean that, I don’t agree. I believe that looking at a painting is like reading a poem—you have to do it over and over again. You have to work to decipher its secrets.
In the sonogram room, I was on my back with my arms above my head. My red haired radiologist pushed the ultrasound wand into my stomach, and pulled it over my pelvis, knocking not so gently on my hipbones. I wasn’t so worried about the whole thing—until right at that moment. I looked over to the monitor on which the radiologist was focused. I thought of the landscape that was being painted on the screen. It looked like snow falling over an ocean’s tumbling waves. But it was not the ocean on the screen; it was a view into my insides. What secrets were they trying to tell me? Once again I didn’t know how to read the language in this picture.
I tried to look at the radiologist’s face, tried to read something through the lines that burrowed deep around her eyes and mouth, but to no avail. She was the perfect radiologist, trained so well to keep the secrets of my body to herself. So well had she done her job in fact that those lines, though deep, were totally horizontal. They neither moved upward towards joy, or downward towards despair. They were like latitude lines on a map. Her face told me nothing about why I was bleeding after “making love” with MF. They also gave me no tangible way to hold onto him, nothing that could make this experience—me alone in this dark room, cold and covered in blue goo—about what happened between us. No, this was only about me.
She asked me how long I had had my IUD. I told her it would be ten years in April. She gave a kind of whistle, blowing a little through her mouth, and asked how could they have let me have one for that long?
When I got my first IUD, I was twenty-two, and it was the day before I graduated from college. I had no plan for what to do afterwards, and I could not even begin to envision the life I wanted for myself at thirty-two. For the most part I was proud of who I was, and what I had done: I had changed careers, graduated from a prestigious school, become what I thought a woman was supposed to be. In my mind a woman registered as an adult when she could differentiate between desire and what was good for her. I thought a woman would be able to see all of MF’s bad qualities: his lack of intelligence, his flakiness, his phony artwork, and be able dust off her hands and move on. I felt like because I still wanted him nonetheless, that meant I was still a girl. In the sonogram room, a wave of disappointment washed over me as I came to terms with the idea that I was once again alone, being prodded at in a cold room, while a boy I felt deeply about led a life that had nothing to do with me. I thought I had given up this habit long ago.
Once more I looked at the screen and wondered what the radiologist saw. Could I ever learn to map the geography of my body? I thought about the most terrifying thing she could find, some kind of cancer? Or what if she saw a shadow, a ghost of some future I wasn’t prepared for? I knew it then. I wanted the ghost. I didn’t want to have a baby with MF. But I did want something that would prove that there had been a connection between us. I wanted evidence. I wanted accountability. I wanted commitment. I wanted to have MF’s abortion.
The last time I saw MF, I had sort of read him the third degree. After I had erased all his messages and his number, he called me. When we spoke on the phone, I told him that it hurt my feelings that we’d had a night of great sex (five times in one night!) and then I hadn’t heard from him again. I said this in an even-keeled, rational voice—a voice the opposite of what I was feeling: emotional, drained, but also manic. In response he said that he was sorry, that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and that we should meet again face to face. So we met again, and even though he was drunk, we had more great sex, and in the morning we had sex again, sex that felt close even though we weren’t looking at each other. And then we walked to the train, and I told him about my troubled brother, and waited to watch his response. He was perfect. When we were waiting for our separate trains he looked at me from across the platform, and that was my favorite moment.
Then he didn’t call me.
I sat alone on my bed and called my friend Mary at midnight on a Friday evening. I started to tell her how the story went, but she stopped me—she already knew. I felt so proud of myself for telling him what I wanted, and what I wasn’t getting, so proud that I hadn’t done so in a melodramatic way! Not in the melodramatic way I had felt anyway. I thought that’s what women did. But then it didn’t work; the ending was the same no matter how I acted.
Then he called me.
He was sitting in his truck waiting to deliver ice. He was crying. There had been a family tragedy. His uncle’s nine-month old baby had choked to death. He didn’t know many of the details yet, but he was leaving to go to the funeral the next day. MF said that he was sorry to burden me with this, and I replied that he never had to be sorry, that he could always tell me anything.
I was shocked that he called but more than that, I was flattered. It was me that he had chosen to confide in, me that he picked to be his support. And I played the role as best as I could. I know that sounds crass, to make it all about me again. But this is the point of confessing. This is the point of writing something down.
The next week he texted me from the funeral. He sent me a picture of the program, which included a photo of the baby. In the photo the baby is smiling and wearing a t-shirt with “Captain Adorable!” written across the bib. There was so much I read into that picture, but namely I thought—This is it. MF and I are finally dating. I thought it was proof that he wanted me in his life. He needed me.
I have once again deleted all his messages and phone number (though it doesn’t really count since I memorized it) but I kept that baby picture. I think about how different my initial response was: a deep horror of the real tragedy; that a family lost their child. But moreover how I thought it was a thread keeping us together. Now I feel terrible about that response, and more terribly about the death, and also more terribly still that I am writing this essay, because it means that it is all over.
When I was getting the sonogram, MF didn’t need me anymore. It seemed as though he had recovered. He came back to New York from the funeral and kept making dates with me, but then standing me up. Against all odds, I still had hope. I still wanted him to remember that he had sent me that photo, and that meant something, right?
So when I was in the sonogram room, I wanted to be pregnant. And why not? We already had one dead baby between us. Now I wanted my own. If only in a fantasy. The next day I would get on my hands and knees in my bathroom and pray for my period because it was a day late. But on that cold Wednesday looking up at the ultrasound with the gray matter floating all over the screen, I wanted to hear a heartbeat that didn’t belong to either the radiologist or me. I wanted a reason to call MF. I wanted a reason that wasn’t just because I liked him.
When the radiologist had finished, and after I had inserted the wand into my vagina and felt her knocking against my cervix, she had me sit up and handed me a paper towel. “Clean yourself up,” she said in a Russian accent that was so removed. I wiped the goo off my chest, abdomen and pelvis, and couldn’t help thinking about how I had spent weeks with MF doing the same thing.
MF didn’t want to use a condom, and he had spent quite some time convincing me not to want the same thing too. Then the second time we had sex, it just happened. He asked halfway through if I had come, and when I said yes (but had I even come?) he pulled out and finished on me, on the space below my belly button that is like a small mound no matter how many Pilates classes I go to.
Something always bothered me about his pulling out. First he never asked me if I was on birth control, and I had already gone through so much pain: the insertion of my IUD ten years ago, the consequent cramps, and now the bleeding—all so I wouldn’t have a baby. But he was still pulling out. It was always about his limits.
After the sonogram was over, I had to wait a week to hear from my doctor. During the sonogram itself there had been so much space where nothing could be said between the radiologist and myself. For better or for worse, she had information she couldn’t share with me. It felt like the same thing with MF. All I know is that when I received the email from my doctor telling me the bleeding was probably because my IUD was abnormally low, and I should get it removed and replaced as soon as possible, I never got such a notice from MF.
That’s not exactly true: the last time he stood me up, I sent him a text saying that I couldn’t take his hot and cold behavior anymore, and that whatever was going on between us wasn’t for me. Again I thought I was standing up for myself, and I sent it not to really end it, but to try to shake him up. To remind him that I wasn’t always there. That I had limits too.
He sent a text that said, “Sorry babe. Be Well.”
Didn’t he remember that I had a dead baby’s picture on my phone? I felt like I had nothing on my end to prove that we had ever even met. Nothing but my friends in different bars asking me what’s the latest with MF? My friend, Sasha, had gotten so mad that I was still talking about him that he left our table to smoke his first cigarette in years. I thought—I wish I had the same effect on MF.
Getting the sonogram was really so mundane. I talked to all my lady friends and time and again I heard that they had gotten one too. Still it felt like the loneliest thing that seemed to come out of sleeping with another person. I know, at least intellectually, that if I had gotten pregnant I still may not have gotten what I wanted from MF. It could have been even worse, or I could have gotten an STD that made me feel even lonelier, and for the rest of my life. But lying down in the sonogram room, scared about the bleeding for the first time, and worrying that my feet smelled, I felt that I had nothing to share with him. A few weeks later I had my IUD taken out and a fresh, new one was inserted. After that, the bleeding stopped. I was fine again. In the end, I had nothing to show for either the sonogram, or the relationship.
Though that’s not exactly true either. I have the story. I doubt that MF will ever read this, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting him to. Perhaps that is my biggest confession yet, not that I wanted to have MF’s abortion, but that I am still hoping to effect him, still hoping that I can convince the world there was something between us.
The questions the radiologist asked made me feel like I was in a confession booth, but the way she handled my body felt like I was once again a child with my mother in a dressing room. And yet she stared into the seascape of my womb as though she were a clairvoyant gazing into a crystal ball. I wanted her to look and look again because I wanted to see a ghost, because I wanted to know the secret. I wanted meaning. All she could see was that my womb was empty.
Which makes me think, if my sonogram and my obsession with MF were really like two bodies lying back to back, would they have the courage to speak? Or would their words slip out with their breaths, transforming from something urgent into waves disappearing against the flat line of a horizon.