How We Are Unraveling
by H.B. Rubin
I think there are a lot of mean voices in my head and I’m not sure where they come from — I don’t even know if that’s really me talking, or it’s just something I ripped off my ex.
He said it first, once, at like eight a.m., after we had stayed up all night doing lots and lots of cocaine and dancing around the jungle gym in my backyard.
“What kind of mean things?” I had asked, but he didn’t have anything else to say.
He had big lips, and was sitting crosslegged on the bed, staring up at me. It was getting light out through the windows—he had to be at work for the brunch shift in just a few hours. So I came in after him, and we lay side by side, pretending to meditate until we could fall asleep. My heart hurt cuz it was running so fast but I didn’t want to disturb him, lying there, staring at the ceiling, with his eyes open, unmoving. I wanted to kiss him but his concentration felt important, the closest thing he had to holy.
I bought my friend a pregnancy test today, at the Walgreens next door to my office. We tried to meet there, but it was too confusing, because there are four Walgreens in the six blocks between our offices, and each one of them looks exactly the same. It cost twenty bucks, and from the way I tucked it into my pocket, the security guard thought I was stealing. We ended up meeting in front of the Super Duper next door to her office and walked backwards into her lobby— one of those old time San Francisco ones with marble walls and heavy doorknobs. She works on the fifteenth floor but we got off the elevator on the eighth, just in case, and she used her key to let us into the little two-stall bathroom.
I ripped the plastic off the box and took off her coat for her, hanging it up on the back of the door while she paced in front of the mirror. Then I was holding the instructions wide in front of my face and scanning them for the English, finally in a small box on the front and I read them like a teacher through the stall door.
“Take off cap.”
I didn’t know what position she was in, behind the door, and whether she was crouching or sitting or standing with a leg up on the toilet paper dispenser, but I could hear her pee come out in little nervous bursts as we counted to five together. The instructions had underlined the part that said to pee on the stick for only five seconds.
“Now lay it flat and don’t look at it until the timer goes off.”
I stuck my foot under the door while we waited the one minute it takes for a little piece of plastic to rapidly tell from five seconds of pee whether or not there is an alien non-consensually conceiving itself inside of you. We talked about how if she was pregnant, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Just this really bad, weird thing that happened, once.
“It doesn’t really matter, right?” she said, “cuz no one ever had to know.”
I should have gotten my period the day after my ex and I broke up, but it didn’t come for two weeks. During that time, I nursed my belly while sitting on the metro, squatting my legs slightly while I walked and holding one hand against my lower back—just in case.
People gave up their seats for me. It was like they could smell it. Reality felt elusive, the whole universe just a cosmic joke. In those moments I was transcendental; life was, and only could be, energy. Who was I to have an opinion?
When the blood finally came, I lost all my excuses for not moving on. Things with him are history, I said to anyone that asked. I wasn’t lying— things with him were history. But history is inextricable from the future. The two beat together. It’s no one’s fault that they didn’t understand that he was still there: a clump of undissolved saline, clutching deep at the root of my esophagus. That that they raised their beers and sang out fuck that asshole before clapping me on the back for my good sense.
The lack of baby stung me. I don’t know why. I would have aborted it anyways.
Our feet were touching under the stall as the timer was clicking down to 10 to 9 to 8 till it was almost time to look, the stick was almost ready—and I said, right before it got to be time, because I wanted to say something smart, intelligent, something that the great best friend character would say in a Lifetime movie—the one that has all the answers, “Maybe you’ll feel really passionately about women’s health now. They say that the most effective political change comes from personal experience.”
In retrospect that sounds hopelessly contrived, but at the time, I was proud. Felt like I was finally articulating something that sounded like it made sense. And as I stood there, surrounded by metal and tiles, I had the flash feeling of like, maybe this happening will be really good for you, for both of us, cuz we’re so directionless, living lives like grass in a bay, blown from side to side by winds that are unknowable, dealing with it so long as we’re still standing, pretending that we aren’t just waiting for a sign, for direction from something, anything, to tell us where to go next. That the things that we do have some effect, any effect, on what ends up happening to us. That somewhere in the murk of choices and happenstance, there exists a thread that wends its way from past to present to future, and in the process creates a silhouette of who we are. That we are in fact something at all.
And was I jealous there for a second? Because of the momentum, because of how real the situation could possibly be, because of how real that would make her? Because the ways our stories were unraveling there, and how little we had to do with it?
But then the alarm in my hand started ringing, soft synthetic harp sounds, and I heard something clatter against the tiles and she was screaming “it’s negative it’s negative” and I wanted to scream with her, but my throat didn’t.
H.B. Rubin is a graduate of Wesleyan University where she studied writing, theory, and the theory of writing. At least that’s what it says on her Facebook. She is a poet and multimedia artist who wishes she had a pet. Recent work has appeared in Be About It and Rag #5.