Smile

They sat on the steps of the old capitol building and smiled at the camera. His right arm was reaching over her left leg, and both of her arms were wrapped tightly around his right arm. The flash clicked and a picture fed through the bulky, brown camera.

“Mama, who’s this?” she asked her mother, running her bare feet into the kitchen. They made a smacking sound against the floor. She ran the way she danced, and in her hands waved a tiny black polaroid.

Mama briskly wiped her wet hands on her skirt and turned to her daughter to examine what she had been waving. Upon the child’s eager handoff, Mama squinted at the polaroid and the child contained her buzzing anticipation by lifting herself up and down on the balls of her feet repeatedly. When Mama’s eyes focused in on the two smiling faces of the picture, she smiled too and her hand found its way thoughtlessly to her heart. It was warm and so was her face. Her lips came together in a smile that spread across her face – the kind that people try with little success to hide.

“The old capitol,” she said, quietly remembering. Her hand moved, again thoughtlessly, from her chest to her mouth. She cradled the bottom of her face in the crook of her hand, smiling from her eyes now that her mouth was being pressed against her fingers.

She examined the man’s face in the picture again, tracing her eyes over the shape of his body over and over and over. Her eyes sometimes wandered over to the woman, but only because their bodies were so entwined in the photo. Her eyes pulled back to him every time.

“What do you want in it?”

 “As much of the building as you can get.”

“So not a close up of your faces?”

They looked at each other, and together shook their heads.

“Not too close or too far, if that’s okay.”

“Whatever you do will be perfect – thanks again for doing this!”

“Ready?”

He grabbed her leg. She held his arm and held herself closer to him. They both smiled for the camera. They smiled for each other. They smiled for their future.

Flash.

The child looked up at her expectantly. It was clear that the faces in the picture had been recognized. “Mama?” she asked, as a reminder of her patience.

Mama kneeled to her little girl and wrapped an arm around her small, child waist. She pulled her baby girl close to her so they could examine the picture together. The girl giggled because it tickled, and drummed her fingers on her Mama’s knee.

“This is a very special friend of mine from many years ago, before I met Daddy, before you were born. We met in the first college Mama went to, and then when I transferred, he went to visit me by surprise at my new school. That’s where we were in this picture.”

The little girl looked at the picture with her chin tucked into her neck and didn’t ask many questions. She seemed satisfied to know who he was. Mama, however, felt incomplete. The whole truth had not been told, and it seemed to be a lie to omit such a huge part of who he was to her. What’s more, she felt she was lying to him – somehow – in a way that maybe didn’t matter but did to her – wherever he was in the world – by not adding the most important part of the story.

“I loved him, honey,” she said. “Still do today.”

The little girl turned to examine her mother’s face. “You love him? Like you say ‘love you’ to Daddy?” she seemed ready to declare that something was not alright with this picture.

Mama shook her head. “No, honey, not like Daddy. It’s a different love, but it’s still love.” She kissed her daughter’s forehead and rubbed the side of her waist. The girl giggled again, and she was glad to see her daughter’s smile return. “Don’t worry, baby, there is a lot of room for love in people’s hearts, and I have love for both of them…in different ways…and for you, and Baloo, and Goldie, and everyone else.” She pecked her daughter’s shoulder with a kiss – then one, two, three more in a quick order. The girl laughed again, throwing her head back and trying to escape the kisses.

When they settled, they were still smiling but calm again. “Where is he now?” she asked her Mama.

A sharp pang in her mother’s stomach. Where was he. What was he doing. How was he. It hurt a lot, more than any of the words humans have to describe things that are painful.

“I don’t know baby…”she murmured, looking with a furrowed expression at the dark face in the picture. Her own reflection glimmered back at her in the shine of the photograph.

“I’m going to go find Baloo,” her daughter said out of nowhere, demonstrating that she was, indeed a child, and her attention for the topic had expired. She pulled away from her mother’s grasp and dance-ran out of the kitchen to find the family dog.

Alone in the kitchen now, Mama held the photo in both hands, close to her face. She was still kneeling on the floor. She didn’t have the energy in her heart to stand up just yet. Where was he. How was he. Her heart tightened. Soon she could not see his face anymore because she was staring at his image through a shimmering wall of tears. Everything that they had. Everything that they had been. The love she felt was different – that was sure – but it was eternal, and part of her felt she would be unsettled until they were together again. But of course that was stupid and would never happen. Stop it, stop it, stop it. She felt guilty, and then guilty for feeling guilty. She loved her husband dearly, with all of her heart. They were happy – they were the perfect she had always dreamed of. Yes, she was sure – all of her heart. Or…well how does that work then…? She shook her head quickly to clear the madness from her thoughts and pushed herself up to stand by the sink again. She shoved the revived vintage picture in her skirt pocket and promised herself to feel better, although suddenly every thought found its way back to him.

“Thank you!”

“No problem!”

They exchanged the camera and the photo again. It developed in a few minutes.

 “Aww!”

She grabbed the photo from his hands and looked at it. She threw her head back and laughed.

“Why are you laughing? It’s cute!”

“I love it. It’s perfect.”

“So why are you laughing?”

“Because look at you! You’re so cool with your legs draped casually over the steps like that. What a cutie, what a cool guy.”

He looked at the picture again and smiled sheepishly.

“And then look at me, holding as tightly to you as I can, scrunched up in the physical form of ‘mmm I just love him so much!’” She scrunched her nose in a smile and mocked herself with a high-pitched voice.

Then they both laughed and they were holding each other again. It was true, he did look a lot cooler than her.

“I love it. I love you.”

They held each other under the night light of the old capitol.

They smiled for the picture. They smiled for each other. They smiled for their future.

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Talents include: mornings. The tale of a mid-ranged millennial.

What can I say, I am really good at mornings.

It’s not exactly a skill I can put on a résumé, but it’s something that I’m very quietly proud of. I apparently have a lot of skills that aren’t super appreciated by the larger society, and yet they are skills that I think pretty effectively sum up my character as an individual. For example, alongside my ability to freaking demolish a morning in the best way, I also have an incredibly attuned sense of knowing when my dog is about to throw up. (The latter skill is paired perfectly with my dexterous speed of action in scooping her up and running her outside, or, if outside is too far away, running her over to the nearest toilet and holding her ears back while she throws up in the old basin. We are the best roommates.)

But when I say “mornings”, I should clarify that I’m definitely being specific to weekend mornings or winter break mornings. Aka: limited responsibilities mornings. Weekday mornings are a bit more of a struggle. They usually consist of jumping out of bed, eyeing the clock as I regret not picking out my outfit the night before – oh well, I guess I’m just gonna wear something a little weird today – then rushing madly to get ready, pack my bag, and bolt out the door (after having ritually struggled with the lock), and with any luck (but mostly just a good dose of j-walking) I arrive at the bus stop just in time. No, my weekday mornings could stand to see some improvement. But let me tell you, on the weekends, I shine.

To start with, I sleep in. I’ve been able to reach that sweet spot wake-up time that manages to leave both seasoned adults and young adults alike unable to pass judgment: 9:50am. If I tell a 38 year old that I wake up at 9:50, they will remark something like, “Wow, I haven’t slept in that late in a while, but I guess it’s not so bad for a young adult like you.” Meaning that most people my age – particularly college students – are totally down for sleeping in until 1 or 2pm, so 9:50 is pretty impressive. So if I tell a full-grown adult my wake-up time, I get a nod of approval (mixed maybe with a look of nostalgia for their younger days), and if I tell a fellow young adult, I get some unspoken points for being so strong-willed and “productive” (we like to tell each other that simply being awake is productive since we all know personally what a challenge that is most of the time, and we like to be in mildly-envious support of each other). And as if by design (yeah I definitely designed this), I get to scoop up those “strong-willed and productive” points while just dodging any “you’re such a friggin’ nerd” points. Win win.

So at 9:50am I roll over in bed, stretch (hell yeah), and meander coolly over to my little 11-year-old, white faced dachshund pup who is curled up on the couch, also poised and ready to demolish this morning with me. We both like weekend mornings. I nearly inhale her face in greeting and play the fan-favorite “where’s-the-belly??” game with her until we are both kind of looking at each other like, “ok ok, that’s enough.” I make a killer breakfast and then go back to the couch where my pup (without-fail) sheepishly and totally clumsily climbs onto my lap with what I can only imagine are these narrative thoughts in her little doggy mind: “Is it cuddle time already? Yeah? Okayokay I’m just gonna…yeah, one paw there…then the other paw, O.K. *wobbles precariously on my knee* yeah I’m just gonna go for it *launches/free-falls onto my lap then quickly scrambles to regain control* I’m just gonna sit myself down right here, O.K? Yeah this is good, hey let’s get this morning! *passes the f**k out in a matter of minutes.*

So while my dog snores like an old man, I sip my coffee and listen to either a podcast, stand-up comedy bit on Netflix, or an audiobook reading of one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasure book series as a child. (Have you heard of the Warriors series by Erin Hunter? Okay I know you’re laughing and retracting some of my points that I racked up earlier for waking up at the perfect hour, but like fine, take them. I don’t care, this series is the sh**. #firestar4lyfe.)

I continue listening to what ever is playing until I notice that I’ve completely stopped paying attention and somehow, without thinking, started some other simultaneous activity. I use my sleeping dog as an excuse to not be able to move for a while, at least until she wakes up from her dream. This usually means doing something on my laptop while we both cuddle under a yellow blanket made even brighter yellow by the light that shines on our couch spot every morning.

Before I know it, I have maybe 14 Firefox tabs open on my laptop – an ode to my inability to start and finish a thought without interruption.They range in productivity, which I mean on the legit adult standards sense, not in the “good job, you’re awake” young adult standards sense.

On one end of the spectrum, one can see that I’ve fallen shamelessly down the Pinterest rabbit hole, with a million tabs open of to-die-for earrings that I’m pretending to actually own by saving them on an earrings board. On the other end of the spectrum, one can see that I’ve recently been hit by the fear of the crushing, impending future reality of soon graduating college. Don’t get me wrong, I will be no less than absolutely stoked to finish school, but the whole matter of life post-diploma is hazy to say the least. So a fair chunk of those tabs are about how to get a degree-related job with only an undergraduate degree in Psychology, which is apparently impossible (I’m sorry, wut?), so now there are a few more tabs of “please, just give me a job. Any job.”

And then, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, I’ve been struck by yet another business idea, crazy invention, book or video production idea, etc. (you name it), and the rest of the 14 tabs become dedicated to researching how to make those far-fetched ideas come to life. Turns out most of them require a good chunk of money, which I don’t have at the moment because I’m apparently an unemployable Psych. major, so I return only semi-reluctantly to the land of imaginary money and continue to make make-believe purchases on Pinterest. (It should be noted that on Pinterest, I’m stylish as f*ck, my house is lit, and I am maybe the craftiest person on the planet.)

By this time, the morning is waning and my dog is starting to get pee-crazy. So I stretch again, cover her face with kisses, put my bed-head hair into a messy bun and take her outside to pee. Back inside, I feel full, refreshed, and ready for my day ahead. I make a mental list of things I have to do later on in the day (call the doctor, grocery shopping, read chapters 4 thru 6 in my clinical psychology textbook, call my sister, call my friends from my old school, etc). But first, shower time. Music playlist: on. Dog: passed out again on the couch. Me: ready to demolish the afternoon.

 

 

IUD!!! Omg what a journey.

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Yesterday was a pretty momentous day. So many firsts, where do I begin? Okay, well, it was the first time I had ever put my feet up on birthing stirrups (thank god I wasn’t giving birth). It was the first time I had THREE different people all together looking right up my cooch (thank god they were all docs, and also oops about the choice language). It was the first time I read comic strips taped on a ceiling (well, I really just looked at the pictures since I had zero mental capacity to read the words – we’ll get to that in a bit though). In summary, as the title suggests, this was the first time I had ever received an Intrauterine Device, aka IUD.

I want to give this 20 minute doctor appointment all of the glory that it deserves though, because this was not JUST an IUD insertion. It was also a simultaneous pelvic exam. That is because (brace yourselves for another ‘first’) I had never received the much-dreaded pelvic exam that people with a uterus are supposed to receive around my age, which is a seasoned 20. I remember the school nurses at my old college asking me my age when I visited their office to pick up my birth control pills, which I had been taking before I decided to get an IUD. That was last year. The exchanges, which happened every month, went something like this:

Nurse: “Name?”

Me: “Isabel R***”

Nurse: “Age?”

Me: “19”

Nurse: “Oh, well that’s good. You’ve got a year left before you’re required to receive a pelvic examination in order to receive any more birth control pills.”

At which point, I would make a socially amiable reply of, “Oh, thank god” or “Uh, oh! I better enjoy this year then, huh?” While privately, inwardly my mind was running a little more like “Isabel. Did you hear her? Only a year left. Only a year left to figure out how to avoid gameplanthat pelvic exam. Only a year left to find a way around getting that extremely intimate, incredibly painful vag./yoot exam that once allegedly made Tina Fey herself pass out on the table. One year Isabel. Break the law if you have to.

So back to the present day, age 20. You see how much I was dreading the appointment to get both an IUD and pelvic examination, yes? Now let’s rewind just a touch more. Don’t worry, I won’t go back a whole year this time – instead, let’s just take a brief glimpse of earlier that morning.

You see, when you are about to have your bare-ass legs splayed wide open, in florescent lighting, in a far less than sexy setting, in front of multiple people, you plan ahead. Let’s start with underwear. “Why are you planning your underwear? You won’t be wearing it!” you say. But to that, I have many thoughts to contribute. True, I won’t be wearing underwear, but that’s not to say they won’t see my underwear. When they tell you to undress, your clothes have to go somewhere, and they’ll definitely catch a glimpse of your pile of clothes at some point during the appointment. Knowing that they will see my underwear, I’m left to think “what kind of underwear will speak the best and truest of me as a person, as a patient on their operating table?” ((I’m aware of my overthinking problem, but thanks for pointing that out.))

Well, I obviously wasn’t going to wear any of my old Hanes Her Way undies – the kind I use for days when my period is sure to get the best of me. And I wasn’t going to wear anything lacy, or thongy, or even too cheeky, because I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying hard to look cool. I had also been informed that one of the docs would be male ((I’m a hetero woman btw)) and I didn’t want him to think I was trying to impress him ((lol wut? I was about to have yellow iodine smeared all over my vag. I don’t think he would have thought I was in it to impress him.)) So settled on a pair of 80% cheek-coverage, pink (aka hey look, I know how to have fun too) undies with that signature thick Calvin Klein band on the top, except not CK because I’m a college student and I don’t have that kind of money.

I was already expertly shaved and sculpted, so all I had to do before the appointment was drink a nearly literal ton of water, since I had accidentally alreadydrink up.gif peed that morning, even though I had been told to go to the appointment with a full bladder. (They do a urine sample pregnancy test before the procedure.) Just before I grabbed my wallet and keys, I popped four ibuprofen pills and took a final swig of water. Five years of pregnancy protection, let’s go.

As I mentioned before, I had been informed that one of the doctors would be male. At first I was kind of thinking, “Could they not be..?” but then I just sucked it up like a grown up. I made the decision that I didn’t care. So when the first doctor came in the room, I was prepared. He was indeed male. What I was less prepared for was for him to be a male medical student. That is – no, not a doctor yet.omg Yes, still possibly attends college parties. I’m a f**king QUEEN of hiding my emotions when I need to though, so I played it SO cool. WAY, SO, VERY COOL. I got the feeling that he was a little less than stellar at concealing his emotions though, since the eye contact was definitely hard to come by. We made some nice chit-chat, but I think we both had the completely cognizant understanding that in a number of other potential circumstances, he – a young college student much like myself – could’ve been seeing me in a completely different and literal light. More blatantly, *cough* no lights.

“Some of the risks,” he read to me off of a paper that I had to sign, “include that we could puncture the wall of your uterus…”

“Ha!” I shouldn’t have laughed. Why did I laugh? It was nervous laughter.

I signed the paper and my real doctor came in, followed by the nurse that would assist her. Total: three people. But man was I glad to see my doctor. Dude, I’m not even kidding, I LOVE her. She is the best. Like, everything I look for in a friend. I want to be her friend. She is super cool and nice and sweet, but I think she’s only down for a professional doctor-patient relationship.

So now I will spare you the details and fast forward a bit. I got an IUD, I got a pelvic exam. They hurt like hell, but so do doctor bills for a baby that you never wanted in the first place. So I stared up at the ceiling comic strips, without reading them because how can you when you are being probed like that, and I took the pain the way that I usually take any form of severe physical or emotional pain: quietly, with minimal signals to the outside world that I’m about to punch a bitch. (Sorry, doc. You are so not a bitch. Also I want to be your friend.)

And you know what? Throughout the whole damn thing, they complimented the hell out of me. And I operate SO WELL with words of positive affirmation, that by the end of the procedure, I was somehow feeling emotionally on cloud nine, even though physically, it felt as if my uterus had received multiple bullet wounds. But I kid you not, these were the final words of the procedure:

Doctor Amazing: “And that’s it! You’re all done!”

Me: *breathes out something kind of high-pitched and weak and not even English*

Nurse: *exchanging an impressed look with Doctor Amazing* “She took that like a trooper!”

Doctor Amazing: *looking at me* “You did really well!”

Me: “I’m adopting.”

Everyone: *laughs*

Doctor Amazing: “You say that now, but one day you might decide to have a baby, and then we can do this all over again together.”

Me: *inwardly, privately* uuughghfjdklsdjfadfsd Doctor Amazing you are incredible!

So there you have it. That was my 20 minute appointment. The three of them said their congratulations and friendly goodbyes and left the room so that I could change back into my pair of pink, 80% cheek-coverage, meticulously pre-selected undies. By the time I walked out of the building, I felt somehow like a superhero. I had finally received the pelvic exam that I had been quietly dreading during my first 2.5  years of college career; I was almost entirely protected from unplanned pregnancy for the next five years ((still use a condom though you guys, since STI’s are still a thing)); and maybe – just maybe – best of all: I drove right out of that parking ramp feeling like my vagina and uterus were the best goddamn vagina and uterus on the whole damn planet. It was all thanks to my crew of three – one doctor, one nurse, one med. student – who didn’t feel the need to hold back a single compliment or word of praise in those twenty minutes of hell. Shout-out to Doctor Amazing. I still feel like a superhero.

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