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An Unplanned Visit MAG
The girl across the room appears to be 18 or so. Smacking and popping her gum, she sits cross-legged with her fluorescent pink toenails peeking out from the cuffs of her jeans. The tapping of her pen against the clipboard is an incoherent Morse code, competing for attention with the radio mumbling into the waiting room from the front office. She glances up to find my eyes glued on her restless foot.
I look away and gaze into a sea of brochures on the coffee table. Dozens of faces peer back from the covers of these pamphlets. Some are solemn and unsure; others are confident and relieved. The headings vary: HIV Testing, Unexpected Pregnancies, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Adoption. Brochure racks crowd every inch of wall space, and posters of all sizes create a quilt of information. Contact cards of counselors and support groups swarm the bulletin boards like minnows to bait. On the coffee table is a small notice that reads, “For the confidentiality of those around you, we do not allow cell phone conversations.”
After a brief appointment, my friend Ellen emerges from the hallway twirling her purse, rattling with keys and coins. She strolls up to the front desk, relaxed and poised. “We just discussed switching my birth control. Will my insurance cover that?” I’m impressed, yet somewhat mystified by Ellen. Not once does her voice trail off or fade as it often does when she is uncomfortable.
Her assurance cascades over me like a wave, stripping my confidence and ease. Instantly, I label myself as Ellen’s shadow. I had followed humbly and willingly to her appointment without my own agenda, issues, or concerns. Suddenly, I feel very naive. A pang of guilt erupts in my conscience. Here I am, lounging in a women’s clinic without a care in the world, while others arrive with real troubles tugging at their sleeves. My heart isn’t lodged in my throat and there are no anxious flurries tingling my limbs. I’m not changing my birth control method, reporting sexual abuse, or getting tested for HIV. I’m not scheduled for an appointment to see if another human being is growing inside me. Instead of carrying my own burdens, I’m a tagalong.
I remain seated in one of the armchairs. With cozy furniture, dainty floral window treatments, and a small wooden box with worn toys and classic children’s books, the room has a comfortable homey feeling. Ellen sinks into the chair next to me. “I have to wait a few minutes so they can square away the insurance,” she says.
I nod and pick up one of the brochures – Unexpected Pregnancies. The girl’s face on the cover, as expected, is surprised, confused. She might fool some into believing she knows what it feels like to have a swelling belly or to have missed periods or tests that confirm pregnancy. But she is just a model, chosen from an array of hopefuls because she had a certain quality, I guess, that screamed “teenage mother.” But she is a trite, stereotypical representation of one. I find it almost belittling. Then again, I have no more of a right to be here than she does.
My thoughts are suddenly reeled back by Ellen’s voice. “You don’t know how many times I’ve been here and girls have been sitting in these chairs, bawling,” she comments without looking up from her magazine.
“Did you recognize any of them?”
“Yeah. I mean, I didn’t know any of them personally, but I’ve seen some girls I’d never expect to come here.”
“Well, I guess you never know. Girls on all ends of the spectrum have sex,” I say.
“True. Did you check out the condoms over there? It’s a great way to get kids to use ’em.” The condoms are brightly colored and covered with kaleidoscope patterns. They are definitely catering to younger generations, but kids?
Some adolescents have sex, I’m well aware, but I’m caught off guard when Ellen refers to them as “kids.” Kids have sex. Kids contract diseases. Kids have kids. Girls of all ages have left this room, their consciences bloated with emotions after hearing that they were suddenly providing for two. Meanwhile, I’ll walk out with thoughts as blithe as they were when I first climbed those stairs to this building. They leave with uncertainty clenched around their core; I leave unconcerned. They wonder if their mom and dad will hold them close and whisper reassuring words or if they’ll be kicked out and forced to fend for themselves. I’ll slide into my car, relaxed. I’ll return to my guaranteed home. The comfortable decor in the room now makes sense. It provides a web of support and understanding to catch girls who don’t receive a cushiony landing at home. I don’t have to worry about my landing. I’m not falling.
My whole life I’ve seen young women pushing strollers, buying diapers, or toting pregnant bellies. I’ve seen how society’s unfavorable eye pokes and prods into the personal lives of young mothers, offering criticism instead of empathy.
Yet, a faint voice inside murmurs that I’m the one who’s meddlesome. I’m just another intruder. Despite my innocent intentions, I’m tagging along into one of their few sanctuaries, this rare haven that rejects all judgment at the door. The girl sitting across the room and I can peer out the same window, but we won’t see the same thing. Ellen and I won’t see the same thing, either. No two people will. The window pane offers an unchanging view, but one’s individual experiences provide a unique lens through which we see the outside world. She might see a society riddled with intolerance; I’ll shrug and indifferently observe my hometown.
Ellen suddenly nudges my arm and my mind snaps back to the waiting room. She sets the magazine back on the table and says we can go. As we grab our bags, a middle-aged woman enters the room. “We’re ready to see you,” she says with a tender smile. My waiting room companion eases out of her chair and with one hand gently holds her lower abdomen, which was concealed when she sat. A considerable roundness is now visible. She clutches her purse and follows the woman. The smacking of her gum fades as she disappears down the hall.
Maryland Heights, MO