At 25 years old, Hillary Rodham received her law degree from Yale. She began work at the Yale Child Study Center and published her first scholarly article, “Children Under the Law” in the Harvard Educational Review. Her boyfriend of two years, Bill, proposed. She turned him down.
At 25 years old, I quit my fourth job in six months. I quit my job as a waitress at the Down Home Diner in Reading Terminal Market—the city’s tourist capital for stale cornbread—because I thought a) I Am Better Than This as well as b) Oh my God—What If I’m Not?
Josh allowed me take a cold shower in his West Philly apartment. It was suppose to help dampen the hot anxiety that crept over me. The water was supposed to cool down the imagined boils beneath my skin. I stood in the shade of the bathroom and let the water curve over my breasts and stomach and thighs—I stood in the shade of the bathroom, hidden from the heat afternoon sun, and told myself: nobody likes a child.
My anxiety had ruined what ought to have been a fine afternoon. Josh and I had been sitting in Clark Park after getting breakfast when he noticed I had stopped talking and was sitting unnaturally still. I couldn’t talk because I was stifling snot and squinting to catch eked out tears. I blamed the outburst on the summer weather. It was blistering July and a thunderstorm was brewing and The Democratic National Convention was in town—there were too many people in too small and too hot of a place—There’s no where to escape the scorching political climate. The earthly energies might have been out of whack. Mercury might have even been in retrograde. Who could say? I blamed the tears on the circumstance. I blamed my lightheadedness in the coffee shop that morning on waking and baking. “I’m not letting you get stoned before noon again,” he said. “You can’t handle it.”
“Dude. You can’t tell me what to do.”
“Dude. It’s my weed.”
I blamed the nausea on the Lunchables from the gas station across the street. We bought Lunchables there after we fucked. When we fucked, we fought to be on top because whoever was on top was closest to the fan in the window over his bed. When we bought our Lunchables, I got the personal pizza one: the one with cardboard crust, sugary tomato sauce packet, and rubber cheese. I let Josh eat my gluey pepperoni slices while we watched Marvel movies on his laptop.
Josh let me shower in his bathroom and I used his roommate’s strawberry shampoo to lather up my roots and scrub my armpits and crotch. I got out of the shower feeling 30% calmer and thought it was the best I could hope for. I reapplied my makeup—perfecting a dewy and natural pink lip and tearing up as the mascara wand approached my pupil. I wrapped Josh’s single yellowed-torn towel around my body and brushed my wet hair pin-straight. When I returned to his bedroom with unnaturally flush skin and unknotted hair, Josh was rolling a joint and watching the news on Youtube. Tomorrow, he was leaving to go to Disney World with his father and half-brothers, which meant tomorrow I didn’t know where I’d be. Since quitting my job, I’d been spending all my free time in his bedroom. He paid for most of my meals, and I told him I could pay for more if he wanted except that I couldn’t.
I sat on his bed—I must spend at least 40 hours a week there—and he saw my eyes were still watering. So he wrapped his arms around my toweled body, my bare feet dangled over his un-swept wooden floors where we once saw a mouse. My wet hair made his white shirt translucent. “So,” he seemed concerned with breaking me more—tepidly caressing my, apparently, fragile figurine body as he asked, “What do you want to do now?”
What do I want to do or what ought I do? I ought go home and feed my black cat. I ought to take out the trash. I ought to mop the floors of my house or apply to jobs or make something of my existence. I ought to do a lot. Instead, Josh left to go hang with friends while I let my hair dry on his pillow and waited for the nausea in my stomach to subside.
I waited on that bed until the afternoon turned to dusk. Once dusk turned to night I found myself getting stir crazy. So, I popped an SSRI and headed downstairs to The Queen of Sheeba—the bar directly below his apartment. The Queen of Sheba served its beer in plastic cups and played Rihanna’s “Work” on repeat. I’ve tried to convince my friends and strangers on stools next to mine that the song was about capitalism, but to no avail. There was also prominent sign in The Queen of Sheba that read: No Fussing. No Whining. No Back-Talking. It was my kind of place.
The 2016 Democratic National Convention was occurring just a few miles away at the Wells Fargo Center and it was all Philly could think or talk about. Even The Queen of Sheba had its five TVs set to CNN instead of ESPN for once. I drank my Yeungling while watching Sarah Silverman call out the Bernie or Busters for being ridiculous—the camera cut away to a sour Susan Sarandon. Eva Longoria was set to speak next. “You come here to watch this?” the boy two stools away from me asked. His top lip was covered in light blonde baby fuzz.
Any other answer being too complicated, I said, “Yeah.” His feet pointed toward me. I hedged my bets, “But it looks more like the Golden Globes than a political party’s convention, am I right?” He laughed. I laughed—not my normal bawdy and loud Jerseyan laugh. I laughed like a mother-fucking flute.
“So you’re into politics?” He asked.
“Uh-huh.” I finished my beer and then tilted my head down and looked up through mascara-ed lashes, “I love politics.” I twirled the empty bottle with the tip of my fingers, “Check CNN every morning when I wake up.” I winked, “I’m a total masochist like that.”
I heard his breath catch as he built up the courage to ask, “What are you drinking?”
“Well, I was drinking a Yuengling.”
“Can I get you another.”
“Actually,” I bit my bottom lip and cooed, “I’d love a shot of Jameson if you’re buying.”
We did shots of Jameson on his dollar while Corey Booker spoke. He didn’t know who Corey Booker was, so I tucked a strand of still damp hair behind my ear and told him who the fuck Corey Booker was and why he should fucking care or read a like a God damn book or something.
“It’s so rare I meet a girl my age that is interested in this stuff.”
“I know. I’m so weird like that.” Giggle. Giggle. He bought another round and I thought to myself as I sipped my Jameson: worth it.
We debated Elizabeth Warren’s speech. “She’s gotten vulgar,” he said. I rolled my eyes when he wasn’t looking and drank my whiskey. He leaned close to talk to me over the sound of Michelle Obama speaking so he could smell Josh’s roommate’s strawberry shampoo. A little bit of bile emerged in my throat. I called him a sexist pig for still backing Bernie at this stage in the game and still he continued to buy me drink after drink. He was wrapped around my finger. Josh messaged me at around 10pm asking where I was. I responded: at sheebs. full disclosure. boy bought me a drink I couldn’t wait for Josh to come back home and kiss my neck in front of this ass that I have only encouraged. I couldn’t wait for this dumb boy’s caterpillar-lips to drop, aghast, as he realized I used him for my own gain. I manipulated him. I gave him some conversation in exchange for a couple of drinks and how dare he expect anything more. No Fussing. No Whining. No Back-Talking.
I couldn’t wait for Josh to claim me—take me upstairs to his room.
“That boy loved you.”
I couldn’t wait for Josh to lay me down on his bed. I couldn’t wait to fight over the fan.
It occurred to me while I waited for the subway on a crowded Broad Street Line platform carrying a handle of whiskey and my large Herschel backpack—I could afford it when I had a job. It occurred to me while I was trying to get home to feed my black cat before she starved to death—I was occupied at Josh’s for days—working overtime, I guess. It occurred to me while I was standing next to a man whose suit cost more than my rent and a man whose back hairs took up more space than I did—It occurred to me moments after I realized both of my sneakers were untied.
I might be pregnant.
It would certainly explain a lot if I were—
The city was riled up by Clinton’s nomination. Men in suits leant away from men in sweat-stained wife-beaters and cut-offs. There were beer-gutted crewmembers in faded black t-shirts and broad-shouldered U Penn frat boys in brand new khakis. Words of protest were scrawled across cardboard signs that knocked against leather suitcases.
I did the math. My period was two weeks late. It was easy to lose track of the days—I was unemployed after all. My body stiffened. Before the thought, there was nothing. There was just a 25-year old girl waiting for a train.
Now: a child.
And nobody likes a child.
The subway toddled down the tracks towards us. When it arrived, the crowds of patriots rushed off and into the vacuum we commuters were sucked. Men bulldozed us onto the car and squeezed my spine into the far corner. In the wave, I made sure my backpack and handle of whiskey did not hit any delegates, revolutionaries, caterers, or volunteers with stamped hands. I did not want to bruise anyone who would be on TV later. The doors shut, packing us in, and the subway toddled into the tunnels beneath the searing city. There was a policeman at every door of the car. There was a protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask grabbing the butt of a plain-faced girlfriend through the back pocket of her skintight jeans while her body rubbed up against the pole of the car. Everyone on the train tried to claim space; tried to not fall over, topple over each other into a sweaty heap of heated Americans. The policemen stood in wide stances to avoid the jostle. I mimicked their wide stances, wondering if I had more to protect than just myself. I got off one stop before I was supposed to. It was too much. There were too many bodies. There were too many bodies in the world. There were too many bodies and mine is only one more and one more than my body is one body too many.
That night, I dreamt my uterus produced nothing but half-formed eyes—sclera, cornea, iris, and retina. It could not form a whole body. It could only conjure up eyes upon eyes upon eyes and still that feat seems incredible—there are so many parts to an eye, how could my body get them all right? The dream rocked like it was bathing in its own amniotic fluid.
When I came to, my legs were splayed wide: one foot on the floor and the other foot over the back of the futon. My ass was stuck to the sweaty suede. It was dark except for a dim blue glow. Floating, like a light at the end of the tunnel, the TV inquired: Are you there?
I had passed out watching the coverage of the DNC. The last thing I remembered was Bill talking about how he met Hillary—“She had thick blond hair, big glasses. Wore no makeup. And she exuded this strength of self-possession I found magnetic.” I remembered that. On the table, there was a viscous puddle of Ben and Jerry’s Karmel Sutra. I did not remember that. My hands reached under the waistband of Josh’s boxer briefs. I pulled gently at the pooch of my stomach. I let it go. It wasn’t so big: just a pooch. Nothing more.
I peeled off crumbs from the underside of my boob and thought: what an incredible era to be a woman. I imagined Clinton, gelatinous on a futon, wearing her lover’s underwear—comatose and alone. Fudge was caked to my chin. My black cat lounged on the windowsill, swatting fat city flies, and upon seeing her mother rise, her tail flicked up—saved from the middle of a mundane summer night! I stumbled towards the kitchen. The black cat followed. I hoped I would not see a cockroach—it’s not the cockroaches you see that are terrifying, it’s the cockroaches you don’t—the cockroaches that have been signified. It’s how one cockroach names a hundred others. My home had begun to smell of them. The decomposing roach corpses produced an odor like mothballs, rotting eggs, and sewage.
I placed my dishes in the sink. Rinsed them as best I could without turning on any lights—without having to see the filth I must live in. I dried my hands. I turned off the air conditioner. I had not forgotten about the $50 electric bill last month. My funds were drying up fast.
I headed for the bathroom, the black cat still at my heels, clawing up the back of my thighs. She mewled all the while for white tuna while I prayed for blood—pink blood, red blood, brown blood—sienna-crusted slime. I flicked on the bathroom light, sterilizing the curdled hour. I dropped Josh’s boxer briefs to the yellowed tiles and sat, head in my palms resting on my forearms resting on my knees. The black cat watched me with her bright, wide black cat eyes.
It was pale yellow. I cursed under my breath and flushed away my disappointment. I drank directly from the faucet. I held my hair behind my head like a school kid. I drank until my mouth no longer felt like cotton. I drank and then turned off the lights, allowing the house to return to its back-of-the-cupboard seclusion. I walked to my cramped bedroom and poured myself down on my twin mattress.
I cradled against the space heater—set to the fan setting—at the edge of my bed. I could only feel the breeze from three inches away. The black cat assumed her usual position, situated just outside the door. She’d wait for the hours to pass until it was time for me to rise and feed her again. She’d wait for me to arise, fruitful and maternal.
I slept cradling that space heater, doing what it was not designed to do, into the afternoon.
Hillary Rodham Clinton once said in an interview:
“Many years ago, when I was pregnant, I was in a law firm. I was the only female partner, and they’d never had a female partner and certainly not a pregnant female partner. And they literally just were not sure what to do with me. I would walk down the corridor getting more and more pregnant, and the men in the firm would like look away, never saying a word. And I just kind of thought, ‘I’m just going to wait to see if anybody says anything to me about the fact that I’m going to have a baby,’ and nobody ever did.”
Late in the afternoon—after I called my parents from my bed and assured them I had applied to a few office assistant jobs—I went to the CVS on Passyunk, near the Italian Market. The different brands of Home Pregnancy Tests took up four shelves. The cheapest option was $11.99 for two. I didn’t particularly want to go store-brand on this particular item, but—I walked to the greeting card aisle to think about my options. I looked at the Happy Birthdays, the Happy Anniversaries, and the Sorry for Your Losses. I looked at all of the cards—cards that summed up a life with an inspirational quote or a bad joke or a picture of a happy dancing Snoopy—I walked back to the tests—pink and blue with the outlines of mothers gracefully ribboned across them—I felt like I ought to splurge—this should only be a once in a while purchase after all. But, it also seemed weird to spend so much money on something I was ultimately going to piss on.
My phone buzzed in my back pocket. It was Josh. I tried to ignore the timing.
I answered, “How’s Florida?”
“Hot. Also, did you know that children are exhausting?”
I marveled at a ‘family-size’ pack of pregnancy tests situated on the top shelf. A Whole Month’s Supply, the packaging advertised. One-a-day. Maybe the 30-pack was a good investment. I checked for an expiration date while I told Josh, “Kids are volatile enough without pushing them outside of their comfort zone. That was your first mistake.”
“Dude. These kids. They’re crying. They want to sit on my shoulders. They don’t want to sit on my shoulders. They want a toy. They don’t want the toy they said they wanted not two seconds ago. They want to know why they can’t watch TV in the hotel room. Once they’re in the room, watching TV, they want to get out. It’s exhausting.”
I grabbed a lavender two-pack because I liked the color. “Those kids sound like cats.”
“This is not a vacation at all.”
“Vacations with kids aren’t vacations. You’re basically spending hundreds of dollars to worry more than usual about keeping some half-formed body alive and happy.”
“Well, you’ve convinced me. I’m never having children.”
About a month before, Josh and I stopped to get him cigarettes at a convenience store on our way to the movies. On our way out, a group of guys, hanging around a beat up red sports car, shouted at him, “Is that your woman?”
Josh stuttered, “What?”
“Is that your woman?”
Josh looked at me and then at them. He said hesitantly, “Yeah?”
A chorus of damns and yeah boys rang out. They gave him high-fives. I swooped in and slapped a few hands of my own. Josh tore me away as the men started to make whooping noises. He waited until we were around the corner and out of earshot to say, “I’m so sorry.”
“Hey. Josh.” I made my voice real deep and gruff, “Is that your woman?”
“I didn’t know what to say.”
I returned to my normal register, “That wasn’t so bad. I’ve had worse. But I have do a question for you,” my voice dropped down again. “Am I your woman?”
“Oh my God. Stop that.”
“I’ve never been someone’s woman before.”
“Dude. They couldn’t believe you were with me.” A black cat—they had populated the neighborhood—crossed our paths, “You don’t want to be my woman.”
The last day of the DNC, Chelsea Clinton was on the stage talking about growing up with Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose likeness was once used for a novelty nutcracker, as a mother. “She was always, always there for me… Countless Saturdays finding shapes in the clouds, making up stories about what we would do if we ever met a triceratops.” I closed the door to my room leaving the black cat stranded in the hall. She mewled. I shut the blinds. I opened the blinds. I wondered if this was the last moment I’d ever be alone. Twenty-four hours after buying it, I took the test out of the box. I peeled back the wrapper. It crinkled. I unfolded the instructions tucked in the bottom of the box. I read the instructions. Once. Twice. Three times. I wanted to get this right. If I got nothing else right I would get this right.
“That feeling of being valued and loved, that’s what my mom wants for every child. It is the calling of her life… That I never had to worry about food on the table… That I never had to worry about a safe neighborhood to play in.” Josh could have entered the Lutheran Seminary, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to or he didn’t think he ought to—he had his reasons. He would have made a great minister even though he thought a minister shouldn’t have any doubts. A minister shouldn’t be fallible. A mother should not be fallible. He could have entered the Lutheran Seminary and in that moment I wished he had. We could have lived in one of those big Mock Tudor houses near U Penn with the wrap around porches and huge windows. Josh kept talking about how much he wanted a dog, but he’s never home enough to take care of it. Our Mock Tudor house would have a yard big enough for a dog, though, and I’d take it for walks. I’d feed it. I’d play with it. The dog would get along with my black cat. It would have worked. It all could have worked and she—
I knew it would be a she. Something in me told me—if this were real, it would be a she. She would join Josh’s stepbrothers in Disney World and she would have had a crush on Goofy, like I did when I was young. She’d be too smart for her own good. She’d want to discuss ethics at the dinner table. She’d be named Francesca, but we’d call her Frankie for short. She’d play t-ball with the boys and she’d scrape her knees and not give a single flying fuck. She would be the type of girl who doesn’t cover her mouth when she burps. She’d enjoy her time-outs because it gives her, as she says, space in her day to think about dragons. I would love her more than—
“And, as her daughter, I’ve had a special window into how she serves. I’ve seen her holding the hands of mothers, worried about how they’ll feed their kids, worried about how they’ll get them the healthcare they need.” I walked to the bathroom and imagined a studio apartment—a shoebox—with a crib in the kitchen. I imagined my black cat licking baby food off of the tray on Frankie’s high chair while she screams, snot running into her own mouth. I imagined I’d have a phone with a cord that would wrap around my body as I try to make grill cheese and call my mother for advice on how to get Frankie to stop fussing long enough to eat. My hair would be tied up in a bandana and the baby weight would still be heavy on my hips. I’d be wearing an apron—an apron!
Fuck aprons, I thought. I burnt a bagel in the oven the other morning while I was trying to toast it using the broiler. I opened the door to the bathroom. I closed the door to the bathroom. The black cat mewled—she was left again outside. I pissed on the test. I put it on the counter. I opened the door. The black cat had not yet stopped mewling—the mewling getting more and more fervent—why was I avoiding her suddenly? I walked around the empty house, my black cat aggressively following the heels of my feet and swiping every so often with her claws out. I stood out back in the garden with the dying plants and the gate with the broken lock. I went back inside and drank a glass of lukewarm tap water. I fed the black cat the Fancy Feast I bought in bulk to get her to shut up. I did the dishes. I broke a wine glass by accident. I picked the chards out of the drain and thought about how a poetry teacher once admonished me when I used the word “chards” because it indicated I was trying too hard to be a poet when really I was just a—I checked CNN. I checked my phone for new messages. I checked to see if anything had changed in the last five minutes. I stood outside in the garden, again, with the dying plants and the broken gate and the rusted over grill that the last tenant left and thought It’d make a great story if today was the day I discovered you. I went inside. I stared at the grout in the kitchen. I wondered if I should clean it. I wondered how one cleans grout. I put my hands on my stomach. I was sure enough time had passed and so I walked back up the stairs. I opened the door to the bathroom.
This is the last moment before—I thought
I entered the bathroom and closed my eyes as I moved close enough to the sink to see—I opened my eyes when I thought I was ready which took a few seconds longer than I care to admit. I opened my eyes and found all parts—sclera, cornea, iris, and retina—working together to bring into focus—I looked at the test on the bathroom sink. I picked it up. I studied it. I compared the face of the test with the picture in the pamphlet.
There was a single line.
There was a single line—a negative. A minus. Not addition, but subtraction. There was nothing, less than nothing.
There was no child.
There was just pale-yellow piss and hot anxiety. There was nothing. There was still no blood, but there was also no child. There was still nausea and tears, but there was no child. There was no reason for anybody to stay. There was no reason for anybody to go. It would have been so convenient: a child. It would have been convenient. The black cat mewled and mewled, feeling still abandoned as she wrapped herself around my feet and mewled some more, wanting even more tuna. Haven’t you had enough of yourself? I thought. Don’t you want something more than spending your days swatting fat city flies and begging for tuna?
I sat on the toilet and I cried.
There was nothing.
That night, I ordered cheap sushi using my credit card. I drank my whiskey straight because—I watched Hillary Rodham Clinton, a woman who once turned down the future President of the United State’s marriage proposal, accept her nomination, “Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come. Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. Happy for boys and men, too—because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”
I was alone, but I was limitless—Hillary had just told me so, showed me so. I was limitless. I could be anything I wanted to be. The sky was the only thing keeping me where I was.
But more importantly, I was alone.
There was no longer an easy answer to the question: what do I do now? There was just the sky and myself—and the sky would go on forever and I—
I was alone.
Amanda Claire Buckley is a writer (et. al.) who currently lives in Inwood, Manhattan and is working to obtain her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College. Previously, she’s been awarded the 2015 National Storytelling Networks’s Next Generation Scholarship and has had her playwrighting work appear in the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, Italy’s CrisisArt Festival, and DC’s Fringe Festival. www.amandaclairebuckley.com // @aclairebuckley