Body Politic

I wish I could say that getting an IUD in the waning days of the Obama administration was an act of political resistance. It wasn’t. My doctor had been suggesting one for a while so the timing was purely coincidental. However, it seemed fitting that I close up shop, reproductively speaking, in the days before Donald Trump’s inauguration.

It was also the day of Trump’s first press conference as president-elect. Before my appointment, I sat down in front of the television to watch, not on the sofa where I might have been comfortable but perched on the edge of an arm chair, ready to pounce, or run. We hadn’t seen him in a while—at least I hadn’t. It had been months since his last press conference; as far as I was concerned, Obama would always be president. But denial has its limits, and now, seeing him again, all the emotions came flooding back, straight into my body. My shoulders were up around my ears, my solar plexus was tight. His every word and gesture hit me like a slap in the face. I paced the room, scaring the cat, gripping my coffee cup so tightly my fingers ached.

I listened to the end of the press conference on the radio, shouting into my empty car—a first—and getting off at the wrong exit. While I was turning around, I passed a pickup truck with not one but two Make America Great Again! bumper stickers. Even the soothing commentary of NPR couldn’t calm me down: By the time I got to the doctor, the sweet nurse who took my blood pressure told me it was slightly elevated. Then I lay back and put my feet in the stirrups because, hey, it seemed like a good day to have something shoved up my uterus.

*

An IUD, or intrauterine device, is a disruptive force, preventing pregnancy by interfering with the mechanism that allows an egg to fertilize or an embryo to implant. Some believe the concept of the IUD originated with nomadic travelers who realized they could prevent a camel from becoming pregnant during long treks by placing stones inside her uterus.

Anger is also a disruptive force, lying deep inside my body, heavy as a stone.

*

“I’m surprised at how physical it was,” I say to anyone who will listen. I’m talking about election night, which I’d spent lying on the floor in a fetal position, nauseous and shivering like I had the flu. Before the final results came in, I rummaged through my bathroom cabinet looking for a sleeping pill and, when I found none, chugged Nyquil instead; I would have knocked myself out with a sledgehammer if I had one. In the morning, I updated my Facebook status with one word—“shattered”—and it felt like the truest thing I had ever written. I was broken, fractured, boneless. I felt like I had swallowed glass.

The next day I walked around town, hiding behind dark glasses. Everyone felt like an enemy, the fiftyish white guy pumping gas, the smiling cashier who asked “How ya doin’?” When I found someone who looked as gutted as I did, we reached for each other and went over it again, like it was a bad accident we were still struggling to understand. How could this have happened? What are we going to do now?

“I kept thinking someone would stop him,” I tell my husband when he comes home. I’m stomping around the kitchen waving a wooden spoon. “The Republicans, Paul Ryan, The New York Times. But nobody did. Nobody stopped him.”

I go deep inside what conservative pundits tell me is a “bubble”—public radio, David Remnick, Charles Blow, The Atlantic. On Facebook, I join groups like “Donald Trump is Insane” and “Truth, Resistance and Opposition.” I stay away from television where I might see a Trump supporter. At night, I dream about Van Jones.

*

Eight days before the election, I saw a Trump/Pence sign on the road leading to my kids’ elementary school. I drove through the drop-off circle, said goodbye to my kids, then pulled over and ripped the sign out of the ground.

I got back into my car, the bent and broken sign in the back seat, and drove home gripping the steering wheel, pussy grabber thrumming in my head. I was sweating, my heart was pounding; I had almost slipped in the mud on my way back to the car and in the act of righting myself had tweaked something in my back.

News of what I had done spread across Facebook (a friend sent me the screenshots), which wasn’t surprising since I’d made no attempt to hide what I’d done. Many decried my act of vandalism (“I thought only high school kids did stuff like that!”) and expressed concern for my kids (“What kind of example is she setting?”). One guy said I’d learn my lesson come Election Day. There was worse stuff, too, but I deleted the thread because I still had to live in this town. Only one woman came to my defense: “Maybe seeing the Trump sign was just such a trigger for her, she couldn’t help herself.”

Trigger. That was it. Whatever had propelled me out of the car that day felt like a trigger, a trip wire, something involuntary and uncontrollable, as if the part of me that had simmered for months had come rushing to the surface like a geyser. I’d been fired up politically before, but not like this. I wouldn’t have torn a Romney sign out of the ground, not even a Bush one—and I really hated Bush. No, Trump was different. He angered me, yes, but he also scared me.

*

If I say I’d never met a Republican before I went to college, would you even believe me?

I was raised in New York, the daughter of parents who worked in the arts and whose liberalism was unquestioned. A mixed-faith family, our true religion was The New York Times, Broadway musicals, public school, bagels and lox. I grew up in resistance: we were anti-Reagan, anti-Bush (the first one), and so was everyone we knew. When the first candidate I voted for myself—Bill Clinton—won, I didn’t know such a thing was possible. For us, being liberal was more than a political stance, it was a form of ethics, the basis of our moral code.

Like most people, I didn’t know I’d grown up in a bubble until I left. In college, for the first time in my life, I met people who didn’t think like me. They were from the South, from military families; they were religious. Their parents owned businesses and worked on Wall Street and worried about the tax code. I found it impossible to defend my political beliefs to people who disagreed with me and when I tried, the arguments were brutal. The personal is political, yes, but never more so than when you’re in college.

I left with a broader understanding of the political forces in American society. I learned to tread carefully, to not assume everyone felt the same way I did. I found a way to bury my righteous anger so I didn’t feel raw all the time and every challenge didn’t leave as deep a bruise.

*

In the days and weeks after the election, a narrative began to emerge: white men had turned the election for Trump. They were pissed, really pissed. They were tired of what they called identity politics. They wanted their country back. They wanted the jobs back that made them men.

“What the fuck are they talking about?” I say to my husband. “Since when have white men not had everything?” My hands are balled into fists. Is this how angry they were, I wonder? As angry as I am now? My rage feels powerful enough to blow the doors off this place, maybe even topple governments.

*

If I didn’t know Republicans until I got to college, I also didn’t know guys. And college was full of them. Guys with money and muscles, guys who wore blazers and went sailing on Daddy’s boat. They were nothing like the damaged, quivery boys I knew in high school who smoked joints and played guitar. In high school, the girls were in charge; we let our boyfriends know when and where we would be losing our virginity and told each other all about it afterward. We were so over them, we said, rolling our eyes in their direction.

A few weeks after I arrived on campus freshman year, I met a guy who lived on my hall. He was older, handsome, intriguing behind a flap of light brown hair. He asked me out, which meant we spent a couple of nights making out in his dorm room. We talked about doing more, but I said I wasn’t ready, by which I meant I didn’t want to.

Our whole “relationship” lasted about two weeks and for most of that time, we talked about when we would “finally” have sex. One night, after another long conversation, I gave in. I didn’t really want to, but I also still wanted him to like me and it felt like the only way to get the conversation to end. As it was happening, I can remember thinking to myself “When this is over, I will never talk to him again.”

And I didn’t. At first he was confused and sad; to him, what had happened was the start of something special. Then he got mad, like what the fuck did I want anyway? I understood why he was confused, but I couldn’t explain why I felt the way I did. So I stayed quiet because it was the only way I knew to make him go away. And after a while, he did. We’d pass each other in the hall and he’d glare at me until finally he ignored me, too. On the outside, you’d never know, but inside I felt like a slut, I felt ashamed and embarrassed and used. I never had a one-night stand again.

Even now, twenty-five years later, I feel shame when I think about that night. Not because I had sex with him but because I didn’t know how to say no or stop or get the fuck out. And because I still don’t know how to untangle what he did to me from what I allowed to happen. I had sex with him because I didn’t want to cause a scene. Whose fault was that?

*

“Is this what you’re going to be like now?” my son Sam asks me over breakfast. I’m shouting into my phone, dictating thoughts for a letter I’m writing in response to some dumbass telling us all to grow a pair in my local paper. Oliver leans over the front page and scribbles over Trump’s face with a Sharpie.

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, it is. This is your mother in resistance.”

I know I should protect them from my anger, but I can’t. Let them see the world we’ve made—it belongs to them now.

But there’s something else. I want them to be angry—not about Trump necessarily, although they are still too young to separate their anger from mine—but about something. Maybe if I show them how to face their anger, to coax the darkness up to the surface and let it see the light, I will be teaching them something about resistance, something it took me a long time to learn.

*

Back at the doctor’s office, I take deep cleansing breaths as the doctor fiddles with something behind a paper sheet. I close my eyes and imagine myself part of the wave of women getting IUDs in the days before Trump takes office, worried about future access to birth control and safe and legal abortion. For me, this is not the case: At 43, I’m fairly certain I will never have an unwanted pregnancy again.

The doctor opens me up with a speculum and fishes the tiny T-shaped device inside. It hurts, not a lot but enough to make me take notice, a strange twinge in some strangely deep part of me, a place I own but cannot see. “Are you okay?” she asks and I say “Yes,” because I have no choice but to bear it. It will be over soon.

And then it is. I put my clothes back on and think about the things my body has carried: stones of anger, sadness, children, rage. Things get placed inside us and we carry them until they are expelled. Some get ripped out and taken; others we give away.

My womb is quiet now, as still as an underwater cavern. Inside, my IUD clings like an ice axe to the downy lining of my uterus. What else floats there in the dark, and what will it bring with it to the surface when it rises?

 


Daisy Florin has had essays at Full Grown People, Motherwell, Brain, Child, Under the Gum Tree, Kveller, among other places. Her essay “Crash” was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2016. You can read more at www.daisyflorin.com.

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