I was reading in the waiting room when the girl burst through the double doors of the women’s health clinic and strode past me. Peering over the pages of my book, I covertly took in her black-on-black scrubs, her pink and green sneakers, the stars tattooing her elbows, her magenta hair with tangled roots growing out in a mousy brown. She took the seat three down from mine, and from my peripheral vision I watched how her face -- still softened in a way that was more girl than woman -- roiled with an anger belying her years and her lower lip, fish-hooked with rings, trembled.
I was wondering why she was there, wondering what high school altercation had upset her to such an extent, when the clinic’s double doors opened and a silver-haired woman supporting a woman much older than she started hobbling through.
Again, I was caught off-guard by their appearance. Ninety percent of the women in that clinic were expecting; the other ten percent had newborns tucked into carseats, which they rocked with their foot while flicking through magazines. Why were these women, obviously beyond child-bearing age, here?
My question was answered soon enough. Lowering the elderly woman into a chair, the one with the silver hair scraped back in a long red ponytail walked over to the girl in the black scrubs and said, “Now he’s coming up here. You’ve just gotta remain calm. Let him talk himself out.”
By this point I had read the same paragraph in my book four times. Sliding my thumb between the pages, I turned toward the double door to see who was coming through it.
When the boy came swaggering into that pastel health clinic with the burbling fountain, low lighting, and framed photographs of naked babies gift-wrapped in satin ribbon, I never knew a person could look so out of place. He was as young as the girl with the tattooed elbows and black scrubs, but his freckled face was as sharp as a felon’s. Even the way he walked across that room was a challenge to everyone in it. Throwing himself into the seat only two down from mine, he leaned in close to the girl in the black scrubs and hissed something that I couldn’t hear. A majority of their conversation was lost to me, but there was no way I could have missed the tone of their exchange. With every word spewed from that freckled boy’s mouth, my heart pounded harder and the women sitting around me sat up straighter, covering their infants or their extended stomachs with a protective hand.
“Do you want me to get back with my ex?” the boy snarled. “Is that really what you want?”
I watched the girl shake her magenta hair and her fish-hooked lip tremble.
As the heat of their exchange radiated throughout the entire waiting room, the receptionist with the blond pageboy glanced between the two of them with wide blue eyes that appeared as alarmed as my own felt.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the girl in the black scrubs was called back.
“Do you want me to go with you?” the boy asked, confirming that she was expecting and he was indeed the father.
The girl nodded and they stood. I watched them walk over to the reception desk, then I glanced over at the silver-haired woman with the red ponytail. The elderly woman, who I assumed was the girl’s grandmother, was probably hard of hearing and was exempt from the verbal abuse of that exchange. The other woman, though, who so closely resemble the girl in the black scrubs that she had to be her mother, had no excuse at all. I found myself literally biting my tongue as I wanted to ream her for allowing her daughter to be with such an abusive boy who would surely grow into a bigger, stronger, more abusive man.
I looked at the reception desk again. The boy and the girl were still there. I watched how the girl reached out and wrapped her fingers possessively around the boy’s lean waist. From that simple show of affection after he had berated her in such a publicly humiliating way, I knew this girl would do anything within her power to keep that boy by her side. And what if the time came when she had to choose between this boy and her child? In that simple caress, in that desperate grasping gesture, I could imagine not only her future but that of the child’s still inside her womb. This more than anything was why I knew I could not remain silent.
As the girl was just going through some preliminary testing before her main exam, the boy was sent back to the waiting room. He strutted across the tiled floor while rolling his eyes and muttering under his breath like he had just gone through an ordeal while he was the sole perpetrator of it. This infuriated me to the point I could feel heat climbing up my neck and settling in my cheeks. He was walking past my chair when I looked up at him and said, “You shouldn’t talk to her like that.”
The boy stopped so abruptly it was as if his body had struck a wall. Staring down at me with green eyes as hard as granite, he said, “What did you say?”
I wouldn’t even allow myself to blink. “You shouldn’t talk to her like that.”
“Why don’t you mind your own &%$#9 business!” he roared along with a slew of words so riddled with curses the majority of them I could not understand.
I felt like telling him if he demeaned his girlfriend in such a public setting, he was making it all of our business. The glittering rage in his eyes, though, forced me to swallow my words.
The boy sat down again, still only two seats away from me.
Call me back, I thought while staring at the receptionist with the blond pageboy. Just call me back.
When the nurse finally came out and called my name, the anger I felt toward that foul-mouthed boy was replaced with fear.
Now he knew my name. If he wanted, he could easily get a hold of the information card we have to fill out and set in a wire basket on the reception desk. I’m sure I was the only Jolina in that basket.
The nurse led me back to a room and took my blood pressure. I warned her that it might be higher than normal, for my heart was still pounding in my ears, but amazingly enough it was fine.
While waiting for the midwife to come in after the nurse left, I remembered my first visit to the women’s health clinic. They had given me a questionnaire to fill out. It had asked if my partner ever abused me, had ever threatened to hurt myself or my loved ones, even my pets, in attempt to bend me to his will. It asked if he had ever cursed at me or used demeaning language.
I remembered how I had laughed while filling out that questionnaire. It was so fully removed from my husband’s and my relationship that I had no basis to understand it, no experiences to compare it to.
But sitting in that antiseptic room while knowing the girl with the magenta hair and star tattoos was probably sitting in the one next to it, I didn’t laugh. I imagined they were handing her that same questionnaire right then, and I prayed no one else was with her while she filled it out; that somehow she would find the strength to tell the truth so her child could be brought into a non-abusive world.
The midwife came in wearing a white lab coat and a smile. “How are we doing today, Mama?” she asked.
I shut the book I could not focus on and smiled in return. “Fine,” I said, hoping that in the room next door the girl with the star tattoos was being far more honest than I.
Now the question we need to ask ourselves is how to reach out to girls such as this one. How do we tell them, show them, that they deserve more?