Rx by Lauren Mickey
1) Ortho Tri-Cyclen
You take this because you want to avoid pregnancy. You want your womb to remain unoccupied, empty. You want to remain as alone as possible. You are 17 and you are not prepared for motherhood. You recently graduated from high school, and you are trying to sort out what type of person you will become.
The man you are sleeping with is older than you, more experienced. You don’t feel inadequate with him, necessarily, just overtly nervous and surprisingly shy. You wonder how long it will take before you feel sexy or liberated or like a real adult woman. You never tell this man that, before him, you were a virgin. You didn’t bleed, there was no excessive amount of pain, and so it felt unnecessary to admit your virginity to him. You wonder about the difference between omission and lie. You wonder if this matters—this lie.
The man you’re sleeping with has stopped offering to wear a condom and you’re too passive to ask him to. He likes the way you feel when he’s inside of you, bare, and you like the way he likes it. He is unwilling to consider protection, and so you must take this upon yourself.
You wanted him for so long before you had him, but now you don’t know what to do with him. As long as he enjoys the sex, he won’t want to leave you. You wonder what you mean to him—the ways in which you might be more than just a body. And you wonder what he means to you—the ways in which he might be more than just a game. With him, you feel bored and empty, but you also feel contented and exposed. Maybe this is the only way you know how to get from naïve to experienced.
So, you take yourself to Planned Parenthood and you acquire some almost-free birth control pills. You sit in the waiting room and imagine everyone else’s circumstances. You wonder if an abortion is being performed in one of the back rooms. You feel like the only one who came here by herself, but you know that that’s probably not true. When it’s your turn, a woman wearing scrubs leads you into a small, white room and explains that if you happen to be pregnant, you can’t get on the pill. You pee in a cup. You feel anxious. The test shows that you are not pregnant. You feel less anxious.
The woman asks you a series of questions: How many sexual partners have you had in your lifetime? Are you currently sexually active? Do you feel like the sex you’re currently having is consensual? Have you ever been on the pill before? Have you ever been diagnosed with any STDs or STIs before? Have you ever been pregnant before?
She leads you into an examination room where you take off your clothes and put on a paper gown. A different woman, one with icy hands and frizzy hair, eases her fingers into your vagina and pushes down on your lower abdomen. She tells you to relax, but you are tense and cold and cringing. She tells you that everything feels fine, that you are fine to get on the pill.
You put on your clothes and return to the front desk and some girl, only a few years older than you, hands you 12 months’ worth of Ortho Tri-Cyclen. You keep the pills in your glove box so that your mom doesn’t know.
Eventually, though, she will know. She will find out, because mothers always find out, and she will convey to you her disappointment, her sadness, her heartbreak. She will reiterate to you ideas of abstention and the great dangers of premarital sex. She will ask you where your morals have gone, why you think it’s okay to sin in this way. In losing your virginity, you tried to set fire to the way she raised you, tried to convince yourself that purity is just a myth.
2) Plan B
You take this only once, the morning after you blacked out and vaguely remember something like a rape.
You remember arriving at the party, but you don’t remember how you got back home. You remember drinking, but not how much you drank. You remember being in a bedroom with a co-worker, but you don’t remember entering that bedroom. You remember the room spinning and you remember him coming on your stomach, but you don’t remember where else he came. You remember crawling on the ground, struggling to put your clothes back on, but you don’t remember taking them off. You remember rushing into the bathroom, where you cried and threw up, but you don’t remember you friends coming to check on you. You remember you’ll have to see your co-worker again in a couple of days.
You had missed a few days of the pill, so this calls for urgency. You go to the Walgreens by your house and ask the pharmacist for Plan B. You even find a coupon online, which saves you $5. This makes you feel oddly adult. The pharmacist stares at you silently then asks for your ID.
The pharmacist asks you a series of questions: Are you 18 years of age? Have you ever taken Plan B before? Are you aware of the risks and side effects? For this to be its most effective, you should take it as soon after sexual intercourse as possible… Do you have any questions for me? You are unsure if this man is judging you or not. You think he probably is.
You slide your card, paying $40. You take the pill, wondering if it will destroy a conglomerate of cells, or a fertilized egg, or the very beginning of a life. Whenever your mom sees commercials for Plan B, she calls it “the abortion pill.” You don’t see it that way, though, and what else would she have had you do?
You work with this man for two more months, and then you quit your job. You quit because you are tired of looking at him and getting nauseous. You are tired of looking at him and feeling endangered. You are tired of looking at him and asking yourself a series of questions: If you feel responsible for it, was it actually a rape? Why, with men, do you somehow lose your voice and your will? How could you have let yourself become too intoxicated to resist? How will you tell your mother about this, this thing that feels so illegitimate—too blurry to warrant pity?
You take this because it hurts to pee. You’ve been avoiding drinking too much water, too much anything. You’ve been avoiding going to the bathroom. You’ve been avoiding bending all the way over in order to check things out. You think you’ve felt this sensation before—this very specific burn.
Your mom takes you to urgent care late one night and you pee in a cup and the doctor tells you that the results will take a little time. You convince the doctor that you know what this is, and that you don’t want to wait to find out what you already know. He writes you a prescription for Cipro, to treat the bladder infection.
You take the Cipro diligently for over a week. Peeing burns even more than it did before, and looking between your legs is even scarier than it was before.
You take this because you are barely able to walk. The burn between your legs becomes unbearable, but still, you avoid looking. You ask your mom to drive you to urgent care again, not because you want her to, but because you are unable to do this yourself.
A doctor asks you a series of questions: What are your symptoms? How long has this been going on? It’s not a UTI, not a yeast infection? Are you in much pain? Have you ever been sexually active? How many sexual partners have you had? (Here, you pause. Your mom only knows about the first guy, but not the thing at the party, and so you tell the doctor, “just one.”)
The doctor asks you to lay back and spread your legs and this paper gown, too, is noisy and your fingers and toes go cold. She examines you, briefly, and says, “Oh, honey, I’ve seen this a thousand times before. I’ll do a swab and have it tested, but I already know—I know that this is a herpes outbreak.”
Your mom is staring at you and she is crying. This makes you cry. She doesn’t say anything—she doesn’t know what to say, probably. She stays silent, just looking at you. You wonder if she thinks god is punishing you. You wonder if she thinks you deserve this. This makes you cry even more. You are finding it difficult to breathe. You are failing at trying to stay calm.
You are still crying while the doctor talks, “I’m going to write you a prescription for Aciclovir, and I want you to take it as directed. It might take a week, two weeks, but it will clear up the sores. I want you to know—I need to tell you that this isn’t curable, it won’t go away.” She goes on and on and your mom is standing next to you crying and then she is trying to hold you, but you don’t want to be held and you don’t want to know any of this and you don’t want to be this version of yourself.
At home, you lock yourself in your bathroom. You take one of the pills. You take off all your clothes. You see yourself standing there, naked, and you want to look away, but you can’t. You wonder if it’s obvious that you’re different now, marked, or something. You want to fill up the bathtub and drown yourself, but you don’t because the water against the open sores would hurt. You sit on the edge of the tub and spread your legs. You try holding your breath. You try spreading your labia, but the sores on either side are stuck to each other. You force them apart and you feel like you are ripping yourself open. You see the sores, like wounds, red and open and disgusting. You think that you are dirty and you always will be.
You wash your hands, burn your skin under the hot water. You wonder if anything will ever hurt worse than these sores. You feel them inside of you. There are spasms of pain deep inside of your vagina. You wonder if your rapist gave this to you, but you let that thought dissipate. You wish you were still a virgin.
You are crying when you call the man you lost your virginity to. This is the first time you’ve talked in months. You tell him you’ve just been diagnosed with genital herpes, and you’re yelling, and you ask him if he knew.
No. Fuck. No. I swear to God. I swear. I didn’t know. He sounds insincere, maybe. You don’t believe him. Not believing him allows you to continue being the victim.
You resist the urge to learn about this version of your body, but then you can’t. You learn that you could give it to anyone you have sex with. You learn that you could give it to your baby during childbirth. You learn that when you’re not having an outbreak, the virus is lying dormant in the lower portion of your spine.
You think your body has turned ominous, cruel. You’re angry with your body for the way it’s betrayed you, made you into something gaping and sensitive and ridden. Your body is just like any of the men you’ve ever known.
Lauren Mickey is a human from San Diego, currently living outside of Phoenix, Arizona. She is currently studying Creative Writing at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared in Lux Undergraduate Creative Review, The Normal Noise, and online at Hayden's Ferry Review's blog. She is a recent winner of a Swarthout Award in Writing. She is trying her best.