When I was nineteen years old, I invited a couple of friends from college to stay at my house in New Jersey during winter break so that we could spend New Year’s Eve in New York City. My boyfriend came up from Baltimore, and my other friends drove together from the Twin Cities. My mom and her fiance were away for the night at some corny New Year’s dance for old people (note: at the time she was approximately the same age that I am now, gah), and after partying in the city, we took a bus back to New Jersey. Then a bunch of friends from high school came back to my house, and we stayed up all night and got ridiculously wasted. I, of course, had no idea that I was pregnant.
The next day my boyfriend and my college friends and I decided to go back to the city because my mom had returned home, and there was nothing to do in the New Jersey suburbs anyway. We wound up going to the Museum of Modern Art to see the Egon Schiele exhibit, which was slated to close in a couple of days. While we walked through the exhibit I suddenly got the feeling that something was very, very wrong in my pants. It felt like I got my period, except it wasn’t like a normal period, and in the couple of minutes that it took me to find a bathroom there was already blood dripping down to my knees. Of course, the tampon vending machine was out of order, as it always is, but luckily some mom-ish tourists came into the bathroom and found me crying with blood all over my pants. They fished some super-sized feminine products out of their super-sized mom purses for me, and I wrapped my winter coat tightly around my waist and went back out to find my friends. We left the museum to go buy more supplies at the drug store, as I apologized awkwardly to my guy friends for whatever was happening with my body. I couldn’t stop crying.
I didn’t have a credit card at that time, and I didn’t have a lot of cash with me, so my friend Jonathan loaned me fifty bucks so that I could buy a new pair of jeans at the Gap. We stopped at a McDonalds on Fifth Ave so that I could change in the bathroom and clean up some more, and the guys got burgers while I sat in the stall unable to stop crying. Then we walked back to the Port Authority, and got a bus back to New Jersey. By the time we got home an hour later, I had bled all over those jeans, too.
The cramping was like nothing I had ever experienced, and I just kept bleeding, thick clots, through tampons and pads. I had always had a predictable, regular period and I honestly had no idea what was happening. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I was not menstruating – I was having my first miscarriage in the Museum of Modern Art. I was just too stupid to know it.
I was heading out of the country in a few days for a study abroad program in Ireland, and my boyfriend would be heading back to Baltimore the next day. So of course, what my idiotic brain told me was that I needed to sleep with him that night no matter what before he left. I couldn’t imagine saying goodbye otherwise. So, a few hours after we got home from New York I decided to go to bed with my boyfriend in the guest room, with my college friends in the room next door, and my mom sleeping upstairs. It was painful and disgusting and the room looked like a crime scene when it was over. There was blood everywhere I looked, and the most fucked up part about it was that I couldn’t even cry about it anymore. I just pulled the sheets and blankets off the bed and brought them to the washing machine afterwards. I told myself, this is no fucking big deal.
In the morning my mom went to do laundry and found the pink sheets in the dryer. Why did you wash the guest room sheets in the middle of the night, she asked. I don’t know, I said. Because I’m ashamed of myself, I should have screamed. Because I’m gross and I’m terrible and I’m having a miscarriage and I had sex with that guy in the guest room in the middle of it and I don’t care about anyone or anything, most especially not me, and I’m ashamed. That’s what I should have said, but all I grunted was I don’t know, and turned around. Not caring was an act of defiance; this, the red badge of courage of my own making.
As for that boyfriend, the relationship didn’t last, although we sort of stayed together way longer than I expected. After nights at the pub in Ireland, I would call him drunk using a twenty-pound international calling card, from a big red telephone booth on a deserted street corner in Cork. He moved to Harlem while I was there, and after I got back I would visit during school breaks. There were other girls that I shrugged off, but we somehow hung in there until just before my twenty-second birthday. I was getting ready to move to New York, mostly because of him, of course, when he left me for good.
I moved to New York nonetheless.
Anyway, that day in the MOMA at the Schiele exhibit, that wasn’t my only loss. I have had five pregnancies, but I only have two kids. It didn’t always make my marriage easy. There are ghosts everywhere, all around us, aren’t there? And so many ways to be a ghost.
My friend Jonathan, the one who bought me the jeans? He died a couple of years ago from colon cancer. We had lost touch long before, but it’s still weird to think about him and realize he’s just gone. He was a really, really fucking good guy.
And Egon Schiele? He was one of the two million people who died of Spanish flu. He was twenty-eight. Can you even imagine the art he would have created had he lived?
Maybe that’s why I say, here, in this darkness, whatever you need to do to get a little comfort, you will be met with no judgment from me.
Stay safe everyone.
Ps. Many years ago I became completely obsessed with Willie Nelson singing You Were Always On My Mind. I must have listened to it a thousand times on repeat (you’re welcome, former roommates!). Anyway, this is not the same song, but the same refrain. This one fits me better now, I think.
Listen to The D-Train, The Playlist, a soundtrack for a shit show: