The placards I walked through. The wet raincoat on a hook. The questionnaire on a clipboard placed before me. Couples sat around me in the waiting room. They were young. What am I saying? I was only thirty-two.

But I remember, the men seemed the more bereft. Facing forward, their elbows resting on knees, their faces covered with hands. Or pushed back hard in the seats, gazing at a spot on the floor, legs stretched out in the aisles.

Difficult to remember the order in which things happened. The clipboard taken away, my name was called—our names were all called, the waiting room emptying and filling. Small orange pill in a tiny plastic cup. Water for washing it down. I was led to another room.

The gown that tied at the back, the bright fluorescent light, the posters with diagrams on the walls. Plenty of time to look around. The sound of vacuuming in another room.

The doctor arrives, hurried and unfriendly. Her one day in this clinic, she’s flown in from another state. Death threats follow her. She asks me if I want to proceed. I tell her, yes. I lie back in the stirrups. The apparatus arrives—a silver canister on wheels with gauges and hoses attached to a long, cylindrical tube, thin like a spout. The sound of vacuuming close now. The nurse by my side, holding my shoulder. The doctor working away behind the thin film of my gown.

A blank space surrounds this moment. Sleepy from the sedative, yes, and numb. But let me not gloss over it. A feeling of tugging, mild discomfort. When the vacuum stops, the doctor asks if I want to know the sex. I tell her, no.

When I informed my husband I was pregnant, he said, Is it mine? Not the best beginning. We’d been married for a month. Married on Leap Day. Who else’s could it be? He had an important meeting at work that day, some critical task. I had driven myself.

Sleep, after the procedure. (My friend tried to soften it for me afterwards. Just say you had a procedure, dear.) Nothing about it was procedural. I woke in a room of sleeping beauties. Afterwards, cramping, nausea. Faint, when I woke up, dizzy.

Orange juice and back down for twenty minutes. And then the odd assemblage of street clothes smoothed onto my limbs, the parting advice from the nurse, the script for a prescription pushed into my hand. Strange to walk out the door. The protesters gone. My car started just fine, slipped right into gear. I backed out, went forward. Drove light-headed to the drug store.

At the pharmacy, the man in the white coat looked at me when I handed him the script. Could he see from the prescription where I’d been? A softness dawned on his face. Go home, he said. They would deliver it.

Only then, in the car, did I start to cry. So stupid. Over the kindness of the pharmacist. When I got home, my husband was on the couch, watching the NBA playoffs. Even before the drugs arrived—even after—he couldn’t stop telling me what a brave girl I had been.

Debra Marquart is a professor of English and the Coordinator of the MFA in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University. She also teaches in the Stonecoast Low-Residency MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. A performance poet and the author of two poetry collections—Everything’s a Verb (New Rivers Press, 1995) and From Sweetness (Pearl Editions, 2002)—Marquart’s short story collection, The Hunger Bone: Rock & Roll Stories (New Rivers Press, 2001) draws on her experiences as a female road musician in the 1970s and ‘80s. She continues to perform with her jazz-poetry rhythm & blues project, The Bone People, with whom she released two CDs in 1996: Orange Parade (acoustic rock); and A Regular Dervish (jazz-poetry). Marquart’s memoir, The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere, published by Counterpoint Books in 2006, was awarded Elle Magazine’s “Elle Lettres” and the 2007 PEN USA Creative Nonfiction Award. She’s currently at work on a novel, set in Greece, titled The Olive Harvest.

photo by Leslie Miller