I. We Own You
I’m taking classroom driver’s education at the high school, a class that is technically open to the public, although no one seems to take advantage of this. I figure, why pay for classes when I can schlep to a high school at seven in the morning for six weeks.
I am the only member of the public there, and the high school students alternate between looking at me curiously, trying to figure out where I fit in, and ignoring me. I slip into class each day like a ghost and perch precisely in the middle of the room, trying to attract as little attention as possible. I am still in my wrapped in corduroy and lanky hair phase of life. I’d probably be mistaken for a student if the high school wasn’t so small that everyone knows everyone.
The instructor is a veteran and he locks the door precisely at 7 every morning, as he told us on the first day of class. ‘Anyone who’s late,’ he gruffly informs us, ‘will not be allowed in.’ He also tells us that more than three absences will result in an automatic failure. I am terrified.
Classes are held in his regular room. He teaches history and the room is overstuffed with books and maps. There are no flags. We are not asked to say the pledge of allegiance. He is the kind of man I think I’d actually rather like if I met him outside the classroom.
Some students don’t take his warning seriously and they show up to bang on the door at 7:01 or 7:02 on the first few days. The instructor ignores them. They come into class on time in the future.
A guest speaker arrives in class one day, a police officer. His uniform is starched and crisp and his hair is cut high and tight. He, too, seems to fear the instructor, but he marches to the head of the class and faces us, lecturing on the perils of driving. A privilege, not a right, he says. His eyes drift to me and he narrows them, trying to figure out where I fit in.
Eventually he slams his copy of the California Vehicle Code down on the desk at the front of the room.
‘See this,’ he says. ‘This is the Vehicle Code for the State of California. I can and will find a vehicle violation on your car if I want to.’
We stare back in stunned silence.
‘We own you,’ he adds. ‘The State of California owns you,’ he hisses.
We are out at dinner, and I’m toying listlessly with my fork, waiting for the next course. I haven’t seen him in a while and I don’t really know what to say. Our lives have drifted so far apart that the common ground looks more like a crevasse that neither of us is willing to jump across. I wonder why I consented to this meeting in the first place, what I was thinking.
I have a dream of the past that refuses to die.
I toss out a crampon and a rope, politics as usual.
Nervously, I say that the conservatives must have mistaken The Handmaid’s Tale for a playbook.
‘What’s that,’ he says blankly.
‘Nevermind,’ I say.
We sit in silence until the waiter comes with the pasta.
He pays the bill.
III. Pieces of Me
Something is wrong inside me. I can feel it. A slow grinding, twisting, unpleasant sensation. I smell sharp and bitter and metallic, like something set out to rot. Resistance can only last so long. I fear that people can smell me, are wondering what is festering away within, eating me from the inside out. I slink to the community clinic, where a physician assistant examines me. She is brisk and friendly.
A medical student sits in the corner of the room. He laughs nervously when I crack a joke, armoring myself in defenses I think are impenetrable. The physician assistant narrates what she’s doing, but I’m not sure if she’s talking to me or the medical student. I wince when she takes the sample and the student’s eyes widen. I wonder if he’s seen a pelvic exam before.
‘It should take a few days,’ she says. ‘I’ll let you know when I get results, but nothing looked abnormal.’
I thank her and leave.
Only later do I find out that the program that paid for that examination took my flesh, those results, sent them to a government agency. No one told me that when I filled out the paperwork. There was no waiver to sign.
I was poor and I needed medical attention. The perfect captive audience. What was I going to do, say no?
IV. Is This The Onion?
I’m reading the headlines and I can’t tell the difference anymore between what is real and what is fake.
I am watching state after state fall like dominoes. First it’s the parental notification laws, then the mandatory ultrasounding, then the reclassification of clinics offering abortion services. It’s a tightening dragnet to capture abortion so it can be stuffed into a box and hidden away. Everyone knows that doesn’t work.
There is only this, the steady and escalating war for control. The reminder that the state owns us and our pieces, will carve us up and use us as it sees fit. The state has all the power in this equation. It expresses no remorse.
I feel like I am living in a speculative fiction nightmare. I snap the light by the door off and on to see if that wakes me up. I start to wonder if I’m floating in a tank somewhere and this is all being fed into my head. If I selected this from a library of entertainment options before entering hibernation mode. (Why would I have done that?) Maybe I’m actually hurtling through space, getting ready to found a colony on a distant world, waiting for landfall and the activation of the wakeup sequence.
A politician says abortion is bad for women. A politician says birth control is bad for women. A politician says he wants to ban prenatal testing. A politician says women should focus on their families. A politician says sex is for reproduction only. A politician says queers are disgusting. A politician says.
A friend in Canada asks if it’s really true.
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Yes, yes it is.’
‘How is that even legal,’ she says.
‘Because the lawmakers say so,’ I say.
I feel like someone is scooping out my insides. They look like raspberry sorbet. They’re making room, hollowing me out, reducing me to the only thing that matters, the uterus, a small smooth globule of tissue. My body is the vessel that holds the uterus and its sole purpose is to support the uterus, cradling it like a ripe pomegranate, until it bursts open and releases a baby. And another baby. And another.
This is all of me that matters.
A fruiting body.