Danielle Davis is a San Diego native who is now residing in San Francisco as she works toward her BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. As a writer, she loves molding and shaping time to serve a greater narrative. This piece was originally written and read aloud as a part of a program with a San Diego based literary and performing arts nonprofit organization called So Say We All. This is her second appearance in Cliterature, her first being a fictional short story entitled, "My New Normal."
“Can you reach the pillow okay?” Maria, the friendly brunette Gynecology nurse asks. “I can lift up the bed a little bit if you’re uncomfortable.”
“No, no, I’m good,” I frown as I tug on the sides of the thin paper smock closed, in a futile attempt at modesty.
Maria is too busy flitting around the exam room to notice. She bounces back and forth from my intake form, and the cabinets in front of her, as she gathers the last of the instruments that the nurse will need for the exam. “Three hundred pounds, so I need this one,” picking up a speculum from a bin on the shelf next to where I’m sitting.
This hunk of steel that’s somehow supposed to fit inside of me, is at least three or four inches long, and easily double the width of my hand. I stare at it in silence for a couple of minutes, pulling up on the sheet covering me. I want to ask her if there’s a smaller one available? I want to tell her that between a lapse in health insurance and a rather pathetically long dry spell, no one’s been down there in well, awhile. I want to say all of these things. But, naturally, being the polite, people-pleasing twenty-nine year old woman that I am, I choose instead, to smile nervously when Maria says,
“Just sit tight, honey, the nurse will be in to see you soon.” She smiles back at me then leaves the room. Thus begins a dance that I know all too well. A dance where the main focus is making other people happy in spite of myself.
Now alone, I use the time to push down the rising anxiety welling up inside. Just breathe, it’ll be okay. I know the speculum looks big, but maybe it won’t even hurt. You’re a grown woman, suck it up!
“Good afternoon, I’m Gloria. I’ll be the nurse that will be conducting the exam today,” she says, extending her hand to me. Gloria is overweight too and closer to my Mom’s age than mine. I feel a bit of relief wash over me, maybe she’ll be gentle.
“I’ll start with your breasts. That way I can finish with your pap smear and the pelvic exam, since I know that part can be a bit uncomfortable.”
“That sounds great, thank you for being so considerate.” I remind myself to keep smiling and not make waves.
The exam passes easily, with the thought of the speculum and the pap smear looming in my mind. For those unfamiliar with this delightful piece of medical equipment, just try to imagine something akin to a tire jack, getting it in the right spot is only half the battle, once positioned it then ratchets open to provide access to the cervix.
“Okay, can I get you to move your bottom all the way to the end of the table, please?”
I nod in response and raise myself up on my arms to awkwardly crab-walk down to the end of the exam table. Gloria positions each of my legs into the wide set stirrups at each corner. I fix my gaze on the fluorescent light in the ceiling, and remind myself to breathe, as I feel the metal instrument advance into my vagina.
Instead of feeling my body adjust to the discomfort, with every movement, I feel as though I’m being ripped in half. “Maybe it’s me,” I tell myself. “Relax, Danielle, breathe, try harder. You can do this. Fuck! Why does this hurt so much? This is supposed to be the hole that babies come out of, so it’s gotta be able to handle a stupid speculum!” It didn’t hurt nearly this bad last time.
“Try not to move, it makes it harder for me to place the speculum in the right spot.”
“I’m sorry.” “I think it might be too big, do you have any that are smaller?” I start to shift my body on the table, grasping for the edges of the white paper liner.
“No, because of your weight I have to use this one.” “I’m sorry,” Gloria says.
A wave of shame washes over me. it’s my fault that I’m in so much pain, if I had been more disciplined I wouldn’t be in this situation.
“Okay, never mind.” I clamp my eyes shut, hoping that will help. I just want this to be over soon.
“Stop moving!” Gloria says, annoyance rising in her voice. “You keep lifting up your butt and I can’t see.” She resumes trying to position the instrument. The next fifteen minutes feel like hours.
“Ouch, I’m sorry for complaining so much.”
“Okay, that’s it, I’m coming out.” “Do you want to do this or not?” She says.
“Yes,” I say quietly. The thought of telling her I want to stop crosses my mind, but I can’t bear the thought of coming back.
“This is how far in I have to go,” she adds as she sticks a gloved finger inside of me. “Can you handle that?” “You know, it’s not really that far, I don’t know why you’re getting upset.”
I feel like a child who is misbehaving. I’ve been taught better than this.
“Let’s try again,” Gloria picks the speculum backup and reinserts it. It still hurts. My body still isn’t stretching enough to accommodate.
“Are you sure you don’t have anything smaller?”
“No!” “I already told you, because you weigh so much, this is the one I have to use!”
“Please?” I feel silent, salty tears start to spill out of my eyes.
“Fine, I think I have something else that I can use, just a minute.”
I let out a breath, that I don’t realize that I’m holding, when I feel her pull the speculum out of me. A couple of minutes later, I feel the now smaller speculum moving inside me. She’s now able to successfully continue the exam. When she finishes, she leaves me alone to get dressed. I feel like a complete failure, dirty and ashamed of the fact that I can’t perform this delicate choreography that is expected of me.
This overwhelming need to make people happy and strive for approval is nothing new, I’ve been doing it for decades. It is now 2005 and I’m eighteen. I’m in my first relationship, too enamored and excited to see the red flags that keep popping up around my boyfriend.
Jack and I are on the couch in the living room, watching a movie, when my Dad walks in. He settles into the large, floral recliner to put his shoes on, before leaving for his chemo appointment. Dad has a brain tumor. He’s been battling for about three years and with every passing day, the stress of seeing him, struggle with the muscle wasting effects of the steroids as they turn his once strong and capable arms to skin and bone makes me feel less and less valuable as a daughter and as a girlfriend. I wish I could somehow heal him, and the fact that I can’t just drives home how small and ineffective I feel. I start to question my value as a girlfriend, when he confesses, that contrary to what he told my Dad, he isn’t a virgin. Learning this made me start to question why Jack is even dating me, a girl who has been raised to save herself for marriage. Add to that the fact that my Dad is sick, and I start to worry that giving him my body is the only way to keep him.
“I know it’s cold today, and that you guys like each other, but one blanket per person, please,” Dad says, pointing out that Jack and I are sharing a soft, brown and white blanket. I roll my eyes, as I stand and comply, by grabbing another blanket and settling back down onto the couch. I feel like such a child when he says this, but I guess protecting my honor is his prerogative.
“Thanks for humoring your old man, Little One,” he says, bending down to kiss my forehead. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Daddy,” as I say this, I hear his ride to chemo pull into the carport. I watch as he walks out of the front door and gets into the car. After he’s gone, I turn my attention back to the movie.
Jack moves my face toward his and kisses me hard. While I’m content to watch Harry Potter and company conquer the world, it’s clear that he wants more. He guides me back onto the couch until I’m lying down while he slips his free hand under my shirt. I return his kiss as his hands move to the fly of my jeans, undoing it.
He then moves his arm between my legs, prying them apart. I try to push his arm away and sit up, and instead of moving, like he has in the past, he tightens his grip on my thigh.
“Jack, stop, you’re going too fast.”
“No!” “C’mon I can’t stop now, why are you such a tease?” “You didn’t have a problem with me fucking you last week, so what’s the problem now?”
A crack of thunder from the September storm coming down outside breaks the silence between us. “I...I don’t know, please don’t be mad.” I silently beg him not to leave me alone to cope.
When he enters me, I want to scream. It hurts so much more than it usually does. A few minutes pass before I try to speak. “Please stop.”
“Fine!” “Whatever!” Realizing that he won’t get any further with me that day, he dresses and quickly leaves. I am too shocked to move. Have I just been raped? I shouldn’t be having sex anyway, maybe this is what I deserve.
Half an hour later, I’m able to peel my frozen body from the couch. I change out of the clothes I was wearing and hold each piece up to examine before dropping them into the laundry hamper. I slowly trace the neckline of my t-shirt, as if checking that it isn’t too low or too revealing. Afterward, I reflexively pull my sweater tighter around me. I stare absentmindedly out the window, struck by how the gray in the sky echoes the storm brewing inside my mind. True to form, I choose to say nothing, pushing everything away and covering it up with a fake, but very polite smile.