Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Red Hurt

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I lie on the couch, my thighs pressed together, hoping to keep blood and tissue from oozing out of me. It's a ridiculous pose because I've already miscarried and what I really need to do, according to my doctor, is let my body heal itself -- let it expel the baby that is not a baby.

On the TV, Meredith Baxter Birney binges on three chocolate cakes in Bulimic fury. She sits in a car and stuffs cake into her mouth with her hands, smearing it all over her face, making growling noises. She looks up, her face chocolate, to see a man looking at her through the window. She wipes her mouth with her hand then smoothes her hair, streaks of icing spreading through her sprayed "do." She smiles at the man as if to say, "What you just saw was an aberration. I'm actually completely self-possessed and a member of MENSA."

I feel another ooze and I shift -- afraid to sit up and feel a rush of 'what was' soak my Kotex. The Darvocet I've just taken is one of my favorite painkillers. It obliterates the pain of the contractions that came in and out last night like a malevolent tide. I feel foggy and soggy and sorry for myself. Somewhat like Meredith's character, who turns to the passenger seat of her car and vomits.

The German word for menstrual period is Rot Weh. The Red Hurt. This is it, I think. This is red hurt. There is something luxurious about my misery. It is so complete, so monumental that I can only live inside it.

My husband opens and closes cabinets in the kitchen. He is contained, efficient, loving -- like a good nurse. And I barely see him. The phone rings and I hear his voice, low.

Meredith is at a party and watches as her husband inclines his head toward a beautiful young woman. Her husband looks back at her across the room like, "I'd rather be with you, but all this purging is beginning to wear on me." Meredith sighs, goes into the kitchen, pours a huge glass of water from the tap, and turns to survey the hors d'oeuvres on the counter. Her eyes move over the squares of cheddar -- no, the celery boats -- hell no, the lemon squares -- humm, maybe. Then her gaze stops at a huge wheel of Brie. She smiles a stoned smile as the screen fades to black.

"It's the anesthesiologist," says Pat, handing me the phone. He floats in front of me as I reach for the receiver.

"Yes," I say into the phone.

I hear, "Hello, Brett."

A clipped voice tells me that the D & C I will be having tomorrow is a quick and simple procedure. But since I'm going under, the voice needs to go over some things.

I answer the voice's questions while watching a commercial. A dog spins plates. It must be the Puppy Chow.

It must be the Darvocet, I think.

"Do you smoke?" the voice asks.

"No . . . well, yes. Since I miscarried . . . I wasn't smoking while I was pregnant. But yesterday and today."

The voice pauses, then I hear, "Hmmm."

I clutch. All fog gone. "What? I was only smoking for two days!"

The voice says, "That's fine. Just don't smoke any more before the procedure." Pause. "Hmmmm."

"I mean, if you think I shouldn't go under," I say. "I don't need this operation. I'm just electing to . . ."

Pat appears in front of me.

"No. It's fine," says the voice. "Just don't smoke and I'll see you in the morning."

I click off the phone and hand it to Pat.

Fog settles in again as Meredith is rushed through a hospital ward on a gurney. A team of people in hospital greens runs alongside her, shouting things at each other as she rolls her head back and forth saying, "No, no, no."

I clutch again. "Pat. The anesthesiologist doesn't think I should do this operation!"

"What?" I hear from the kitchen.

"The guy on the phone," I yell. "He thinks I could die on the operating table!"

Pulse jumps in my neck and I put my hand against it to feel the pound, pound, pound. Pat returns and sits at the end of the couch. He leans forward, elbows on his knees, hands hanging loose.

"You're not going to die," he says. I press my feet against his back. "I can't imagine he said that, Brett."

"He asked if I smoked and I told him yes. And he took this long pause and sounded like he wasn't sure I should do this."

"What did he actually say?"

"He said, 'Hmmmm.' Like that. He took a big long pause and said, 'Hmmm.' Like 'Hmmmm, do I want to risk a malpractice suit on a dead smoker?' "

"What?" Pat says, turning to look at me. "Maybe he just said, 'hmmm' as he was writing down your information."

"It was not that kind of 'hmmm,' Pat. It was a like, 'Hmmm . . . how many dead smokers does that make this week?"

"Brett, look. If he thought there was even the slightest possibility that you would die having something like this . . . an elective surgery, he certainly wouldn't let you do it. And he sure as hell wouldn't want you to die on his watch."

"People die on someone's watch."

Pat looks across the room and blows out air. I push up with my arms and reposition myself on the pillows. Swoosh -- out comes more blood.

Meredith lies in a hospital bed, metal bars on both sides, oxygen tube in her nose, monitors beeping. Her husband holds her skeletal hand, tears glisten in the corners of his eyes. Meredith looks at him, parts her papery lips into a weak smile, and says, "You're my man."

Pat puts his hand on my knee.

"What if I don't wake up? Ever?" I say.

"You'll wake up. I know you'll wake up," he says. "Remember when you thought you had that flesh eating disease?"

"I'm not making this up, Pat."

"I'm just saying that you have a tendency -- well, a driving need -- to extend these things out to the worst case scenario."

"See! You think there is a scenario in which I might die tomorrow."

Pat takes his hand from my knee and strides over to the phone.

"That's it!" he says, punching numbers into the receiver.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm calling Dr. Hendrix."

"What?" I yell. "Don't call him."

Pat hangs up and turns toward me. "Look, Brett. We can end this right now. We'll just ask Dr. Hendrix if a couple of days of smoking is going to kill you on the operating table tomorrow." His voice is hard with fading patience.

I swing my legs off the couch and sit on the edge. I know now that this is what I want -- true drama. Big stakes. Some yelling, crying, and it would probably be supremely satisfying if Pat stormed out into the balmy Los Angeles night only to return drunk and contrite with a huge chocolate cake that I can smear all over my face. Maybe Meredith Baxter Birney can play me in the movie, "Big Red Hurt: The Brett Paesel Story."

I double over and rest my chest on my knees. My head flops down and I make a high singing sound. I follow the sound to the end, pull in some air, and make it again.

Long as a road -- sure and loud. Then, BANG, like a door opening, I start to shake and sob. Blood gushes past my Kotex, and spreads out on the towel beneath me. I am all body and sound. I am flesh and tissue and bone.

I hear on the TV, as if through a long tunnel, a perky woman's voice praising the virtues of a miracle spot remover.

And even as I let my body heave up my loss, I realize that I have surely stained the couch.

Red Hurt originally appeared in HipMama magazine. Reprinted by permission.


Brett Paesel is an actress who has most recently appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Six Feet Under. She was also a regular cast member of Mr. Show on HBO. She has written about motherhood for various publications, including Hip Mama, Literary Mama, and Brain,Child, and is also a regular contributor to Violet. Her book, Mommies Who Drink, has been optioned by HBO, where it is being developed as a TV series. Brett is a married mother of two and lives in Los Angeles.


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