While a lot of you were posting touching and inspirational tributes to yesterday's historic inauguration, I was having a bad day. I did manage to watch quite a bit of the coverage, but mostly I was just dealing with one disaster after another. You know that saying about when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade? Well, screw that. I'm sick to death of lemonade. I hope I never see lemonade again. It's winter, for heaven's sake, and not lemonade weather. ENOUGH WITH THE FREAKING LEMONADE.
So, instead of writing a new, inspirational post, I dug up this story that I wrote about something that happened back a million years ago when I was in college. It is my go-to story. It ALWAYS makes me chuckle a little bit to myself. I hope you enjoy it.
When I was in college, a terribly embarrassing thing happened to my friend. I was a witness to this thing, and let me tell you, it was pretty bad. At the time, I was in absolute sympathetic horror for her, but as the years have past, it has turned out to be one thing that can always make me smile in remembrance. I am sharing it with you in hopes that it will make you smile, as well.
My friend and I, being young ladies of a certain age, decided it was time to go get ourselves some birth control. Not that we needed it, of course. Well, okay, we did. Or we were going to need it very soon! We were both in our first year of college, and giddy with the freedom of being away from the family doctor (who was completely un-trustworthy and would certainly have tattled on us to our mothers!).
At the University, there was a oh-so-inviting Student Health Center – essentially a basement under the Arts and Sciences building – where you could get health screening, diagnosis and care FOR FREE. And nobody would tell your mommy.
After a month or so of getting our courage up, we set off – me to get signed up for THE PILL (because I was all about the “NOT EVEN A TINY CHANCE YOU COULD GET PREGNANT” part of the contraceptives). My friend, Cindy (not her real name – well, not exactly her real name) was very concerned about the possible weight gain she might experience from birth control pills. And she was a lot more adventurous than I. Cindy wanted A DIAPHRAM.
We tried to pick a time we thought the place might be deserted. Friday afternoon seemed like a good bet. Everyone would be busy getting dolled up for the weekend parties, out finding someone over 21 to buy beer, busy filling the frat bathtubs with ice, you know – typical college stuff. Unfortunately, we were completely wrong. Turns out Friday afternoon was filled with desperate students. Some were those who had been sick since Monday, hoped it would go away, and were finally coming in to get some real medicine because they called their mom and she told them to get their butt to the doctor. Some were, like us, in for the super-secret birth control reconnaissance and not happy to find out the place was packed. PACKED.
Picture, if you will, the dark, scary basement of the Student Health Center. The all-fluorescent lights gave a yellow pallor to the place. This was back in the pre-HIPPA days, when the receptionist’s idea of confidentiality was not to shout out your last name, only your first. Anyway, this stellar establishment was set all in one big room, with chairs forming a U-shaped waiting room on one side, The other side consisted of three curtained stalls, for lack of a better word. No walls. Just curtains. Curtains that didn’t exactly meet. We stood there and stared, open-mouthed in horror, for a few minutes until the receptionist finally greeted us, “Can I help you two?”
We stammered out our names in stage whispers, one at a time as the other one of us snuck glances to see two things: one – did we know anybody there, and two – did anybody notice us? Nobody we recognized. So far, so good. Instructed to take a seat, we did, sharing one chair so that nobody had to sit in between strangers. Solidarity was all we had.
The wait was long, filled with really old magazines, trying not to look anybody in the eye, and avoiding being seen looking at the STD posters too long (heaven forbid anybody suspect that’s what we were there for!) Cindy and I had a hushed conference where we decided to try to exhibit head cold symptoms so that people would assume we were sick. I thought this a brilliant plan and proceeded to sneeze and sniffle for the next hour.
I got called first, and submitted to a fairly humiliating exam (hello, stirrups!) and thanked heaven repeatedly for the butterfly mobile on the ceiling (you gotta have something to look at), the female nurse practitioner who did the exam (a little Nurse Ratchet-y, but she was a girl!) and the fact that I got the curtained cubicle on the end, farthest away from the waiting area. I got my coveted pills, along with the disappointing instructions that they were not effective for 10 days (there went my weekend!) and some brochures for the prevention of a bunch of diseases I had never heard of before.
Cindy got called in just as I returned, red-faced to the waiting area. I wanted to bolt, but, being a loyal friend, I settled down in ‘our’ chair to wait. I picked up a two-year old copy of Good Housekeeping magazine and pretended to read. Cindy had the misfortune of getting the middle curtain, which was much too close to the people for my liking. There was a gap where two of the curtains met, and though you couldn’t really see into it, it was a gap, nevertheless. I felt totally sorry for her, but, looking back on it now, that was just the beginning of her troubles.
Her nurse practitioner was also a female, but she was very very old. And hard of hearing. The entire waiting room could hear one side of a very personal conversation. And Old Nurse was of the school of thought that the patient was soothed by having her describe everything she was doing. In great, gory detail. Imagine all the things your gynecologist says. Now imagine that there is just a curtain between you and 15 of your peers. Boys, even. Now, honey, just scoot your bottom a little closer to me. Now relax your muscles a bit. I’m going to insert this….well, you get the idea.
This is where it gets ugly.
After the exam, Old Nurse began counseling Cindy on her chosen form of birth control. She described how it worked, and gave a lot of instruction on how to use it properly. All of this was completely audible to all of us in the waiting area. Did I mention that some of the guys were smirking and chuckling at this point? I was horrified to hear that Old Nurse was also going to insert the device a couple of times for demonstration purposes and then have Cindy do it herself to make sure she knew how. The minutes spent listening to Old Nurse’s instructions were some of the longest of my life, and I desperately concentrated on my magazine.
Then it was Cindy's turn. Now, for those of you who may not have used a diaphragm, let me take a moment to explain the device. It is a round, dome-shaped rubber thing, with a metal spring in the rim. In order to insert it, you have to squeeze it from the edge between your thumb and forefingers, essentially making it skinny enough to fit where it has to fit. Once it has been inserted, it springs back into its round, dome-y shape, sealing out the swimmers and preventing pregnancy. The spring is pretty strong, so you have to really squeeze hard to make this all happen.
Oh, and did I mention that you have to put a bunch of slippery spermocide on the rim of it first? Now, don’t get ahead of me…
Evidently, Cindy had a little trouble with her turn at the thing. The reason I know this is that after a couple of minutes, while I assumed she was giving it a try, something terrible happened. It must have been too slippery for her inexperienced hands. The lovely pink diaphragm flew through the opening in the curtain, past the people sitting in the middle of the waiting room, and hit the wall. THWACK.
That bugger could really fly.
The looks on everyone’s face could not be described, but they all stared, first at the little pink evil thing, which clung to the wall for a millisecond before it fell to the floor behind the magazine table. Then they stared at the wet mark on the mint green walls.
Then, almost as if they were all given a signal, their gaze shifted to the curtained area where my dear friend could be heard muttering something unintelligible (my best guess was something like dammitalltohell or something along those lines).
The silence was deafening. For a really long time.
The rest of the afternoon was a blur. I don’t really remember much about it, but Cindy tells me I rushed to her aid and gave up my hooded jacket so that she could escape relatively incognito. Oh, and she also ended up with a little paper bag of birth control pills.
I never, ever cracked even a little smile that day, nor did we ever, ever bring it up again until we were both out of college and married. A few wine coolers brought the subject up many years later, and the laughter that should have happened that day finally spilled out of us until our sides ached.
Sometimes I think that was the day that cemented our friendship. After you share that experience with someone, you’re bonded for life. To this day, Good Housekeeping magazines and mint-green walls still make me smile.