I laid on the bed, in the corner of our bedroom, naked from the waist down. You leaned over me with a flashlight and a pair of tweezers and reprimanded me for not telling you sooner. We’re a couple. I should have told you. The usual. And I knew you were right, but I was too busy laughing and telling you, no, not yet, I’m not ready, I need a minute. It was more than laughter, really. It was something animal. I was howling.
I didn’t even know a splinter was what it was, much less how it got there. I only knew I was miserable; with every step I felt as if I was being stabbed. For weeks, I’d been searching with a magnified hand mirror, which fogged up from the heat of my body in the air- conditioned apartment. I had inspected myself like I was conducting an archaeological excavation. There was no redness, no swelling, no indication of anything wrong. You shined the light on me and squinted, looking hard. I pictured you as a miner, headlamp and all, staring into my caverns. Hello, you called. Hello, o, o, o, you echoed. You wanted me to relax. It was a splinter, that’s all. It happens. Just a thin piece of plastic thread, like from a shower loofah, or the stuff clothing stores use to attach price tags to T-shirts. My underwear could have picked it up in the washing machine, and, once it was in my underwear, it worked itself into me while I was too busy to notice. I imagine it was a sharp pinch, or it happened in my sleep.
What I imagine, in truth, is that the centimeter long piece of plastic thread you discovered in my clitoral hood grew there on its own. The splinter was the price I would pay for not being woman enough.
I had not told you I was in pain, because I had other things I was busy not telling you.
The first twinge was on the day I set my hand on my sister’s swollen belly and felt my nephew kick into my hand. I felt the ghost of that baby’s kick in the center of my palm for hours after, and all I thought was, no, please no, not to my body. I was caught up in the middle of telling you that no, I was right the first time. Motherhood isn’t in me. I realized this with my hand on my nephew, and a splinter in my crotch. It’s a simple, animal thing. It’s what women do, you must have thought. She’ll come around. You must have thought this, not because you’re an asshole but because of course, because it is what women do, so often. It’s just that motherhood might mean the end of me. It’s a hard truth, but there we have it.
The pain registered low in me, a constant hum, for a month. It felt like something my mother used to call psychosomatic. She would ask me on Sunday nights, when I claimed to be too ill to go to school Monday morning, do you think your symptoms are psychosomatic? How a child is supposed to know, one way or the other, I’m still not sure. All I knew was that I was grown, and my aching began almost one month to the day, from meeting that little baby in my sister’s belly. Almost two weeks to the day from my first having the courage to tell you I was exactly who I’d claimed to be from the first minute of our relationship, and, that unfortunately for both of us, I wasn’t able to be anybody else. I would never want children— not with you, not with anybody. And there, in the days after, I didn’t tell you I was hurting, because I had hurt you.
I sleep pressed up against the wall, and spend half my nights climbing out the foot of the bed pushed up into the corner of the room, or sometimes climbing over or around you, just to pee. This is a metaphor, and this is the honest to god, literal history of our sleeping arrangement. I spend nights with my back against the wall, in a corner, fight or flight, and if I have to pee, sometimes that means I have to do both.
My dream for us is a room with the bed at the center. We sleep in beds designed for a single life. We are bachelors together. I want a bed where we can get in and out with equal ease. I want two night stands, two glasses of water, and some assurances that one day you won’t wake up and decide that if I can’t be that baby-crazy woman that you hoped I would be, then it’s time for me to pack my things and go. That seems like a lot to ask, some nights. In the nights before I told you, and in the nights after.
So no, I did not tell you I had a splinter lodged in my clitoral hood. No, I didn’t even know. I was too busy talking about babies and not talking about babies, and not thinking about symbols and beds and gender equality and whether or not love is ever really enough. I’d avoided sex, and I didn’t explain. It felt like we were ending, like I’d told you the truth about myself, and soon it would be over, so why waste time with love and sex and comfort. That’s how it felt, but not how it was. I’m sick, I said, finally. Something hurts.
The words escaped my lips, and suddenly, there you were, right between my legs with a flashlight and a pair of tweezers. I’d been hurting so many days, I didn’t know if it was pain I was feeling anymore. It was a constant hum in the back of every moment, awake and asleep. So small, it couldn’t be seen with the naked eye.
You are not a doctor. You are not a miner, with a headlamp and a pickaxe. But you found it in seconds: a thin piece of plastic that had worked its way up into me, a centimeter long. Was it this piece of plastic burrowed inside me that made me think I ought to fall out of love with you, for both our sakes? I want that bed in that room that’s big enough for both of us. You’re the only person on this earth who would take the time to find a thin, translucent piece of plastic thread inside me, the only person I would ever trust to look for it, much less to take it out. You are my person, and I fall asleep, one month after feeling my nephew in my sister’s belly, two weeks after giving you the news that I can’t change, and for the first time in those four weeks, not a single part of me is hurting.