by Jeanne Althouse
My fingers drum the keypad, as rhythmic as her heartbeat. Though forty years have passed, I remember the wet, earthy scent of her newborn hair.
You are imagining, says Dr. Beam.
The three bars for the cancer clinic’s Wi-Fi on my iPad flicker to two, threatening a weak signal, but then the Twitter app loads fine. Learning Twitter as a form of therapy is recommended by Dr. Beam, head of palliative care.
She walks in my mind, I say. She has a birthday.
You can only grieve so long, he says, before it demands release, like a woman holding in a scream.
Forty years. Might be long enough to hold in a scream.
I’m keeping my handle secret, but the hashtags I chose were #the procedure, with an optional #choice, not to mess with straight-out #abortion, which might turn off followers at this early stage. I’d never gone public before.
The white screen light washes over me like a cleansing. The secrecy protects me, safe as a church confessional. In the profile, I never use my real name.
Through TwitterTroll I meet @TwinkleLittleStar and @OldFartHead. @Twinkle tweets that having #theprocedure with a pill has fewer side effects than the old fashioned #D&Csurgical-abortion method which, in the past, had been known to cause depression. This reminds @OldFart that when weapons were guns, and a soldier could see the man he shot, a life for a life meant something, but now that we use drones, war has minimal side effects too.
People make strange connections online says Dr. Beam when I tell him later. I say they make strange connections in person too. Nothing new there.
@Twinkle taught me that you can add a photograph. @OldFart said Tweets with a picture have more engagement rates. @Twinkle is pregnant, considering #theprocedure. She already has five children. @OldFart says he is certain he never got a girl pregnant. Sadly, he could not even get his own wife pregnant. After a week together online, those two are my best friends.
Dr. Beam says it is misleading to attach a photo of a baby girl.
When radiation makes me feel better temporarily, it is Dr. Beam’s idea to volunteer at Planned Parenthood. On the first day, I meet Trisha. She is four weeks pregnant. Everyone has to have counselling before they make the decision. Dr. Beam says I would have benefitted from counselling too. I said, it would have been a good idea, if they had counselling back then, but considering my procedure was illegal, they could hardly offer counselling could they?
Trisha’s boyfriend just graduated from law school and, although she loves him, and they plan to marry, until he gets a job, she says it is not a good time to be pregnant. She asks if I ever had children, you know, afterwards.
I say eventually I had two wonderful boys, grown up now.
She mentions something about a daughter. She wants a girl when the time is right.
The word, daughter, echoes a bit, like in a tunnel when the scream lingers.
But I told Trisha what she wanted to hear: that I had no regrets. No regrets at all.
I had a very bad stomach cramp right then, had to go home.
Dr. Beam frowns when I tell him. He says the clinic is not like Twitter. He says even the President lies on Twitter.
The President lies in person too, I say.
But you’re not the President are you!
Dr. Beam is a master at stating the obvious.
After my relapse, I give up the volunteer work in favor of more time to Tweet. I tell Dr. Beam that my mind moves toward peace one Tweet at a time. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, evening instead of television, before and after treatments, everything framed by Twitter. My husband, a patient man, responds to my addiction by asking to learn to Tweet, but he still can’t manage how to tag on Facebook.
He doesn’t know about her.
Dr. Beam says sharing hobbies can be useful, but what we really need is to talk about IT. About her. About how she died.
I still think of her as living. I rub her feet after she runs her first marathon. I serve her quarts of mint chip ice cream when she is nervous about exams. I settle her head on my shoulder to cry over the first boyfriend’s betrayal.
As I lay dying, she will hold my hand. She will refuse to let me go.