Nonfiction by Leslieann Hobayan

Burning Bush

            You don’t know where to go. What to do. You were late. Only a day or so. But your body already told you what you didn’t want to know. You held steadfast onto denial. Tried to make it your best friend. Still, you went to get an official declaration at the student health center because if you didn’t, in a matter of months, the truth would make itself known anyway. You only remember hearing someone say “positive” as you walk out—no—more like, float out. Your body is no longer yours. You watch it from above. The person –nurse? doctor?—follows you, says something about getting help or offering help. Or maybe it was about prenatal vitamins. The voice becomes muted, as if through clouds. You don’t know where to go but find yourself heading to the science building. She has psych now. She’ll know what to do.

            You catch her eye through the window of the classroom door. She comes out, wonders what is happening. You both sit on the bench near professors’ offices. You tell her something, but you can’t remember the exact words you say. She somehow gets the message. You must have looked scared because she rubs your arm in comfort. Promises to find you after class. The both of you will figure out something.

            The rest of the day is a blur. Did you go to class? Did you run the track to escape? Or did you go back to your room? You do not know. You only remember finding yourself in his room at the frat house later that day. The setting sun’s light a blazing orange on his pale face. For a split second, you wonder if he will burn. If his fair Irish skin will scald from this light. A vibrant scarlet that matches the leaves of the burning bush outside his window. Everything you see is awash in hues of orange and red.

            There are tears in his eyes. You are confused by this. This is not happening to his body. It is happening to yours.

            Then you realize: he is leaving you. Leaving you to shoulder this on your own.

            “I can’t do this,” he says. “I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. Senior year just started, graduation around the corner. I’m sorry. I can’t do this.”

            You say nothing. He just bailed out. Jumped ship and left you. The man you’ve been with for two years. The man who you thought you might marry. The man who, you now realize, has always dodged commitment. It has never been clearer.

            “But I’ll support whatever decision you make,” he adds. Which doesn’t seem like much of a decision after what he’s said.

            Option 1: Do nothing and you are on your own. In every sense of the word. Your friends will graduate and move on with their lives. Start jobs, live in new apartments. Your immigrant Catholic parents will never help you. If anything, they will disown you as you have brought shame to your family. Single mother at twenty-one with no source of income or place to live. What are the alternatives?

            Option 2: Take action and it will be as if nothing ever happened. A slight hiccup in the steady course of your well-mapped-out life. Things can go back to the way they were.

            But no one told you about the battle of the heart.

            You sleep on it but you don’t actually sleep. You ask yourself how this could happen. How could you let him be so careless? How could you be so careless? How could you give in to his pushiness? For a single moment that lasted ten seconds? You toss and turn. Then turn the choice over in your head: a coin, much like, you imagine, one of the thirty pieces of silver in Judas’s hands. No matter the decision, your life is irrevocably altered.

            The next morning, you mechanically page through the As in the Yellow Book. He is sitting with you at the small kitchen table in your apartment. You both decide on the place a bit out of the way – far enough from campus but not too far. The decision is made with the same detachment as with choosing a plumber.

            Later that week, he drives you to the first appointment. It’s the least he can do. There are people outside holding signs you cannot read. Your vision is blurred. They try to reach out to you, try to grab your arm to talk to you. But he is shielding you from them, his arms wrapped around your body as you walk into the place where he cannot protect you.

            The doctor conducts an ultrasound as you lie on the table like a lamb being prepared for sacrifice. You hold your breath. Maybe you can become invisible.

            “You’re only five weeks,” you are told. “The ideal time is eight. We can schedule you for three weeks from now.” You nod. He says nothing.

            Those three weeks are spent in a haze. When you are not in class, you are sleeping. You try desperately to act normal: go to the library, to concert rehearsal, to club meetings. When someone asks, you feign the flu. You do not want anyone to know.

            The day arrives and you feel like throwing up. Your appointment is early in the morning. They do not want you eating as you have opted for general anesthesia. You do not want to be aware of anything. If there is no awareness, there is nothing to forget. No memories to erase.

You do not know that this will not work.

            Again, he drives you. Again, there are people outside with signs. Again, they try to reach out to you. Again, he shields you. You do not want to see or hear them. You do not want your mind changed.

            “Don’t do it, honey,” a woman shouts out. She knows that it is too late to cover your ears. You’ve already heard it. A fresh pang of guilt clutches your belly. You try to shake it off and keep moving towards the door. You must do this. You know that once you’re in, you won’t hear anything more. Soundproof windows. Bulletproof.

            They call your name. He squeezes your hand. You are torn between squeezing back and slapping his face. So you do nothing. You know this is all he can do. The rest is your solo journey.

            You are led into a room slightly larger than the initial exam room. It is all bright fluorescent light. All stainless steel and blue draping. The air feels sterile. You hold your breath, not wanting to contaminate. You hold your breath for other reasons.

            You are given a paper gown, told to change, and void your bladder. You are nervous. You’ve never had surgery before. You’ve never had anesthesia. There is no one here to hold your hand. You push away the urge for your mother and steel yourself.

            Soon, you find yourself on a table again. You are asked to count backwards from ten. There is a whirring sound, then suction. Like a vacuum turned on. You get to eight and blackout.

            You don’t know how much time has passed, but you start to hear soft weeping. Who is crying?, you wonder. You feel heavy like lead. You want to sleep more but the weeping—who is that? You try to open your eyes but it’s hard. You work at forcing them open. Some light comes through. Then blurry shapes. After a minute and some blinking, you see that you are in a room with other women your age. The one next to you is crying softly to herself. For a moment, you forget where you are.

            And then you remember.

            You want to run out of there. But you are too thick with anesthesia. Too weighted in heart.

            They help you out of the bed and show you where to get dressed. They tell you about heavy bleeding. They give you post-op instructions. You nod. You manage to shuffle out of the recovery room into the waiting area. He is still there.

            You both say nothing. What is there to say? He drives you home. As soon as you walk in the door, you rush to the bathroom and throw up. It feels like relief. Like a floodgate has opened. You want to weep like the girl in recovery, but you don’t. Instead, you get into bed. The same place it began. He joins you, spooning. As if he wanted to hold together the broken pieces of you. You don’t refuse. You then let the burning bush of your body consume you. Some tears fall from your face. Sleep takes hold. You sleep for days.

            She comes to you in dream. Your angel child. Her face full of fire, her wings are blue draping, twisted and tangled. She calls to you in a song you don’t know. Her eyes bright with fluorescent light. There is so much air here. So much breath. Your heart blooms in the burn of her face. You don’t ever want to wake.

Leslieann Hobayan is a poet-writer, devoted yogi, and a member of VONA, a community dedicated to writers of color. Nominated for a Pushcart, her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Rigorous, Barely South Review, Generations Literary Journal,The New YorkQuarterlyPhati’tudeBabaylan: An Anthology of Filipina and Filipina-American Writers, and Pinoy Poetics. She has been awarded the James Merrill Fellowship for Poetry at the Vermont Studio Center, a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation writing fellowship for a residency at Millay Colony for the Arts, and an artist grant for the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers Conference. Her collaborative art installation (with woodturner artist Michael Badger), Cartography of Water: Home, Memory, & Identity in the Diaspora, which explored the fluidity of home and its temporal and spatial locations, was on exhibit at Vermont Studio Center in April 2017. Currently teaching at Rutgers University, she has served as a writing mentor for youth at Urban Word NYC and has taught creative writing at UC-Santa Cruz and Montclair State University. She is at work on a collection of poems as well as a collection of essays.

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