The bloody scenes of women are always suspect. Our insides, the things our bodies expel – the mucous, the shedding, the clots and clumps of uterine lining and pre-formed babies.
We must keep it neat.
We must follow the rules.
“I can’t find you. For three days you’re consumed…. I don’t know where you are. I don’t know where you just went. Even when you’re with me, you’re somewhere else. And I don’t know if it’s the woman in Indiana who’s in jail, or the Summit, or any other number of things that goes on in your other world inside of that computer and inside of that phone…” He sits cross-legged on the bed next to me, trying to reach me, longing to find me.
I’ll admit, I’m pretty lost this week…. not just to my partner and my family. Not just to the people in my life who get it, who get this work, who love what I do, but also lost deep inside of myself.
“How have you been?” isn’t answered the same way in a therapist’s office as in the rest of the world. “Mmmmm, fine,” isn’t an honest or productive response. This week, my response is a recount of what’s happening with Purvi Patel and how consumed I’ve been with her case. She stops me. “What’s going on right now? What’s happening with this that’s so deeply troubling you?”
All I can do is sob.
And I feel like a fool. Like a person caught up in my imagination, with my imaginary friend, whose name I’m not even sure I’m pronouncing correctly, the one who’s taking the beating for us all.
Those of us who have been challenged about our decisions. The “rightness” of them, the “safeness” of them. Those who have been challenged by a male metric unit, one that measures integrity and investment based on our compliance and reverent submission to the monolithic authority – the one with a scalpel, the one with a gavel.
There is no winning for the women.
No winning in a contest against men and against ourselves. The Male Rule is the single script we all know well. We recite it in word and deed. We recite it in justifying injustice. We recite it, our fingers on the notes and pages like tiny prayer beads. If we believe it hard enough, long enough, and loud enough it can’t be real. It can’t be happening. At least not to us. At least not to the likes of us.
The script is full of should’s and shouldn’t have’s. Of disgust and distance. Of creating a caricature of monster-esque likeness. A likeness inhuman, a likeness not like us. Of Blame-the-Woman; Blame-the-Whore.
She threw her dead fetus in a dumpster. Sounds awful. Maybe as awful as the clumps of the remnants of a miscarriage that were flushed down the toilet. Or a fished out embryo, looked at, cried over, then buried in the backyard. The fetus another wanted to bury, but was disposed of as “waste.” It’s all awful. Loss is awful. Loss is tragic. Whether welcomed or unwelcome. Loss is complex.
Who gets to be the deciders of what these remains get to be called? Who holds the labeling wand – the one that determines the worthiness of a name or of a burial or of trash?
I’ve never lost a pregnancy. But I know the terror of an unplanned pregnancy. The moments of disbelief, of sitting on the hard tile with a pee stick in my hand. There was no way I could will that sharp, defined line away. The one that etched itself on that fine, absorbent paper as soon as it got wet. How pregnant I was. And how I knew it.
How hard it is to be a woman and say aloud, “I don’t want to be pregnant.”
How heavy the stigma that goes along with those little words. How we should have kept our legs together, Slut. How we should have used birth control, but not birth control funded by insurance, Leech. How we should suck it up and not think abortion or say abortion, Murderer. For Purvi, for the women of the world, those words don’t just convey emotion and experience, they convey premeditation. Intent.
For women are a luring serpent. We are not to be trusted.
“All we have is her word.”
Her word that the fetus was born dead. Her word that she did not induce her own abortion. Her word that she did no harm. And her word is discardable. We should dispose of it. Bury it under a tree out back. Wrap it in a red plastic bag, alongside the syringes and transfusion bags and mark it “medical waste.” Throw it in a dumpster. Throw it next to her orange jumpsuit and folded blanket, neatly locked away for the safety of the pre-born, everywhere.
As she lays on that exam table, dripping blood between her thighs, her “pro-life” doctor and partner, the inquisitors from Patriarchal Hell, hold her freedom by the cord hanging from her vagina.
“It was surreal,” he says, the doctor with a moral code – the one that compels his allegiance to the Unborn, the one who left his living, born, deeply harmed patient’s bedside to rush Miami-Vice-style to the “scene.” How attached to his Operation, his Rescue of this helpless victim, the non-viable fetus who Might-Have-Been. Who might that fetus have become? Any number of things, surely. Even now, in pre-developed, fetal form, it holds more potential, more value than the Woman who held it. More value than any woman.
It’s simple, really. “She violated one, simple rule,” the prosecutor said, “she should have gone to the doctor.”
Rule 1: Know the rules.
Rule 2: Conform.
If only we all knew about the Rulebook. The one with the Golden Rule for Woman-kind smeared across the cover. The one written over our bones, stained with our tormented and grief-soaked tears. The one established to help the ignorant females of the world navigate our messy lives and bleeding bodies with vigilance and duty. I wonder how many of us have unknowingly violated this simpleton’s rule? How many unwittingly assume we are the Masters of Our Own Ships? How many have foolishly believed that to miscarry at home was our choice, or to birth at home was our choice, or to decide if, when, or where to obtain care were all of our choices to make?
Who will be included in this new mass incarceration? Will this rulebook be selectively enforced on Women of Color, like a Jim Crow-era segregated death penalty? Will we care less if it is? I find an immense amount of pain wrapped up in the impetus behind justice-seeking. Behind the revelation of who actually holds value in these justice conversations. Do we only care when a full circle can be drawn back to ourselves or those like us? To those who will make decisions like us, who lead lives like us?
Purvi’s case implicates us all. And that matters.
It matters most, though, because Purvi, herself – Purvi, an in individual, Purvi, a woman in a cell, Purvi a person with real emotions, and real experiences, and a real life – matters.