R.S.

So this time you look into the bathroom mirror and realize you didn’t wipe the makeup off last night. One thing led to another and things started getting a bit hot and then you cuddled and you did more than cuddle, and when you were done, you were too pleasantly sleepy and huddled in blankets. You didn’t do that thing, of course. In fact, you’ve never done that thing. For you, it hurts too much, and he doesn’t understand that it hurts because men don’t have hymens.

The second thing you see, when you wipe makeup cleanser over your skin, is that you’re Indian. Not “American” Indian. Indian. This isn’t supposed to be a thing you do. You wouldn’t even know about your hymen, if you had just been a good Indian girl.

Behind you, he stirs in your bed. These last two days were lovely, though it was meant to be one. The first half of yesterday he had not enough reason to leave; the second half you wouldn’t let him, citing roads newly iced.

But now you’re tired of him, and you can’t wait for him to leave. He feels the same.

This isn’t supposed to be a thing you do.

Now you have to do the Walk of Shame. Him sent away with a throwaway kiss, you wash yourself and dress for Fred Meyer’s. It’s been 36 hours since you began your shenanigans, so you only have 36 left to obtain your target: the Plan B pill.

It’s another thing you don’t bother explaining to him. You don’t explain to him why you don’t use “proper” birth control. You don’t even have sex; why should you be paying for something so expensive? More importantly, why should you be consuming something hormonal, something that changes the way your body works, and makes you different from yourself? Why is it not only accepted, but also expected, that the first thing women should turn to is the birth control pill.

The other means are pricey; some necessitate insurance. But you’re on your parents’ insurance.

Men don’t even think these things.

But you do, and you do what you have to to give yourself a sense of safety. You have to have something to do that is within your own power. You once overheard a man poked holes in the condoms he would use for a woman he deemed “marriage material.” So now condoms don’t cut it. Not even close.

When you walk into Fred Meyer’s, you’re a pro. You’ve got a Plan A for how to get to Plan B, and that starts with first grabbing clothes you won’t buy. You got the first thing your hands could land on from the racks at the entrance. In this case, it’s half-off sale ugly sweaters. ’Twas the season to be jolly; now your mind moves sixty steps ahead of you, envisioning the aisle of your destination.

…you do what you have to to give yourself a sense of safety. You have to have something to do that is within your own power.

It’s really not obvious. There’s a place for contraceptives, and it’s right near women’s pads. The condoms are lined up in there too, and you wonder why a men’s product winds up in a shelf full of women’s. Where’s the men’s health section, anyway?

It sure would be easier to be a man.

But you, ma’am, are not a man. You’ve spent your whole life telling yourself reasons to be glad.

There’s a hefty price to be paid — for the Plan B pill, not just for being a woman. It’s fifty dollars. Not a purchase you’d casually make. You wonder if this is why other women go on birth control. Maybe fifteen a month is easier than a one-time, whopping fifty. In the face of financial reality, they sacrifice one type of control of their bodies for another. So what’s that, $180 a year? That’s the low end: it’s $600 if a woman pays fifty a month.

Men pay twenty-four for fifteen Trojans.

And people wonder why we should fund women’s health care?

You’ve spent your whole life telling yourself reasons to be glad.

In any case, there’s an obvious reason as to why a pill smaller than the tip of your pinky comes in a box that fits a Starbucks Venti. The Plan B’s a product most often stolen from department stores. The poor girls who stole them in their time of need have your pity, but all the stealing also means that you, who are fully capable of paying that hobbling price, are required to somehow take that ludicrous box from the middle of the department store to its periphery of cashiers. You can’t miss the chance to publicly announce that you’ve made a mistake, you know?

Even if this was completely your intention and this was not a mistake.

Hence, the sweaters in your cart.

But wait — you can’t reach up and grab the pill from the top shelf just yet. An Indian family comes this way. Just glide by. Feel resentful. Be sure to waste more of your time as you go hawking in circles around various aisles, waiting for the Indians — or Afghanis, Sri Lankans, whatever they are — to leave the vicinity. In all honesty, the Americans won’t truly note it; they won’t bat an eye. But if those Indians are conservative, and they understand what contraception is, you won’t be able to live down that stare.

Americans may convince themselves to go color-blind, but Indians are all about judging.

In any case, you don’t want to get caught reaching for that pill. That’s the biggest fear in this whole process — being caught red-handed. By some coworker. Or some Indian. Or some Indian coworker. There’s just no end to the badness.

The family’s finally gone and you’ve wasted enough time. You hurtle down the aisle and grab it. Throw it under the sweaters in your cart. And this is when you first see the sweaters. An outlandish green and white, the sweaters will be about as difficult to explain, you realize, as the Plan B pill underneath, should anybody happen to ask you questions.

Crap.

That’s the biggest fear in this whole process — being caught red-handed.

At least you don’t look like you’re shoplifting this time. When last you’d come to that aisle, you’d forgotten how desperately you would want to hide that box. So you walked to the end of the aisle and grabbed the first thing that could hide something else: a brand new purse. It wasn’t until you were walking with that purse squeezed under your arm that that you realized — you would rather be accused of shoplifting than accosted by an Indian.

The Indian family is considering plastic cups and Ziploc bags. You hurry on through the aisles. You know when you get to the cashiers at last, the cashier will have to call a manager to get permission to open this box. Mind-blowing, how many layers of embarrassment can be required. All that walking around, standing around, waiting. Hoping nobody you know gets in line behind you. The logistics are ugly.

But you’re not at the cashier’s yet. You’re still walking. He’s already gone, the guy from last night, and maybe you’re already gone from his mind. But you’re still walking, the next day, the next afternoon. You’re still dealing with the aftermath.

You wanted to explain this to him last night, to make him understand, why you don’t want to have sex, that it’s humiliating to do this. But the very thought of this hypothetical conversation brought your throat to a close. You had imagined the expressions on his face, going from curiosity to confusion, then to guilt, and distaste. Distaste would have helped him disengage.

In yet another imagining, he becomes awkward. He looks to the side, a wordless plea for escape.

Or the worst: he straight up thinks you’re stupid, and he’s sure to let you know of it. Because, birth control, what’s the big deal? Sure, he’s not worried about the pills because they don’t affect his hormones, but hey, he’s not telling you to take them either. So have you heard of an IUD?

But you’re still walking, the next day, the next afternoon. You’re still dealing with the aftermath.

There are a lot of things he may prescribe to you that he does not have to worry about. This imaginary him is the one you find in nightmares. The only way to end all his suggestions would be to remind him of what the gyno told you: you can’t fit anything down there without surgery. You can barely fit a tampon. How is anything else going to go in?

So now you think this was the last time — the last time before your marriage. Because you don’t want to deal with the stress. You don’t want to deal with uncertainty. You don’t want to deal with explaining yourself anymore. You’re tired of teaching yourself to tolerate discomfort so you can “live it up” by shutting down your fears. Fears of the pain, of getting pregnant, of what he might say, what he might not say.

You now are first in line. The fifty comes in cash. These pills don’t go on credit card statements…and nor do you, on that Walk of Shame.

*


It started with fan fiction.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I abhor Twilight and all of its spawn. (Except the first two movies. Great comedies! And mm-mm, Ja-cob!) But I am certainly not the first of a host of writers for whom fan fiction is the new origin story. We wrote fan fiction, we built a home base, and to our surprise, came out of it with some incredible findings. I truly believed I would one day be a novelist — and you’ll see in a few minutes why.

I first suspected something when I was eleven. My fan fiction career began with a contest. I so loved Eragon, and was eager to win a signed copy of the upcoming book, Eldest. A tiny tale with seven chapters, When We Were Little followed childhood Eragon through the moment his adoptive mother dies. I didn’t win, but I’m not too bummed: I hated the sequel anyway. But I posted it online and checked for reviews obsessively, when one review changed my life.

Someone told me they had cried.

…we built a home base, and to our surprise, came out of it with some incredible findings.

I took a step back. What? Was this for real? You mean I had been able to reach across the interwebz, was granted brain space in some rando’s head, and was able to boop! their heart with enough of an impact to make them cry?

Wow. That was the moment. That right there verified my existence. I had transcended the self. Through the medium of shur’tugal.com, I had passed into someone else’s life, and in them left a part of me. I could thus live forever.

So I dove into a fantasy fan fiction. 8 months later, I beheld a 530-page behemoth. That, folks, is a rate I can struggle repeating today. But back then? “Hell yeah, I could do this!” That was my general sentiment. This wasn’t a matter of gaining confidence in being able to write a fantasy epic; this was a matter of “How could I not?”

That was the moment. That right there verified my existence. I had transcended the self.

And it was the coolest: I had gathered a bit of a following as my writing was read all over America, England and Denmark, India and Malaysia, Germany and Chile, Taiwan and Japan. One of my readers, who had gone on vacation in Mexico, paid for internet to read my work! Two became beta readers I’m in contact with today, and all of this — back in 2005 — anonymous.

Back when anonymity was a virtue, before trolls took over the internet. A middle school nerd and outcast, online I found my people. My writing fluency meant I was taken quite seriously, and I entered into friendships with people I was much too afraid to approach in real life. This little brown girl discovered years later that one of my beta readers was a British guy who looked like he was meant for a Harley Davidson. It is remarkable to think: how grave was our exchange; how solemn our critique!

Back when anonymity was a virtue, before trolls took over the internet. A middle school nerd and outcast, online I found my people.

My writing now is meant to serve women and minorities. There is a massive void of minorities in fantasy and science fiction. I want to be a part of bridging that gap.