What Happens Next is Up to You
Getting pregnant is a lot like breaking glass. It’s easier to do by accident than on purpose.
Glass breaks for different reasons. Bottles shatter against the hulls of brand-new ships when christened before their maiden voyages, casting spilled wine and slivered pieces for years of safe journeys across an unpredictable sea. Wrapped tightly in white woven fabric, glass is stepped on at Jewish weddings to mark the end of the ceremony and to signify the beginning of a commitment.
Broken glass can be a celebration; it can be a sign of commitment, of goodwill, of trust.
But sometimes, broken glass can simply hurt you.
Getting pregnant is a lot like someone dropping a glass on the kitchen floor. You hear it shatter, but you’ve been promised they swept it. It should be fine. You can walk barefoot. Don’t worry about it. Stop asking.
Maybe they dropped the glass and didn’t bother to clean it up. They didn’t even try to protect you or warn you of what you were getting into.
Sometimes, it can be the person you love that throws glass directly at your feet, embedding shards in your skin before you can think to jump out of the way and protect yourself.
I did my best to tiptoe around the barely noticeable silvers. I would ask politely, repeatedly, insistently, if he could not leave broken glass where he knew I would step on it. But despite my politeness, or my firmness, or how many times I would stand up for myself, I was always scared of what I could be walking into.
You can avoid thousands upon thousands of pieces, but all it takes is a single tiny sliver, and the blood starts pooling under your feet.
I found out that I was pregnant on the day Queen Elizabeth II died. I made the appointment for my abortion less than five minutes later. Even though I was barely a month pregnant, I had been in excruciating pain for weeks. My lower back alternated between sharp stings and terrifying numbness. I didn’t feel any connection to what was happening inside me; I felt only fear.
The man who caused the pregnancy and the resulting pain was my boyfriend of more than two years. He said he wanted me to be the mother of his children. I often loved him more than I loved myself; but lately it was getting harder to like him and the person he could be. We couldn’t have a child now. Not this young, not when we didn’t have any money, and certainly not with how bad his drinking was.
In the months leading up to the pregnancy, I had been living in the shadow of his alcoholism. At first, he was a fun drunk. He would dance with me and say impossibly sweet things, so sweet that they would make my teeth hurt. But the more he drank, the more sour he became. Some summer nights, he would pass out and leave me in graveyards of empty bottles. All alone, I would spend hours staring at a screen, Googling “boyfriend is a binge drinker?” and hoping to find advice that wasn’t “leave him before he hits you,” or “it’s only going to get worse.” Every answer was the same. He will hurt you, if not physically, then emotionally. You will not escape unscathed.
I wanted to leave a month before I got pregnant. But the fear of what he would do if I left was stronger than my desire to go. I wanted to be a good partner. I didn’t want to be the one to give up on us. He promised to try to get sober. I wanted to believe him. It’s strange how quickly the cracks started to spread. In the week between telling him I was pregnant and my abortion, he was no longer the person I fell in love with. Our bond fractured despite how hard I was trying to hold it together.
A few days after I told him I was pregnant, I picked him up from work. I had never seen him so angry. He opened the car door, violently threw his bags in the car, and slammed it shut behind him.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay. You don’t have to do all that,” I said.
“Just take me to the LCBO.” He didn’t look me in the eyes. Usually when I picked him up after work, he wouldn’t be able to stop smiling. His eyes would light up, and he would cover me in kisses before asking how my day was.
“Okay,” I said, meekly. I wanted to say, “No, drinking won’t make you feel better, it’ll just make everything worse.” But I was scared of making him more angry. The pain in my lower back was all too consuming. I could barely stand up, let alone stand up to him.
We stopped at the LCBO before we went to his house. I sat uncomfortably on the couch as he downed one, two, five, six drinks.
“Hey, I know you’re stressed, but maybe this is too much,” I pleaded, putting my hand on his shoulder.
He waved me off. “Yeah, yeah,” he slurred, “I’m not gonna drink much after this one.”
I couldn’t tell if he was gesturing to his half-full glass or the half-empty bottle; he had a hand on each. His grip was so tight that it seemed like they were going to shatter from the hold of his addiction.
I told him my back was acting up again and excused myself to his bedroom. Lying on his bed, I wondered how we got to this point. I knew he would never hurt me physically, but there were worse things to be afraid of than physical pain.
It dawned on me that this could be my whole life. I could spend decades feeling like I had to hide from the person who loved me. If I didn’t have an abortion, I’d have to devote my life to protecting someone far more vulnerable than me, and I didn’t think I would be able to do that.
My abortion was on a Thursday morning. The women working at the clinic were kind. It had been a long time since I was regarded with tenderness. I realized that I forgot what it felt like. The doctor performing the procedure had the same first name as me. It felt like the universe was telling me that the only person who could get me out of this was myself. As I sat in the recovery room, I gazed out the window. Across the street was the hospital where I was born. The glass had a slight reflection in the light. I could see myself. The person staring back at me looked sad. Undeniably, I felt grateful for even having the ability to free myself from this pain and the future that came along with it.
My boyfriend insisted on taking the day off work so that he could take care of me as I came out of sedation. I tried to tell him it wasn’t necessary, that he didn’t have to, but he didn’t give me a choice. After he brought me home from the clinic, he went out to pick up my prescribed antibiotics. When he came back from the pharmacy, he tried to comfort me as I fought bouts of dizziness and waves of nausea. As I settled back in bed, his words of comfort became pointed and unsettling. I begged him not to do this today, and he got up and left, disappearing for a few hours. I didn’t know if he would even bother coming back. I couldn’t tell what would be worse: his presence or his absence.
When he did come back, he sat on the edge of my bed and gave me an earnest apology. It surprised me, the fact he could show me mercy.
I didn’t realize it then, but he was already drunk.
As the afternoon went on, the words coming out of his mouth went from rude to insulting, his speech becoming more slurred. I kept asking what was wrong, why he was acting this way. I thought for a moment. Oh, he’s acting like he does when he is drunk. But he can’t be drunk, not today. I shouldn’t be so judgemental.
An hour later, he admitted that he had taken a trip to the LCBO and had been drinking heavily throughout the day. When I asked him why, he just shrugged and said he felt scared. He stood up, stumbled into my bathroom and slammed the door behind him. I heard him vomit for several minutes before I went upstairs and grabbed a glass. Filling it with cold water, I let it overflow and trickle down my fingers, just so I could feel something that wasn’t intense disappointment and debilitating despair. I set the glass on the table for him when he was done.
The bottles were in his car. When I found them, a wave of jealousy rippled through me. These glass vessels were more important to him than I was. He must have gone home when he disappeared earlier, because his parents left a Post-it Note on the whiskey bottle that read “Please don’t drink! We love you :).”
Carrying the bottles back inside, my eyes filled with hot tears. He was sitting on my bed. I took a seat on the bathroom floor and placed each glass bottle gingerly on the tiles, untwisting each cap before tipping them over the rim of the toilet. The brownish-orange liquor swirled in the bowl and splashed against the flecks of vomit left behind for me to deal with.
A deep, inescapable feeling of shame consumed me. A dark cloud cast a shadow on the hopes I had for us and any trust I had left in him. Our relationship wasn’t just cracked anymore; it was shattered. The jagged pieces of every moment we had shared were piercing me right through the heart.
All I could think about was the fact that I had an abortion, and instead of being there for me like he promised—like he insisted—my boyfriend got drunk. While I was waiting for him to pick up my antibiotics, he was buying booze. When I went to the bathroom to check if I was bleeding a normal amount, he ran back to his car to swig mouthfuls of whiskey, returning before I could even tell that he was gone.
This will always be a story that I will have to live with. I will always be a person that this had happened to.
Before I set the bottle of Fireball back down, my eyes landed on the back label.
“What you have here is a smooth whiskey with a fiery kick of red-hot cinnamon. It tastes like heaven, burns like hell. What happens next is up to you.”
Two days later, he was back in my bedroom, sitting on the edge of my bed. He hugged my dog when he came in but didn’t try to touch me. He hadn’t spoken to me at all since the day I had my abortion.
He told me he needed time to be alone. That he needed to work on himself. There was no apology, no remorse in his words. Only coldness, a slight anger aimed at me as he spoke.
I was sitting on top of the covers, hugging my knees, and hiding my face. I wondered why he couldn’t have come to this realization a month ago.
Taking a deep breath, I lifted my head up.
“I think it’s time for you to go,” I sighed.
Before he left, he picked up my hand, holding it tight. I looked him in the eyes, and there was a glimmer of the man I love, hidden somewhere in this cruel person staring back at me. He pulled me in, hugged me, and held me close. When he let go, he was still gripping my hand. He hugged me again. I could feel the part of him that didn’t want to go, the part that couldn’t believe what he had done. I started to cry, my tears falling into the creases of his neck. He pulled back from the hug for a split second, only to pull me close a final time. When he finally released from the embrace, he couldn’t let go of my hand. Tears were beginning to creep out of the corners of his eyes. He firmly placed my hand back on my bed, like a cold glass that he had just downed, a can he had just crushed, an empty bottle that was no longer of purpose to him.
One of the support groups I attend is in a church on Bloor Street West in Toronto. Every Saturday morning, I put myself together and ride the subway for 15 stops to sit with strangers who pour their hearts out.
The room we meet in is on the east side of the church. It’s a cozy space with floral couches and big colourful windows. As the meetings go on, the sun rises higher and higher, and beams brightly throughout the room. The stained-glass casts intense speckles of colour on everyone. A splash of red over one’s face, a beam of blue covering a few, the morning light dripping across the room, drenching all of us in a flood of yellow.
I see a lot of myself in these people. I see futures I would have lived. All of them have been affected by someone else’s drinking. They’ve all had heart-shatteringly awful things happen to them, broken seemingly beyond repair. But right now, they’re letting the light shine through. Picking up the pieces, slowly placing them back together, and making something stronger and far more beautiful than it ever was before.
Piece by piece, I feel the fragments of myself slowly coming back together. They don’t fit like they used to; I’m not sure they ever will. The only way to make stained glass is to break perfectly intact pieces and place together parts that would’ve never fit if they hadn’t come apart. I can feel the light I always had inside myself slowly returning, and it’s breathing new colours into my life, bold and brilliant in ways I never could have expected.
My life doesn’t have to be defined by someone else’s drinking. My future isn’t controlled by someone who would so easily cast me aside for his own selfish desires. I had the freedom to choose not to be a mother. I have the irreplaceable gift of not spending years of my life repeating the same patterns. My life can be a mosaic, a work of art, a stained-glass window. A beautiful thing born out of terrible, unpleasant experiences.
Every night, before I fall asleep in the room where my heart was shattered into pieces several times over, I stare at the bottle of Fireball that he left behind. I dropped off all his stuff at his parents’ house a long time ago, but I kept the bottle as a token to remind myself of the power I have.
What happens next is up to me. Only I decide the pieces that will make up the rest of my life.
Satirist (Volume 48) —
Erin Delaney graduated in 2021, majoring in Communication and minoring in Professional Writing and Visual Culture. She first began writing for The Medium in 2019 and became the Editor of the short lived but much-loved Satire section for the Winter 2020 semester. She has also written for the 2021 edition of Mindwaves. When Erin isn’t thinking of jokes, she’s usually playing with her dog, contemplating the end of the world, or thinking about how she should write more. You can connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is such a powerful piece, both inspiring and vulnerable.