My dentist, hand deep in my mouth, scratching and scraping against my gums, asks if I am okay, and I, mouth full of metal and drool I am too afraid to swallow, nod and mumble “uh-huh.” My dentist, slowly removing the tools from within my mouth, bright light strapped to the front of her glasses like a miner, smiles down at me. “Good girl,” she says. “You’re a good patient,” she says. For reasons I do not understand, I flood with pride and relief.
My mother, practically crying herself, assists the doctor holding down my toddler body as I twist and flail against their hands. The doctor, less patient than my mother, irritation and sweat across her face, reminds me that we are almost done. My toddler body, mostly as a response to the force, begins to relax. As I start to settle, they both assure me, still on top of me, still holding me down, that I’m doing a good thing now; “Good… good; there we go. Good job,” and then she’s pulling a needle out from my skin.
I, eyeing my water bottle and wondering if I can make it another minute without crumpling to the floor, follow the instructions perfectly and increase my pace with each declaration of “if you can handle it, pick it up.” I, knowing I’ve pushed my body too far and should stop, take a deep breath and refuse to drop off. My fitness instructor, strawberry-blonde hair tied tightly around the top of her head in a scrunchy, full body bobbing along with the music, sees me sweating and struggling to catch my breath. “Good work, Liz!” she yells and I, barely holding myself up, I — of course — smile.
My legs are in stirrups facing in the direction of a doctor who is covered in a myriad of grotesque substances that have emerged from my body. My hand is reaching down, as instructed, to touch the head that is springing out from inside of me, a little bloody and a little hairy — my motivation to keep going. I grit my teeth and scream as I proceed with tearing myself in half from the vagina up, and my doctor, beaming through the mask covering the majority of her face yells, “Good! Good! Keep going! Yes, good!” So I do.
My husband, having found me hiding in the bathroom, pressing myself against the cold porcelain of the tub, grabs my hand and pulls me to him, pressing me into his chest. My husband, having just taken me to the ground in the room across the hall from us now, screaming incoherently in my face, smiles down at me and croons, “Poor sweet girl, you just want to be loved… come here.” And when I relax into him and ignore the tight feeling lingering from his hands around my throat, he whispers “good girl” into my hair.
ART BY LUDOVICA DE GAUDENZI
Ludovica, aka troiscentdanses, is a 23-year-old Italian. She studies architecture in Brussels and has loved drawing since she was a kid. She started posting her art on Instagram about a year ago, which has now become a huge part of her life – as she says: ‘I get to do something I love and share it with people.’ Instagram @troiscentdanses | Facebook.com/troiscentdanses
Liz Howard is a queer single mom living in Philadelphia with her troublesome four-year-old & very loud beagle. She is a fiction reader at Little Fiction and has work in or forthcoming in: Paper Darts, Split Lip Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, Yes Poetry, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @Mother_Faulkner.