CARROTS by Karen Uffelman
The hair-netted boy behind the steamed food counter regarded her as if she were an alien.
“Carrots?” he asked.
It’s true, they didn’t look very appetizing. Theresa wondered if he guessed why she wanted them. She was being paranoid.
He put a scoop of rather washed-out looking carrots on a small plate. They seemed to be covered with little bits of green stuff. Parsley? It was hard to tell. They looked greasy.
“I’d like a large serving. Big plate.”
Her voice was quiet and he leaned over the counter towards her to hear. She was trying so hard not to draw attention to herself. The guy behind her in line edged closer, peered over her shoulder.
“A big plate like this?” the food service boy asked, pulling one from the stack next to the fried food counter. Theresa nodded.
“And should I just fill it? Like, cover the plate?” She nodded again.
The guy behind her was definitely curious now.
Her roommate’s natural remedies book (the only health-oriented book on their shelves) had recommended food-sourced vitamin A in large quantities. Both as a prophilaxis and as treatment. She didn’t really know if she needed either, but she was having anxiety dreams and felt like action was required. Drops of butter, or margarine, more likely, were congealing on the individual carrot pieces. They looked revolting.
Lunch first, and then the appointment. And then she could stop freaking out. Theresa pulled her meal card out of her wallet and handed it to the cashier, who only raised her eyebrows at the ungodly quantity of carrots. Then she headed to an empty table at the back of the cafeteria. She started with a tentative nibble and then commenced shoveling carrots in her mouth by the large spoonful. She hoped that none of this was necessary, but felt vaguely better that she was being proactive in case it was.
After the feast of carrots, Theresa hopped on a bus heading toward town. It had all started with that stupid, stupid made-for-TV movie she watched when she should have been studying. About the girl dying from AIDS. And then several days later, stupid Nick bragging about his ex-girlfriend and her track-marked arms. He wasn’t bragging, actually, more seeking sympathy for his poor choices in women or exoneration for breaking up with an addict that couldn’t help herself or something equally stupid. But he had to talk about it, didn’t he, and now she was freaking out. FREAKING OUT.
Theresa had only had sex with Nick a handful of times. He wanted her to be his girlfriend, he was needy that way, but she wasn’t sure how much she really liked him and wasn’t ready to have a steady guy in the middle of her freshman year. He had cute hair, and he was conveniently located – right down the hall, in fact – but he didn’t seem all that smart. He always wanted to talk politics with her and she was embarrassed by his ignorance. He was a year ahead in school and almost two years older and, well, she wanted to be wowed by an older guy. Not feel intellectually superior. Not wish he could just keep his mouth shut and look pretty. That’s probably why they ended up in the sack in the first place. He had been hanging out in her room, and decided to start reading out loud from her Marxist theory text book. She was a little drunk, and decided that kissing him would be the most efficient way to shut him up. That led to some rather mediocre sex. Mediocre, unprotected sex. She was petrified for a week and a half that she’d gotten pregnant, but her period arrived right on schedule. After that, the three or four times that she’d had too much to drink and ended up in Nick’s room or he in hers, she’d kept enough wits about her to bring or insist that he find a condom. But there was that one slip-up…which was all that the girl on the made-for-TV show had died for.
Theresa arrived at the family planning clinic with 20 minutes to spare. She considered walking around for a while, but decided that would make her more nervous. She used the same quiet voice with the woman at the reception desk as she had with the server at the cafeteria.
“I’m sorry, dear, but can you speak up?” the woman asked.
“Um, I’m Theresa Daley and I have an appointment at 1:30.”
“Ah, yes, here you are. For a ‘screening’ right? If you could just fill out these four forms and bring them back up to me, we’ll get you right in.”
Theresa took the clipboard and headed for one of the non-descript mauve chairs in the waiting room. The first form was fairly basic: name, address, age, emergency contact (who should that be? Her mother? Emergency, Gail, your daughter has AIDS!), insurance provider (oh sure), drug allergies. The second and third forms, too, were endless questions about family diseases, hospitalizations, and other boring questions.
The final form was more interesting. It was entitled “Sexual Practices.” One question asked her to circle the number next to each category that represented any part of her sexual experience: 1) Light kissing, cuddling and skin-to-skin fondling above the waist, 2) Deep kissing and genital fondling, 3) Intercourse, 4) Oral sex, bondage, anal sex, group sex, fisting. Really? Theresa circled one through three. She didn’t circle four but underlined oral sex twice. The next question asked about number of sexual partners. Nick had been number four for Theresa. The categories were Zero, 1 – 3, 4 – 75, or 75+. Theresa stared at the page. She didn’t particularly self-identify as a goody-two-shoes, but this form was definitely saying she was a slut. Maybe four partners was the number where you became high-risk for AIDS. She was pretty sure that the girl on the made-for-TV movie had only had sex with one guy, though. She chose not to circle any of the options but underlined number 4 in the 4 – 75 category. Another question asked if she’d ever been intimate with anyone who might have injected drugs or engaged in same sex intercourse OR if she’d been intimate with anyone who’d been intimate with anyone who might have injected drugs or engaged in same sex intercourse. She wrote YES in capital letters and then said, “Oh for fuck’s sake,” right out loud.
She turned in her paperwork, feeling as if she didn’t need to get the test after all, as she was clearly high risk and maybe already in some type of late stage infection. She hadn’t been feeling all that well, now that she thought about it. But maybe it was the two pounds of greasy steamed carrots she’d eaten for lunch. Good immune booster, her roommate’s book said. She thought she might throw up.
A nurse called her name from the hallway and escorted her to a small room with what looked like a school desk in the middle. It was all over in a couple of minutes. The nurse drew her blood, made her sign another form, suggested she check the box for “I’d like counseling with my results.” No words of encouragement or sympathy.
Theresa decided she wouldn’t speak to Nick for the two weeks until her results came back from the lab. If they came back okay, maybe she’d buy a new pack of condoms and try him out as a real boyfriend. Or maybe make him get a test, too, although the nurse told her you’d have to be with the same sexual partner for at least six months after testing, with no slip-ups, to be sure. Six months seemed like forever, and the no slip-ups part, well, probably out of the question. But if her test came back negative, she might be willing to give it a try.
In the meantime she was going to eat a fuckload of carrots.