ON DESIRE AS BLOOD AND BREATH OF THE BODY

CLAIRE ROBBINS

 

      There is always a fear, which I work on looking away from. I lie down on the reclining chair in the plasma center. If I know the phlebotomist, then I know how they handle my veins. I know to expect pain when they insert the needle, or I know to expect that their fingers are so gentle and quick that I will feel nothing as they slip the needle in.
 
      The phlebotomist wraps the blood pressure cuff around my left bicep and pushes a button on the machine; she looks nervous. The blood pressure cuff tightens. I do not know this phlebotomist. Make a tight fist, she tells me, and I tighten my fist into a ball. She presses her index finger into the crook of my arm, feeling for the width and depth of my vein. Do you have easy veins? She asks.
      I’ve never had any trouble before.
      I think you need a more experienced phlebotomist. She looks around, and motions toward a second phlebotomist, who walks over and runs her finger around the inside of my arm.
      I can do this, the second phlebotomist says confidently. Your vein is big, it’s just so deep. I keep quiet. I know some people have small veins, or deep veins that the less experienced phlebotomists have trouble finding, but my own veins never caused any trouble. I look at my right hand, resting over my stomach, blue veins faintly visible through my pale skin. Mostly, I think nothing of my veins.
 
      Once, after donating plasma I unwrapped the bandage wound tight around my arm too soon and when I bent over a thin river of blood fell out of the inside of my arm. I quickly held a washcloth to stop the warm flow of blood. My head felt dizzy. My veins were roads of desire running all through my body, opened up to the world.
      No, my veins carried blood towards my heart.
 
      Before I lie down in the donor floor chair, I enter a small booth and sit on a stool. Name and donor number? The technician asks as she pulls blue gloves onto her hands. I half expect her to snap the bottoms of the gloves against her wrist after she pulls them over her hands, but instead she carefully tucks the hem of her lab coat sleeves under the gloves. She arranges a spring-loaded lancet, a few cotton balls, a band aid and a tiny pipette to collect my blood.
 
      The technician motions for my finger and I know the drill—I extend one finger to her, she swabs it with an alcohol pad to sterilize, and pricks my finger with the lancet. She wipes away the first drop of blood and then massages my finger and collects the blood in the pipette—a tiny straw to drink my blood. She wipes my finger again and wraps the band aid tight around it. She places the thin pipette full of my blood into a machine that will test my iron and protein levels, and then she wraps a blood pressure cuff around my arm.
 
      She takes my blood pressure twice, and twice it is too low, so she sends me out to wait five minutes for a retake. I know not to sit during this time, instead I pace and bounce on my toes to raise my blood pressure. I stretch my arms up over my head. After five minutes of this has passed, the technician calls me back into the booth and this time my blood pressure is fine, so she buzzes me onto the donor floor.
 
      The phlebotomist readies her needle and slowly, hesitantly plunges it towards my deep vein. A good phlebotomist knows how to pierce a vein with little pain, but this time I feel the sharp plunge of the needle. It isn’t bad, but it does hurt. The phlebotomist wrinkles her brow and moves the needle, sending another sharpness through my vein. I breathe. Hmm, I don’t think that is right, the phlebotomist says. Does that hurt?
      It did, yes, I respond.
      The phlebotomist calls to a third phlebotomist over. Aimee, the third phlebotomist’s tag reads, and I read her as gay—close cropped hair, ears gauged, a rose tattooed on her neck. I blush when she puts her hands on my arm.
      Aimee runs her finger over my vein and tells the phlebotomist who stuck the needle that my veins are not deep. Aimee gently begins to pull at the needle, not to take it out but to sit it correctly in my vein. Does this hurt? Aimee asks softly.
      Not too bad, I’m just being a baby, I say, keen to say the word baby. I play up my bashfulness.
 
      The first and last time I went to Lake Michigan with my ex, she was mad at me because I had hurt her feelings. I wasn’t the person she wanted or needed, and so I did things that hurt her. They were the things that fed me and my wildness, but they tore her to shreds. Just as the ways she tried to cage me and control me tore me to shreds.
      My ex napped on the shore while I swam in the lake. The sun hit the waves like the sun always hits the waves and I couldn’t see my ex’s eyes when she finally waded out. I swam close to her and asked her to swim under the water with me, but she didn’t want to do anything I asked her. Instead she called me over to her and I came.
      She was standing up to her chest in the water. I want you to dive under and pick this rock up for me, she said, with a wicked look on her face. She told me she had a rock under her foot, so I sank down under the water where I couldn’t see or breathe, and I felt for her foot and I grabbed hold of one of many rocks under her foot. Head above water, I breathed air in and her face was the most beautifully cruel face I had ever seen. I wanted to kiss her so badly, under the water, or above it, but she wouldn’t let me.
      That’s the wrong rock, she repeated every time I surfaced with another rock, until finally I held the rock she was after—a small grey fossil—and then I was sorry she had grown bored toying with me.
 
      I am always working to reconcile my life with the world, just as everyone must, whatever their circumstances. To say I was selling my plasma twice a week to buy groceries and put gas in my car is to explain a type of drowning, but it also invites the question—why can’t you swim better than this?
 
      Aimee pushes the needle into place, and I breath out. She smiles at me and walks away. I feel like I am surfacing. Right rock, wrong desire, over and over. When I sink my head under the waves, I can hear my own blood rushing. I try to call my ex back to me, but she’s still walking out of the water, onto the shore, even now, months later. And I am in still in the lake, doing something more controlled than drowning.

 
 

∘∘∘