When I was 24, my long-distance boyfriend dumped me. I was stranded in New Mexico, running down the clock on what had been a less-than-inspiring year teaching high school with the AmeriCorps program. I loved the kids, but getting paid $10,000 a year to work for people who'd founded a charter school on a lark had taken its toll. My guy (or ex-guy) was thousands of miles away, and though he ended our admittedly dysfunctional relationship in a classy and respectful manner, I didn't exactly see it as a favor. Getting dumped was the final straw. I needed an outlet.
I found him in the form of Tristan, a handsome, poetically-named guy who had just (and I mean just) turned 20. He'd grown up in the desert, and his mom ran a local massage and "crystal energy healing" business. He was tall and brown from skateboarding in random parking lots beneath the harsh New Mexico sun. His hair was curly, and he sort of looked like an angel. An unemployed, bass-playing skater angel. I felt like he'd stepped out of a Francesca Lia Block novel and straight into my—well, if not my heart, than at least my vagina.
Tristan and I had nice sex. It wasn't great sex, because I still hadn't quite gotten the hang of sex. I'd only been fucking since I was 21, and apparently it takes more than three years to make a scared, guilty, uptight Catholic into a magical fuck machine. Tristan was very giving and kind and all the things someone named Tristan should be in bed.
I noticed that he kept a necklace on while we had sex. It was a funky purple crystal at the end of a black string. It seemed like an appropriate topic of discussion for pillow talk, so I asked him where it was from.
"It was with me when I was returned to my mother after I was kidnapped," he said, in the most casual tone of voice one could possibly use when conveying that type of information.
I was shocked. "Jesus Christ! You were kidnapped? When? How?" I had visions of The Face on the Milk Carton and I Know My First Name is Steven.
"Aliens," he said, with exactly the same tone he'd used just moments before. "I was taken by aliens."
I took a moment to digest this piece of information. He saw that as an invitation to expand upon his story. To this day, I remain deeply grateful that he did.
"I was almost a year old, and my mother put me to bed. She heard something funny about two hours later, so she went into the room and saw a great flash of light through the window. Then she saw me in my crib, just the way I'd been before, only I was awake. She could tell I needed my diaper changed, so she opened it up and in my diaper she found this crystal." He fingered it and smiled gently.
"Um," I said. "That. Is. Amazing."
"I know," he said. "A lot of people here are taken."
I was struggling to contain some sort of sound. I could hear it inside my head. It vaguely resembled insane, hysterical laughter. I took a few deep breaths and then asked, "Did she have her crystal business then?"
"Um, so did you ever maybe think you'd, like, swallowed the crystal when you were crawling around or something? Doesn't that kind of make more sense than the aliens?"
I don't think I've ever seen such a look of intense disappointment on anyone's face. I thought he was going to cry. Clearly, my idea had never occurred to him before, and I had just shaken the very foundation of his identity. I needed to act fast.
"Let's have sex again!" I suggested brightly. He immediately looked happy again, and we got down to it. When the condom broke, I'm fairly certain it was karma for my having punctured his happiest childhood belief.
I assured Tristan that I'd get emergency contraception. It was legal for over the counter use now, and I didn't need to visit Planned Parenthood. Which was good, because budget cuts during the Bush Administration had forced the local affiliate to close. But the next day, I found that getting emergency contraception from a pharmacy wasn't as simple as I'd hoped.
First, the pharmacist at Walgreens said no. She explained that they had opted out of stocking it because of...well, she didn't give me a "because of," but I'm fairly certain it was because she was as hyper-conservative and uneducated as the rest of the people in that town. I made a small scene and then went to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart didn't have it either, but that wasn't as much of a surprise. I went to Target, which I've always thought of as Wal-Mart for cooler people. The cooler people didn't stock EC, either. I was running out of options.
Finally, my savior appeared in the form of an older gentleman at the Albertson's grocery store. He was the pharmacist, and he looked for all the world like Mr. Hooper on "Sesame Street." Except, you know, not dead (God, that was a traumatic episode.)
There's no fucking way this adorable, folksy old small-town Wild West pharmacist is gonna have Plan B, I thought to myself. Jesus Christ, this guy is wholesome.
"How may I help you, my dear?" he asked pleasantly, with a genuine smile on his face.
"Um," I mumbled. "I'm looking for emergency contraception."
"Why, of course!" he said cheerfully. "Coming right up!" It was as if I'd ordered an egg cream at the soda fountain. He disappeared into the back and returned less than two minutes later, beaming beatifically.
"Thank you?" I said, confused. He was wearing suspenders. Suspenders. And he hadn't given me a lick of trouble.
"Now you know you probably won't feel nauseous, but it's a possibility," he said, discreetly putting it in a bag under the counter. "So make sure you have some nice ginger ale with you, just in case. You go home and take one with lunch, and then have another one twelve hours later. But make sure you eat something good with it. And if you have any problems, you call me and I'll help you out." He gave me his card, which included a 24-hour emergency cell phone number.
"Sir," I said. "You're the fourth pharmacist I've seen and the first one who had EC."
"Well, we only stock one at a time," he said, lowering his voice. "They don't like it around here. But since they closed the Planned Parenthood, I thought we ought to have it. It's important." I immediately felt guilty, wondering if some other girl would need it but wouldn't be able to get it because my dumb ass had busted a condom in an effort to soothe a guy who believed he'd once shit out an alien crystal.
"You take care," said the pharmacist.
"You too," I said.
I didn't end up pregnant with Tristan's baby. Good thing, too, because I would never be able to let that kid crawl around her paternal grandma's house. Too many delicious crystals lying around.
Right before I left New Mexico for graduate school in New York, I found out that one of my freshmen, a 14-year-old named Kallie, was pregnant. Her parents were conservative Christians, and there was no question that she would have to keep the baby. She hadn't been on birth control, because she didn't have any way of getting it. Our school didn't offer any health education, much less sex education. We didn't even have a nurse's office. Her mother never would have allowed her to go on birth control. The nearest Planned Parenthood health center was an hour away.
After I heard the baby was born, I sent Kallie a onesie with the Empire State Building on it. She sent me a nice thank-you note in big, bubbly cursive. The i's were dotted with hearts.
Sara Benincasa is an award-winning comedian, writer, blogger, and podcast host. She's hosting the 4th annual Roe on the Rocks, a benefit show for Planned Parenthood featuring Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, The Bloodsugars, Ana Egge, and Pearl and the Beard, on Monday April 4 at Bowery Ballroom in New York City. And she hopes to see you there.