By Alexa Nelson

I sat in the waiting room, the nervous jiggling of my foot sending vibrations up my leg. The wait time was “a jiffy”, as the nurse so cheerfully called it. When I asked her for an actual number, her smile dropped and I could feel the chill from her attitude as her cheer disappeared, apparently put off by the fact that I didn’t go along with her absurd time frame of twenty minutes.

Okay, maybe it’s my fault for not humoring her like I usually would. I like strangers to like me, even though I know I will probably never see them again. My world is very small. I’ve had the same friends since elementary school, I work alone in a quiet office (also known as my slice of paid heaven), and had been with my boyfriend for a few years after knowing him for even longer. I rarely ventured outside my comfortable parameters unless necessary, staying within the same tight circles of school, work, home. But leaving a good impression is important to me, despite the fact that I most likely vanish from their thoughts once I’m out of view. Quiet people like myself are easily forgettable. I should have just smiled back and said nothing, and waited for the ambiguous “jiffy” to pass, but my unease was making me antsy.

Anxiety crawls up and down my skin. It hardened my nipples, which stuck out stubbornly through my shirt. I hadn’t been wearing bras lately. My boobs had been so sensitive the past few weeks that being braless was the easiest course. I had to hide them from the other patients in the room so I crossed my arms over my breasts, as delicately as I could.

A child was squirming in his seat across the room for me, torn between his mother’s instructions to sit still and the brightly colored toys in front of him. I know he probably wouldn’t care about my chest, but his mother had that look; you know, the one that screams, “if you ever expose my angel to anything even halfway indecent, I will make it my life’s mission to loudly and thoroughly ruin yours.” She had long, manicured fingers that looked like they have written many a strongly worded letter. The child farted, and let out a long peal of giggles. His mother fixed him with an icy glare that wouldn’t have the desired effect on him for a few years, and let him play. I could sense the passive-aggressiveness coming off of her in waves. I tried to hide my smile as I closed my eyes and willed these twenty minutes to pass.

My mother says I came out of the womb worried. An old soul squished into a tiny, pink blanket burrito. It’s her favorite story to tell to anyone stuck next to her for at least ten minutes, and it goes like this: I was born, I cried just long enough to confirm that my lungs worked then promptly fell asleep, already tired. The nurses put me in my mother’s arms and she began to cry, hard, at my (and this is an exact quote) “precious, perfect, squish of a face.” Then, I opened my eyes for the first time and looked right into hers, raising my tiny wisps of eyebrows. She says she never saw such concern in someone so young. And she ends her story with a laugh, “my little Valuna is a born empath.”

Me, I just see it as the starting point of my anxiety. Years ago, when my doctor asked me how long I had been experiencing the symptoms of anxiety (which included, but were not limited to: wild, rapid heartbeats whenever I had to speak in front of more than two people, sweat dripping down my back when I had to walk by groups, a voice that dropped slowly down to a whisper without me even realizing it almost every time I talked, the worry that sprung eternal over the most miniscule things), I simply told her, “since I came out the womb.” She thought I was joking. I just counted her among the very few who had not laughed politely while held hostage by my mother’s story. Only hindsight tells me what was and wasn’t worth overwhelming worry. But until then, everything and anything feels like DEFCON 1, cocked pistol, nuclear war imminent.

But, this current situation, I know, is definitely worth the worry. I would be facing a crossroads in… okay, fifteen minutes now. I knew I would look back at this moment, and refer to it as “The Day I Found Out for Sure.” If it’s the result I want, I’ll happily race to the nearest place that sells liquor and get a tall drink. If not… I’ll still drink, but I’ll be crying the whole time.

A short woman emerged from behind the office door, dressed in green scrubs decorated with multicolored eggs, some with bright yellow chicks popping out, and called my name. I quickly got up and followed her, my heart in my throat, and passed the little boy who was now happily playing with the waiting room toys while making farting noises with his mouth, trying to recapture that original magic.

She led me to her office, not making conversation. We ended in a small office, detailed and layered drawing of various organs of the human body the only decoration. A plastic vagina sat on the desk, a tiny fetus with chipped paint resting inside. A plastic circumcised penis sat juxtaposed across the desk from it. The nurse produced a folder with “Jones, Valuna” neatly written on the tab. I couldn’t get a reaction from her, no disappointment, no judgement, no excitement. Her neutrality was soothing.

Clearing her throat as she opened the folder, she looked down and read my results.

“So, you tested positive…” she began. I didn’t hear the rest, because I promptly passed out.