All this happened because I had the audacity to want to go to grad school. To make that happen, I had to put my grown-up life on hold and live in the back room of my mom’s house until I got my fancy pants master’s degree. Having a kid in that situation would be beyond inconvenient.
So without money or health insurance, I hightailed it to Planned Parenthood once a month to pay $30 bucks for birth control in an concious effort to keep my womb fetus-free. This worked wonderfully until (one particularly broke weekend) the cost of my NuvaRings spiked $20 dollars without explanation.
For $50 bucks a month, I figured it’d be less expensive to just go on ahead and raise my hypothetical baby. Fortunately, my thesis (and total lack of motherly instinct) knew that having a kid was still a very bad idea. But I only had $30 dollars, two of which were in quarters. Then and there I decided Susan G. Komen is somehow responsible for this nightmare and I left the clinic empty-handed for the first time in months.
The next day I sulked on over to the hair salon to beg my stylist for a freebee. When she relented, I sat in her chair to vent about my lack of Nuva Ring dilemma, because aside from executing a mean “press n curl” she’s there to listen to me complain. I expected her to nod absentmindedly at my pain in the same way she does every other Saturday afternoon. But instead, after listening to my womb woes, she bent over and whispered the sentence every fiscally challenged person longs to hear: “I got the hook-up.”
Now “the hook-up,” in laymen’s terms, is an unauthorized connection to goods or services that is typically illegal in nature. I’ve received said hook-up on cell phone chargers, the occasional bootlegged DVD and a $50 dollar store credit at Wet Seal that I swear was for a friend. But a hook-up on birth control? Eww.
Before I could even fix my lips to give my hair stylist a courteous, “Hell no,” she tells me that her best friend’s second cousin charges $15 dollars for a month’s supply. Fifteen dollars? Maybe bootleg birth control wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
Fast forward to 30 minutes later and I’m outside the salon next to a rust-colored Plymouth Reliant, shaking hands with a portly young woman who introduces herself as Ruwanda. She pries open the trunk and rattles off the names of pills like list of fine wines; “Loestrin, Yasmin, or Alesse?” Fingers crossed, I whisper, “NuvaRing?”
It’s a freakishly warm November day. Ruwanda snaps her fingers and reaches into her oven of a trunk for one of the rings I’m pretty sure is supposed to be stored at 60 degrees. When I grab for it, I’m worried that, not only has the Indian summer destroyed its contraceptive power, but that the ring may singe my va jay jay on the way up. But Ruwanda hands it over and, lo and behold, it’s cool to the touch.
I want to ask how she gets them, but can’t, because the rule for this and any other illicit transaction is always, “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.”
Before I hand over the money, I give the city block around us the shifty eye to make sure no one is watching. I inspect the packet with trembling hands. The little blue package isn’t some Canal Street knock off. It’s the real freaking deal. I caress the ring, resist the urge to hiss, “My precious,” and I shove it into my back pocket.
If this were an episode of “Intervention,” I’d be shooing the cameraman away not to keep my face out of frame, but to protect sweet Ruwanda’s identity. I have to make sure she’s not in jail this time next month when I’ll need another fix.
After a convincing sales pitch, I decide to buy three rings for less than the price of what Planned Parenthood charged me for one. Ruwanda even throws in a free ring, part of her new customer promotion. Before we part, Ruwanda grabs a satchel out of her steamy trunk. It’s filled with packets of Plan B pills. Apparently, they sell like hot cakes at the barbershop next door.
It’s six months later and my lady parts are still vacant, save for the NuvaRing. Meanwhile, a bunch of white guys in Congress, none of who will probably ever get pregnant, are trying to make it even harder for me to get the birth control that’s keeping my life plan on track. I guess to keep me from screwing half the county on the taxpayers’ dime when all I want to do is NOT have a baby before I have a grown up house, a grown-up job and all the other means to take care of one.
I’m willing to bet that Ruwanda’s dozens of other customers and the one in five women without health insurance have a similar American dream. But unlike many of them, soon I’ll graduate and hopefully be able to get a real job with real benefits. Until then, Ruwanda and her entrepreneurial American spirit will keep making my birth control as accessible as a freshly delivered pizza. So she’ll continue to get my birth control business, as long as her car continues to run.