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From 2014 to 2015, I visited the Talecris Plasma Center in Portland dozens of times, donated countless pints of plasma, and earned a little less than two grand in more-literal-than-not blood money. Millennials are apparently the biomedical industry’s most promising new market for paid clinical trial and donation needs like plasma, and I was broke and in need of cash like every other donor there. But my finances were hardly the only source of stress in my life.
I was also in an emotionally abusive relationship with a comic artist whose most recent gig had dried up. I knew he was a freelancer, and I knew income could come and go, but several months without any work left us desperate. We’d been together for a year, and I figured he would find work again soon.
He didn’t for close to a year.
When he couldn’t pay the rent for his place, I covered it two months in a row before he broke the lease and moved in with me. In the months that followed, I worked three 12-hour nights a week at a porn store, three 10-hour nights a week at an office, and freelance jobs during the day in addition to twice-weekly plasma donations. Despite incredible talent and considerable professional accomplishments, he spent most days playing video games.
When I tried to communicate the gravity of our finances, he promised he was looking for work and told me I was selfish for expecting him to contribute more than he could. I suggested he move back in with his parents or get an hourly job, but he quickly reminded me how abusive his home was and how his anxiety would make a retail job impossible. After months of struggling and false starts, I gave him an ultimatum.
Soon after, he told me about a new project he’d been offered. It was a children’s sci-fi comic, and I excitedly told him he should take the job and offer to start working immediately.
He responded with anger: “I don’t understand why I would take this job when I’ve been turning down projects just like it for months.”
He hadn’t told me about other work he’d been offered, and when given the chance to explain, clarified that it’d been “stuff he didn’t want to do.” He didn’t understand why I was upset about this, and he accused me both of being a gold digger and trying to control his career. (Just two of many misogynist clichés that had a tendency to come out in our arguments.)
Shortly thereafter, all pretense of timidity wore away. I’d been getting serious about applying to grad school and was looking for a way to end the relationship peaceably. His confrontations lasted days instead of hours, included punched walls and shouting, and edged closer towards violence each time. When I once flinched away from him in fear, he called me manipulative for “acting scared.”
I told him to move out, and he did.
My apartment was trashed and things went missing when he came back to get his stuff. I tried to ask about the fast food remnants littered on the floor or the evidence he’d rummaged through all of my belongings, but he said I was being selfish and trying to start a fight.
A few months later, I logged onto Tumblr and realized I’d never unfollowed him when I saw a scene from his new comic. A familiar scene.
In it, a young woman is seen in a plasma center wearing rolled-cuff shorts with tights, boots, a tee shirt, and an oversized jacket.
My usual attire when I went to donate.
She is turned away because her blood pressure is too high.
That happened to me several times when I was too stressed.
I thought back to the times the technician inserted the needle wrong and got it stuck in my flesh. I thought about the time they couldn’t stop my bleeding and I started to panic. I thought about the time they hadn’t given me enough gauze, and blood soaked and ruined my favorite jacket. I thought about the headache and nausea I dealt with for the rest of the day, every time I donated. I thought about the harassment and propositions I always fielded on the bus to the center. I thought about the dread that inevitably arrived the night before my donation day.
I thought about whether I would’ve had to do any of it if he hadn’t lied to me.
I have a scar on my left arm that’s been mistaken for an injection site. He has a cool scene for his new comic.
He confided in me once that he had always dreamed of being a superhero but was afraid that he’d never live up to the standard set by his childhood dreams. The reason he hasn't is not his size or demeanor, as he thought, but the way he treats others.
Superheroism is defined by selflessness in the face of the most extreme circumstances. Years of reading comics failed to impart to him that concept beyond a two-dimensional representation on a page. Hopefully some of his own readers get it.