(NOTE TO READER: This is a continuation of yesterday’s post, “A Series of Conversations About One Thing.” If you want to know what spawned a two day post, I’d advise you read that one first. It’s not necessary to follow here, but could contextualize things a bit for you. See, what happened was this: I’ve never written about that time before, save for 3 very fictionalized accounts, and those were just for me. I’ve always wanted to get it down, get it out, and I guess her engagement gave me the opportunity. I wrote these over the past two nights, staying up till 5:30 to get it all down. When I finished I had 18 pages of guts and flesh and mess. So I cut them down, spliced them up, did the best I could with it and decided to post them over two days. I would say I hope you enjoy them, but that just seems wrong. So I hope you read them. And I hope they don’t leave you 5 seconds later. These were written with her permission. That’s all.)
I don’t use the word. Not since it happened. I find ways around it, phrases that seem to fit, but I never just get to the point. I’ll write it here, for the first time in the 8 years since it happened, but I hate the term. It’s even uglier in print, or in a story, than it is in my head. Abortion.
I don’t know why I’ve avoid it, go out of my way, take the long way around, say 15 words when one will certainly do, but I’m the same way about “Mom” M. I never say she died. I say she passed away. She passed on. She’s gone. There’s something impersonal, inhuman even, about the two words for me. They seem to strip the blood and pores and nails and souls when they are used in relation to people. At least they do to me. They are mechanical. They are steel.
When I talk about what happened between my ex-girlfriend and me, which is rarely and usually only to my closest of friends, and even then only for the briefest of moments, I use the word procedure. That may seem just as clinical to you, but to me, at least, there’s a breath of life behind the term.
I don’t know who put the letters together in that configuration in the first place, but whoever they were they most have detested life something fierce. That’s what happens when a word comes to carry a solid weight. It can be attached to a stick and used to bludgeon and beat the opposing side’s points by the simple strength of its illusion.
I’ve heard people say that God makes no mistakes. That there is a plan. That everything happens for a reason. Of course, they usually say this in response to a situation that makes absolutely zero sense, or seems so unfair that you feel targeted, put upon, singled out, persecuted in some way. Basically it’s the same as a shrug of the shoulder and a “I don’t really get it either,” but it seems to bring some people solace, the fact that there isn’t a discernable reason sometimes, and I guess they feel if it brings comfort to them, then hell, why not everybody else. It doesn’t happen that way.
The only tangible memory I have of those weeks was of the day it happened, and the night before. Her mother had flown in and a place was chosen, though I don’t know how. It was in Stamford, Connecticut. The night before I took a train up from New York City, then a cab to a hotel that was supposed to be nearby that I was given directions to. It was a small, L-shaped building, 2 stories with balconies and a tiny front office that didn’t seem to have a door anywhere. I looked. The check in point seemed to be a window area of clear plastic with a sliding metal door for your cash or credit cards.
“How many hours do you want it for?” the man behind the glass asked me.
I stared at him. I didn’t know how to answer this.
“Hey! How many hours? How long you staying.”
I was 20-years-old. I’d seen some shit, certainly been through some shit, but this was a new one on me. “I’m sorry? No, um… no. I’d like to get a room for the night.” See, the thing was, I didn’t know this area. I was given the name of this place and directions for the cab from the station. I had her number, and the thought did cross my mind to try and head somewhere else, but I knew she didn’t want to hear from me. I was supposed to call to tell her I’d arrived, she’d tell me what time they’d be by in the morning, and things were already complicated enough.
“You want a room for the night?”
The room was tiny and rank, among the most disgusting spots I’ve ever spent an evening in, and that’s saying something. The bed had a thin, tattered sheet-type-thing that wasn’t big enough to fold under the mattress, and beneath that was a plastic sheet, the kind of thing kids used when they wet the bed. Or whatever went on here.
I didn’t sleep at all. I lay down on the floor for a little bit, paced around, pulled out a book, put on my headphones. At 3AM someone knocked on my door. Anyone will tell you not to answer that door, not in that place, not at that time of night, not when you’re young and white and somewhat affluent—a target with a neon sign blinking SUCKER overhead.
There are two things I remember about the woman standing on the other side. She was basically wearing nothing, and had apparently recently, like within the last 5 minutes, bathed in vanilla-coconut oil before lathering on fresh New Car Smell perfume. There was also a large man behind her, and I think they were both as surprised to see me as I was them.
And this was the moment, right then, that I wasn’t supposed to have asked for a room for the night. This wasn’t that type of place. Not at all. Whoever it was who got the name of the love in, this place near the clinic, probably didn’t know it was a hooker hotel. I’m normally very aware of my surroundings, of the places I put myself in. I can also put 2 and 2 together at a moments notice, but somewhere in the week leading up to this I had stopped thinking. I’d stopped noticing. I’d just sort of been. Move. Walk. Wake up. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
“What do you want?” She asked.
“I don’t want anything,” I said.
“It’s not much; you don’t have to worry about that.”
“I don’t have anything. I’m not here for that. I’m just trying to sleep.”
“Don’t worry, baby. We can work something out. It will be worth your while.”
“You don’t understand. I don’t want anything. I just want to sleep.”
“What’s the matter with you?”
“Really, no. Okay?”
“What are you, a cop or something?”
“No I’m not a fucking cop! Do I look like a fucking cop?”
The guy over her shoulder perked up a bit. “Easy fella.” He looked me in the eyes, and I guess he could tell something was wrong; something was off, because instead of getting after me, instead of strong-arming me or trying to intimidate me he looked like he felt sorry for me. “Let’s leave the kid alone. He just needs to get some sleep. We’ll tell them no to bother the room. Take it easy, kid.”
She didn’t look at me the whole ride there. She said one or two things. I had brought magazines, the first time my name ever appeared in print. She said “thank you” to that. Her mother was in the passenger seat, some other lady drove, someone I didn’t know and I don’t remember. I sat behind her mom and she was to my left.
And I think at this point I was starting to lose my grip, my fingers were sore from hanging on so fucking hard the past few weeks and I needed to open them up. I needed to expand. In my head I pictured protestors at the clinic. People holding signs and yelling at her when she walked in.
“Baby killer! Whore!” I thought about taking them all on. In defense of her, but in defense of me as well. I was a part of this, too. This was happening to me as well. I know I wrote yesterday that “we” got pregnant, and most of the time that’s how I thought about it. But the truth, and a dash of perspective, perhaps a step or two away from myself reveal a different picture entirely. This was happening to her. Because I loved her, because I cared for her, I suffered to. Because of the years we’d been together I was connected to her, and much of her residual pain and confusion and every other pin prick emotion that doesn’t carry a name transferred on to me. But not all of it. Probably nowhere near all of it.
I imagined I’d take them on, the gathering hoards of protestors. I was up to it, carried in me enough hate to match theirs certainly.
The clinic wasn’t like that though. It was actually nice, a quaint approximation of a hospital. Or maybe was really just a tiny hospital.
As she checked in and filled out forms her mother came over to me. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but she doesn’t want you there. She doesn’t want you to be a part of it. I told her you had a right to be here, and that she may just find she wants you here, but she doesn’t want you to come back with her.”
I stared as they all entered a door. Her mother came back later and asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. We went downstairs. We stood outside. I couldn’t look at her, not at all, so I kept my eyes to the ground. We went back up 10 minutes later.
The whole time I sat across the room from her mom and the other woman. She offered me a seat near her, but I just couldn’t take it.
“Everything went fine,” the doctor said. “She’s resting right now. Is one of you Jarret?”
“She’d like you to go back.”
When I entered the room she was lying on a checkout bed, a paper blanket covering her legs and lap.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m sorry, I, I can go if, but, the doctor said…”
She looked over at me and held out her hand. I went and took it and just stood there holding her hand and looking at her until she pulled me down and we hugged and everything that we’d both been holding in came out in torrents of tears and sorrys and I love yous and sorrys.
I’ve sat in rooms with people who were arguing the merits of their various sides on this issue. Sat there as they weighed in on the mechanics of what they think the heart of the issue are. They take a stance, they set their feet and jut out their chest, safe in their opinion formed nowhere near the reality of what happens to two people who go through this. And I never, ever, join in. They don’t know what their talking about.
Only once have I ever responded. It came up, as it does from time to time, in college. All theoretical and hypothetical. There were 13 or 14 people in the room. “What do you think you’d do,” one of them asked, “if you ever got pregnant.”
“Oh,” someone started out, “I’d definitely keep it. Because obviously I’d love the person, be in love with them, and if I was in that kind of relationship I’d obviously keep it.” Stupidity comes in all forms, even amongst some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever been around.
Thoughts were passed around the room, some points were made, and then this one girl spoke up.
“It doesn’t matter anyway. At least none of us will ever have to deal with that.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean that none of us would get pregnant, we wouldn’t be in that situation.”
“What do you mean by that.” I said that, and the room took a breath.
“We aren’t the type of people to put ourselves in that situation.”
“And what kind of people, do you think, put themselves in that situation.” The thing was, I was exactly the kind of person to put myself in that situation. I’d done it. I’d always been a little bit lax with the whole risk versus reward weighing of things, in many situations. But my ex-girlfriend, and by this time she was my ex, was not. She was not the type of person this girl was talking about. “Do you even know what you’re talking about? You’re in a room full of people you’ve known, socially, for a year or so. You don’t know a damn thing about what kind of people we are, you don’t even know enough to realize it’s not a type that that happens to, and you certainly aren’t smart enough to know what you’d do if it happened to you.”
“I know it would never happen to me. I know enough to know that it’s a sin. I know that murder is a sin.”
“But slutting yourself around the fraternities, getting used up and tossed aside for sex, even safe and protected sex as I’m sure you practice all the time, you must think that type of person, namely you, is too good for something bad like that to happen.”
“Fuck you,” she said, tears in her eyes as she left and I didn’t really care. I left a minute later.
What we did was make a choice. There were many before us, any number of ways to go, but we choose one. I’m thankful we had the option, although I don’t think I’ll ever know what the right thing to do was. The first mistake was the real mistake, taking the risk, just that once, we didn’t even have to convince ourselves that it wouldn’t happen to us, because, most of the time, these things happen to other people. Don’t they?
And it is not a political stance. I believe in the choice because I had to make one, but “choice” is an awfully flimsy word for what we went thought. The politics sort of pale when confronted with the reality. The politics are there for the woman who’s birth control failed, she’s already working 3 jobs to feed 2 mouths and is two months short on rent. The politics are there for the people who need it, because they don’t have another option.
I don’t let myself think of the what ifs all that much. My mind can run rings around me all the time, but with this topic I have perfect control. I don’t torture myself over how it ended up. I regret, more than anything I’ve ever done, that she was wrapped up in it.
For the more than five years we dated I constantly marveled at what a better person she was than me. I used to think she’d figure that out at some point and be on her way. But it didn’t happen that way.
I will admit this, from the mouth of a self-admitted selfish person. That is the most selfish decision I’ve ever made. And as I said yesterday, the fact that I’m here, doing what I do, happy and doing well does not justify the decision. The fact that she is soon to be married, happy and healthy and someone I think many would look up to and admire, does not justify the decision.
It just is what it is. It’s justified every time I temporary lose my grip, imagine the other possibilities. It’s justified in the fact that I live with it, that she lives with it, that we made the decision that we did. No other opinion, no other outcome, no other value system means a damn thing to me. In this, if she goes on to a happy life with her future husband, if she does great things and lives an amazing life, that’s justification enough for me, as weak as that sounds. Because the truth is, after all this writing my way around, still trying to figure out what it means all these years later, I think I understand one thing, and one thing only about that time.
As hard as that time was, as much as it changed me and forced me to live with it, I think I finally understand the simple truth of that time. This really wasn't about me at all. Not directly. It took all this writing to figure out the most basic truth. That this is hers. This happened to her. I was a part of it, sure, and this is not a way for me to shirk what happened. I never would. I just realized, though, that this is not my story, and I've thought it was for over 8 years now. This is her story. And in that regard, the only person I have to answer to, the only justification I will really ever need, comes directly from her. In the form of a phone call to say she was engaged. In the fact that she wanted me to know. In one of the last things she said to me the other night. "I don't know if this is going to be the last time we talk or not. But I don't think it would be the worst thing if we spoke from time to time. Just checked in, see how the other was doing."