Another hot, muggy morning in the City of Angels, smog so thick my eyes burned. I wiped away another streak of black eyeliner running from the side of my eye and kept walking, keeping time with the jingle bells hanging from the end of the two leather strands I had fashioned into a makeshift belt. Hitching rides had become routine. On this particular morning, I had been hitchhiking for over an hour already, and I was tired of it, so I walked along the side of the four-lane highway, not even looking towards the cars as they whizzed by. The heat rose off the asphalt, making waves that I could actually see. I put my hand on my belly and shook my head, wanting to be sick in the street. I imagined each passerby guessing my dilemma and worrying about the lone young woman on the side of the road. Unlikely.
A pink Volkswagen bus with hand painted peace signs painted all over it drove by and honked. “Sorry! We’re full!” someone shouted from the passenger window. I saw this was getting me nowhere so I crossed over to the other side of the freeway off-ramp, turned to face traffic and stopped, sticking my thumb out in the traditional hitchhiker’s stance.
The year was 1971 and I was on my way to the Los Angeles Free Clinic. I was hoping against hope that my fears were unfounded; that it was some mysterious flu bug and that I was not really pregnant. Again.
There must have been twenty-five to thirty of us in the waiting room. There were few chairs, so most of us sat in various positions on the dirty tile floor. I made myself small against the dingy walls, gray with the exhaled smoke from cartons of cigarettes smoked on an hourly basis. I wanted to be sick again.
The doctor was young, and seemed caring enough. After informing me that I was approximately 2 ½ months pregnant, he told me that if I was going to “do something” about it, it better be soon. I did want to do something about it. I was only eighteen-years-old and my son was only a year and a half. The father of this baby had finally sold enough drugs to fulfill his fantasy of life halfway across the world in the Caribbean. Who was I to ruin his plans?
Roe vs. Wade was going through the courts, so the doctor told me that I could obtain a legal abortion. He asked me if I had any suicidal thoughts. “No, not really,” I offered. “Well, you need to say you are having suicidal thoughts,” he prompted. “Oh, ok, well, yeah, I’ve had a thought or two about that these last few days,” I lied.
The next couple of weeks were a blur of appointments. I had to see a social worker and two other doctors. The day finally arrived and I took a taxi to the hospital for a quick D&C. Nothing to it. In and out. All alone.
A week went by uneventfully, and I tried not to think about anything. One night I woke up from the sound of someone screaming. I felt a white-hot pain centered in my abdomen and realized the screaming was coming from me. I clutched at my belly and began to rock myself furiously, afraid of waking up my Dad. My mom heard me and came in to see what was wrong. She ran back to the bedroom to get me a couple of my father’s Percodan pills. Ah…bliss for about 3 ½ hours. My Dad gave me more with the promise I would replace them when I got my own prescription.
The next morning, I took another taxi to the gynecologist’s office. At first he acted like I was overreacting to normal pain. After an examination, he discovered he had left a piece of my baby within me. I had a terrible infection. I told him I wanted a prescription for Percodan. “Isn’t that a little potent?” he asked? “It takes away the pain,” I answered, sighing. Moron. He seemed resigned as he wrote out the prescription.
I took another taxi home, too tired to try to hitch. I took two Percodan and sat in the orange Naugahyde chair in my parent’s apartment for the rest of the afternoon, experiencing what it felt like to be underwater but still breathing. I kind of liked it. I felt no pain. At least not the physical kind. Another kind of pain was waiting in the wings. When I lied to the doctor that day about my suicidal thoughts, it never occurred to me that in a few short years they would become my constant companions.
It is poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.
– Mother Teresa Of Calcutta
I have never forgotten those few weeks and the decision I made back then, forty-two years ago. The other day I was with my grown daughter. I looked at her and in a flash I saw her as a baby, then a toddler, then a young child, a pre-teen, an adolescent, and then the beautiful young woman she has become, full of promise, giving so much to the world, to her family, and to my grandsons. I stood a little taller as I watched her.
I thought of her brothers, my sons. My children are the deepest, most profound blessings of my life. They give me my greatest joy. They are each different and unique, yet we share blood, genetics, and a sense of humor that just won’t quit. I thought of that one person that is missing from my family line. I often do. That baby from long ago who would now be a man. I wondered about him, who he would have been, what he would have looked like, what his voice would have sounded like, and all the missed kisses and hugs between us. Yes, it would have been hard at the time. But who ever said life was supposed to be easy? I’m just sayin’.