Earlier this year I declared 2020 the worst year of my life. It was before the pandemic got bad, before my best friend of eighteen years revealed herself to be an ableist bigot, before I learned my ex-boyfriend was a serial rapist, before a botched lumbar puncture let me with back pain that is sometimes as horrific as my now 1-year-old Migraine (Happy Birthday!).
I mentioned in that article that the previous winner of the Worst Year Ever Prize was 1998. I was 19 years old, dating a 28 year old I’d known since I was 16. He was, as my mother said, “homely.” But he was from Naples, from home, he knew the people I knew. I didn’t want to go to college or live in Tampa. We do this strange thing to children, tossing 18-year-olds into the world, expecting them to understand not only what they want to do for the rest of their lives, but to remember that they need to buy things like toothpaste and ziplock bags, things they’ve never had to think about before. I didn’t know anyone; all my friends were a year younger or a year older or somewhere else. So when I ran into Collin, I was ecstatic, it didn’t matter how homely he was. He represented home. And despite my fondness for Henry Cavill in bathtubs, I’ve never been shallow, either. Collin was interesting, and into the things I was into. Late ’90s goths, and he had a car!
We went to clubs and had so much fun, just as friends at first. He had this “crazy” ex-girlfriend. I didn’t pay her much mind, not even the fact that she was fifteen. I shrugged when he said she had a miscarriage. It wasn’t part pf my life. It wasn’t my problem.
One thing led to another and suddenly we were a couple. He never seemed to have a condom. I made him go get them. I volunteered for Planned Parenthood, after all! I was going to be safe, and, of course, I told him, my worst nightmare was a child, especially as young as I was.
Little did I know, Collin reveled in women’s worst nightmares.
My best friend Jessica came back from her college exchange program in France, frustrated with school like I was, but until me, she had gotten more than a grand total of zero college credits. I invited her to room with us– we had a spare room and I thought it would be fun! My boyfriend and my best friend, what could be better?
And it was great. For a while. And then I started feeling sick. All the time. The nausea wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t smoke. Couldn’t eat anything but oranges. And then it dawned on me. My mother told me she craved oranges when she was pregnant with me. I asked Jessica to take me to the store immediately.
It’s funny, the hazy details you remember. I don’t remember the name of the grocery store, but I remember the gawdy July 4th display, how it was mid-afternoon and there weren’t very many people there, so the stockboys were carefully putting the displaces in perfect order. I remember that handwriting — that grocery story handwriting — advertising a sale on off-brand cola. How is it that all grocery store signage has the same handwriting?
The test came back positive pretty quickly and I didn’t think, “How will I pay for this?” I didn’t debate. I grabbed the yellow pages and looked up “A” for “Abortion.” There was no internet debate, ever. I never wanted to be a mother. It’s not part of my constitution. And my mind’s eye kept flashing back to that horror video they showed us in high school health class. No fucking way, NO fucking way!!
The appointment was made for as soon as possible and Jessica immediately offered to put the $300 procedure on her credit card drive me. I thanked her and told her she was the best. I didn’t want to talk to Collin about it. Things hadn’t been great, and he was emotionally manipulative, and it was starting to dawn on me that this 28 year old dating teenagers was kind of messed up.
But the night before the procedure came and I thought, “I didn’t get into this alone, I shouldn’t have to go through this alone.” So I told him I was having an abortion in the morning. He looked shock. He said he wanted the baby. I told him, there is no baby, it’s an embryo, there is no baby to want. He said he poked holes in the condom because he wanted a baby. I didn’t know there was a name for it back then: Reproductive Abuse. Others call it rape. I’m not comfortable using that word, I don’t want to cheapen the experience of survivors. I was abused, but I was not raped. I told him he picked the wrong woman if he wanted a family, that I’d dumped my last boyfriend when he told me he wanted marriage and four kids.
He told me we would both rot in hell for killing “our baby.”
I got to my feet and told him he was a fucking psycho.
The procedure was easy. This was before the pill was available, it was a good old fashioned vaccuu-suck and 9 weeks. Once my mother asks if I ever wonder if it was a boy or a girl. The answer is now. It was a cluster of bloody cells. It was nothing.
Mostly I was frightened it would hurt. But it wasn’t bad! Jessica held my hand and a television in the corner played an episode of the Jerry Springer Show. I was a little dopey. Not as dopey as Jessica, who bought Subway for lunch and then asked them to microwave my ham sandwich. Who the fuck microwaves lettuce and shit. I’m not a food snob, I could wreck a subway sub right now at 6am. But not fucking microwaved!
There was some spotting, some cramps. Really shitty cramps, but livable. I moved into Jessica’s room with her and we made plans to leave the loser behind. Big plans.
One morning, a Sunday, a few days after the abortion, the phone rang. A landline of course. It was 1998, after all. It was about 11am, and Jessica wasn’t sleeping in her bed. I picked up the cordless phone and looked around the apartment. No sign of Jessica. There was only one other place to look. Groggily, I knocked on Collin’s door, unthinking, he cracked it open and I glimpsed a naked Jessica hurriedly pulling on a t-shirt. Collin grabbed the phone as I sleepily said it was Jessica’s father on the phone. Nothing registered.
I turned around and went back to my room, and by the time I reached for the doorknob it dawns on me. What’s happening. What I saw. Jessica’s eagerness to help me. It wasn’t benevolence. It was guilt. She was fucking my boyfriend the whole time.
The explosion that followed is a blur. I know a couple days later, my mom called, unknowing of my ordeal, to tell me my childhood dog died. I know called suicide hotlines and screamed and trashed the house at the betrayal, but it barely matters, really. It’s not the point of this story. The point is the shame. I didn’t tell my mother for well over a decade that I had an abortion. I recall a conversation in the car with the family when my grandmother declared, “Alison would never abort my grandbaby,” and almost bursting into tears, knowing that in her eyes, I already had. I lived with Collin and Jessica for three months before I called my mother and told her I couldn’t bear it anymore, and she agreed, without even knowing the abortion part. I’ve never heard her agree so quickly that I needed out of a situation, living with my ex and my ex-best friend, both of them who cheated on me.
I didn’t tell people in my family, but I told friends. For a lot of close friends, it was almost the first thing I told them about myself. My litmus test on whether or not they were the sort of person I wanted in my life. The boyfriend I had after Collin, the rapist, told me if I needed an abortion with him, to just go do it and never tell him. Compared to Collin, that felt enlightened. How fucked up is that? Sick, sick, as Tori Amos would say. The best friend I just broke up with the other day after fifteen years, judged me the first time I told her, a result of Catholic school. Most people responded well. I tell strangers because abortion should be demystified. So many American women have them. My mother says she believes she had one when she was miscarrying, to save her life, though she can’t be sure, because they call it something else in that situation. I’ve made friends who’ve said “yeah, I’ve had one too.”
I tell people because I don’t want them to be afraid. It’s just a pill now, even easier. I remember sitting in the waiting room, terrified, and watching a girl stumble out with her boyfriend, a little loopy from the twilight, say, “that wasn’t a big deal at all!” a little too loudly. I watched a waiting room sigh in relief.
I’ve never wondered. Never had regret. Never thought of what could have been. I know what could have been. What would have been. I would have been a terrible mother. I would have probably killed myself.
I’ve read countless accounts of the trauma women who have carried to term and given up their children for adoption experience. I’ve read about women were eager to give their baby up to a nice Christian adoption agency, only to be told they should try another agency when it is learned that the baby won’t be lily white.
I write this now because Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead. And my experience, so safe and easy even if life wasn’t easy at the time, will be gone soon. No one harassed me as I walked in the door. No one made me look at ultrasounds of a fetus. It wasn’t prohibitively expensive. It left me with no psychological damage; the man who abused me did. The abortion saved me from being attached to that abuser forever.
Women’s rights died with RBG. The loss is profound. I am going through menopause now, early menopause because of my health problems. I am terrified for all the women who might need an abortion. I’m terrified for my mother and the gay rights she deserves. I’m terrified for myself and my roommate and his child and the disability rights we deserve. I’m angry at everyone who stood in the way of Hillary Clinton becoming our 45th President. I’m angry because whatever monster who will replace RBG will not be fit lick her boots.
And I’m angry at RBG, too, because she could have and should have retired in Obama’s first term, but she didn’t, and now here we are, and 2020 is worse than 1998, by a long mile. It’s worse than other terrible years, like 2016, and 2017, and 2018, and 2019, and 2013, and 2001.
I haven’t hugged my mother in seven months, because people on the left and right couldn’t get over of thirty years of indoctrination of sexism against Hillary Clinton, just because she didn’t want to stay home and bake cookies. Because conservatives have convinced leftists that liberals are the devil, and Democrats, too.
I’m a proud, liberal, Democratic woman, and none of this had to happen.
I’d rather be in 1998.