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Thursday
Dec182014

No Sex Before Marriage

Plink.

Plink!

PLINK!

I harness my frenetic energy into watching and listening to the dripping faucet. Anything to avoid facing the unfaceable. I risk a glance at the small, white stick resting on the bathroom countertop. The culmination of my past, the key to my future. I can hear Josh pacing restlessly outside the bathroom door. Back and forth, back and forth. "For godsakes, stop that!" I scream in my head. "You're going to wake my mom!"

A victim of the graveyard shift at the State Mental Hospital where she works, Mom is sleeping in her bedroom directly across the hall from the bathroom. The low rumble of the television she was watching before sleep overtook her accompanies the squeaking floor beneath Josh's feet. The mingling sounds jangle my nerves and, abandoning all pretense of nonchalance, I stare at the stick as my urine floods across the tiny window onto my future.

A pink flush flows across the square, slow motion. A pink flush flows across my face, slow motion. My heart thumps wildly, shuddering through my tense body like the bone-rattling bass drum at a rock concert. The plinking of the leaky sink is overtaken by the oceanic swell in my head, like the seashell I pressed to my ear when I was young. And carefree. I grip the edge of the counter and focus on my image in the mirror.

"No sex before marriage!" shouted the bishop from the pulpit.
"Premarital sex is a sin," said my Sunday school teacher.
"Don't you let them boys fiddle with your pussycat!" growled Grandma while crocheting on the "davenport" watching her "stories."
"Look what happened to me," said my mom in a rare moment of sexual candor.

'No sex before marriage' was a sentence I heard uttered in some variation nearly every week of my life. At the age of five I was singing how "Jesus wants me for a sunbeam to shine for him each day" and later "I hope they call me on a mission...to teach and preach and work as missionaries do."

I was born in 1977 at a hospital in Utah County, Mormon capital of the universe. The city of Provo is also known as Happy Valley, perhaps due to the large number of desperate housewives happily ingesting painkillers to aid in the righteous upbringing of unruly broods of six, seven and twelve children.

At the time of my birth, the prophet of the Mormon church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as they now prefer to be called, had yet to decree African Americans worthy enough to hold the Priesthood. The Priesthood (I'm sure they'd want me to capitalize) was a church position reserved for the god-fearing white man. No matter if the god fearing white man is a hypocritical, homophobic bigot. Just so long as he's god-fearing. And says no to alcohol and pre-marital sex. In addition, women were not allowed to hold the Priesthood. They still aren't and most likely never will be. It's a patriarchal religion in every way.

The Priesthood consists of a variety of special skills including but not limited to the ability to tell Satan to get thee hence if he comes a callin'. Priesthood holders can also give blessings.
"After Brother Christiansen gave the blessing we went to the doctor and he told us the tumor was gone!" Foggy-eyed church members are forever standing up during meetings, crediting Priesthood blessings for everything from miracle survivals to finding lost keys. You get the idea. And so in the summer of 1994, this good little Mormon girl turning up preggers, knocked-up, bun in the oven, with child, presented quite a problem.

Seventeen years old, looking forward to my senior year of high school, hoping to get accepted at a college and major in journalism and ultimately escape Utah. Outside the bathroom door awaits my first real boyfriend. Sixteen, star of the football team, a devout Mormon hoping to serve a mission for the church upon graduation from high school. Nobody we know has sex. Correction: nobody we know has sex that we know of. We hadn't really either. Not really. Not in the traditional sense anyway.

It had been a year of exciting firsts. A grope up the shirt had quelled raging teen hormones in the first few months of our puppy love. When that became routine, the bra was clumsily unhooked. Eventually somebody's parents went out of town and the pants came down. Awkward fumblings in the lower regions, stomachs filled with butterflies, exploring exciting, new feelings. After every journey into unchartered territory we'd come away drowning in guilt, promising never to go that far again. Purchasing condoms was simply out of the question.
"Shouldn't we buy condoms?"
"No! We're not going to have sex."
"I know. But just in case."
"We're not. We should go tell our bishops what's been happening. We need to pray."

Of course it's hard to dampen teenage hormones. A cold shower only lasts so long. And then - "I'm just going to put it right here. That's all. It's okay. Your underwear is still on."
"Okay." Embarrassed thrusting under cover of night and the bedspread. And now...

The white stick on the counter is blushing in shame, a scarlet letter emblazoned in its center. My scarlet letter. A plus sign. A red cross etched in my mind, on my chest. My cross to bear forever. A positive indication netting the most negative results of my life. The oceanic swells in my ears increase to crashing waves, sweat beads on my forehead. Once again I grip the countertop, this time to keep my knees from giving out.

Thoughts tornado through my brain, none taking hold except the possibility of retching into the toilet bowl, a convenient two feet away. White noise. The last time I felt like this was when my girlfriends and I played The Pass Out Game in junior high. Or that time we ditched the mile run in gym class and huffed gas from the school landscaper's lawnmower. Fingers and toes tingling. Eyes open but only seeing a kind of television snow. White noise.

SNAP! A burst of canned laughter from the television in my mom's room hurtles me into my new reality. There is a baby in my----- No! Don't go there! It's not a baby. I hastily gather the stick, the box it came in, shove it in the grocery bag, tie it in a double knot and open the bathroom door to the rest of my life. Instantly, like the cartoon road runner, Josh is standing in front of me, fear and questioning distorting his handsome, blonde, blue-eyed boy next door features.

"Let's go." I grab the front of his shirt and drag him down the hallway toward the front door.
"But----!"
"We just need to go. Now!" All business, I can't show any emotion or I will crack. Shatter into a million tiny pieces. I am such a cliche I think to myself. A sad, trite cliche. A fucking after school special.

I climb behind the wheel of my little, white Hyundai. The car I wiped asses at a retirement home every day after school for. The car that was going to be my ticket to freedom. Was. I wait for Josh to shut the passenger door then break the news.
"I'm pregnant."
"Noooo!" His reaction is immediate and visceral. The opposite of mine. He unleashes a tirade of fury and fear. Afraid neighbors, or worse, someone inside my house, will hear him, I turn the key, slam the car into reverse and back out of the driveway.

Josh begins to sob unintelligible words, but my tough girl self is in fine form. I shush him and even though I'm crying on the inside I keep my emotionless mask stamped across my features and focus on driving as intently as I did the day, less than a year ago, I earned my license. Screaming apparently not enough, Josh balls up his hand and slams it into the dashboard, partially dislodging an airbag.

"Stop it," I mumble distractedly. Inside I'm spinning like a top. Thoughts whirling. I have a baby inside me. Right now! No! It's not a baby yet. Is it? I can't be more than a month along. The only time it could have happened was when we were fooling around on the couch when my mom was at work. But my underwear was still on! Technically I hadn't had sex. Right?

Somewhere, far away, at the frayed edges of my thoughts, I am aware Josh is still sobbing. As I tune back into the present it becomes louder, like an ambulance suddenly rounding the corner. He's completely losing it and it's scaring me almost as much as the positive test. I've never seen him like this.
"Josh! Josh! Stop it! Wait! Hold on one second." I slam on the brakes next to a dumpster, yank the gear shift into park, jump out and fling the bag containing my lost future into the rusty, metal bin. Something about the spontaneous act calms me. I feel in control.
"Look," I say to Josh as I slide behind the wheel. "That was a bad test. Something was weird when I took it, so I looked at the box and it was expired."
"Yeah?" He asks hopefully
"Yep." I respond matter-of-factly, marveling at what people will believe because they want to. "Those cheap store-bought tests aren't always accurate, y'know?"
"I've heard that." He says, grasping the rescue rope I toss with both hands. "Jeremy told me you can get false positives."
"That's true," I lie, knowing very well you can only get a false negative but never a false positive.
"I can go to Planned Parenthood tomorrow and get a real test. So there's no use freaking out yet. Okay?"
"Okay. Yeah. Okay then." He wipes his runny nose on his sleeve and, like a little boy placated after a tantrum, he immediately cheers up.

As I turn the corner onto his street loneliness pierces my chest like an arrow. I tell Josh I'll call him tomorrow and drop him in front of his family's enormous, two-parent, functioning house and head back to dysfunctionville. On the way home I am in such a fugue I run a red light and narrowly avoid being smashed by an oncoming pick-up truck.

Once home I can't stand to be alone with my thoughts and immediately call Natalie. Although my heart is broken, my mind is already made up. I cannot have a baby. I'd always fancied myself against abortion. But it was really more of an idea, a concept injected into my being by the Mormon church. It seemed the right thing to say and feel in an abstract way. Nothing I'd ever considered thoughtfully. Nobody I knew had ever been pregnant except girls called sluts whose "lives were over" according to various adults weighing in on the issue. "She'll end up running the cash register at K-mart, mark my words."

It was easy to say abortion was wrong, easy to label girls from afar, until it became personal. But I wouldn't let this be personal. There would be no using the word 'baby.' No personalizing the situation, period. In fact, that's all it was; a situation. There really wouldn't be much talking. There was no one to talk to anyway. Only Natalie knew about it. She was well aware my mind was made up and supported any decision I made unquestioningly and wholeheartedly without feeling the need to toss her two cents into the mix.

The next day Planned Parenthood officially confirms the news.
"Let's discuss your options" the kind-faced woman says.
"I already know what I'm doing." I reply flatly.
"Can I ask what that is?"
"No." I say and leave, feeling her eyes on my hunched back.

I immediately call Josh.
"Guess what?" I say in forced, cheerful relief.
"We're okay?" The tentative words slide from his lips then he sucks in air.
"Yup. Doctor said negative." Josh exhales noisily as I finish the sentence. "I've got to go to work, I'll call you later." I hang up, relieved to have his role in the whole nightmare over. Mine was just beginning.

Over the next week I become increasingly nauseous until I eventually feel sick all the time. I wake up queasy and, unlike the flu, throwing up does nothing to alleviate the nausea. I use the flu as a cover for my debilitation at home and work. In the meantime, I helplessly flip through the yellow pages, wondering how in the hell one goes about lining up an abortion. Finally, I call Planned Parenthood and get the number to an abortion clinic in Salt Lake City.
"Hi... I'm uh... needing to make an appointment to get um - to - ah - to terminate a pregnancy?"
"Okay, I'll need to ask you a few questions" A woman replies in soft, easy tones.
"All right."
"First, how old are you?"
I consider lying, but quickly realize I'll almost certainly have to show identification for any appointment.
"Seventeen."
"Okay. Well the law in Utah states you need to bring a parent along or have parental permission."
"Oh." My voice wavers.
I hear her sigh. A quiet exhalation of breath. "Listen, there is a clinic in Grand Junction, Colorado you can call. You don't need parental permission in Colorado. Let me give you the number." I can tell she has fielded this type of phone call many times before. Within minutes I have an appointment to terminate my pregnancy.

"You've gotta tell him." Natalie is saying. We are driving home from working our regular shifts at the retirement home one scorching summer evening. The windows of her bumblebee yellow Geo are down in our futile endeavor to catch a breeze. The wind feels like a hairdryer on my face. Soul Asylum's 'Runaway Train' plays softly on the radio.
"But he'll just flip out. You should've seen him that night, Natalie. He was totally freaking. It's easier this way. I already know what I'm doing."
"True" she agrees. "But it just feels wrong."
"I know." I sigh and look out the window at Utah Lake, sparkling in the fiery sunset like fireworks. Josh and I hadn't spoken much the past week. I was trying to avoid him and he wasn't going out of his way to call me, both of us exhausted from the dramatic scene the weekend before.
"I just want to get it over with." I am tired. So tired. Tired of being sick, tired of maintaining the lie, tired of showering, feeding and changing old people all day. When even the slightest smell sends my weak stomach somersaulting, changing adult diapers and lathering wrinkled skin in the shower is a nearly impossible task that I am required to do for nearly twenty elderly men and woman every day. I am feverishly counting the days to my upcoming appointment.

That night me, Natalie and Molly, another friend of ours, converge on Natalie's bed for a movie watching session. Ten minutes into the film I confess my dilemma to Molly in an attempt to get a different point of view. To my chagrin Molly, a devout Mormon, focuses not on if I should tell Josh the truth, but on whether I should have the abortion. This, I don't like. I don't want to be reminded of the morality of the situation. I've got to act now and deal with emotional and moral repercussions later. I have a whole life ahead of me for moral dilemmas and morality debates. Right now just isn't the time. Or is it?

My mom is becoming suspicious of my desire to lay in bed all day, only interrupting the sleeping and television for a rousing session with the porcelain throne in the bathroom. To avoid suspicious eyes I have taken to driving my car into the Wasatch Mountains, parking, and dozing in the backseat. One can sleep and yak freely in the woods without fear of parental recrimination.

On these lengthy drives I talk to myself and by proxy, the little cells multiplying in my belly. That's how I choose to think about them. Cells. Nothing more. That's how I have to think about them.

I debate the merits of adoption but don't feel like I can go through with it for a myriad of reasons. I tell myself it's because it will be too hard to give up the baby after carrying it for nine months. I couldn't bear the thought of a child of mine living in the world when I didn't know its name or how it was doing. That's true to an extent. But deep down I know that thought process is mostly me trying to cast myself as a tragic figure too sensitive to deal with adoption. Mostly I just don't want to be pregnant. Don't want my teenage indiscretion to interfere with the business of being a teenager. Pregnancy means disclosure. Disclosure means shame, acknowledging to the world that Monica Butler had lived up to expectations of being a member of The Bad Family and got knocked up at seventeen. I told you so.

Being Mormon compounded my shame. I don't want to be forced into marriage by Josh's devoutly religious parents. My mom was forced to marry my dad for all the same reasons and look how their marriage turned out. Besides, I'm not in love with Josh. I can see that now. He is a fantastic boy. BOY. A nice guy, my first boyfriend, that's all. He wasn't meant to travel with me into the future, I can feel it in my bones. He is the high school boyfriend I'll remember fondly when I reminisce about the good ol' days with my children. My children...

Josh and I were already drifting apart before I turned up pregnant. He had begun to needle me about not attending church and not reading the Book of Mormon. At seventeen I was beginning to discover holes in the religion of my birth. Glaring flaws that I quickly learned no adult in my world was willing to intelligently discuss.

When Molly, with the best of intentions, suggests I call a Mormon adoption agency I begin to avoid her. I feel her judgment weighing me down, nearly suffocating me. One more stone slamming me to my knees. There will be no adoption. Molly's drive toward adoption only increased my fear of telling Josh the truth. What if he suggests adoption as well? Easy decision for him. He wouldn't have to be pregnant, miss his senior year, walk among the Mormons a pregnant pariah.

After a week of agonizing over whether to tell my boyfriend I am pregnant I make a spontaneous decision one afternoon and spew the whole story at him in one breath.
"Here's the thing. I am pregnant but it's already taken care of I have an appointment this weekend at a clinic in Grand Junction Colorado it's three hundred dollars and I already have the money I'm driving there on Saturday morning and driving home that night."

Before he can utter a word I continue, making it clear that the decision is made and it is final. He doesn't fight me, as anticipated. I guess he appreciates the ball being taken from his court. He gets to stand on the sidelines of my court and watch the game already in progress. Besides, I guess he could always tell God it was all my fault which is what his parents would think if they knew anyway.
"I'm coming with you. And I'm paying for half."
"Okay." I agree, relieved to have the company. At this point, with nausea filling nearly every waking moment, I was beginning to fear I'd never make the six hour drive to Grand Junction.

Saturday August 9, 1994 begins like every other summer morning and ends like no night before or since. The sun blazing over the Wasatch mountains, gathering the residents of Happy Valley in its luxurious rays. I'm up before the sun, watching it peer over the violet peaks of Mount Timpanogus then leap into the clear, blue sky. This is the day of my life I most want to forget, I think to myself. This is the day of my life I will never forget.

I had meticulously planned the entire trip. I told my Mom I was sleeping at Natalie's then Josh and I were meeting up early in the morning so we could spend the day at Lagoon, a local amusement park near Salt Lake City. Josh told his parents the same story. That gave us until evening to get home before having to explain our whereabouts. I'd even thought I could tell my Mom I got sick on one of the rides if I returned looking a little peaked.

Josh is waiting in his driveway when I round the corner onto his street. He looks so young with his baseball cap jammed so low I can't see his eyes. He stands dejectedly on the cement, watching me pull up.
"Hi." He pulls the door shut behind him and studies me. I feel him trying to assess my mood and won't give him what he wants.
"Hi." I answer quietly, almost shyly. A whisper of a word.
"You okay?"
"Yep. You?" I cant bring myself to meet his penetrating gaze. Don't want to.
"Considering."
"Yeah. I know. Let's not talk about it. I'm sick to death of talking about it."
"Okay." He agrees and grabs my hand as I steer the car south.

Within an hour he is fast asleep. Driving a narrow road that snakes along the rim of a vast canyon, I sneak peeks at his face so innocent with sleep. He looks so young I think to myself then laugh. He is so young. I'm so young.

I know we are going to break up after this. I feel it coming and I am ok. It feels right. We are exhausted by each other but I know we will always share what we have. You never forget your first love. At seventeen, I know this. My mom still talks about her first boyfriend. I know all about the boy with blonde curls who was crazy in love with her for most of high school.

When I'm forty and my children ask about my first love I'll tell them about Josh. The first boy that told me he loved me and meant it. The first boy who opened my car door for me, the first boy who took the trouble to make friends with my mom, the boy who fell asleep with me on the telephone, keeping the connection alive until I pushed the buttons, loud beeping to wake him in the morning. The boy that took me to prom, the boy I proudly watched score touchdowns on game day.

But I am able to see beyond high school infatuation. Beyond high school. I long for a grassy college campus dotted with trees, prestigious buildings jigsawing every which way, tangled ivy creeping up ancient brick. Pipe smoking professors clad in tweed jackets with elbow patches. Cozy dorm rooms with gaggles of giggling girls perched atop rickety bunkbeds sharing secrets about cute boys.

The boys. I dream of intelligent boys that read the same books as me, boys that don't live and breathe sports, boys that have never heard of the Mormon church. I smile as the sun highlights the smattering of freckles on Josh's nose then slide my U2 cassette into the player. Three hours down, two to go.

The trip is quiet, uneventful. Nearly six hours we bounce through a deep pothole as the car's tires crunch over a gravel parking and roll to a stop.
"This is it." I tell Josh. He stretches his muscled arms as much as my tiny car will allow then turns to face me. I know him so well, can sense he wants to have a heart-to-heart so I open my door and step out of the car, pretending to be oblivious of his desire to talk with me.

I pivot in a circle surveying my surroundings, or lack thereof. Grand Junction is a bland little town, or appeared to be on that day. Tucked away in the famed red rock and sandstone plateaus on the Utah Colorado border, not much is happening. It's dry, dusty and, from my vantage point, probably only a welcome sight to truckers making the long haul along that mostly desolate stretch of Interstate 70.
I check my watch. Almost one o'clock. Right on time.
"You ready?" I ask.
"I guess." He kicks at the gravel drive and reluctantly follows me inside the nondescript vanilla colored clinic.

To my great surprise and embarrassment the waiting room is crowded. Women of all ages are sitting in the cracked, maroon upholstered chairs which remind me of the booths at Pizza Hut back home. I wonder if we're all here for the same thing. I don't know whether to feel comforted or ashamed.

I am afloat on pure tough girl facade as I walk falteringly toward the circular, wood-paneled desk positioned in the corner of the room. Bizarrely, the desk appears to be a leftover prop from the kind of western movie in which John Wayne would save the day and make some kind of moralistic speech in that bombastic, halting, drawl of his. Thick, knotted wood looms up to my chest as I approach. An older woman, mid-fifties, maybe, with heavy make-up and a bad bleach job smiles down at me.
"Can I help you?"
"I have a appointment." I stammer then lower my voice. "My name is Monica."
She raises her sloppily painted eyebrows and I can't help but focus on them, startled they can arch even higher higher than where she had clumsily slashed them.
"One sec, hon." I am comforted, as I tend to be around older women who call me honey or sweetie. I clutch Josh's proffered hand and sneak glances behind me at the ladies in waiting.

Right away I am drawn to a ragged brunette with nearly translucent skin and large saucer eyes. I breathe a sigh of relief. Thank god. She looks younger than me. I was afraid I would be the obvious underage Mormon sneaking out of Utah to get the dirty deed done. The brunette's eyes stumble onto mine and we both immediately look away. She brusquely flips pages of the magazine hanging limply from her hands. It's a TIME magazine, which I know at her age she can't possibly be enjoying as the only reason I've ever bothered to crack one open is for a school assignment. She is here for the same reason as me. I am certain of this. I risk another peek her way and find her large phantom eyes trained on me again. I can tell she knows why I'm here as well. She offers me a weak, half-smile and I nearly cry. I want to run to her, someone in my same predicament, hold hands and cry.
"Are you Monica Butler?" Eyebrows has returned and is asking me a question.
"Huh? Oh! Yes, that's me."
"Is this Josh?" Her eyebrows indicate Josh who nods. I am shocked. My legs turn to jelly and a worm of terror begins wriggling icily in my already upset stomach. I hadn't said a word about Josh when I made the appointment. Name, age, date of my last period. That's all they asked.
"Can you come with me please?" Eyebrows grabs a beat-up clipboard with a sheaf of papers fastened to its surface and leads us to a room just off of the waiting room. I am squeezing Josh's hand in a desperate effort to let him know SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT! Mistaking my bone-crushing clutch for nervousness, he squeezes back reassuringly and guides me into the room behind the woman with high eyebrows.

The room is tiny. Not much bigger than the interior of my car. Eyebrows indicates two scuffed, colorless metal folding chairs carefully set up facing a TV/VCR combo. She wedges her large behind onto a small desktop and takes a deep breath.
"Okay. I'm going to tell you something that may alarm you. But please try and stay calm." Josh is now as nervous as I am and grips my hand ferociously.
"Both your parents have been calling the clinic all morning." Eyebrows pauses and waits for a response.
"But-" I squeak then fall silent. My body is rattling, bones jangling against each other, feet vibrating against the floor. I barely remain upright. Blackness crowds my vision and I drop Josh's hand.
"I know honey. I can assure you that by law everything here is confidential. We told them we cannot confirm any appointments made at this clinic." Her eyes glisten. She very nearly seems to be relishing the drama. I picture her plodding home to her mobile home and regaling her overweight husband with tales from her exciting work day.

"After what must have been a dozen calls we finally promised them that IF (she pauses for effect) you did have an appointment we would let you know they are begging you to call them before you go through with the procedure." Satisfied her statement hit all the right notes she leans back and waits for a response.
"Both our parents called? Even mine?" Josh asks, fear strangling his voice.
"Yes. Actually your parents called, Monica's too and a dad of a friend of Monica's."
"Whose dad?" I spit, more angry than afraid.
"I'm not sure honey, he called himself Dave."
"Molly." I hiss and sink into my seat. Muscles loose, unwilling to comply with the stoicism I'm desperately trying to muster. My dirty secret, my private pain has exploded, messy chunks splattering nearly everyone I know. The most personal trauma of my young life has become a tragedy for everyone.

"I'm going to leave you two alone for a few minutes to talk things over. My name is Lori, by the way." She smiles and grips my shoulder before disappearing and closing the door behind her.

"Who? How?" Josh sputters, struggling to keep his head above the fast rising waters.
"Molly" I say simply. "David is her dad. She must have told him and he called our parents." I focus all my energy on hating Molly for what I consider a massive betrayal. This was my secret to keep or divulge. Not hers. Not a way for her to use her Mormon moral code to tamper with my private life.

This knowledge about me will forever alter everyone's perspective of me. My parents, Josh's parents, Molly's and whoever else is now an unwilling participant in this wretched saga. Not only that, now I face the choking pressure of defying them all if I choose not to return their calls.

I slump dejectedly on the cold, folding chair, surrounded by brochures urging me to use a condom or informing me about STDs should I choose not to. I'd take an STD over this miserable situation. Gonorrhea anyone? Chlamydia? I'll take it! What'dya have? I had mistakenly assumed that seeing that menacing, red positive sign for the first time was the worst moment of my life. I was wrong. Now, instead of my own private shame spiral over having sex coupled with the fact that I ended up pregnant, I am exposed as a sinner of epic proportions.
"What are we going to do?" Josh asks. He is quiet. Shock rules his existence. The knowledge that his extremely religious parents know so many sordid details about the prodigal son they imagined to be perfect has numbed him better than morphine.
"We're going to do what we came here to do." I reply, tired of guiding him through the ordeal.
"What happens when we get home?"
"We deny." He squints at me skeptically.
"It won't matter," I say. "It wil already be done. What can they do?"
He shrugs a sad almost imperceptible shrug then shakes his head.
"Here's my keys." I toss my car keys in his lap. "Go to that 7/11 down the street and get me a coke. Buy yourself a magazine or something and come back here in an hour or so."

He stares at me. Aqua blue lasers that used to make my heart quicken boring directly into my own darker blue eyes. This single look is the most meaningful communication we've had in nearly two weeks. We both know what we don't want. We don't want to return to tears, drama, family meetings, the embarrassment of being pregnant in a community where people laud those who appear righteous and snub or condescend to sinners. The inevitable 'What are we going to do about the baby?' drama. Perhaps being convinced that marriage is our only viable option. Or adoption, which I know in my heart I cannot do. To have a baby grow inside me for nine months is, to me, the beginning of motherhood and I could not relinquish the title at childbirth. If we call home the situation will certainly be ripped from our control, of this we are both certain.

Josh splays both palms on either side of my face, pulls me in and kisses me softly while still looking deep into my eyes. He pulls back, hands still cupping my head, contemplates me for a few more seconds, takes the keys and he's gone.

I sit quietly, listening to the rumble of traffic outside, the bustle of people in the clinic, the sound of my heart thumping wildly in my chest. It would be so easy to call my mom. Just call her, I think. My nerves begin to tingle once I've acknowledged the possibility of relinquishing control to my mom. Put the fucking ball in someone else's court. I'm tired of playing, been in the game too long. Call in the pinch-hitter. How long can I keep playing and coaching?

The door opens then and Lori sticks her head inside the room, an inquisitive look affixed to a colorful face her eyebrows have already rendered permanently questioning.
"What are you thinking, hon?"

A moment in time. Strangely, a lecture from a seminary teacher leaps into mind. Train tracks. Your life path is train tracks. A simple decision, a single switch of a lever sends the train barreling one way at top speed. Another switch, a click of the tracks, and a completely different destiny awaits the speeding locomotive. A moment in time.

I pull the lever.

"Let's just get this over with." I blurt shakily as tears race down my cheeks.
"Okay." Lori rustles to life. "I need you to watch this short video, sign this paper saying you watched the video, then sign this paper and this one and..." She drones on, a hummingbird of activity as I watch the train I've boarded roar by the tracks leading in the other direction.

I am dimly aware of viewing a strange video about choices, abortion and proper care after the clinically termed 'termination of pregnancy.' I sign whatever is placed in front of me and am promptly lead to another room where I am instructed to put on a flimsy, cotton hospital gown then told to wait.

Thirty minutes later I am giggling hysterically. Maniacal cackling. I am on my back, legs propped up and splayed wide by two heavy metal stirrups. I have never been to the gynecologist, never had oral sex yet two strange men in masks are elbow deep inside me. I've been heartily inhaling laughing gas in a desperate attempt to transport myself from the horrific scene taking place between my quivering legs.
"You're going to feel a few pains in your stomach. Almost like really bad menstrual cramps, okay?" one of the masked men says. I continue laughing. Crying. Sobbing.
"I'm sorry... I'm not supposed to be laughing, I know!" I shriek, horrified by my laughter. "I'm getting an abortion and I'm laughing. I'm already going to hell so I guess it doesn't really matter!" I laugh/sob even louder.

Tears trickle down the side of my head and pool in my ears. I've cried an ocean of tears this month. My eyes dart wildly, not sure where to land. The white tiled ceiling? The frightening medical machinery hulking in the corner? The two men at my stirruped feet jamming what appears to be my Mom's old-fashioned, cylindrical cake frosting dispenser halfway up my torso?

A machine that looks like it belongs in a mad scientist's lab suddenly whirs to life. I know what it is. It's the vacuum. I imagine it sucking my cluster of cells from their previously peaceful home in my uterus and I am shattered. Beyond repair. Forever. Despite the continuous administering of laughing gas I am quiet. What have I done? Despair and relief wrestle for control over my heart, eventually deciding coexistence is possible. I close my eyes to the surreal scene and ironically hum church songs as loudly as I can. Blessedly, the black takes over.

When I open heavy eyelids Josh is sitting next to my bed crying. A woman strides in with a maxi pad that looks more like an adult diaper and tells me to put it on when I'm ready to get dressed. I'm ready. I just want to get the fuck out of this place and never look back. I ask Josh to leave because although we created life together I am still shy about him seeing me naked. In fact, I don't think he's ever seen me fully naked.

After I ease my sweatpants over my bulky underwear we are escorted to a hallway of a room where two other women sit silently eating saltine crackers and pretending to read magazines older than I am. I am handed a cup of juice, a packet of crackers and told to relax. Right.

I nibble a saltine and rest my head against the back of the chair as Josh sniffles, paging through some outdated magazine or other and occasionally wiping his leaky nose on the sleeve of his shirt.

I feel empty. Like my insides have been ripped out. Oh yeah. They were. I'd fervently focused on making it to today, striving desperately for this moment for the past two weeks to avoid feeling any sort of emotion. I hadn't considered the aftermath. Now I look at the other women quietly snacking on their cracker allotment and I just want out.
"Let's get out of here." I grab Josh's hand and hobble unnoticed out the front door of the clinic. He guides me to the passenger seat of my car.
"No. Back seat." Puke is soldiering up my raw throat while blood gushes out my other end.
"Need to lay down. Dizzy." Josh wedges one arm beneath my armpits and uses his other hand to open the rear car door. I flop halfway onto the back seat. He picks up my legs and gingerly swings them inside. I immediately curl into the fetal position and cup a hand over my throbbing vagina. I squinch my eyes closed and channel every ounce of energy in my body, mind and soul into willing myself not to throw up. When I know I'm losing the battle I croak at Josh.
"Pull over! Now!" He skids to a stop on the side of the freeway. The speed of the sudden stop slams me into the back of the front seat like a bag of groceries. I wiggle toward the door, fumble with the handle, push it open, loll my head out and retch. Heaving stomach, continuous gagging until exhaustion takes over.

We continue in this manner of puking, driving, puking, driving for the next hour until, desperate for distraction, I beg Josh to push a cassette into the player. He pops in one of my specially made mix tapes. Bono begins wailing about one life, one love. Suddenly, it's very important to me what song is playing.
"Fast forward this" I bark, knowing the tape by heart. Josh taps the button. I wait for a few seconds.
"Okay, play!" This time it's Blind Melon. "All I can say is that my life is pretty plain..."
"No! Fast forward again." I wait for thirty seconds then yell for Josh to hit play. There he is. Bob Marley. And I cling to these words, my life raft in this ocean of sorrow:

Woman, little darlin’, say don’t shed no tears;
No, woman, no cry.
Llittle darlin’, don’t shed no tears!
No, woman, no cry.
Little sister, don’t shed no tears!
No, woman, no cry.
Everythings gonna be all right now, everythings gonna be all right.


***** TEN YEARS LATER *****

You would be 12 years old. You would be finished with elementary school, excited to begin junior high. You would be crushing on various boys/girls, dreading taking a shower in gym class. You would have a favorite band. A favorite pop star. A favorite television program. You would be here.

You would be a person. With a name. Whether or not you were raised by me, you would be here, on earth. You would know who Britney Spears is. You would maybe vote for the next American Idol on your cell phone. You would have an opinion on Paris Hilton. You would have a favorite color. A favorite movie. A favorite food. You would have a favorite t-shirt and a favorite pair of jeans.

I killed you. Didn't I? DID I? Is there a "you"?

That's what they say.
"One thing that comes to mind when I think of abortion--murder. What gives us the right to take another life? Maybe it's the lack of responsibility or just simply the lack of knowledge."

I'm a murderer?

I knew what I was doing. I was no innocent. Or was I? At 17, I knew what abortion meant, I think. But I wasn't fully capable of understanding the psychological consequences.

Experts say that at the end of 8 weeks "your baby will be about a third of an inch long. Bones are beginning to form and fingers, toes, ankles and wrists are developing. By now, you'll probably 'feel' pregnant and may be experiencing some of the early side effects, like morning sickness. Your weight may also have increased slightly and your breasts may be sore and tender. Until the end of week 8 your baby is known as an embryo."

I aborted you at week 8. They sucked you from my body using their specialized vacuums that didn't feel very specialized and then they tossed you in the trash like so much garbage. Now, I spend the rest of my life marking ghost anniversaries, reconciling choice vs. abortion. And wondering.

But I am older now. Wiser. And if I could go back, I would do the same thing. If they took away my right to govern my own body I would and will fight them tooth and nail. Because I believe in a woman's right to choose. I do. But I also know that each woman that makes the mother of all decisions is forever haunted by her choice. There is no black, no white... just shades of gray.

I found out I was pregnant on July 26, 1994. I had an abortion on August 9, 1994. They made me wait 2 weeks because they wouldn't permit me to "terminate the pregnancy" until I was at least 8 weeks along.
I wouldn't permit myself to think of the life growing inside of me as a human. Ever. Some people say you weren't human. That you were just a mass of tissue and cells. Me? I don't know what to think. Either way I talked to you during the long drives to nowhere. I drove and I listened to U2 and Soul Asylum (this song). I used to drive into the Wasatch mountains and talk to you. I would throw up, listen to music, throw up some more and attempt to explain myself. And apologize for what I was about to do.
"I am a mess. I can't be a mother. I can't even take care of myself." I would sob to the mass of cells multiplying inside of me. Secretly, I felt like I should put you up for adoption. After all, my best friend Natalie was adopted and she has the greatest parents ever. I successfully justified my decision to abort with very adult sounding talk of future and education and what's best for everyone but deep inside I just felt selfish and afraid.

So tired that I couldnt even sleep
So many secrets I couldnt keep
I promised myself I wouldnt weep
One more promise I couldnt keep

It seems no one can help me now,
Im in too deep; theres no way out
This time I have really led myself astray...


Is there a "you"?

"PRO-CHOICE!" is the bold rally cry for that side of the debate. No one should be able to impose their morals on my body. I do believe those sentiments but will always struggle with this; that's not why I did what I did. At 17 I wasn't a feminist. I didn't give politics any thought. I just wanted it all to go away. I didn't want to be gossiped about. I didn't want to be pregnant and prove the Mormon neighbors right. I wanted to show those fuckers that Monica Butler was going places. Now here this, you fat bitch Sister Okey and your asshole sons that call my Mom a slut and make fun of my family for being on welfare, I am going places!

I dreamt of colleges, bricks stitched with ivy and handsome young professors sporting argyle sweaters and tweed jackets with elbow patches, engaged in discussions about important events! I dreamt of getting away from welfare and judgement and sex-is-badbadbadbadBAD. And so I did it. I got rid of you. And I will spend the rest of my life trying to reconcile my decision with my heart.

For me, the right to choose is important but the blanket term "Pro-Choice" falls short of defining my stance. It's a fist pumper of a mantra for empowerment that is becoming inextricably linked with feminism. And I'm proud of the women who fought to allow me to make the choice I made... yet "Pro-Choice" does little to comfort me when I think about you, if you exist.

Shades of gray.

Abortion. Termination. It means the end of something. A conclusion. But my decision to terminate was the beginning. The beginning of thousands of what ifs. The beginning of being haunted.

Where are you? Are you in Heaven? Does Heaven exist? Were you allowed to be born to someone else? A good mother? A righteous mother who earned the honor to welcome you into her life? Are you on the planet somewhere, living the life that I denied you? Or are you tethered to Heaven, waiting to confront me when I die? Will I ever meet you? Are you even a person?

Where ARE you?

*****20 YEARS LATER*****

If I could go back I would've had the baby and put it up for adoption. I am still pro-choice.