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By Lisa Buscani

Daddy never let me decide. About anything. Couldn't pick my cereal, couldn't pick my clothes. Independence didn't fit with Daddy's military agenda. He liked silence and a nicely made bed. Later, it used to drive me crazy how he yelled me down, speaking over me and stuffing my words back into my mouth. He chose my friends, determined my schedule. Made me want to strike out. At anyone, anything.

So when my friend decided to volunteer as a clinic escort, I went with. Weird thing is, it isn't even about abortions to me. It's about giving a woman an active role in her future, one way or the other. We walk her across the parking lot; if she changes her mind, we walk her back. Something as important as this can only be left up to her. We let her find out. We let her decide. It would drive Daddy crazy.

Everyone at the clinic is nervous today. It's Mother's Day weekend. Most people take their moms to insanely expensive brunches with too much confusing silverware or give them ostentatious floral arrangements that smell like funeral parlors. Maybe take them to a nice John Tesh concert. But not the pro-lifers. Pro-life activists use the weekend to demonstrate on behalf of the unborn. As a result, we're seeing lots of action at the clinic.

But that's OK, I'm prepared. On days like this, it pays to be a big girl. You have to work a bit harder to get around us. Our big girl feet are planted with the force of our size. Our width, which normally makes us a target, now makes us a better shield. By the sheer grace of gravity, we big girls, we will not be moved.

All the regulars are here today: There's Henny Penny, an anxious, inward woman who curves like grief over her rosary beads; there's Brutus, a florid, meaty mountain of a woman who is convinced that the Lord is benevolent but profoundly deaf, so she bellows her prayers; and there's the Thin Man, who doesn't say much but doesn't miss an opportunity to shove his literature in your face. He's not alone; there are a lot of men in attendance. Between the polyester and the pimples, they all look like those guys you refused to date in high school. And they're still pissed.

We nickname the regulars because, well, they're always here and we have to call them something. We don't know their real names because we never get close enough to find out. And they sure as hell don't know our real names because we don't want to wake up to find them protesting on our front lawns and picketing our children's schools.

The regulars have brought in reinforcements to mark the occasion: available relatives, church friends they've recruited to raise the body count. And of course, they practice their own form of day care: their children stand with placard pictures of mutilated fetuses and struggle to mouth the slogans their parents scream.

The protesters are organized. They're focused and prepared and you really have to hustle to get to a client in the parking lot before they do. It's animal to meat: we're running and jockeying and struggling and pushing and the poor client is wide-eyed and red-faced, she hadn't expected this. My escort partner and I introduce ourselves as we are walking, we are walking, we are always walking, and I have my arm around the client with my palm out so it doesn't look like I'm pushing her into the clinic, you have to be conscious of things like that and with the other arm I'm pushing their hands and leaflets away like vines in the darkest heart of the jungle.

Out of the corner of my eye I see the Thin Man writing down the woman's license plate number, which he will give to his buddy at the DMV, who will then give him the woman's home phone number and later he'll call her husband or parents or boyfriend and say do you know where your girl was today? The Lord has no room in his heart for murder.

And they are screaming at her, screaming and detailing her future in hell, promising a similar fate on earth, and she turns to me and says, "Is this how they greet everyone who comes for a PAP smear?" We keep walking.

The protesters are very careful. They know just how close they can get to the woman or the clinic. No one wants to risk an assault charge so the cross through the parking lot becomes this weird waltz where the dancers are prohibited from touching and everyone is struggling to lead. There are times though, when tempers flare and the dancers lose their delicate rhythm. Once, Brutus cornered this poor teenager, screaming and screaming until her face turned just the most interesting shade of purple. Brutus yelled, "The Lord created your body as a temple! The Lord created your body for a higher purpose." And the teenager snapped back, "Well the Lord also created Slim Fast! Buy it, use it!"

As a card-carrying member of the Margaret Dumont Society for Big Girls, I winced a bit, but I figured I wouldn't be meeting Brutus at the Big Boy for fudge cakes any time soon, and I got a little evil chuckle out of it. But I noticed Brutus wasn't laughing and I saw her thick fingers reach for the girl and I stepped back and she grabbed me instead and she wound up my shirt in her huge, hammy hands until I bent like Quasimodo begging for sanctuary and she got up real close and screamed "murder, murder, murder."

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