FRESH YARN presents:
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."
I watched the whole thing from outside myself, too shocked to believe it was actually happening. Holy steaming crap! Someone hated me enough to put their HANDS on me! Where the hell did that come from? We were awkward and unsteady and sweating. She curled over me screaming and yelling and shouting every time I tried to speak and hey . . . hey, no. Oh, I'd been here. I'd been here before and I didn't like it one bit. Screw you, Daddy, I'm a big girl now!
I threw Brutus an elbow to the throat and her screaming stopped and she gasped for breath and felt for the ground. And the cops sprang into action. Most of the time, the cops stick to their cruiser, amused that they're pulling easy overtime for refereeing squabbles between God freaks and crunchy, feisty college girls. But when something nasty happens they're on it, rolling their eyes with jaded impatience, "Ladies, ladies, come on now." We didn't see Brutus for a while, but soon enough, she was back. She never touched me again, though. She remembered just when to stop.
Next we escort this woman and her boyfriend, who introduces himself as Luis. I can tell Luis hurts about this; he keeps blinking his eyes hard and biting his lip. Occasionally he touches his girlfriend on the shoulder and says, "Monica, are you sure? We can work it out, my ma will help. Are you sure? Baby, please . . ."
Monica shrugs her shoulder away from his touch and clicks her tongue and I can imagine how it happened, because I've been there myself. The party went beyond control and there's a cock-rock soundtrack playing in the background and she's so drunk she can't feel his lips, there's just this general warmth in front of her face and he's in, he's out whatever. And the morning after pill isn't an option because she doesn't know about it. Monica makes a point of walking six spaces ahead, we have to hustle to keep up. There's nothing between them, she knows that. But Luis doesn't. He's already fallen in love with the fact that someone might wear his face, and he keeps keening, "Baby, baby," something sweet to wet her taste for him.
There's all that heart-wrenching, mind-bending stuff going on between them. Then the protesters notice Luis is Latino and automatically assume he is Catholic, which in this case is true. The Catholic contingent steps to the front and guilts Luis up but good, questioning his loyalty to his faith, mocking his manhood, "Don't let her do this to your baby." Luis is maybe seventeen, but he's already got the mandatory facial hair and his Virgin Mary tattoo expands and contracts in anger and he swears no one will tell him he is not a man, and he starts to yell at them, "You don't know me, you don't know me." And I grab him and tell him it's not worth it, we know he's a man. Which is true. After all, he's here; he showed up. No detached car ride from Luis, no dropping off and driving away. Points for Luis, he stayed and stepped up to the plate. And he's looking at her, looking at his hands, looking at her and looking down, stunned to discover that he has reached the point in this thing where there is simply nothing more a man can say.
After I leave Luis in the waiting room I go outside for a smoke and I see Henny Penny worrying her rosary beads on the sidelines, and it occurs to me that she's a nun. She's not in any kind of habit but her crucifix is pretty industrial and her sandals have these hand-tooled leather crosses on them, which suggests that she either has a quirky fashion sense or she's working for the firm. I can tell she's spent some energy praying on this; she's been on her knees so much the skin has darkened and toughened, I can imagine it, her shifting from shin to shin to relieve the pain. And before I know it, she slips across legally mandated boundaries, touches me lightly on the arm and RESPECTFULLY (which sounds so strange to me because we've long since lost the ability to speak to one another about this with respect), she respectfully SUGGESTS (which also sounds odd because my ears have become so accustomed to threat), she respectfully suggests "Dear, think about the potential."
And well, that's it, isn't it? That's why this hurts so damn much. What at one point might just be a clump of cells, will become so much more nine months later. It's option versus potential here, both wonderful things that must be sacrificed to one another. And I think of what a horrible business this is and how much I hate it. I hate it. I mean, this is not a nice thing, this is not a pleasant thing. Who truly wants this? Who would advocate this? Clean steel instruments and sickening gas and clinic staff speaking in the royal "we." No one wants that. And for a moment it seems that the line of protest is not so far away at all.
But ultimately, what carries me back is the fact that I am a woman of option. When you're a woman, every waking moment is full of potential, but option is a window that closes slowly: time, then no time, then all the time you never wanted. So many women move through this world alone. My job is to keep the options open for these women until they choose. That's as far as I'm willing to go. Beyond that, I will not be moved.
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