Roar will publish a first-person story about abortion, “My Abortion: A Daily Story,” every day for at least 365 days.
It was August, 1959. My period was due around the first, but it hadn’t come. I didn’t think about it too much because I was never regular anyway. Hadn’t I been gulping down Lydia Pinkham’s Menstrual Tonic ever since I was thirteen? Every time I had the cramps, or was early or late, my mom brought out that big bottle of herb tonic and a spoon. Or at least she used to. Lately I’d been on my own to keep track. After all, I was fifteen and a half, pretty old for a small-town girl in the Midwest.
When the tenth of August rolled around and still no sign of the bloods, I began to worry — just a little. I didn’t believe I could actually be pregnant with only one ovary, but maybe Dr. Meyer was wrong. Mom had got pregnant even after he had tied her tubes.
At my best friend Janet’s birthday party a few days later, I pulled her off to the corner and told her I thought I was a goner.
“No kiddo, you got nothing to worry about until you’ve missed at least two periods. My mom told me. Everybody misses one period. Probably about once a year. No sweat.”
Labor Day. No period. I was sweating bullets now. It was true I didn’t have any morning sickness, or illness of any kind, but I still hadn’t got the curse either. This was not normal. I had been having sexual intercourse with a boy and even though we hadn’t had sex since July, I knew I could still be prego because now I had missed two periods. The handwriting was on the wall.
Tuesday after Labor Day, the first day of school, I stopped in at Dr. Meyer’s office on my lunch hour and made an appointment for after school.
At 3:30 I knocked on the wooden door that covered the nurse’s window. She slid it back and I whispered my name. “Hi Sandra! What brings you to see doctor today?” Her voice rang out for the whole world to hear.
“Nothing. I just have to see the doctor.”
She looked at me. Her face slowly melted from her professional greeting smile down to a serious look. She looked at my face, then at my nervously twisting fingers. She narrowed her eyes, twisted her mouth to one side, then said, “Okay, Sandra, have a seat. The doctor will see you soon.”
It was the usual lie. I sat for what seemed like hours reading two year old Screen magazines. I felt as if every eye in the place was on me, as if they could see right through me and see a swollen womb inside my flat abdomen. Everyone would know what I had done, and I was not a married woman, I was a teenage girl. I was a junior in high school. Junior for a day. My mom was going to kill me.
I worried that it would grow dark before I got to see the doctor, but finally it was my turn. It wasn’t even four o’clock. Time had stretched, lengthened, then had turned back on itself. I felt exhausted from the experience. But it was my turn now. I rose from my chair, smoothed my skirt, and tiptoed back to the office, wishing the other people in the waiting room couldn’t see me, didn’t know me, didn’t know my mom.
Doctor Meyer burst into the office with a huge smile on his face, his white shirt sleeves rolled up revealing his tanned hairy arms. His hands held two needles, and he gave me a shot in each arm. He did this with every patient — vitamins, he said.
“Now then, Sandra, what’s going on with you?”
“I think I might be in trouble, Doctor Meyer.”
His face went through the same metamorphosis the nurse’s had. Then he had me get on the table, my feet in the stirrups, and he examined me.
“I can’t be sure, Sandra, the uterus doesn’t get big enough for me to be certain until a girl is three months along. So we’ll do some tests, and in a week we will know for sure. Meanwhile, you’d better talk to the father and decide what you’re going to do about this baby.”
I couldn’t answer. I left his office in a daze. It was well after four now, and my mom would be at home wondering why I wasn’t there too. My little sister Alberta would tell her I hadn’t come home from school, and I would be in trouble. In trouble! I was in trouble all right, in the worst sense of the phrase. How could coming home late from school compare with being pregnant?
I stopped in at the library and checked out a book so I wouldn’t have to lie, I’d just say I went to the library. I went to the drugstore, ordered a vanilla coke and used the telephone to call home. I told my mom I had gone to the library and lost all sense of time. Would she come and get me? Of course not — I had counted on that response. She would be sitting on the couch knocking back her third or fourth beer by the time I got home. She had worked all day at the factory, and she wouldn’t leave the couch until sometime after midnight when she would awaken and stagger into her bedroom. Tonight would be no different from any other school night — unless I told her I was having Ronnie’s baby. Well, no need to worry, I wasn’t going to do that.
The next week seemed like a year. I was enrolled in Business, Shorthand, Typing, English Lit, American History, and Choir. All the business related stuff was new to me. I felt as ignorant as a newborn baby, and as clumsy as anyone could be. I couldn’t seem to keep my eyes open in any of my classes, and I was falling behind. My teachers were already on my case. They accused me of staying up too late, of thinking I was too smart to need to do my homework. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
I went straight home from school each day, hoping for the phone call from Dr. Meyer that would set me free. I’d probably get my period the minute the phone rang with the news that it was all a big mistake. Each afternoon I sat at the kitchen table with a glass of milk, spread my books out in front of me, stare at the words as if they were written in Greek, then fell asleep, my head on the table. I would jerk awake the minute I heard my mom’s car in the driveway, then fall asleep on the floor in front of the television as soon as I put the supper dishes away.
Ronnie was mystified by my behavior. I barely spoke to him in the halls at school, and I wouldn’t talk to him on the phone. He asked me several times if I was “on the rag,” which was a laugh. I hated his guts. If I was pregnant, it was all his fault, no doubt about it. I knew exactly the day it happened.
On July 18, I’d been staying at Janet’s, and Ronnie and his friend George came to get us and go for a ride. Ronnie and I had ended up having sex on the ground out at the lookout tower. I knew it had to be that day because I hadn’t let Ronnie come near me since then. I didn’t care how mad he got or how mean he might be when he was drinking. I had decided then if I was going to do it, I should at least get to have a good time myself. Instead, I had got pregnant.
The news came on the next Tuesday. Doctor Meyer called me himself. He said the rabbit had died and I had better make an appointment soon to come in for prenatal care. I said sure, but I knew I would never go back to him.
I called Janet. She said I’d better tell my mom right away, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to lose this baby, and I thought I knew how. I had heard my mom talking about how they gave her castor oil to make her go into labor one time, so I reasoned that it should make me go into labor early and I wouldn’t have to be prego. I told Janet what I intended to do. She said she had heard that horseback riding might work too.
I walked down to the drugstore after supper and bought a bottle of castor oil. I drank half of it on the way home, then tossed the bottle into the ditch. The oil made me feel pretty sick to my stomach, so I went to bed as soon as I got home.
About midnight I woke up with horrible cramps and ran to the bathroom where I had violent diarrhea. My stomach would cramp until the sweat stood out on my forehead, then I would have a bowel movement with the force of a geyser. I felt faint, and was crying. Mom was passed out on the couch but I was afraid she was going to wake up and hear me, which added to my distress.
Finally there was nothing left in me to move, but the cramps did not stop. I was sure I was going to get my period, and got out the heating pad and took some aspirin, and waited for the fateful moment. Nothing happened except that my stomach continued its cramping all through the night, and I had eleven more fits of diarrhea and straining. My anus was so sore I could hardly stand to wipe myself.
When my mom woke about two in the morning and staggered off to bed, she saw me sitting on the toilet and asked me if I was sick. I said I had a touch of the flu and would be fine. I dreaded the moment when I would have to tell her the truth.
Wednesday I skipped school and went out to the Jamison’s farm. I had ridden there many times the summers when I was twelve and thirteen. Now I went not for fun, but with a dark purpose. I was scared and I was alone. What would happen to me if I went into labor? Would I just get my period, or was I going to have to go through those awful cramps again? I already felt weak and faint and halfway sick, but I couldn’t put it off, I had to become unpregnant. No way was I going to have a baby! I was only fifteen years old. I was just a junior in high school. No way.
Mr. Jamison wasn’t anywhere around, so I went on back to the barn like I had two years ago. Jack and Jill were both there, like always. Jack was the meaner one, the one who had bucked me off so many times before. I’d ride him.
I eased my way around to his left side, grabbed hold of his long mane, and swung up onto his bony back, just as I had when I was a kid. He raced out of the barn into the meadow and began to buck. But I knew his tricks well, and I was bigger and stronger than the last time he had thrown me. I hugged his neck with my arms and his ribs with my legs. I dug my knees into his sides and yelled into his ear.
“Go ahead and buck, you son of a bitch!” I gritted my teeth and held on for all I was worth. He bucked then ran, and headed for the woods where he could scrape me off against a tree. I screamed as he slammed me into the bark of an oak tree and tears ran down my face as I felt the flesh of my thigh tear and begin to bleed. But I did not let go.
He dragged me around the side of the tree and I felt the skin leave my knee. He raced back down the hill and bucked around the water trough. My leg was burning like crazy and I could feel the blood running down my shin. I was crying out loud like a little kid, and finally I just gave up and let go. I hit the ground like a sack of beans and Jack ambled back into the barn as if he had been out for a drink of water.
The wind was knocked out of me and I felt extremely sorry for myself. My right leg was a sight. The skin was scraped, the flesh was already swelling and beginning to turn blue. Blood was smeared from my thigh to my ankle, and scabs were beginning to form in several places. I was dirty; I was going to be sore where I had landed, and my leg would hurt for days.
I washed my leg from the trough, then limped back into town just in time to run into all the kids from school on their lunch hour. I lied and said I had been in a bicycle accident on my way to school and that’s why I wasn’t there. I charged some stuff at the drugstore to put on my wounds, and got George to drive me home in his convertible.
George asked about Janet and I told him to shut up, that she probably never wanted to see him again. He asked me why I was giving Ronnie the cold shoulder and I told him it was none of his business. Then he asked me if I was in the family way! I burst into tears.
George said that girls always got funny when they got pregnant, and he had seen me coming out of Doctor Meyer’s office not too long ago. I told him to keep his mouth shut, and if he said a word to Ronnie I would stab him in the eye. He dropped me off and drove away without another word.
I didn’t get my period. And I made up my mind to tell mom when she came home from work. I had to tell her before she started drinking or I’d never get up my nerve.
As soon as she put away her lunchbox, and before she could grab that first beer and head for the couch, I blurted it out.
“Mom, I’m in trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?” Her eyes were narrow, her lips pursed and hard as steel. She stood, still as death, waiting for the only answer that went with that statement. I stopped breathing, ducked my head, and croaked: “I’m pregnant.”
She brushed past me, opened the refrigerator, took out a can of beer, pulled the church key down from the wall where it hung among her other East Coast souvenirs, opened the can, took a huge swig on her way to the couch, plopped down, kicked off her shoes and took another drink.
“Mom, did you hear me?”
“Whose is it?”
Well, it was Ronnie’s of course, and she had no reason to doubt that. I had been out with no other boy for over a year.
There was no further discussion. Mom went immediately to the telephone and had a yelling match with Ronnie’s mom, Alice. It sounded to me like Alice was calling me some kind of slut and denying it could be Ronnie’s baby. But within thirty minutes they had decided on a wedding date. Ronnie was to find a job immediately; we were to be married in three weeks, and the whole thing was settled.
“Mom,” I said, when she was off the phone, “I don’t want to marry Ronnie.”
My tears were useless against her cold heart. “A little late to think of that now, my dear.” She had opened another can, and she chugged it. “Get me another beer.” I did as I was told, but I wanted another option to marriage.
“Mom, can’t I have the baby and give it up for adoption?”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Mom, there are these homes girls can go to, I read about it in your romance magazine.” She wasn’t even listening.
“Go turn on television and get out of my sight.”
“Mom, please, I don’t want to marry Ronnie!” In a few more minutes I would be hysterical.
“Well, from the sounds of it, he don’t want to marry you neither, but you kids have made your bed, you’ll just have to lie in it. Now get out of my sight, like I told you.”
By the time Alberta came in for her supper, Mom was plowed, and I was sobbing in my bed. Alberta had to make her own supper, and she didn’t know how to cook, so she ate some bread. In the years to come I would worry about how poorly she ate, but that night I worried about myself. I prayed all night long that God would strike me dead, or Ronnie dead. It seemed like the least He could do if He wouldn’t let me lose this baby.
Baby? I couldn’t imagine a baby growing inside me. All I knew was that I had missed two periods, and some tests the doctor did said I was pregnant. I didn’t see how that could be. I was too young to have a baby! The only other person I ever heard of having a baby before she was sixteen was a girl with a bad reputation, and she had two ovaries. Plus she had been having sex from the time she was eleven. It didn’t seem fair.
When I went to school the next morning, limping, eyes swollen, face streaked from crying, dark circles under my eyes from staying up all night praying, Ronnie was waiting for me. He looked almost as bad as I did.
“Is it true?”
“I guess so. The doctor says it’s true.”
“Is it mine?”
The nerve of this guy. I slapped him this time. Right across the face, right in front of everybody who was getting off the school bus. His face turned bright red, his shoulders stiffened, he raised his hand to slap me back.
“Go ahead. Hit me. Prove what a big man you are.” I knew I was asking for it, but I didn’t care. Slapping him was worth it.
He walked off. I went to Business class, but I wasn’t there five minutes when the teacher told me I had to go to the office and see the principal.
“Sandra, I’m afraid I’m going to have to suspend you.” He spoke in the gravest of tones. I couldn’t believe I was going to get suspended for skipping school for one lousy day, on top of everything else!
“Mr. Burris, I had a bike accident and hurt my leg something terrible. I can get a note from my mom if you want ….”
“It’s not that, Sandra. I hear you are in the family way.”
How could he have heard that already? Jesus H. Christ. You couldn’t keep a secret in this town for five seconds.
“Mr. Burris, Ronnie and I are getting married, you don’t have to suspend me.”
“I’m sorry, Sandra, truly I am. You’ve always been a good student, and we’re going to miss you, but rules are rules. This school district does not allow girls who are in the family way to attend school.”
“Why? I haven’t done anything that any of the other girls haven’t done!” I couldn’t believe this was a rule.
“Sandra, it just isn’t seemly. You aren’t a good model for the younger girls coming up, and we can’t have expecting girls in class with the other girls.”
I started to cry once more. My mom would really kill me if I dropped out of school. But I was escorted to my locker to get my things, my books were taken from me, and I was shown the door.
When I walked out into the sunshine, the quiet schoolyard where less than thirty minutes ago I had slapped Ronnie’s face, I didn’t know where to go, what to do. I had been going to school everyday since I was five years old. I had skipped school only once in my life — yesterday — and now I was being tossed out like so much used tissue paper.
I couldn’t go home. The house would be dark and cool, and it would be too quiet. I would have to listen to the ticking of the clock and the running of the refrigerator, just as if I were home sick, and I knew I couldn’t stand that.
I walked up to Ronnie’s house. He was sitting out on the stump smoking a cig and talking to his dog.
“I’m sorry I slapped you.” I wasn’t sorry in the least, but I thought I’d better say so before he decided to get me back after all.
“It’s okay. I guess you were pretty upset.”
“Well, you know there’s been nobody but you for over a year.”
“I don’t know that. Hell, you haven’t let me near you since way last summer. You won’t talk to me on the phone; you act like you’re too good to even talk to me. How do I know you don’t have another boyfriend?”
“Well, I don’t.”
We sat looking at the ground, thinking our private thoughts. I was thinking how I couldn’t possibly get married to this boy, I didn’t even like him, he didn’t have a job, and it was all wrong. Besides, I was too young to get married. I had to at least finish high school. Now I couldn’t do that. I wondered if they’d let me back in if I somehow got rid of the baby. I had read about girls who went to doctors in back alleys in New York and got rid of their babies. Usually they couldn’t have any more after that, according to those romance magazines, but that was okay by me.
“What are you thinking about?” asked Ronnie.
“Well, you’d better be thinking about how you’re going to take care of me and that baby when we get married.”
“You want to get married?”
“We got a choice?” Ronnie seemed more resigned to the marriage than I was.
“I guess not.” I was feeling damp around the eyes again.
“Don’t you want to marry me? What’s the matter, ain’t I good enough for you?” Ronnie was starting to get belligerent.
“We’re just too young, that’s all.” I tried to placate him.
He was soothed. For the moment. He started talking about how he was going to go stay with his brother in St. Louis the next week and find a job. If he didn’t find a job there, he would join the Navy like his other brother, and we’d be all set. I could live with his mom while he was in boot camp, and then when he got transferred, me and the baby could come and join him. I could be a Navy wife, go to the commissary, do all the cooking and cleaning and taking care of the baby. His son.
I felt as if I would never breathe again. I began to feel dizzy and faint. I asked for a drink of water and then said I had better go on home and start learning how to cook.
I went home and tried to call Janet. She was in school of course, but I left a message with her stepfather to have her call me as soon as she got home. He said he hoped I wasn’t sick, he was home with the flu himself, and I said I was too.
Oh God, soon everyone in the whole world was going to know I was knocked up. I couldn’t stand it. I thought I’d kill myself. But I couldn’t think of a way. Besides there was always the off chance that I would lose the baby before we got married, or that Mom would change her mind and I could go give the baby away to some nice family who would want it. Or maybe I could even keep it myself, but not get married. Oh God, I had to lose this baby!
I had read about girls using wire coat hangers or knitting needles to get rid of their unwanted pregnancies. Mom didn’t knit, so needles were out. I went to my closet and pulled out an empty hanger and sat on my bed and stared at it.
It was black and thick, and I couldn’t get it untwisted. I was sure that I would have to stick the end of it up in my vagina somehow and maybe punch the baby out. I went to Mom’s closet and found a thinner white hanger from the cleaners. Busy Bee, it said. Get your clothing Martinized.
I tore off the paper, unwrapped the wire from around its own neck, and straightened it into an instrument.
I thought I’d better do the job in the basement in case it made a lot of blood. It seemed to me that those girls in the stories who had gone to back alley doctors always bled a lot, and I figured that coat hangers would make blood too.
I went downstairs. I took two towels off the clothesline and laid them crosswise on the bed. I stepped out of my turquoise skirt, my pink and white can-cans, my white cotton underpants, automatically checking for signs of my period. I wondered whether I should take off my blouse and bra, but I didn’t want to be naked, and I couldn’t think what to wear in a situation like this. I got another towel and wrapped it around my waist.
I lay on the bed and spread my legs apart. I raised myself up on my elbows and looked down. My thighs still had a distinct tan line where I had lived in shorts all summer. My abdomen was white and still flat. My pubic hair was thin and straight, not my best feature. I could see the birthmark on my right thigh. I held the hanger in my right hand. With my left hand, I spread open the lips of my vulva. I lay back on the bed, clamped my jaws shut, and prepared to stick the hanger inside me.
Infection! What if I got infected? I’d better sterilize the hanger. I bolted up the stairs and got the alcohol. I held the towel around my waist with one, the bottle of rubbing alcohol in the other.
Back down the stairs, back on the bed. I dipped the end of the hanger in the bottle. Then I remembered that Mom always swabbed a cut with iodine or something before putting a bandage on, or before removing a splinter. I thought I had better swab myself pretty good, because I didn’t really know exactly where that hanger was going to go. I soaked the end of the towel in alcohol and started to swab.
I threw the hanger in the floor, dropped my towel and the bottle of alcohol as my vagina began to burn. I ran up the stairs and leaped into the tub and started the shower. I couldn’t get enough water on me fast enough to stop the stinging. Tears flowed freely now, even more than the night before. The alcohol had set my vagina and rectum on fire. My behind was still sore from the episode of castor oil, and now this! I guess I would just have to carry the baby. I was too big a chicken to go through with hurting myself more than I already had.
I cleaned up the alcohol from the basement floor and opened the garage door to air it out. I threw all the towels in the dirty clothes basket and went upstairs and made myself the biggest sandwich I had ever seen.
When Janet called, I asked her if she wanted to be my maid of honor, she said yes, and we started planning for the wedding. She asked when the baby was due and I said spring.
“It’ll be fall soon, Sandra, then winter and then spring. I can’t believe you’re going to be a wife and mother.”
“Ha! I can’t even believe summer’s over!”
But it was.
Sandra de Helen, author of the lesbian thriller Till Darkness Comes also pens the Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson series. She is a poet, journalist, and a playwright. Her plays have been produced in the Philippines, Ireland and Canada, Chicago, New York City, and in thirteen states. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Dramatists Guild. Her books are available online, at Another Read Through Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego. Samples of her work are available on her website.