Roar will publish a first-person story about abortion, “My Abortion: A Daily Story,” every day for at least 365 days.
My first real true love was a boy I stole from my younger sister, Mona in 1972. His name was Geno and he was a worldly 23 to my naive 17. He lived in his own apartment in Tacoma, not far from the military base where he grew up with his black dad and Japanese mom.
After the first couple of times he called for Mona and she wasn’t home, I took note of his melodic voice and mischievious laugh and made it a point to see how long I could keep him on the phone. This went on until one time he called and Mona answered. They talked for a few minutes, then she put her hand over the receiver, rolled her eyes and said “He wants to talk to you.”
I felt bad about my sisterly betrayal, but I was also secretly thrilled to be the chosen one. Mona later came out as a lesbian which might explain her indifference to the charms of Geno. If I was smarter back then, I would have taken his fluid shift in affections as a warning sign. Instead, I was giddy and light years away from having any sort of wisdom in regards to men.
When he told me he was technically still married but getting a divorce, I believed him. And later, when our fooling around turned into getting it on, Geno told me he’d pull out and I wouldn’t get pregnant. He was my first and I kind of believed him, but thought I should get on the pill, just to be safe.
Timing has never been my strong suit, but I like to think I’m good at following instructions. The doctor at Planned Parenthood told me to start taking the pills five days after my next period started. So I waited. And waited. And then I waited some more.
When it became obvious that circular case of little pink pills wasn’t going to do me any good, I made a panicked phone call to Geno. We needed to talk. We’d been seeing each other for about three months and things had progressed to the point that I’d begun imagining my future. Living the urban life with my charming, mixed-race boyfriend in Fabulously Cosmopolitan Tacoma. Far away from my poor, white, small town upbringing. It could still happen, I thought. I’d even met his parents and they seemed to like me.
For our talk, he picked me up at our designated spot, away from my house and redneck stepdad. We drove over to the state park where earlier he’d tried to teach me to drive. The lessons had ended when I reversed his Ford Falcon into the side of the restroom.
My hand was nervously clamped on his knee. It felt like the news I was about to share was the beginning of our whatever was next. Thinking back, I’m sure I was hoping somehow a proposal might come out of it. It was my senior year of high school and doing the math, adding up the credits, I thought I could graduate early.
“I’m pregnant.” I said.
“What?!” he said and I swear to God, he had a frightened, puzzled, look on his face, like how did that happen?
“What do you mean, what? I guess your fool-proof-pull-out-method isn’t so fool proof.”
He stared off into the dark, dumfounded, distance for a few minutes, than dropped his own bombshell.
“I was going to tell you tonight, I’m back with Sheila. She’s pregnant too.”
It seems their separation hadn’t been so separate. And that was that. He dropped me off at the end of my rural road and I never heard from him again.
Pretty quickly, my pregnancy advanced to include morning sickness, and embarrassing moments jumping off the school bus to throw up on the side of the road. Desperate and sick, I told everyone I had the flu.
I didn’t want to think about my stepdad’s reaction. Mom hadn’t been able to extricate us from our abusive, often violent, home so her advocating for me seemed unlikely. Not because she wouldn’t want to, but because she was incapable. I knew that from all the times we’d left. We always came back.
I found the card I’d kept for “Angel,” the young woman from Planned Parenthood who came to talk to our health class back when my big worry was how to get the pill.
Abortions became legal in Washington state in 1970, but for minors, parental consent was still required. After listening to my situation, Angel said she thought she could get me a fake ID. I didn’t ask, but wondered if she’d found herself in a similar situation at one time.
The day of my abortion was a rare snow day. School was canceled. Angel picked me up at my sister-in-law Shirley’s house where I’d told Mom I was babysitting. Besides Angel (and long gone Geno), Shirley was the only one who knew my troubles.
Angel slowly navigated the snowy roads up the valley to the doctor’s office where they were willing to not look too closely at a patient’s ID.
Besides, scraping the money together and the procedure itself, the next hardest thing about that day was going home and trying to pretend like it was just another day. I’m not a very subdued person and my silence at the dinner table didn’t go unnoticed by my stepdad. “What’s with the long face Mosquito Butt? Somebody step on your little feelings?” He shook the salt shaker into his beer for effect. I shrugged and looked at Mom, whose hands were folded in front of her like a prayer. We both knew he didn’t really want an answer.
After dinner, I hurried through the dishes and went upstairs to my room. Curled myself into a ball on my mattress on the floor. When I turned on my little transistor radio the Chi-Lites were singing… I’ve been used to havin’ someone to lean on, and I’m lo-o-ost, baby, I’m lo-o-ost.
The hole in my soul, born of that long ago snowy day, is still with me. I’m also still vehemently pro-choice and donate annually to Planned Parenthood, though to call it a choice feels wrong. When I look into mixed-race faces, I see the child (and now adult) I didn’t have and live with my guilt. In my dream fantasy world all babies are born into and grow up in loving homes. But in 1972, that fantasy only took me so far. And still today there are a lot of girls in similar crappy situations who have old white men in suits deciding their fates and taking their rights, state by state.
My daughter knows my abortion story and I know that she knows, no matter what, she can come to me and her dad and we’ll support her through whatever agonizing decisions she might face. Though I hope she never has to. The best thing about having a choice is never having to make one. I’ve also told her it’s never a good idea to steal someone’s boyfriend.
Star Roberts lives in Seattle, Washington and is currently working on a memoir about growing up broke but not broken in the Pacific Northwest. It includes two fires, a flood, a hunting accident and a suicide but mainly it’s a story about inherited optimism in spite of the facts.