Discover more from Look What You Made Me Do
Thinking you can negotiate with the nonnegotiable is a fool's errand and yet...
There were a whole raft of things that just, depending at what point in time you dropped into them, you could easily think they had really nothing to do with you. If you’re old enough to remember having sex in 1979, you’re old enough to remember when there was the isolation of some kind of quasi-cancer that folks were calling Kaposi's sarcoma. It was hitting mostly gay men.
Noted, and the non-gay men just kept it moving. Right up until it started getting connected to AIDS. Which, apparently, if the press at the time was to be believed, only concerned you if you were Haitian. Or a hemophiliac.
If you were not a Haitian or a hemophiliac? You just kept on moving.
Until people started talking about HIV and then, as media markers go, the very “heterosexual” pro sports figure and celebrity Magic Johnson got it. Then heterosexuals were a little less likely to keep it moving. Condoms in fishbowls on bars were the order of the day and having moved beyond the completely criminal Reagan years and an approach to a massive health crisis that was nothing short of sick, we stopped walking by it and started to deal.
“My period is late.”
The circumstance surrounding the speaking of this sentence — sex with birth control — and the woman opposite me when it was being spoken were framed fairly perfectly for a guy who was in the habit of just keeping on moving. Though none of this should have been a surprise, it was a total surprise and first and foremost I recalled a woman who had written a poem that I published about her abortion. At the time I recall the emotional…weight…the heft of her feelings around it. Feelings that seemed sort of, out of place to me.
Not that I was a stranger to abortion. A roommate of my mother’s from her college years had died from a botched, illegal one. A story I was familiar with. But this, all of this, any of this, seemed somehow remote to me because in a very simple way I knew that I was not likely to get pregnant. So, yeah: keeping it moving.
I had said, callow youth that I was, “what’s the big deal? If I had to stop fucking to save my life, I would.” Spoken like a guy who was only fucking twice a year…
But sitting in bed some Sunday morning the totality of an unplanned pregnancy had suddenly put some skin in the game. Mine, hers, ours, specifically.
Forestalling any thought I might have of unplanned fatherhood she followed that with a plan of action.
“I’m going to get an abortion.”
We were three years in to a five year relationship and there had been talk of marriage so this plan of action wasn’t a given, even at the age of 24. But I was relieved. Appointments were made. On the day in question I drove her to a sleepy side street in Palo Alto, when it was still a college town, versus a tech megalopolis.
I waited. She came out an hour later. Crying.
You see the doctor, unimpressed with her workmanlike attitude and bearing, decided to make it…impactful. Where he — is that much of a surprise? — could have made it less so, he did not. We had also ventured a guess that he had also made it hurt, when he did not have to. In other words, his bedside manner was shitty all around.
See she was precisely six weeks late with her period. That is to say, she was six weeks pregnant. At six weeks the fetus is the size of a lentil.
We later dreamed about burning his office down to the ground but we knew it would be misunderstood. Or rather, it would have been understood as motivated by ANTI-abortion sentiment. Of which there’s always been a lot of energy around. Just not for me, a coastal, and a man to boot, but much larger swaths of folks.
I mean I had met people who seemed politically sane but who would not budge on this issue. They were all people with children and I am sure their experience tempered their understanding. My understanding stalled when I suggested if abortion was going to be made illegal then I’d support such aggressive birth control measures as to make unplanned pregnancies anachronisms.
Birth control for everyone, at all times, everywhere.
This is where the stony wall of resistance started to confuse me as the line here and now was that the ease and ready availability of birth control would encourage promiscuity. So the solution was?
“Just say no.”
Madonna was advising that Papa shouldn’t preach, protests at abortion clinics had turned violent…and suddenly we’re in the midst of a teen pregnancy imbroglio that put more skin in the game than at 29 I thought I had.
I’d have been more outraged but back in the days when I believed I was immune to AIDS I had said, callow youth that I was, “what’s the big deal? If I had to stop fucking to save my life, I would.” Spoken like a guy who was only fucking twice a year back during senior year of high school.
However, if saying “No” was a real option there’d be no debate. No, these folks were all Old Testament testifiers who seem to harbor a steadfast belief that there is a system of rewards and punishments that none of us are immune from. If you got pregnant, it was G-d’s will, and it would not be undone.
They didn’t go away. Their position was not tractable. I went back to keeping it moving.
“I think, maybe, I might be kinda pregnant.”
Three years later, different girlfriend, and in total, different conversation. She was 18, and looked considerably younger. Was I, in my late 20s having a midlife crisis early? I was in my late 20s having a midlife crisis early.
The sentence though, as it had been spoken, was laden with equivocation and sounded much more like Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut: “I…think….maybe…I…might be…kinda? [long pause]… pregnant?”
Dropping her off later at Kaiser, after an abortion I had urged, she bounced back to my waiting car after a scant 15 minutes. The doctor had told her that she probably wasn’t pregnant and she should stop worrying. When she asked for birth control he demurred saying, “most people your age don’t use it anyway”.
Exit stage left.
Now we had a problem. Madonna was advising that Papa shouldn’t preach, protests at abortion clinics had turned violent, doctors were being killed, and suddenly we’re in the midst of a teen pregnancy imbroglio that put more skin in the game than at 29 I thought I had.
It took three visits to finally get the abortion. It took three more months/visits to get birth control.
So then what should not have been a stunning realization at all: there was nothing sudden at all about this issue. If you had ovaries it’s been with us…forever.
But the religious right had gotten ahead of framing it and steadfastly pursued it as an end, while blocking efforts to make birth control, easily and readily available. And now sensing loopholes we presently have a nationwide referendum that makes no exceptions in the case of rape and a Supreme Court that, as it’s been leaked, is about to strike down Roe V. Wade and the right to a legal abortion.
And now I couldn’t have more skin in the game. As the father of four daughters, and the brother of four sisters, this is not an easy one to stroll by. Even less so, in a weird way, if you have kids that were all wanted. It’s tough enough of a thing to do when you want them, never mind if the state is forcing you to have them.
I sat down at the kitchen table, amidst paperwork and old mail. A legal medical paper stared back at me, and it said, if I was going to believe it, that my 21-year-old daughter was pregnant.
Fuck Madonna. The religious right. Me. The world. Everything and everyone. All of a sudden you see your offspring’s options winnow down to a very narrow set of circumstances. No one wants this for their kids. I was unrelentingly despondent.
A Navy corpsman friend of mine, knee deep in his own post-Afghanistan night sweats of PTSD and suicidal ideation called. He asked, pointblank, in the way that guys who’ve made friends with trauma do, what the fuck was wrong with me.
So I told him.
He didn’t laugh but he said that this was a cause for celebration. He had assumed, steeped in death like he was, that this was a death matter. Not a life matter.
“At least you’ll get a wonderful Grandkid out of it.”
And he was right. My grandson IS wonderful. So is his mother, who got her degree from Berkeley and is well into a Silicon Valley career among the other tech geniuses. She deserves all of the accolades thrown her way today on Mother’s Day. As does my ex-wife who has managed this all like a champ from the beginning. And her sisters, and a raft of friends, who have become the greatest aunts imaginable.
She had support for whichever way she wanted to take her future. She, however, is not the vast majority of women who will face uncomfortable decisions about their bodies, health, futures and lives.
So now we’re in zero sum time. Those who did nothing in the belief that we’d never be here, those who lied about what they’d do if we got here, those who restrict birth control, as well as sex education, the anachronistic holdovers who believe there was an “old days” where this was handle more deftly, the entire kit and kaboodle have emerged as what they are: enemies. Negotiating with them is pointless, it should be clear.
See, your foster system doesn’t work. Your adoption system doesn’t work. Your churches don’t work (unless you’re a priest who molests children). No matter how much you work to convince us otherwise.
And so your recent successes redound to a massive societal failure and we wonder, with science in the balance, how much of this blame you feel comfortable carrying. Since, at present, you own it all.
You’re just going to keep it moving? Yeah, you are.
But Peter Sotos wrote a book during the Jesse Helms years that aggressively exercised his First Amendment rights to free expression. It was called Total Abuse and it almost exclusively focused on the rape and killing of living children. During an interview post-his release from jail and after he had become a Free Speech cause célèbre said something that stuck with me and I paraphrase: America is very dishonest about its relationship to its children.
I am going to have to disagree here though.
It seems like America is very honest about its relationship to its children: America doesn’t give a shit at all about its children. So while Total Abuse is out of print, it seems like it’ll never be out of style.
But…but…but…I don’t want to be a total downer, even though there’s ample cause for it. No. I want to leave you laughing! So there’s this…a tribute to those who know best that life and death are serious life and death issues: Our mothers…
So…HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY MOMS! Do something nice for yours. She’s suffered enough.