Neither of us really wanted to become parents. When she discovered she was pregnant, it didn't occur to us that perhaps that choice had already been made. Instead, our fears were wholly selfish. We didn't want to be exposed. I didn't want my Christian friends to know I was having sex. She didn't want to tell her friends for fear that someone would have loose lips. Neither of us wanted to tell our parents. My sisters told me stories about how my father had been chaste throughout World War II, never sleeping with the woman who was his fiancée, even refusing to sleep in the same bed with her, preferring instead to sleep in a chair one night when they were forced to share a room. How could I tell him about a pregnancy? My girlfriend's parents owned a successful business in the Northwest and were very respected in the community. This sort of thing didn't fit well with that image.
Though the abortion debate swirled around us, we hadn't paid too much attention to it. I might have called myself pro-life and she might have called herself pro-choice but then again it might have been the other way around. As we flipped through the yellow pages to find a clinic we were dizzy with disgust and longing for relief. Much of the disgust was with us. Why had we been so stupid and not been more careful? It was unfair. The relief we longed for was the promise that a small procedure would just make the whole problem disappear. A few hundred bucks and all would be done. We didn't allow ourselves to ask any serious questions: Is "it" an "it" or a "he" or a "she"? Is this murder?
Would our short-term relief become long-term regret? We asked ourselves these questions privately but didn't allow ourselves to ask them of each other. As much as we might be wrestling with the issue, we were going down the abortion route and didn't want ourselves to be dissuaded. It felt as if getting rid of the pregnancy quickly would make the abortion less of a problem, much as removing a tumor is easier if discovered sooner rather than later.
We chose a clinic on a prestigious street in Boston. It made it feel safer, more respectable. The thick, dark wooden doors had brass lettering. A nurse assured us that this procedure was normal, safe, and relatively painless. It was a morally neutral occurrence, she said, nothing to feel guilty about. We were so early in the pregnancy that we weren't aborting a child, just a bunch of tissue. The thing inside my girlfriend could feel no pain, had no brain, had no real distinguishing features that would make it human. We both tried to act very grown-up, which meant some combination of asking questions, looking the nurse in the eyes, and being serious but not being emotional. We played the scriptless parts as best we could.
After it was over, my girlfriend lay in a room with eight tables partially enclosed with screens set next to them. Seven other women lay quietly, pretending the others weren't there. The room felt full of unspoken sorrow and unacknowledged shame. But perhaps that was just us. We walked back down the fancy street and took the subway back to school. We regretted it. We were relieved. I knew what we'd done. I had no idea what we'd done. We stayed together for a while. Then we went our separate ways.