I try to avoid Facebook discussions containing the following verbiage: “Ask me to get a sonogram before an abortion, and I’ll shoot you in the crotch …” Politically charged junkies like me, however, bite every time.
So, instead of working on the hand-written letter I’ve been putting off for weeks, I find myself sitting at the computer pointlessly responding to a young college student whom I have never met. I feel bold right now since, really, we’re separated by the vastness of space, time, and computer screens.
The forum is impersonal. I’m reading a post complaining about the always contentious sonogram-before-abortion issue — an offshoot of another discussion regarding Planned Parenthood’s latest video. Started by a friend-of-a-friend, I don’t know anyone on the thread by name. I only know that she’s using words about feminism, freedom, choice, and reproductive liberty — words, I believe, beyond her years.
When I enter into the discussion, I question the use of the phrase “early term termination procedure,” I am immediately confronted. Of course, I never ask why this is even a conversation given the many soul-stealing revelations about Planned Parenthood, but … I bite.
“Republican men (where she got this, I have no idea) trolling again. What a shock. I guess now I have to explain to you in tiny words that you will understand … exactly why these procedures need to be available without restrictions?”
“I think I’m just saying that it seems less confusing to just say abortion … that is what we’re talking about, yes?”
She quickly shifts the tack and points out the obvious — that I am “powerless to conceive of the experience called womanhood” … I can’t feel what a woman feels. I certainly can’t lie on the table and experience the cold, steely solution the way she can.
“How could you?” She asks. “You don’t have the parts.“
As I finally get around to writing my letter — an endeavor I still do by hand — I foolishly decide to continue.
“I don’t have the parts. You’re right. But, I have experiences. My life as a man doesn’t preclude me of that, does it? Do I honestly need a uterus to have this conversation? I’m a father … I think that makes me qualified. I haven’t actually shot someone, or, been a victim of gun violence. Can I have an opinion about gun control?”
Part of me loves to argue, so I do. Apparently she feels the same way.
“You’re a man and THAT IS the problem. Old men shouldn’t be meddling with my anatomy. If you want my uterus, I want your penis. Is that fair? If you want to talk abortion, come back with a uterus. But, don’t f*cking tell me I need to see the fetus. I know what it is. I don’t need you to tell me about it.
“What is it? I guess I assumed a fetus is, scientifically speaking, a life with potential. Is it something else?”
“Scientifically, it’s a potential NOTHING until it’s born. It’s a non-viable parasite in my body. It serves no purpose until it’s breathing on its own. Really … and I bet you’ll understand this … it’s a gift from God. It’s a gift for families.”
“Parasite? Gift from God? What bible is she reading?”
All caps are bad, I tell myself. I’d love to back down now and simply tell her that her fiery lack of morality concerns me … and that my own moral compass guides me toward saving the lives with potential. That is what progressivism is all about after all — looking out for those who can’t look for themselves. I don’t think she’ll listen, though.
“I suppose I just support making life a less abstract concept. Can we agree on that?”
Reading her last comment, I realize that I do support choice after all. I support choosing meaningful pronouns. We use words like I and mine and it like there is no human second party involved. The second party has no voice, I guess, because someone, somewhere decided that the second party in question is either less valuable or not quite valuable enough to earn its own human pronoun. Sarah Silverman calls the unborn “goo.” Of course mothers who miscarry might disagree with this terminology, but at least she’s willing to assign some sort of noun to the unborn. At least it’s something.
But, as she says, the second party is a “parasite.” Parasites don’t own a human pronoun that I know of because parasites aren’t free. They don’t make choices, and we kill them when we wish. Maybe she has a point? As it turns out, the subsequent third-party in the conversation — a dad writer with lots of loud, annoying opinions doesn’t have much of a voice either, as she points out with vigor.
“I don’t know,” I quipped. I suppose if you knew what it is, you wouldn’t be there making the choice in the first place …”
Suddenly I feel part of an ironic confluence of events — Google News tells me that yet another Planned Parenthood video surfaced purporting to show more organ harvesting by callous humans whom, I think, may not deserve their own pronoun either. Yet on the left, women are chiming in to let us all know that “choice” is supreme, and we are collectively insane for caring.
I can’t help but notice that we make no mention of fathers.
I look over my shoulder at a closed office door, hoping that it will magically open up to offer up some kind of family distraction. No absolution, though. Not today …
She’s had enough of me, it seems, so I start to etch my scribbly memo — a yearly memorial of sorts.
Time flies, doesn’t it? I was thinking today about beginnings and how 28 years probably seems old to you now. Actually you’ll find that it is as young as you will ever be. It also made me think about my youth and how I want you to know about the bits and pieces that make up your past. This probably benefits me more than you, but I think these talks make us more human, more connected … definitely more alive.
This is a simple story about two people I know. I enjoy telling it because it’s warm to me — like how it feels to open a Twain novel for the first time.
We were close once, but I’ve heard he’s a family man now and drives an unflatteringly big van with dog-fur, Cheez-Its, and fruit snacks ground into the carpet. She’s all grown up, too, and working as some kind of successful manager of this-or-that. Although she used to live in the same city, she might as well be farming rice in Manchuria because they lead the separate lives of two kids who simply grew up.
I was with them when they first met … did I ever tell you that? I don’t know why, but I remember the mundane details of that night perfectly — a 29 year-old memory that is as paradoxically lucid as my vision of you this very minute.
Leaning back, hands clasped around the back of my head, I stare to the ceiling grasping for something profoundly parental to write:
[Don’t be afraid of the memories, sappy as they may be. Someday, they will define you]
I can’t tell you the story without first telling you about the party. The biggest party of the year. As I’m writing to you, I can still see my friends one Winter marching through the crisp, dormant grass toward an old house bursting with screaming teenagers. The dark shadows of young bodies press their silhouettes against the picture window.
Once inside, I stay close to the walls to avoid the pulsating mass of body-heat and hormonal touching. Under my feet, the musty, almost fetid odor of beer and sweat rises from the turquoise deep-pile carpet — a remnant of the 80’s I hope you never encounter.
[Life is a loosely fitted tapestry of memories just like this … Give it time. They will make sense someday]
Modern English soars out of an old combination tape-deck while faceless classmates and random occupants recklessly cram into the house like New York City subway passengers.
Finding a spot exactly in the middle of the house, my friend stands on top of a faded, plastic lawn chair. He is absolutely out-of-place but oddly powerful looking at this moment — a pimple-faced Zeus. “When she walks through that door,” he says looking down at me, “… When she shows up, I’ll be ready …”
Tuning out the chaos, it occurred to me how perfectly life pulls together the paths of otherwise pointlessly meandering lives. I didn’t understand the enormity of a realization like that at the time, but I do now.
Earlier that same day — after weeks of hesitation — he approached a girl outside of the gym locker room. He knew her slightly but only as much as one could know someone bobbing around in the ever-churning, daily flow of school hallway bodies. Nevertheless, she was unique and special in the way a first love always is …
[I wish you knew that special people have a shimmer about them. We tell each other that a light like this is a sign they might exist beyond our means … Follow the shimmer into whatever dark corner you wish. No one will ever be beyond your means]
While she waited for her boyfriend, a football player — the very antithesis of my old friend — he approached the girl who was well beyond his means. Now, I take credit for this. I practically forced him to do it. In his eyes, he wasn’t a particularly memorable boy. In fact, given the unfortunately high social standards at our school, he was barely noticeable — a tragically un-hip blend of nerdy-musician and bookish imp. As he hesitantly walked toward her, I hid in the shadows across the hall.
But then, my friend … the strangest thing happened. Her defensive, almost angry-that-he-dared-approach-her look faded away and revealed an impossibly defenseless look. I gave him a 10% chance of walking away without a limp, though I didn’t tell him that.
Instead, they laughed like they had known each other since birth. And, as he told me months later, she had immediately carved a rare cove in his soul that would forever harbor an indelible image — the way a first smile always does. As we left her waiting for her boyfriend, we proudly and defiantly ran down the hallway and out the school doors. There was no logical damn reason why this should have worked! I remember thinking to myself.
Back to the party. There he was, still focused on that door and anticipating the entrance of a girl I assumed decided to go on that typical date with her even more typical boyfriend.
The music changes — Simple Minds — and I raise a watered-down beer above my head while shouting the lyrics to a song I’ve heard a hundred thousand beautiful times. After what seems like the fifth chorus, I see that his now transparent insecurity about the girl above his means shows clearly on his face. “She’ll never show up to a beer party, will she?”
What happened next, I will remember forever. As one of our friends slapped him on the back of the leg, he began to rock back-and-forth on that crappy chair — clumsily descending with one leg crashing through the seat which had now become a plastic bear trap. He could see that she thought twice about the sweaty beer-fest because her friends started to escort her back out the door. Now, I would have probably stayed. But he drug that chair through walls of people, shoving, pushing, and willing himself through the crowd. The last vision I have of him was of his trapped leg, clumsily disappearing into the night … chasing after a completely unattainable girl.
This is the way it happens. Simple, beautiful, innocent. This is the way we begin playing house.
[At this point, you need to understand something about life and how it has a funny way of nudging us from time to time. I’ve heard it called divine intervention by smarter people than me … whatever term we use, it is that something-out-there-force that conveniently brings us to our revelations. Often, when the hints are so subtle, we’re left by chance to either follow along or discount them. Sometimes, we receive a jolt like by surviving a collision with a truck. Maybe the intervention is that purposeless, accidental collision between two careening grocery carts … the one that yields a lifetime of love between two otherwise innocent bystanders. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the birth of your first child. Nobody knows, really. Life is randomly sublime like that]
But for him, the nudge came after weeks of movies, dates, and proms.
I drove with them as they circled nervously around a plain, amber brick building seemingly trying to find the right minute and opportunity to park — a hesitation I don’t profess to understand since there were virtually no cars in the parking lot.
I did notice dozens of curiously angry people wielding signs with equally angry slogans. They lined the driveway in such a way that my friends had to pass them close enough to bear the bold ridicule of faceless strangers … but not close enough to be touched. Oddly, touching them might have been the best thing I have ever done. Through waving signs and passionate voices, my two friends breached the barricade and disappeared through smokey-glass-covered doors and into the building bearing, ironically, no sign on its walls.
To this day, I remember it as the day I turned my back on Christ.
As I left the building with her, my body felt numb … as if I had been shown visions of my own death. I couldn’t stand outside of myself anymore, pretending to be someone else and separated from the reality of what we did.
Playing house, it seems, comes with a price. For me, it happened at the exact second I turned the keys to leave the parking lot. For a rush of seconds that seemed like hours, swirling, antagonizing thoughts entered my mind with a booming, almost celestial voice … asking me why I didn’t simply say … no. Please don’t do it. Please just walk away.
I climb some old steps to a place only I know and root around a stack of dusty file boxes, predictably misplaced holiday ornaments, and old college textbooks. I think about those two young strangers as I often do when fits of nostalgia gloss over the stark realities of family life. This time of year, though, I accept this burden and remember one of the many reasons I started my walk with Christ.
Deep inside of a particularly unremarkable box, I find what I’m looking for pressed between decades-old tax returns. Drawing out the fading manila envelope — like I’m doing now for the 28th time — I think about how much I want him to see what he could have become; how I’ve grown; and the kind of legacy I might have left. I want him to meet my beautiful children and their more beautiful mother. I want him to know that life, and playing house, is not an abstract concept. I want him to know that he’s more than bits and pieces. I want him to know that these stupid, self-fulfilling pronouns we use have nothing to do with him. I want him to know that his memory teaches me to be a better parent every day.
Despite the politics, you are more than me.
More than anything, I want him to know that he was never so insignificant as the day I bravely — though ever so naively — walked us past a crowd of angry, prophetic signs. I want him to know that while these images of happiness and love scatter like the weightless ash of a campfire, regrets linger forever.
No. No, you were not a clump. You were not goo. You were not a mistake.
At the bottom of the steps, I hear the familiar dinging sound my computer makes when someone posts something profound on Facebook. She’s still there, I imagine … still reminding me that my ignorance in these matters stems from a tragic lack of parts.
Yeah, I think … I’m fine with that.
Geoff Pierce says
Great thoughtful piece on a painful and polarizing subject from a rarely noted perspective. Not a perfect parallel for me, but quite close, and evocative of so many memories from that era of my life. Thanks Rob.