“Dad! Please! Stop and think about it!” His voice cuts through all the chanting of the protestors. It’s vibrant and ringing and crystal clear. He called it out to me as I was trying to walk faster past them all. Donna somehow knows that pisses me off past the tipping point. Somehow she knows that I’ve stopped walking with her. Instead, stopping to turn around and beat the shit out of whomever it is that’s saying that to me.
I turn with a raised fist to see a Catholic priest, still begging, “Dad! Think about this! You don’t want to do this!” He’s right. I didn’t want to do this, but it wasn’t my choice, I couldn’t even pretend it was.
I could put up with the chanting protestors waiving their signs in the background, their stares of disapproval and disgust burning in their eyes. What I couldn’t put up with was someone actually appealing to me as if the choice was mine.
She grabs my shoulder and pulls me backwards, away from the priest clad in all black, his cross swinging away merrily from his neck. She pulls me away from the chanting, sign waving, disapproving protestors on the sidewalk. Not one of them knows me or my story. Not one of them bothered to ask. They only knew what was about to happen. Two sides of the invisible line that was the tinted glass door barricading the air conditioner from bleeding out into the midday Texas sun.
I’ll never forget his face, the look of his brown eyes, the slight downturn of his mouth. His hands pressed together, praying over me even though I never asked him to. The balls on that guy. Fuck that guy. Fuck those people. Fuck all of them and their pretentiousness.
We had been there earlier in the week. The waiting room had been almost completely empty then, this time it felt like it was bursting at the seams. I found us two seats while Donna went to check herself in. All I wanted to do was vomit on everyone and everything. Instead, I sat down and picked up an old copy of some shitty magazine on house warming. The words were all written in a foreign language, it felt like. It didn’t matter anyway, the only reason I picked it up was because I didn’t want to look anyone in the eye.
Across from me were two women who were talking about the crowd being bigger this time as opposed to last time. You could hear the chanting and shouts from the protestors outside, a dulled buzz drowned out by the elevator jazz playing softly from the overhead speakers. Every so often the door opened and you would hear them clearly.
Donna sits down next to me and I grab her left hand and look up into her face, into her eyes. She looks back into mine then quickly away. I couldn’t even imagine what she was thinking, what she was feeling. I did my best to not think about it. She slips her hand out of mine and puts her purse down onto the floor, between her feet. She’s studying the floor, not wanting to look anyone in the face. I couldn’t blame her for that.
After the longest two minutes of my life she comes out of the bathroom, urine stick in hand, and says, “I’m pregnant.” A stunned silence hangs between us. There’s an eternal three second pause, and just before my face bursts into a smile, she says, “I’m not keeping it,” across the room. She waits by the bathroom door, her left hand still on the doorknob, right hand holding up the urine stick before her. She looks sickened. She looks disgusted. She looks like someone walked up and slapped her. She looks just like I feel inside.
“Well, can we talk about it at least?” I ask her, patting the bed beside me, inviting her to sit down next to me. She closes the space between us and I hold out my arms to hold her as I stand up. The happiest moment of my life to that point is also the saddest. How could I tell her that without estranging her? How could I be frank and open with her without screaming? “I’m not trying to dissuade you, I just feel like maybe you should hear my point of view before you make your decision.” We talked for maybe fifteen minutes before she grabbed her purse and walked out our apartment door.
“Donna Salazar?” The nurse calls out. She hands me her purse and stands up, purposefully looking away from me as she does so. I try to not let my tears well up as I stare at her stomach. The girls sitting across from me are looking out the tinted windows and laughing at the protestors. It seems to me they’ve been here enough to be comfortable with the whole process. To me it was like the waiting room from Beetlejuice, only not funny like in the movie. To me it was like hell, or so I thought.
I don’t know how much time passed while I waited there for her to come out. All I knew was it would be only the two of us driving home, not three.
At some point the protestors had all gone home because there were no shouting voices or brightly colored picket signs outside. No priest waiting to grab my shoulder and plead for me to change my mind about a decision that was never mine.
She fell asleep as soon as I got her into the car, waking only when I parked in our numbered parking spot in front of our apartment building. We took the steps slowly upstairs. She took off her jeans and shirt while I got her some water to take some more medication, then lied down in bed and asked me to lay with her.
She was asleep almost instantly.
She pulled my left arm around underneath her own, holding it close to her belly. I waited until I knew she was asleep. I waited until I knew she couldn’t hear me, then I began sobbing.
Here I was, holding the woman whom I loved more than I had ever loved anyone ever in my life. I loved her so much that I went with her as she willingly killed our child even though I wanted her to have it. I still loved her. It was a fact I realized as I lay there with her. As I wondered whether it would have been a boy or a girl. As my hand held the house of our dead, unborn child. As my heart was breaking into little pieces that I didn’t know if I could ever put back together.
I knew I would always love her, no matter what she would ever do. No matter what she would ever say.
She broke up with me two months later. It came out in our last argument that she blamed me for her actions, that I “forced her” to make that decision. I helped her pack her stuff onto the moving van, barely speaking, barely looking up. I still loved her even though I hated her. I don’t quite know how to describe how broken I was after she left. Everything was so difficult to do. Nothing made any sense whatsoever.
I wrecked my truck a few weeks later. It happened as I was staring out the window daydreaming how she would look with a pregnant belly. Another few weeks after that I got fired from my job, seeing as I had no transportation to make it to work across town. Another month later my electricity got shut off. Then my water. Then the eviction notice came. And I swear I’m not making it up when I tell you that as I was packing up to leave, I noticed my cactus had died. Seriously. In South fucking Texas, my fucking cactus had died. If I’d had a dog, that would probably have died, too.
It would have been 11 years old next month. I still think about if it would have been a boy or a girl. Would it have had her mother’s smile? Her quick little chuckle? Would it have put its hand on the back of its neck like her, a little imitation running around?
I do my best to not torture myself with these thoughts. I do my best to not cry too much when I remember that little missing piece of my heart, the one I lost that day, will always be empty. That when people say, “time heals all wounds,” it’s just a load of shit they feed you in their own vain attempts to pacify the pain they obviously still feel.
I named it Victor, or Victoria, depending on the day, depending on the thoughts that come to mind. I talk to it in the still of night, as my day is winding down, when the loneliness is greatest right before sleep takes hold. Sometimes those thoughts make me cry, sometimes those thoughts make me smile. One thing is always certain, I won’t ever be able to get those memories out of my head. I refuse to let them fade away with the passing stream of time. It feels wrong to me, to give up those precious little moments I had with it.
© Ramon Sturdivant