Jessica’s Story

I was 17 when I started seeing Steve. This is your typical “I was a teenage asshole” story; I rebelled against my parents for no good reason, punishing them for giving me a lifetime of support and encouragement. I remember pulling up into the driveway of the house I grew up in, standing on the other side of my blue ’89 Accord from my mother.

“Where have you been?”
“Nunya bidness.”

I took vile pleasure in the looks of insult and fury that flashed over her face. For reasons I no longer understand, I kept this prickly distance from my family, and had strained, barbed conversations with my friends. All I wanted to do was hang out with this man-friend of mine, and fuck everybody else.

The person I became in that relationship is a stranger to me now, and was a stranger to my friends and family. As I have processed what happened in the years since, I’ve seen that I had become convinced that it was a good idea to keep secrets from other people I loved; there was something special in the way he and I were with each other, against the rest.

Steve forbade me to go to my beloved coffee shop, where I had spent most afternoons after school with my friends. He convinced me that dressing to look attractive was slutty; that I should only look attractive to him, should eliminate all possibility of other men flirting with me. He got angry and indignant at the idea of other guys getting ideas about me. I was not to be trusted.

My experience in the world of sex, romance, dating, and hormones was half-cocked and frenzied. My adolescence as “Miss Piggy” made becoming suddenly svelte and attractive a tool and a responsibility I was ill-prepared to manage. Because I could, I did, often and with gusto. I was always careful, and am thankful to have never contracted any STDs. But I also had concerns, worried that I should feel guilty for being sexually active, not wanting the labels that are so quickly assigned to a woman who has sex with whom she wants, when she wants. I wrestled to shirk the stigma of that sick double-standard. Yet I was still uncertain, wobbly-kneed as an independent agent.

When Steve, the (seven years) older, deadly handsome, dangerously smart guy from the other side of town with the blazing blue eyes and broad shoulders elevated me out of the high school social scene and onto the back of his motorcycle, I felt like I was exercising my independence, enjoying the fullest expression of my sexuality, being free. He began to work on me.

I easily accepted his stance that my flirtatious, outgoing personality was just my libido running amok, that I should curb myself and not be a whore, that if I loved him I wouldn’t be that way. Those thoughts I’d had, the way I’d sort of looked over my shoulder, wondering if I was doing something wrong, now those thoughts had a voice. A strong, dominant, male voice.

It’s not like I was simply some hormonally charged sex-fiend getting her fix with the bad boy; there was some joy in sharing my time with this man. I did feel a lot of love for him. We built a V-6 engine together. He demonstrated his keen brilliance in conversation and I felt I had a worthy adversary in many of our debates. But when it came to matters of self-esteem, I was not so well fortified.

I am easily embarrassed, quick to feel ashamed. This made it easy for him to dominate me. I was not armed with determined notions of my own self-worth. I had already begun to question these things when he came along with his definitive declarations of slutdom and how he would cure me of it; he convinced me that he could save me from myself.

We had agreed when we first began having sex that we would terminate a pregnancy. Going to college was more important to me then than having a baby, and we were good about using birth control, until we got sloppy. I suppose that we had more than one unprotected session, but I only remember that one night which I am sure was the night I conceived. It only takes once.

When I missed my period, it was a while before I noticed. My habit in recent years has been to keep a lunar calendar marked with the dates of my cycle. That was not the case then. It took two or three weeks after I should have started bleeding again before it occurred to me to wonder when last I menstruated. Then I took the dreaded pregnancy test, and when I told him the results, I got assurances from the not-to-be-father that he would help me pay for the procedure.

One day at work, he came to bring me a sandwich. I couldn’t keep it down. At that time I was working in a children’s clothing store. I was surrounded by onesies and booties and tiny hats in soft pastels, hunched over the little trash can behind the counter, heaving up my roast beef with spicy mustard. I was resolute in my decision, despite it all.

Then came the appointed day. I was 9 weeks pregnant. I don’t know why I decided to look at it, but I can still see the image in the sonogram. A little curly-q squiggle, looking rather alien, lizard-like in its smallness. It measured a scant two inches long. He never saw it. I ended up driving myself to the clinic because, shortly before the procedure, he changed his tune.

Suddenly, he wanted me to keep it. He withdrew his pledge of monetary support. He cried. He yelled. He begged me. I was already so tortured and grieved that I had put myself in this position, and then he tried to change my mind. It broke my heart to fight his betrayal of a pact we had made more than a year before. Then I went and had my heart broken all over again as the tiny squiggle was scraped from my uterus.

I got into my gown, I put my feet up, lay my head back and tried to follow their instructions to relax. I braced myself and tried to fly away in the gas cloud under the face mask. At the time, Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey were the gossip magazines’ favorite couple. As they went through the procedure, the doctor and the nurse chatted about the latest dish of their storied affair as I tried to tune it all out, tried not to cry out.

I couldn’t be put to sleep for the procedure. I told the doctor that I had had a sip of water that morning, so they couldn’t give me the intravenous anesthetic as originally planned. Instead I was given gas. My plan of How Things Would Go had already been unceremoniously usurped; this was just one more way in which I was left feeling unprepared, vulnerable, alone, and deeply frightened. I remember the feel of my feet in the stirrups. I remember the numbness that wasn’t numb enough. I didn’t feel pain, but I felt, from some incomprehensible distance, that long tube invading my womb.

I remember hating the nurse when she patted the back of my white-knuckled hand. Her attempt at comfort was too far buried under the grocery-checkout headlines she had regurgitated; I found no solace in it. I remember wanting to scream at them to shut the fuck up, but I was too busy trying to breathe. I suppose they were trying to distance themselves from me, how close I was at every breath to weeping. I remember the cold air blowing through the vents. I remember feeling naked and broken and small. I remember feeling the chill my tears left in narrow tracks on my cheeks.

I healed quickly, stopped bleeding when I was supposed to; I took my meds and carefully disposed of my gigantic pads; I went to my classes and rested. I told no one. Now I really had done something people thought was shameful, and I didn’t want to get into a morality discussion with anybody about it. I kept it to myself. If she hadn’t gone through my sock drawer and found my prescription bottles, my mother would never have known. I never wanted anyone to know. Now, I do.

It took three times to finally end it with Steve. He hacked into my email account and sabotaged a romance I had started when I thought that I was finally rid of him; before that, he badgered me daily the week I went away to visit the campus I would come to call my alma mater; when the time came to honor our agreement, he withdrew his support, swore that he would have been a good father and partner, cursed me for going through with the abortion.

It took tremendous effort, but I made it out of that seductive hell. It took having my friend go with me to his place and collect my things, to not be alone with him. It took me realizing that I didn’t have to justify anything to him. I got to a point where I could take my things and leave without feeling a need to stop and answer his questions. It took everything I had.

I kicked myself over and over for six years for being such a dupe. How could I have let this travesty go on for so long? How could I have put myself in such an awful position? How could I treat my family like that? How could I leave my friends like that?

Then one day I had the great fortune to sit in a room full of women sharing their stories of abuse. At long last, it dawned on me that this didn’t happen to me because I stupid or weak. It could happen to anybody. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me. I am okay, and I have been in an abusive relationship.

I am not sorry I had an abortion. Not one bit. Today I know myself as a strong, independent, powerful person. My friends fiercely and steadfastly support my successes, some of whom date back to before Steve. I found them again. I am close with my mother and father. I have developed a keen radar for the subtle manipulative, coercive, dominating behaviors of abusers. I know a Steve when I one, as clearly as if he were painted fluorescent orange.

My life is my own, and he has no right to it. I went to college. I have a career. I have built a life of joy and adventure. I am not sorry. Not one bit. Maybe someday I will have a baby. Maybe I won’t. Whether I do or not, I will know that that little tiny squiggle that swelled in my belly when I was eighteen was the reddest of red flags alerting me that danger this way comes; that was the gift that gave me this life that I love. Not only am I not sorry, I am grateful.

Thank you.