Written by, Alexis Candelaria
This may be sitting in your inbox and you may remember me. In 2005, we had a January interim class together in college and started seeing each other. In June 2005, I was seventeen weeks pregnant when I had an abortion; you got me pregnant, I was barely twenty years old, a junior in college. You were twenty five, too old to be a senior and still living in the dorms.
I learned I was pregnant shortly after we stopped seeing each other and was immediately grappled with indecision, even if the only reasonable one available to me at that time was abortion, the prospect was terrifying. Paralyzing to point that it took me nearly four months to book the appointment. How does one ask for an abortion? How does one tell a disembodied voice over the phone that sure, you were twenty years old but no, you weren’t sure if your parents insurance covered the procedure and no, you hadn’t talked to anyone about this and no, you weren’t interested in talking to anyone now. And yes, you were coming in alone.
I couldn’t tell you then, we’d barely known each other. And, more importantly, we weren’t speaking because you’d stop returning my calls after that one night. You see, after that night, I was a tight coil of confusion as images from that night flickered dimly before me. I could only ever capture glimpses before the images evaporated, re-emerging whenever I caught a whiff of cigarette smoke, the brand didn’t matter, just the smell, and shuttered, stilted ghostly celluloid images would resurface. Never giving me enough information, only ever offering me short glimpses but no solace, no understanding. No peace.
So I called and I texted and when I saw you on campus, you looked right through me before looking straight away. You always smelled of cigarette smoke and cheap bar soap, and I swear I could smell it even if you were across the street, across the campus. The haunting scent of a night where bruises bloomed on my body and unfamiliar voices crowded inside my head.
The decision not to tell you was solidified when one day, early into the pregnancy, I was going up the stairs to Founders hall thinking what it would be like to tell you and whether you’d be angry or simply dismissive, and down the stairs you came, with a pretty brunette hanging on your every word. She was petite and spoke with a twang I could hear even in her laugh. A chill I would only understand later ran through me as I passed the young brunette with wide generous brown eyes. I should warn her. I should tell her. I should tell her about the pills and bruises and all of the alcohol and how I knew it tasted strange but doubted my own assessment and kept drinking it. I should warn her, pull her into my confidence to spare her the horror of making that call, of booking that appointment.
But I didn’t. I remember the barrage of facts that stood like sentries in my mind: I went to the party willingly. I purposely chose the semi sheer top that gathered at my waist and wore the tight jeans that fell just below my belly button. I accepted his drink and flirted with him until well after midnight, one am.
People would call me culpable. The police would question my story and I’d have to admit that I couldn’t remember what happened after that drink. I’d only learn years later, it is set up like that by design. Nothing is there to protect you, only question and eventually tear you down. It hates you. It wants to see you doubt yourself, your story, your pain. It hates you. They hate you.
I couldn’t warn her. I wasn’t sure, completely sure, what I’d warn her about.
So, I kept walking. Maybe I am culpable.
I knew then, without a shred of uncertainty, I was in this alone. I’m thirty seven years old now and I still think about the day, when my friend drove me to the planned parenthood and I sat alone and quiet until my name was called. It was a two day procedure and it was inescapably painful. I didn’t know it would feel like I was being pried open by an invisible force so intent on screaming pain into me, punishing me for being so weak, so naive, so incredibly stupid. Some women offered me water and to help me out to my car. There’s a kindness born out of collective suffering. When I got home, I felt lashed with taut, hot pain all night long. It grabbed hold of me and refused to let me go, to let me breathe, it refused to let me say I’m sorry. I wanted to implore into its ears, I’m just so incredibly sorry.
When I arrived back the next day, I was put under and when I came to, I was alone again, in a room of other women, who also looked totally and completely alone. There is no sisterhood on day two, we are encased in a silo of shame and unbidden trauma that is impenetrable; within a course of forty eight hours we’d become the unknowable pariahs of an unjust, unrelenting patriarchal society, carrying around an unforgivable secret, the mark of a woman who made the loneliest decision.
You know, there was a moment, on day one, when the doctor doing the sonogram asked me if I wanted to keep the baby. I baulked-baby? I never thought of it as a baby. It was a night I vaguely remember, where I drank beer from red plastic cups and I politely turned down a handful of pills but woke up anyway in your bed with bruises on my arms and a sore rib. I was angry the doctor called it a baby, they should’ve called it what it was, even if I didn’t have the courage to.
You should know this all really happened. No, I don’t want anything from you, not even a response. This is probably sitting in your inbox, unread. Tick, tick, tick.
It’s not my responsibility to extrapolate meaning, if any, from this for you. Lastly, the experience wasn’t one dimensional, even if you were absent from it, it’s your experience too, on a very visceral level, it’s your story too.
This is five years in the making, summoning the courage to stand alongside my wounded, scarred and angry sisters to demand justice after so many years of being buried in the cold, silent ground with our secrets. Generation after generation, too many to number now.