The year is 1994. I am 19 years old. I am a sophomore at Cornell University. I am sitting in the office of a university official. I am in trouble.
I don’t recall the details of how they got me. Was I retarded enough to go to the Health Center if I missed my period? Most definitely. But I seem to remember I went there with a UTI, they asked me when my last period was, and upon learning the answer, they tested me.
So here I was with Roz. I call her Roz because she was a large, grizzled, elderly lesbian. Even given my distress, it was distracting. She eerily resembled Michael Douglas in “Falling Down”- only obese. But I can confirm she was a lesbian because she was the faculty advisor of the LGBT Club (Pre-Q) to which my gay housemate–my confidante, naturally–belonged.
As soon as it was discovered I was pregnant, they sent me straight to Roz. Roz was good at her work. I’m not sure what her title was- “counselor” or “advisor” I imagine. I got neither counseling nor advising. I got Prison Matron. After coldly regarding me with undisguised contempt for a moment that felt very long, Roz told me she was going to make me an appointment at Planned Parenthood. I said I was Catholic. She shook her head, and I shut up.
Stop. In that feeble profession of Christian faith is the dormant force that would later save my life.
This is my complaint: I was 19 and pregnant, I took this issue to my university, I was “advised” (more like ordered, really) to have an abortion, I protested the decision. “I’m Catholic,” I said. The Cornell University official literally shook her head at me, meaning: “No dice. This is Cornell University. We don’t entertain that particular fairy story here.” Let me ask this: What if I had said I was Jewish? What if I had said I was Muslim? Would the Cornell official have reacted the same way? Would the Cornell official have dismissed my concerns so authoritatively?
Of course it’s my fault. I have free will. But I was, as you might imagine, very vulnerable at the time. I was 19. I couldn’t believe it. I was terrified.
I was raised Catholic. My family went to church every Sunday. I attended religious education, I received the sacraments. My father, a graduate of Catholic schools and Georgetown (which was Catholic in those days) was very devout, but distant and rigid when communicating his faith. My mother, a Cornell grad and advertising copywriter, was pragmatic: You had to have a religion, and Catholicism was ours. It was a placeholder and a duty. But when they passed around a pro-life petition at church, my mother skipped it. She had friends, career women in their 30s, who had had to make the trip to Puerto Rico when abortion was illegal.
It was pretty clear to me at the time that dropping out of Cornell to have Slocum’s baby would kill my parents. Slocum showed every indication that he would assume the mantle of Poet Laureate of the Westmoreland Trailer Park whenever his ne’er-do-well father relinquished the title. But this was whom I loved. Certainly the two-dimensional Long Island strivers I met at Cornell held no attraction for me. They amounted to thousands of slight variations on What Makes Sammy Run?
I attempt to convey my frame of mind in support of this assertion: I thought I was doing the right thing. Like the majority of young girls, I wanted to please. My strong sense of duty was part of what had gotten me into Cornell. Most of the girls I knew who had abortions were good girls who thought they were doing the right thing. To miss that is to miss the whole problem- and to miss the travesty of what is going on here.
So I showed up to my appointment at Planned Parenthood. I went alone. I didn’t tell my mother. I figured I might tell her after the problem was resolved, after I had made things right again. The weeks between Roz making the appointment and the appointment I recall as a haze of wretchedness and misery. I felt like I had cancer and I had to have it excised. I did nothing but study. I took 19 credits that semester, and I made the Dean’s List.
I was trying to do the right thing.
At Planned Parenthood everyone was breezy and cheerful. My nurse was a Jewish girl from Long Island with a Meteorology degree from Cornell. Fiercely proud of the SJW nature of her work, she expected admiration and gratitude. I weakly obliged. She talked about her dedication to her mission in the face of violent protests by knuckle-dragging bigots whom she scorned. Actually, not a soul was protesting outside the Planned Parenthood that day. The fact is I never saw even a hint of protest outside that Planned Parenthood in all the years I lived in Ithaca.
The doctor was a woman. I bumped into her a few weeks later in Wegman’s. She recognized me, I saw it, but she set her face and looked away. I remember the misgivings that moment gave me. But wasn’t what we had done all aboveboard? Wasn’t I secularly atoning for my sins? Then shouldn’t I be absolved? Hadn’t we done the right thing? Then why couldn’t she acknowledge me?
A few months after the visit to Planned Parenthood, Slocum and I broke up. I blamed him for what happened.
I studied in Europe to get away. I graduated, then I lived in Europe for a little while. I had a glamorous French boyfriend. He cheated on me, I dumped him. So it goes.
When I returned to the US, my parents had moved to Manhattan for my father’s work. I lived with my parents, and I worked in business development for a large law firm.
One night when I returned home from work, my mother met me at the door. She frantically insisted that I eat something. I ate a banana while she hovered over me. “Sit down,” she said. I sat down.
It was the strangest thing. Slocum had died.
It is still the strangest thing. He was driving non-stop between Portland and San Francisco, and he fell asleep at the wheel. See, I used to force him to stop driving when he got tired. I’d alternately browbeat, sweet-talk, bribe him with ice cream. I never would have let that happen.
At Slocum’s wake I remember his uncle commenting wryly in his thick, flat, country accent: “You look like you want to get into that coffin with him.”
I did. I wanted to get into that coffin with him.
That I am alive today, and I am married to a lovely man, and I have children is an illustration of the strength, the power, and the grace of God. That is another and more useful story. My story today is: J’accuse.
People say that universities are “safe spaces”–big daycare centers for spoiled babies. That is not my experience at all. My university experience is Soviet gulag- contempt, submission, humiliation, forced denouncement of God and culture, physical invasion – and then, a lessened person, flung out into the world to face years of coming to terms with the trauma. If you’re lucky and strong. Most of the women I knew who underwent abortions in college- that was their permanent induction into the Army of the Left.
Think about it. What do evil armies do with their child soldiers? They make them kill. Then, after their first kill, the generals say to the new recruit: Your hands are bloody, there is no going back, you are one of us now.
Most of the girls I know who went through similar experiences are deeply tortured women who never went on to have children. And I will tell you something, my friends I’m talking about would have been great mothers. They were in massive student debt, they didn’t want to let their families down, they wanted to be upwardly mobile, they wanted to do the right thing. These girls, like me, were brought up basically secular-mainstream but outfitted with the patina of Christian culture that was de rigeur when and where I grew up. The spiritual torment I have seen these women suffer is demonic. What kind of society condemns promising young women to this fate? What kind of society encourages pregnant girls to kill their babies in the womb? If they had had children, they would have become better people- to society’s benefit. Their loss is society’s loss.
I believe that what allowed me to have a family was the prayers of my ancestors, humility, and a world-view that allowed me to exist as a damned soul.
I would also like to point out that there are legal issues of consent at play here. But actionable or not, what Cornell University did to that unborn child, to me- the mother, to Slocum- the father, and to my parents- the grandparents was a crime. Cornell, j’accuse…!
I am damaged goods because I did what my university told me to do. And I am far from alone.
I leave with you with the worst part. After I met with Roz, I left the Health Center, I went home, I called Slocum. I told him I was pregnant.
“Let’s get married,” said Slocum. “I could get a job,” said Slocum. We can do this,” said Slocum.