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My experiences have inspired me to be, for anyone who needs it, the person my aunt was for me so many years ago—an advocate, a facilitator, and a support.

by Mandy

November 28, 2018

With my baby brother on my hip and my four- year-old sister trailing behind me, I found the VHS tape of their favorite movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and popped it into the VCR. It was the summer of 1990. I was 14, and I was often alone with my young siblings like this. We lived in New Mexico, and my stepfather worked in Georgia. He and my mom were effectively separated, and he’d been gone long enough for her to have already gone through a few boyfriends. is latest guy was a few years younger than her. He and a handful of his friends became my mom’s party posse, including Steve, who was only 18. Mom frequently left for days with these friends, leaving me in charge of my little sister and brother. Steve started staying behind to hang out with me, rather than partying with the rest of them. We fell in love.

Steve wasn’t my first boyfriend, nor was I a virgin when we started sleeping together in his bed. It was a love wrought with a feeling of impermanence that we pretended not to notice. He was a runaway from Lubbock, Texas, whose life seemed adventurous. Steve had no obligations, and he had a car. When he had a few dollars, he would take my little siblings and me to McDonald’s. They’d play while we made plans to run away to California, because it was the furthest from anything either of us had ever known.

About a month into Steve and I playing house, my stepfather came back. The babies were watching cartoons while Steve and I napped on the couch when my stepfather walked in with a shotgun.

He nestled the end of the barrel firmly into the flesh between Steve’s eyebrows and told him to leave. He was a rough-looking man, so big that he was ironically nicknamed Shorty. Six foot two, enormous belly, sticks for legs, dip in his lip. He’d been beating me and my brother Ian (who’d recently been sent to Louisiana to live with our dad) since we were six and three. He molested me when I was nine. He’d been reported to CPS, only to pack us up and move us to another state overnight. “I hate you,” I screamed at him repeatedly, tears hot on my face. Shorty lowered the gun to his side and laughed. He said to the babies, “Come give Daddy a hug.” He looked at me and said, “You done good taking care of them.” then he turned to Steve: “Go on, boy. Get outta here.”

Shorty instructed me to stay put with the babies and left to look for Mom. I walked around the house in despair. I took care of the little ones. I didn’t play with them. I yelled at them. I lay in what had been Steve’s bed—a foldout mattress in the living room—and sobbed while they watched episodes of the Smurfs. The third morning after he left to look for her, Shorty walked through the front door with Mom. He had us packing everything up in a matter of minutes, and we were soon on our way to Augusta, Georgia.

On the road, I cried my broken heart out in the back seat. We stopped in Monroe, Louisiana, to visit family. I begged them to let me stay there with my dad, thinking that if I stayed a little closer to New Mexico, Steve might come for me and take me to California. It was summer, so Mom and Shorty let me stay, planning to return for me before the start of school.

I’d been at Dad’s for about a week when I started having shooting pains in my abdomen and extreme nausea. After a couple of days of this with no fever and no sign of letting up, Dad took me to the ER. ere was palpable tension in the car. I think we both suspected that I was pregnant.

I couldn’t remember my last period. My breasts hurt. The way I felt reminded me of my mom’s complaints when she was pregnant. The ER confirmed it.

I did not want to be a mother. My mother was 17 when I was born and forced by her father to marry the first man who showed interest in this young woman with two small children. I didn’t want that life.

The days that followed involved phone calls to my mom, my Aunt Deedee, and my Mamaw (Mom’s mom), who lived about 20 minutes from my dad. Mamaw came and picked me up. I spent a few days with her, waiting for my aunt to arrive and take me with her to Florence, Alabama.

Aunt Deedee is my mother’s older sister. She was the first person in our family to finish high school and to get a college degree. She became the first female executive of a major construction corporation. I looked up to her and she looked out for me. She made it known that I could turn to her, and I often did. In my anguish and turmoil, Aunt Deedee talked to me about abortion, and she did so in a clinical way. She gave me brochures to read, told me about a woman she knew who’d had one, and pulled out the encyclopedia to give me info on Roe v. Wade. I began to feel a sense of hope.

I was with Aunt Deedee for a few weeks before Mom arrived. The first thing she said to me was, “You’re gonna call that boy tomorrow and ask him to help pay for this.” This would be the first time Steve and I had spoken since Shorty held a gun to his face. When I told him I was pregnant, there was a long silence before he simply said, “It’s not mine.” Tears welled up in my eyes, and through quiet sobs I said, “It is yours. Will you please help me pay for an abortion?” He insisted that my mom was making me lie to get money out of him. I felt like nothing, like I was the least significant thing in the world. Our story felt so Romeo and Juliet until that moment. It was my first experience being betrayed by a lover, and I’ve never felt so betrayed since.

My aunt made the arrangements and we traveled to Huntsville, Alabama, for the abortion. When we arrived, there were protesters. A man got into a yelling match with my aunt. He was so incensed that he followed her, which got him arrested for walking onto the property of the clinic. There was a woman who yelled at my mother, “You should be ashamed of yourself, bringing your child with you to this place!” Mom turned to her and said, “I’m not getting an abortion, she is, and if she were your 14-year-old daughter, you’d be doing the same goddamn thing.” Maybe I should have felt embarrassed or angry with her, but I didn’t. I was feeling seen and acknowledged by her, loved and taken care of.

The doctor who performed the procedure was male, old, and kind. I was only about six weeks along, so he said to me, “You can take a look at the ultrasound if you want to. It might make you feel better.” I turned my head to see, and he was right. There was nothing on the screen that resembled a baby. It looked like the eye of a storm. “This’ll be over before you know it, honey.” Mom and Aunt Deedee each held one of my hands. I recall the sound of the extraction, wincing at the cramping, and Mom stroking my forehead the way mothers do when their children are sick. I slept hard in recovery, and more in the backseat of the car on the way back. From the front seat, my mother vacillated between being comforting and reprimanding. “It won’t hurt for long, sweetie, just rest,” she’d say, while reaching back and squeezing my hand; a moment later she’d turn and say, through narrowed eyes and a furrowed brow, “I sure hope you’ve learned your lesson.” My aunt, ever my advocate, turned on the radio and distracted her with talk of what to have for dinner.

From that moment until my early 20s, I stayed on birth control. I became a mother at 22, and the decision to have my oldest daughter came from an empowered place. I had two more children and, long after they were born, I had two more abortions. As a struggling, divorced mother of three at the time, the freedom to choose abortion meant the quality of life that I was providing for my existing children could continue to improve. After my second abortion, I felt called to give back, so I began volunteering as an abortion escort. I also started talking with my own kids about sex and reproduction in the practical way that my aunt had with me. I took my teenage daughter to get on birth control when she asked for it. About a year ago, I began volunteering with Clinic Access Support Network, driving people to and from their abortions. My experiences have inspired me to be, for anyone who needs it, the person my aunt was for me so many years ago—an advocate, a facilitator, and a support. ■

This story was first presented at the live Oral Fixation storytelling show “Out from Under the Rug: True-Life Tales of Abortion” at the MATCH Theatre in Houston on April 19 and 20, 2018.

photo by Elizabeth Rudge

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