Many stories begin with the what and justify the conclusion with the why. The story you’ll read today won’t be that story. You see, the why here is that abortion, from a man’s perspective, is quite different than that of a female. The why was my only sense of control, and I cling to it as both my forgiveness and responsibility.
The difference here is not a political statement. It’s not a religious statement. It’s not even a medical statement on technicalities. It’s simply a biological fact, and that biological fact often leaves the man in the situation without any choice but with the same ending as the female.
The above isn’t an effort to pit male perspective against female perspective. It’s not based on news headlines or the political strife that the topic of abortion brings to religion and politics. It’s not an effort to distinguish good and bad or right and wrong. It’s a fact from my own experience with abortion. The why is that I didn’t have a choice in the biological material that I wasn’t as careful and protective over as I should have been. The result is a lifetime of what-ifs that can never be answered because I wasn’t given a chance to voice them.
My story begins with a girl in a blue dress and pigtails in her hair. She was easily the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, but she was also kind, empathetic, smart, brave, and sincere. With a career military father, she had also already seen the world. Her unique presence felt like a gift, and I grew to care deeply for her. But, as most childhood sweetheart love stories go, this ended all too soon. I only had two short, platonic years with her before her father was relocated.
We promised to stay in touch with letters. Hey, it was the 90s, and cellphones were for the Donald Trumps of America, not small-town fellas like myself. We wrote a few times, but the luster of high school activities and tangible girls eventually etched away at the long-distance communication. I still often thought of her, though. While I’d had several girlfriends, she remained that one that I wondered ‘what if.’
Life moved onward, and I found myself in college with her still in the back of mind. Where was she? Was she married with a family, or did she make it to her dream college in California? Again, my life at-hand would always take me away from thoughts of the ‘what if.’ Until…
My Senior year included a course on Intimacy in American Lit. We were asked to ponder all that separates us in order to discover what truly brings us together. She immediately came to mind. Why didn’t I make more effort to write after we separated? Why didn’t she? We were an intimacy that I’d never felt before, and that’s saying a lot considering it was a platonic relationship.
I had to know.
Her name was quite unusual, and AOL’s AIM made finding and connecting with long-lost acquaintances a feasible task. It took me exactly 12 minutes to locate her and type out a very cheesy, “Hey, you may not even remember me, but…” message. I waited and waited for a response before finally laying in bed, unable to sleep. It didn’t matter if it was 5 a.m., that was the sweetest “ding” I’d ever heard.
I hurried to the computer. She’d responded. With trembling fingers, I opened the Instant Message to see if she’d forgotten me. Once we confirmed we really were who we claimed to be by answering the name of our 6th Grade Math teacher, we chatted for hours. I missed my classes. She missed work. Neither of us cared. When our fingers felt like slabs of lead, we moved to the telephone.
Her voice was just as sweet as I’d remembered, but she wasn’t living the life ambitions she’d shared with me as an adolescent. Instead, she had joined the military right out of high school. She became pregnant by someone she met in basic training, and they married for a short period of time. While it didn’t work out, they co-parent well from different stations. I learned that one of the main reasons they didn’t work out is that she had a very traumatic childbirth, which left it unsafe for her to have more children.
None of the details of her life changed my opinion that she was one of the most amazing people I’d ever known. If anything, knowing all she had endured and overcome raised the bar. The ‘why’ of why I called fell by the wayside as we both just focused on the present reconnection and who we are versus who we had planned to become.
After several weeks of talking and messaging daily, we made plans to meet halfway during the summer and spend a couple of weeks together at the shore. Split, it was merely a two-hour drive for each of us.
Those two short weeks made up for years apart. Sadly, we lived different lives back in reality, though. For her, life would be akin to her father’s – a new place every few years and raising a child as a single military parent. For me, it would be finishing my degree and moving on to grad school in a different state. Timing, distance, circumstance, and even placement were all against us. While a beautiful time realizing the ‘what if’ of yesterday, we knew that there wouldn’t be a to be continued in our near future.
Goodbyes were hard, but there wasn’t a bit of regret or awkwardness. We had our moment, brief though it was, and maybe… just maybe… our paths would better parallel in the distant future. If it was meant to be, it would be… just later.
So, we both returned to our separate lives and left the fairytale at the shore. Before we parted, we agreed to do a check-by on the last day of every month. Nothing intimate or binding of a relationship but just a way to ensure we didn’t miss each other’s big moments or contact. We agreed to one picture and a single sentence to sum it up each month.
The first month, I got a picture of her kid with a cast and sentence that just read: “Oops, he did it again.” I snapped a test grade with the same message. It felt really good just to know she was out there, living, breathing, and adding her beauty to the world and her child.
Exactly two weeks later, I heard the ding of my IM. It was her. Maybe, it’s the fact that she’s such a rule-bound kind of person, but whatever the reason, my heart sunk the moment I saw she had veered from the plan to message ahead of schedule. Even my bones felt the wrongness of whatever was coming on the other side of the message.
Two words and an acronym.
“Call me ASAP.”
I said her name into the dead silence of a speaker. What could’ve only been seconds to reply seemed like an eternity. I wanted to scream, “Just tell me what’s wrong!” I didn’t. Whatever this was couldn’t be good and deserved my patience. “Where are you?” she asked. After assuring her that I was alone in my dorm, she began what would forever change my life.
All concern gone now, she calmly and matter of fact divulged that she was pregnant and that it had to be mine since she’d only had two sexual partners and hadn’t slept with her ex-husband since long before the divorce. I had no cause not to believe her, and for a split second, my heart filled with hope and joy. “A baby,” I thought. In those few seconds, my mind recalled every second of the shore and fast-forwarded to returning years later with her and my future child.
It would be a very short-lived thought, though. The sentence that followed would shipwreck me on an island of isolation and helplessness. “I’m not keeping it. I can’t keep it. I won’t keep it.” I already knew the why. She’d explained her childbirth history. It was heartbreaking when I wasn’t a factor, but now, this info felt like a nuclear explosion in my chest.
She didn’t even give me time to assess the damage before informing me that the abortion was already scheduled. “I just… well, I thought, you deserved to know,” she said softly. A deafening dial tone followed before I could respond.
The words replayed over and over in my head. I understood her why. I really did. I could accept her why as it wasn’t my life at risk. I could even reason the why of her terse abandonment of my feelings in all this as it wasn’t me facing an abortion. All justifiable selfishness. What wasn’t justified, what couldn’t be explained, reasoned, nor accepted, was her planting a seed of knowledge that she never intended to nourish.
Why tell me? No, why assure me that it’s mine when her intent was to make me and anything I could contribute or think completely irrelevant to her decision and its outcome?
She disappeared. I tried calling, texting, messages. I even drove to the base only to be turned away. I waited at the entrance for days in the hope of seeing her come or go. Nothing. She dropped a truth bomb and ghosted.
The moment was sensational, just as in movies and books. I felt like the TSL (too stupid to live) character you curse on the screen and pages. But, I swear, all that I could do was reread “Call me ASAP” and wish I’d have been the one to ghost her. It’s not a retribution or dump her before she dumps me kind of thing. My why was purely in not wanting to know a fate by which I had no say, no control, no role, no allowable contribution.
My will didn’t matter, and it shouldn’t matter, but why wake it up if the stake is that I’m 100% certain to lose? I’m man enough to put all my own needs and thoughts aside, but, at this point, she was denying both my help and input after taking the time to unload her own conscience that the pregnancy was my doing.
I’d never get to even offer that help. Five days later, my life would change again. This time with four words:
“Don’t worry. It’s done.”
Now, all hope was gone. No need for help. No need for even an apology on part for not being more careful. The kicker was that I perceived her instruction not to worry as if she had done me some gigantic favor. Maybe, she had. Maybe, she hadn’t. But, wasn’t that my body, my wellbeing, my emotion to decide, not hers?
I would’ve been willing to respect her rights, her life, her choice, even if the law didn’t demand it. I couldn’t so easily stand aside to the lack of choice she left me with in the aftermath of her decision and abortion, though. If this was information she felt I needed to know, then why would she not have the same sense of duty in allowing me to put forth my alternative ideas or confirm her decision as mine, too; offer or deny help; take accountability for my part in the situation; and make peace with the outcome?
Forget powerless and abandoned, I felt inconsequential. If creating life literally meant nothing, then what could I ever do in the future that would mean anything, something? I found myself crying tears for myself, not the life that wasn’t meant to be. I could’ve handled grieving for the latter, but self-pity wasn’t an acceptable loss.
I’d be lying if I didn’t question myself as pro-choice vs pro-life in the years that followed. As horrific as it was to be left holding a piece of info with my eyes blindfolded, my mouth gagged, and my hands tied, I remain steadfast to the stance that no man should dictate what happens inside a woman’s body. However, I gained an insight that no woman should dismiss a man’s right to closure and accountability, either.
I never heard from her again. I was blocked from all ways of contacting her. She was apparently transferred shortly after the abortion. I still wonder if anything I could’ve said or done, had the opportunity been allowed, would’ve changed the outcome. I wonder if and what she felt/feels about it all that happened so long ago. Did it change her as it did me? Does she look at other children and wonder what ours would’ve been as I do?
As for me, I picked up the pieces of my shattered mindset, and I learned to pay as much attention to the why as the what. We make all sorts of decisions in life, from what to eat to what type of person to marry. But, it’s the whys that add relative value to each decision and isolate the cause and effect of each for both ourselves and others. It’s the why that I wished she’d have asked herself in deciding if I needed to know something that she had no plan in giving me any value in the proceedings nor outcome.
I often wonder if the age of social media has caused her to stumble upon me or anonymously search for me. I’ve thought of doing it myself, but then I ask myself, “why would you do that?”
In closing, while abortion must emotionally and physically feel much differently for a woman, I hope my story offers a perspective that a man isn’t and shouldn’t be treated as if he’s inconsequential to the cause and effect of abortion.