April 1988. I am 19, taking tetracycline — again — because my boyfriend brought home Chlamydia , again. Scott and I’ve been living together almost a year, and I’m days away from passing my physical to join the U.S. Navy. I’ve already aced the ASVAB and am months away from escaping my hometown — forever. But, that morning, minutes after I swallow my little yellow antibiotic, it comes right back up with bile into the sink—like a splat of mustard.
Scott and I started dating weeks before my 21-year-old brother Tony died in a motorcycle accident. Tony was my everything. Best friend, hero, soul mate, you know the clichés. But mostly, he was my witness to the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse we’d hidden from the world throughout our childhood. And when they lowered his coffin into the soil on that rainy day in May of ‘1987, I watched in agony as my brother, and everything I knew about the past, was swallowed by the earth.
Scott moves into my apartment days after Tony’s funeral, hefting his worldly possessions in a black garbage bag. He’s tall with long blond hair, and beady green eyes. At first, living with him is better than living alone. But over the next several months, I learn two things: 1. my father wants to hear nothing about my grief over losing Tony, and 2. Scott can’t keep a job longer than a paycheck. Cook, caregiver, guitar teacher. The only job he can keep? Drug dealer.
Selling weed’s fine, but he tries to be Mr. Big Time with coke, buying an 8-ball for $250, snorting too much, then cutting the rest with crushed Vitamin C and selling the mix to hapless customers. Even that is better than when he simply takes people’s money and takes off. More than once, a mutual friend stops me on the street and says a pissed off buyer will be coming to my apartment to “rip Scott apart.” Too bad that never happens.
We need Scott’s ill-gotten gains. I pay for groceries, rent, utilities, washing clothes, bus fare. But, I’m naïve. In high school, I only had one steady boyfriend, and Scott’s my first live in. I don’t know the rules. And with Tony’s death, I’m vulnerable. Once, when Scott’s mother visits, she says, “Don’t bug Scottie so much about getting a job.” I tilt my head like a puppy trying to decipher what her human is saying.
When I tell Scott I’m pregnant, he leaps around our dim apartment, kisses my belly, and says, “We’re having a baby.” I want to puke. He forgets I’m joining the navy. When I tell my father, he loses his mind. Yelling over the phone that Scott’s a piece of shit, he’s trying to trap me, and that having a baby with someone binds you for life. Funny, I think. I haven’t seen my birth mother since I was six months old. My father divorced her and took custody.
He goes on and on, how I’ll end up barefoot and pregnant, living in a tenement on the crappy side of town. I’ll be a welfare mother for life. By now, I’m bawling my eyes out. Then he ends the diatribe with, “If you have that baby, I’ll never talk to you again.” The words echo in my head. I’ve already lost a mother. And a brother. I can’t bear losing my father. And I believe him.
Somehow, his harsh words touch something deep inside me, perhaps a woman I’ve yet to become, a woman projecting far into the future, who imagines the possibilities that may lay ahead, years, decades, from now, education, career, real love, children that will be cared for, a woman believing she deserves better than this, a woman freed from the town swollen with wonderful and terrifying memories of her childhood and beloved older brother, a woman who somehow knows Scott will never raise her to a level where she can see the horizon, rather drag her down, down, down, into the lowest valley where the water has dried to dust.
“Here’s what you’re gonna do,” my father says. “I’m gonna give you the money. And you’re going to have an abortion. When you get your tax return, I want every penny back.” Although we’re on the phone, I nod my head Yes. Then he says, “I love you.” I choke out an I love you too.
The day of the procedure, Scott’s MIA, never comes home. My stepmother picks me up, drives me to the clinic. Protestors cluster in the parking lot, tote bright white signs splattered with scarlet fetus parts. Elbows. Fingers. Toes. Comma-shaped bodies. They holler “Baby Killer” and “Don’t do it!” I flip them off, then stand alone and watch my stepmother drive away.
The waiting room is crawling with girls and women of all ages. Not one empty chair. Two protestors burst through the door and kick in a security window. The abortion doctor sprints in from the back and threatens to the call the cops. Shoves both protestors out the door. One by one, women disappear into the back, have the procedure, rest in a room full of couches and pillows. They give us birth control pills. Tell us how far along we were. Me? Nine weeks.
My stepmother shows up. I slide into the backseat, (there were groceries up front). “Here,” she say, whipping a box of maxi pads right at my head. “You’re gonna need these.” Ow. I rub my welt. She drops me off at my empty apartment. I lie on the couch, bleeding, cramping, crying.
Scott walks in and tells his friend Tom to wait in the hall. “So you did it,” he says — more statement than question. “Of course,” I say. “I told you I’m joining the navy.” I failed my physical because of the pregnancy. The nurse told me I could try again two months after the birth or two months after termination.
Scott turns toward me and sneers. He grabs one of my wrists, yanks me off the couch and throws me to the floor. I struggle to get up. “Damn-it,” I say, following him to the dresser. He rummages through the top drawer. “Where have you been?” I say. “I had to do this all by myself.” He looks at me and says nothing, shoves something into his front pocket. Then he turns to leave.
“Please don’t go.” I pull on his jean jacket. Scott turns and pushes me, hard. I fall backward just as he opens the door. Tom’s wolf-gold eyes meet mine as I’m ass-first on the floor. His face is a mix of pity and shock. “Goddamn-it, Scott,” I say, “do you know what I’ve been through?” The maxi pad feels like a wet diaper.
Boom. Boom. Boom. The neighbor on the other side of the apartment bangs on the wall. A common occurrence, and the landlord has threatened me more than once. Of course, Scott misses every visit. He turns to me and says, “I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
That fight is the last straw for me and the landlord. “Howie” evicts me, and I evict Scott. I move in with my friend Sandy, leave my current job and work with her at her parents’ bakery. Our apartment, which is on the bottom floor of a two-story house, sits across the street from the bakery. Sandy’s mother has one rule: Scott is not welcome in the apartment.
At the two-month-post-procedure mark, I pass my physical and enlist in the U.S. Navy. (woot!) On February 1, 1989, my parents drive me to Syracuse, New York, to stay at the airport hotel. The next morning, I fly to Orlando, Florida, where I begin boot camp at the Naval Training Command where I’m in company K048. In May 1989, I receive meritorious advancement from E-1 to E-2 at Pass in Review because my sense of humor kept morale up during the rigors of boot camp.
Scott stayed in our hometown. Last I heard, he was a heroin addict. I settled in the PacNW after four years in the navy. Went to college, had kids, work as a writer. Have not done so well in the love department, but sure enjoy being a mother of three amazing people.
About ten years ago, Scott found me on social media and IM’d me. I ignored his messages until he finally wrote, “What’s wrong? Can’t say ‘hi’ to an old buddy?” Old buddy? This guy… I wrote something about how we lived together for a year and a half, and that I thought we were more than buddies. I didn’t mention the abuse, the abortion, the money he stole from me, the drugs, etc. I just blocked him. I don’t wonder what he’s doing now.