What could I do? Abortion was illegal. I drank paregoric, hurled myself against walls, and did all the other terrible things rumored to end a pregnancy. Including the coat hanger. Those coat-hanger ads can't have the true impact of their intent unless you have tried to end a pregnancy with one. Finally thoroughly terrified, I decided that I could not do it myself.
I turned first to my trusted physician. He (I had seldom laid eyes on a woman physician at the time) suggested first that I find a way to marry. If not the father, he said, then someone else. Barring that possibility, he said he could direct me to a discreet, out-of-state place where I could go have the baby and put it up for adoption. It would only be six months out of my life, he argued. Losing half a year of my life, having to live a lie for the rest of time, and never mind the shame and grief that would still befall my respectable, church-going family--no, these outcomes held no attraction to my 22-year-old mind.
I told the baby's father. A fairly wealthy man of considerable stature in the community, he seemed hardly bothered. He told me to talk to a woman who worked in his office building (in hindsight, I wondered how many times he had played out this scene), that she could tell me what to do.
I had casually known this woman. She was sophisticated and worldly-wise in a way I suspected I would never be (I was right in that, at least). I told her I had a friend who needed an abortion. She wrote down a number on a slip of paper, told me to call and ask for Barney, said not to worry. It'll cost $100, she said. My salary was $190 a month and my savings account totaled about $37. I went back to the baby's father, who said he'd have the $100 for me the next day--that afternoon, if I needed. I went to a pay phone and dialed the number.
A woman answered the phone. Sure, she said, he's right here. Barney came on the line and asked me who knew. Nobody, I said. OK, he said, can you get $100? I have it, I said. Barney said to be in front of the Loew's Grand Theater on such-and-such a street at noon the next day, a Saturday. Come alone, he said.
For the next 20 minutes we drove in silence around the city, slowly doubling back from one block to another. I had twisted the blindfold slightly and left enough of a slit on one side that let me sneak glances at where, approximately, we were. It was a part of the city I seldom visited but nevertheless knew, an area of faceless pre-fab houses that had been hastily put up for returning GIs a decade earlier. I'm certain those houses have long since fallen down or been bulldozed, but I could drive you to the exact spot any day, now 50 years later. When we got into the neighborhood, Barney spent another good five or ten minutes slowly circling. It would have been hard to tail him, but if anyone were trying, Barney was going to find out.
Eventually we pulled into the carport of a small, dreary, gray ranch-style aluminum-siding house, and Barney said I could take off the blindfold. Those were the first words he had spoken since "Have you got the money?"
The carport door led into a somewhat dingy kitchen, where the woman stood. Steamy and overheated, it smelled like last night's fried food and boiled greens. She took the money. Barney disappeared. The woman pointed me into a small room that led off a short, dark hallway just beyond the kitchen, said to put my coat on the chair and remove my panties, Barney would be here right away. In the room was a wooden table similar to the one in my parents' kitchen. There were two chairs and another, smaller table on which there was a pitcher of water alongside a basin, some paper cups and a small stack of towels. The room had faded wallpaper with rows of brownish designs that looked like stalks of wheat.
Barney entered, minus his overcoat. He could have been anyone's bad caricature of a greasy-haired used car salesman. He had on a white shirt and red striped tie, both pretty much the worse for wear. Had I not been hypnotically bound into it myself, the entire scene would have seemed so like a bad B movie as to be funny. It was not funny at the time. Barney said to lie on my back on the table. This won't hurt, he said. I felt something being inserted into my vagina, something smaller than a tampon. It was over in a matter of minutes. Barney said to put my panties back on and he'd be in the car. I wondered later if he had washed his hands, before or after.
As he drove me back to the Loew's Grand, Barney said I should expect to start bleeding within a few hours. That was the extent of our conversation, but the trip back took only a fraction of the time spent driving out.
Barney was right about the bleeding. I told my roommates I was having some really bad cramps, and thought I'd stay in bed on Sunday. Monday morning I was still bleeding heavily. Frightened. I called my physician and said I needed to see him right away.
The doctor said, Who did this to you? Nobody, I said, I just went ice skating and had a bad fall. After a few moments of uncomfortable probing, mentally and physically, he said, You are one of the lucky ones. He gave me a prescription to fill and told me to come back in a month, sooner if I had problems.
And it turned out to be true, I was one of the lucky ones. I didn't die or suffer lifelong physical damage. I lived to marry in a long white gown, and to raise three children who every day of their lives have brought me enough joy to erase any memory of bad times before or since. Except this memory does not go away. And I still pray for those who weren't among the lucky ones.