I tried to gather my thoughts the morning after Election Day. Over and over I faltered at the keyboard- my fingers coming for words that drift in a mid-air toggle; struggling to face a truth with no room for naivety. Reality seemed a nuanced nightmare; did I wake? Still, of all the campaign disasters, remained a single striking uncertainty:
How could my America vote for Donald Trump amidst court delivered allegations that he raped a 13 year old girl? I never heard her name.
Before you leave this post-election post, please let me explain. This isn’t about him. This is about my sister and me.
Perhaps you should know, in my seething disappointment, in my eye buldged WTF?, I’d fought the urge to create a social media account with which to call out those who callously proclaim they’d voted a candidate into office on the singular stance of anti-abortion. “I sincerely hope that you are a foster parent.” I’d say, or “How many teenagers have you adopted into your family?! They were babies once, ya know.” I imagined replying to: “Women are having abortions, and I’m having IVF, praying for a baby everyday!” I’d get straight down to brass tacks and remind everyone that the privileged processes of IVF include “ABORTION”, and still- ADOPT! if a baby, is a baby. With my capslock, just like that. I’m going to educate someone today, I thought smugly.
It turns out heated melodramas can play on without me and many things can ‘stop a beating heart.’ Truly, it races blind and harsh during online musings where we can all play the martyr, skipping beats at the real deep digs shallowly deleted soon after to save (an already filtered) face. Good thing I sat quietly in witness; in a blue screen haze, picking at burnt toast. In silence, I sat, nudging cold tea bags with my silver spoon. But while I was trying so gallantly to remain un-roused by that whole fucking mess of spilt milk in the comment section of someone else’s blog, I nearly drowned like a damp rag into dishwater trying weeks later to make peace with it. So now, I suppose, I’ve never been more ready to ring out and dress the wounds in words better fit to bind us.
This is about my sister and me.
With the highest hopes for child, on a frigid bloody table, the shrill florescents of an American hospital room blind her. “What’s happening to me? I’m pregnant, is everything going to be ok?” A male doctor scrapes out her insides broadcasting to emergency service personnel with the cold precision of that blade his patient has had a “spontaneous abortion.” This, if you didn’t know it, is medical terminology for a miscarriage. The woman is devastated by life’s lost promise- but the man with the knife will have her hating her body as if what has happened had been Her Choice.
This is about my sister and me.
On another wing, on another prayer, is a woman who’d kept her own promise: to hold no contempt for her motherhood that July night as she’d been grabbed and raped by a stranger. Brave doesn’t even begin to describe her journey, yet her sacrifice hadn’t mattered much to the government she was forced to depend on to pull through those first tough years. Planned Parenthood had the only OBGYN for miles willing to accept her Medicaid card. Food stamps, Welfare, housing assistance… she needed it all. And wasn’t it due to her?
She waits in crowded County offices where the staff is never shy to demean her- formally branding her son illegitimate on every passing document, and divvying out unsolicited safe-sex advice upon seeing young teenage mothers like her. With their children. In waiting rooms. Obscurity is never quite the arms to raise against fact, but neither is the truth when it’s Unspeakable. So sweet she is, her lips are not tight in anger; she holds no grudge, merely urges those secondhand strokes of one bad night to tick her into the more private shaming rather than a public one.
The likes of County Health never could adequately nurse that incorrigible case of Sore Thumb. Her son caught it too the very day he emerged into his new world: the black kid not so affectionately received in an all white hospital, white family, white church, white neighborhood… white school. His very existence perpetuated the racial profiling he was born of: those who look like him are criminals to conquer… even though his mother willed his presence undeniable proof love & mercy repairs all deeds done by men.
Religiously, I have serious spiritual hostility with the same old abortion rhetoric, because: If you are Damned if you do, then why in the hell does it feel so damning even when she doesn’t?
In a hallway, at the grocery store, in my neighborhood: it’s gut wrenching to hear young women just like her facelessly chortled as “Fast” girls. Passerbys huff the words into their arms like vampire cough. And so long as a woman’s time is scrutinized by anyone other than herself, Fast Women everywhere (even those hasty to judge), could never outrun what continues to pass away from a woman’s dignity in Her Choice.
This is about my sister and me.
“I have to tell you something. It’s really important. This is when it started. You need to be careful.”
I supposed she tried to tell me before that day, in fewer words; in subtle ways. “To my sister: Who knows and sees a lot and handles it all remarkably well,” scribbled inside a Harriet The Spy book she’d bought me. An attempt, I think, to break the binding on our homelife; Look harder.
I’d never been to the counselor’s office at school, though there were infinite reasons to do so. My siblings and I were heavily neglected at home. There were never any parents around. Lunch money often came in quarters and pennies, if it came to us at all. Food and clothing were a similar afterthought. The system knew my siblings well; they were disruptive and hurting. I kept school more like a sanctuary. The well behaved, gifted one came as a relief to the staff. “She’s going somewhere; she’s not like the others.”
What’s hers was mine, and I couldn’t keep our secret for long. I walked out abruptly in the middle of my teacher’s screening of Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? I remember how my crying echoed in the empty hallways heading to the school counselor’s office. Unfortunately, that lone resistance march wasn’t the first time I’d heard cries like that in the corridor.
The truth came out; all of it and all at once bursting through cries. My counselor was as lovely as she was wide-eyed and heartbroken. For the first time in my life, I felt like an adult could hear me. The principal came, and in a full room with a tape recorder, the office listened in horror, feeling a new remorse for how they’d been so hard on my unruly siblings, and notified officials. “My father molested my sister,” I told them. “Did you see it?” they asked me. I had not.
My mother came into my bedroom that evening. The completely unfamiliar notion to have her in my space was a bad sign; she’d never even made sure I was home at night. “We got a call from the school today. Your father said he didn’t do it. You are no longer allowed to see your sister.” I started sobbing into my pillow, scared to be alone. She shut the door behind her.
The series of events that follow are disastrous; the systems in place have holes so big young girls drop right through their safety net. Child Services loses herself in the disorder of our home and the first scrub is over my sister’s sexual abuse. The sweet counselor I bore my heart to is in a fatal car crash the following week. The social worker assigned to our case resigns after we flood her fax machine with pleas for help. There’s a family-wide ban of my sister to gatherings. “She’s trouble,” they say, “She’s always been a wild teenager.” And while they all seek to dispel what is Dirty, by sweeping unsubstantiated claims under the rug what they neglect to spot is my own risk; that the tapestry of girlhood is woven together. That if my sister is not safe, neither am I.
In this turbulent time, when help had been systematically denied in a cold defeat, my sister was the only one who came back for me. We did not honor the family ban. She parked two blocks over, and I’d hop into her car; our hands in the sunroof and my barefeet on the dash. I had my place at the dinner counter where she waitressed; I did my homework in the back of a Health Store she helped manage. I slept over weekend nights in her dorm room. My sister, my fiercest protector: she did not turn away; she did not drive into the sunset without me.
I knew enough not to be home much, even if it was by a risk that only girls know. I do not know if she ever had an abortion, or needed one. As a spiritual person, I believe that if she had she will not be judged on the other side of this adversity, just as I believe she should not be judged anywhere on this planet now. Only in some perversion of truth would my sister somehow be obliged to birth my sister. Or that it says something about her lack of humanity and not the lack thereof had an abortion been the safe way out; had it been Her Choice.
The miracle perhaps was never in our own birth; the miracle is we would somehow survive despite it. Light bent between the prism of our same features- a crystal hung rearview from the machine. Why one and not the other? is a vehicle without gas, and those who try to drive it blindly don’t know that they don’t know it goes nowhere. It’s a question social workers use in search of a certain validity among victims based on sex. A question of worth for the majority deciding the legality of abortion. But never a question a sister, like myself, dares ask. The hard truth is unmoving between us; a single unit of Girl; one shining thing split center from her car: light came through because she made it my privilege not to know the side of darkness.
On stark nights of gratitude and not understanding (Never Understanding) all that girls and women go through just to assert the right of their existence, Choice is my prayer. You can not kid yourself how dark, dueling, & incredibly heartbreaking abortion is. In a fallen world, darkness is there whether anyone is in the woods to hear it; darkness is especially without witness. And in such a world where women tell their daughters what not to wear, how not to walk alone at night, when society pedals birthcontrol and not male enlightenment as protection against rape, with all the reminders void of conviction that No Means No each passing generation: Darkness is especially not special at all. To pray in it tears the comforters right off; women do have the work to carry the light through. But life is only as divine as our liberty for love and mercy.
So let it begin anew: there’s a birth coming ceaseless towards the faint of heart; the actualization that a woman’s body is courageously her own; that where there’s no trust, there can be no progress. Grant both with constance. Trust your sister, and live in her faith.
Lady Liberty, I will not turn away; I will not drive into the sunset without you. This is about my sister and me.
Photo by Jesse Chamberlin