Well, that did not go according plan.
I was sitting in Planned Parenthood, waiting for my annual exam and even though I had a great new novel in my purse, I couldn’t focus. This was partly because they were playing Maid in Manhattan in the lobby but mainly because I’d passed 5 people on my way into the clinic: first, a homeless man sitting outside of a cafe, second, a group of anti abortion protesters.
It’s not the first time they’ve been there and it certainly won’t be the last. (I wrote about another encounter several years ago in my first legitimately viral blog post, “Do I look like a baby killer?“) I usually just walk past them, keeping my head down, wishing I looked a bit more badass and cursing myself for being the sort of person who always says “thank you,” automatically and politely, whether it is deserved or not. I wish I was the sort of person who had the guts to turn around and talk to them- not yell, just talk.
As I sit in the waiting room, however, I get to thinking that perhaps today might be the day. I run through a variety of scenarios in my head, one of which I post to Facebook (“Maybe I should tell them to f*ck off and go feed the homeless instead?”) But this doesn’t seem very Gandhi-like, and despite my love of 4-letter words, I have never once actually told someone to “f*ck off” out loud.
(I my head, yes, plenty of times, but never out loud.)
I think maybe I should be the one to buy the homeless man a coffee, but I’ll buy some for the protesters too to lead by sample and you know, demonstrate my superior Christianity.
Then I think why the hell should I buy these wingnuts coffee when it’s really the Planned Parenthood staff I’d like to buy coffee for? They’re under a lot of pressure right now, and if anyone deserves a little pumpkin spice in their life, it’s the women who work the front desk at Planned Parenthood.
But then I’m thinking how am I going to pay for all of those coffees, and how am I going to carry them and how many would I need exactly? Would the shop give me a few of those little cardboard trays that carry 4 coffees each? And if I could carry 4 coffees in each hand, would I have enough? Are those carry out trays stackable?
Then again, maybe instead of buying coffees for a bunch of office workers and a bunch of strangers I don’t even like, I should just buy one proper meal for the homeless man?
But I don’t have time to decide because I’m distracted by two growths that may-or-may-not-be-hemorrhoids in my nether regions and thanks to Google, I now have myself convinced that I’m probably dying of colon cancer, and, while I’m at it, I should probably update my emergency contract from my dad to my fiancé (because that’s what you do when you get engaged, right?)
As the exam finally gets underway, I’m distracted by other issues of the newly-betrothed, including don’t collect your urine sample with your left hand even though you are left handed and you have always done it this way because you’ll pee on your engagement ring if you do.
And then there’s the question that always accompanies every birth control refill: are you planning a pregnancy within the next year?
I used to say “No!” automatically, but now? Now I have to think about it and I find myself saying, “One year? Probably not, but after that… Yeah.”
When the nurse leaves me to undress, I find myself still rather flummoxed by this, well, this and the fact that I now weigh 153 pounds. I have never weighed 153 pounds in my life! I’m guessing it’s probably just my boots. They should really let you take your shoes off. But then I remember the growths and tell myself it doesn’t matter how much I way because I’m going to probably die of colon cancer before I get married anyway…
I imagine breaking the news to PIC and I picture him telling me, “We’ll get through it. We’ll get through it together” because he is that kind of person and would say exactly that. Before I know it, I’m sitting there half naked in that paper gown getting all teary eyed at the thought of not living long enough to marry PIC and trying to figure out if I could ask my friend Katie to make sure that someone (at least my mother) gets to read all of the half finished novels sitting on my various flash drives…
There’s a knock at the door.
I snap out of it, spread my legs, and am relieved to find that I’m not dying of colon cancer. I have one hemorrhoid and one “skin tag” (which, according to the nurse, is simply something that can happen if you have skin). I get my prescription, pay my co-pay, and head out the door. The women are still there, and they’ve multiplied.
I take a deep breath. I decide that I’m just going to tell them that there are plenty of homeless people around, that they should think about feeding them instead of standing here all morning, and I’m not going to say “f*ck” or anything rude because they’re just little old ladies who think they’re doing the right thing (even though targeting women emotionally vulnerable at Planned Parenthood with their “free speech” is about as tasteful, in my opinion, as protesting war at a soldier’s funeral) but I’ll be passive aggressive enough that I’ll make my point.
They stop praying once they realize I’m talking to them and their ringleader looks at me, all benevolently and grandmotherly like, and says, “Well that’s a good suggestion, we’ll consider it.”
What I should have said was, “Oh really? You hadn’t noticed them before? You haven’t noticed them anywhere else in this city? Are you kidding me?”
But instead I find myself saying, “And look, I just want you to know that I was only here for my annual exam. That I’m not here for an abortion, because Planned Parenthood doesn’t just do abortions, and anyway I would never…”
What the f*ck just happened? Why am I about to say “I would never have an abortion?” That’s not even true. I mean it’s true now– I’m engaged to a great man, who I love very much, and I own a house and he has a good job. We could totally do this and we want to do this, just not right this second– but it hasn’t always been true.
I’ve always been grateful that I’ve been spared having to make that choice, but not knowing what I’d choose doesn’t mean I’m against having a choice.
I’ve been thinking about these sorts of things for a while but that doesn’t mean I’m anymore adept at articulating my thoughts to this firing squad of rosary wielding grandmothers, and even though I’m great at playing devil’s advocate and facilitating fairly meaningful dialogues with my anthropology students, I’m failing miserably this time around. (It’s a good thing I’m not an official spokesperson for Planned Parenthood because frankly, I suck at this.) It’s all so frustrating that I find myself crying (again), right there on the sidewalk, and The Ringleader gives me this look that falls somewhere uncomfortably between genuine compassion and condescending contempt.
When she tells me she’ll pray for me, I get it together long enough to say, “Look, I know I’m getting all emotional but I pass people like you all the time, whenever I come in here, and I thought I ought to at least stop and talk to you, as a fellow woman, to have a conversation.”
She nods. The same could-be-condescending-but-could-be-compassionate-nod. Her cohorts are muttering under their breaths and several won’t look me in the eye. Either way, we go through the usual arguments.
Her: What about the babies?
Me: What about the mothers?
Her: We will help them.
Me: What about rape?
Her: Abortion adds further violence. And violence doesn’t solve violence.
I spend a good ten minutes standing there, too upset to formulate a complete sentence most of the time, knowing full well that Ringleader’s sidekicks probably think I’m a lunatic and that I’ve probably had an abortion myself (perhaps this is the reason I feel the need to assure them that I am, in fact, a Christian, and that my fellow Christian fiancé and I are having a Quaker wedding next spring? That he volunteered for the Pope for crying out loud!) but really my heart is just breaking because even though the firing squad keep telling me it’s not a political issues and they have “no idea” of each other’s political leanings, I know that this is bullshit.
Reproductive choice should not be a political issue, just as climate change should not be a political issue, but it has become politicized and I don’t know how or if this country will ever recover from this damn 2-party system.
All I know is that by the time Ringleader says “I’ll pray for you” (for the second time) and I snap back with “I’ll pray for you, too” (two can play this game, lady!) the homeless man is gone.
Which is, I suppose, then entire point. Keep us busy squabbling over basic human rights and we won’t realize that this system is failing all of us.