Tuesday, November 12, 2013

An Unexpected Encounter

She took me by surprise.

We’d been "hall friendly:" routine acknowledgement of one another's existence, occasional banter in the fashion of the superficially acquainted, perhaps the occasional exchange of incredulities at the irrationality of our management. I wouldn't have expected her to see me as a source of counsel. Maybe someone else had listened to her plaint and had steered her to me: "You know, that Fran character is a pretty good reference point about stuff like this. Yeah, he's crazy. But he'll give you a different viewpoint, for sure."

I never expect this sort of thing. I've deliberately cultivated a reputation for being difficult, verging on unapproachable. I prefer it that way, though now and then it gives me a twinge of regret, for the way I deny others whatever perspective I might provide them.

She strode into my little office and plopped herself in my guest chair as if she were showing up a minute or two late for a previously scheduled meeting. I saved my work, shoved the monitor aside, and said, "What's up?"

Her face went through a range of emotions, some of which I couldn't decode. Eventually she mastered herself, sat back in my guest chair, and said "I'm pregnant."

I said nothing.

"XXX said I should talk to you," she said.

"Did she say why?"

"Just that you'd give me a different take on it."

"Ah." I nodded. "I suppose I would. Well," I said, "I don't need to ask how it happened. Are you happy about it?"

She shook her head.

"Have you made any decisions about the father?"

She smirked. "To stay the hell away from him from now on. He lied to me."

"Gotcha." I pondered briefly. "Am I correct in my surmise that you haven't made your mind up about...what comes next?"

She nodded.

"That sort of figures. So," I said, "tell me about the way your thoughts have been trending. Don't worry about offending me; that's actually kinda hard."

She did. It was what I'd expected: she'd succumbed to a slickly played out "line," had become pregnant in consequence, and being irreligious, was thinking about "getting rid of it." But her friend XXX, perhaps moved by a specimen of unease many American women have been feeling lately, had suggested that she get a few other opinions before she did anything that couldn't be undone -- and one of the opinions XXX had suggested she collect was mine.

I listened in silence. When she ran down, I just sat there, trying my best to look sober but nonjudgmental.

Presently she said, "Well? Don't you have an opinion?"

"Why should I have an opinion?" I said. "It's your body and your future."

Her eyes widened. "But--"

"Your friend probably expected me to have something fully formed and ready to slather you with," I said. "I try not to do that. I know mine are minority opinions."

It shook her far more than I'd expected, and probably more than she expected, too. "XXX obviously respects you," she murmured. "I want to know why."

I shrugged. "I have no idea. She and I are little better acquainted than I am with you."

"Mr. Porretto--"

I chuckled. "Fran, please. I've never gone by any title, even that one."

Her expression grew pained. "Well?"

I nodded. "Okay. Here's what I can tell you that you might be able to use. First, pregnancy is no fun. You'll get heavy, and awkward. You'll have a hard time driving and sleeping. Probably other stuff, too. Second, delivering a baby is no fun, either. It hurts, and for a few days afterward you'll be absolutely useless. That's just the way it is."

She gave me a look that said You're not exactly selling me on this.

"Third," I said, "the baby is a reminder of how you were taken in, and no one likes to remember that. You've sworn you're going to stay clear of him from now on? Seriously and sincerely?"

She nodded.

"Good. Fool me once and all that. So what it comes down to, if you have no moral qualms about getting an abortion, is how that would make you feel versus how you'd feel if you were to bear your child and allow him to be adopted. Have I got that right?"

Another nod.

"Well, here's what I know: A significant number of women regret having had an abortion. I have no idea what percentage. It might be most or it might not. But I don't know of any women who regret having carried a baby to term and found it a loving home."

"What about the cost?" she said.

"If you decide to bear your baby to term, I can put you in touch with an institution that will cover the costs of prenatal care and delivery. They'll also help you with the adoption procedures. But they won't endure the inconvenience, the discomforts, or the pain of parturition."

She was silent for a long moment.

"I suppose I should expect to do a little suffering for my bad character judgment, eh?" she said with a smirk.

"I would never say such a thing," I said. "I wasn't on the receiving end of whatever line he laid on you."

"You talk as if--"

I held up a hand. "My personal experiences are mine to live with. I refuse to impose them on you, for good or for ill."

Another long silence passed between us.

Presently she said, "When I make up my mind, can I talk to you again?"

"I hope you will," I said.

"If I decide to abort, will you try to talk me out of it?"

I shook my head. "I've said my piece."

She rose, hugged me briefly, and departed.


doubletrouble said...

Well handled, Francis.
Prayers for the young lady...

CGHill said...

"My personal experiences are mine to live with. I refuse to impose them on you, for good or for ill."

So few of us seem able to follow that code.

Anonymous said...

+1 on having spoken with women who have had abortions: they all have some background sadness and guilt about killing their baby.

The worst was the GF I ended up marrying who did it without telling me before. She never got over it and compensated with divorce, lots of alcohol, and promiscuity.

I've known combat soldiers who handled what would be diagnosed as PTSD better. Maybe, she should have gotten hooked on Valium before getting the abortion to reduce the emotional trauma (as seems to work in combat zones), or just adopted it out.