On a particularly sweaty Thursday, I call Sarah’s number and am greeted by sobbing on the other end of the line. I’m afraid that we are in for a rewind of last summer’s drug-addled crash that led to her upstate rehab stay.
“I’m pregnant,” she confesses flatly.
Hopeful for a loophole, I ask her if she is sure.
“I went to Nassau Medical Center yesterday,” Sarah says. “I’m scheduled for an abortion next Tuesday.”
“Is that what you want?”
“No,” Sarah says. “I don’t think I could live with myself if I killed my baby.”
Sarah, who will be 21 in September, arrives at my house smelling like honeysuckle and jasmine, a slight blonde wisp. In our regular Thursday custom, Sarah comes to over to do chores or sort through my vintage clothing collection. If there were not a 30-year difference between us, we would seem like friends, she talking about Brad Pitt, me preferring the hard steel of Kid Rock. Sarah creates lyrically beautiful environments for retail stores. We drive to shops sometimes just to look at the displays.
We met about three years ago, when she was enrolled in a fashion promotion class that I teach at Nassau Community College. One of the most artistically gifted students that I’ve ever had, she was capable of creating beautiful foam boards, which are often used in the fashion industry for the presentation of clothing lines or fashion forecasts. Her work, a mélange of photographs, fabrics and found materials, was other-worldly in its delicacy and beauty.
Sarah graduated in June. She had planned to take a new job in Manhattan and talked about taking her savings out of the bank to buy a car. Now she talks of buying Shabby Chic crib linens.
At this point she has told no one, other than the father of the child, that she is pregnant. He is disinterested at best. I promise Sarah I’ll introduce her to people who will lay the choices before her, so that she can make an intelligent decision.
I call Julie, who is familiar with the Regina Residence for unwed mothers in Merrick. She calls her friend Nancy, whose 18-year-old daughter has had two abortions and now is the mother of an infant. I call my friend Mary Lee at St. Christopher’s Church in Baldwin. She counsels teens in a youth ministry. We all agree to meet at her office.
In the church basement with its cinder-block walls and colorful mural, smelling like cleaning solvents and humidity, a fan tosses the hot air about the room. I leave to walk about in the pocket park that meanders into Merrick Road. Mary and Sarah are left to talk.
The baby’s 21-year-old father tells Sarah that he will call and doesn’t, in the manner of slackers everywhere. A friend—who does not know that Sarah is carrying his child—reports that the slacker has a new girlfriend. Their relationship consisted mostly of hanging out. Having hung out in the same group for several years, this was simply the hook-up du jour. Sarah hadn’t used birth control; she thought that she couldn’t get pregnant—she hadn’t by her last beau, whom she saw for three years. Turns out that he had been using drugs.
Sarah passes up a chance to see Moby at the Vanderbilt because she doesn’t want her tadpole exposed to smoke. Instead we wake up early to drive to Sag Harbor to visit a friend of mine, who chastises me for not encouraging Sarah to have an abortion.
I argue that the unspoken thread of feminism is that each woman should still have a right to choose that which makes her most happy. Sarah says that her mother has told her, in flashes of anger, that she was unexpected, that she should have been aborted.
When Sarah’s mom finds a pamphlet on pregnancy in the house, she explodes. She does not see this as a blessed event, but only as the end of hope in her talented daughter’s life. She is unmovable in her feeling that abortion is the only path.
The last week of July, the first sonogram shows an empty sac. The doctor says that it is either a very early pregnancy or one that has gone awry. Sarah must come in two weeks to make certain that the fetus is growing within the womb, to make sure that it is not an ectopic pregnancy.
Two weeks later, as a fierce storm breaks over the medical complex in Huntington, Sarah still has not decided what she will do. We watch a tiny figure on the sonogram screen, its heart beating strong. The baby could be here in March.