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Ketchup #81

    At 14, I had a defiant punk rock appearance yet was actually pretty unsure of myself. Since preschool, I had been an outcast, taunted and shunned by other kids, and I usually preferred the company of a book or my crayons to other people. When I started high school, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to recreate my identity from scratch. I instantly became close with two punk kids - Nick and Heather. Nick was my age, skinny, freckle-faced, and really quiet. He was my first boyfriend. His family was a mess and he was even more insecure than I was, yet I looked up to him. Heather looked like a Viking: tall and stocky with pale skin and strawberry blond pigtails. She wore glasses and green lipstick and was goofy and intellectual at the same time. Of course we became best friends. The three of us were always together like an unholy trinity. They made me mix tapes and took me to shows and we wandered the streets until late at night trying to figure ourselves out.
    So when I suspected I was pregnant in June of my freshman year, I got on the F train and went straight to Heather's house. We looked in the phone book and found a place in downtown Brooklyn that gave free pregnancy tests, and scheduled an appointment for Wednesday, June 6th. I remember being in gym class that day and pacing around the basketball court with my heart in my mouth. After school, the three of us went to the "abortion alternatives" clinic. There we met a very sweet middle-aged Italian woman named Linda. She was a devout Catholic and there were figurines on angels on her desk and sickening photos of STD cases on the wall. After questioning me, she took me into the bathroom and gave me the test. Two red lines appeared - one for me and one for the baby. Nick and Heather saw my face and knew the results as soon as I walked into the room. I looked down dejectedly at my combat boots and started to cry. Linda asked me if I wanted to give the baby up for adoption. Yeah right. There was no way in hell I was having a kid. She said I should go to the emergency room at Long Island College Hospital and get a sonogram. My friends tried to comfort me as we walked to Heather's house. I felt terrified and guilty and also pressed for time. At the end of June I was supposed to go to summer camp for four weeks, so I had three weeks until then to deal with this mess.
    Although I knew the baby would probably end up sealed in a hazardous waste bag in the city dump, I felt an innate protectiveness towards it. I ate healthier and avoided drugs, and when Nick laid his head on my stomach, I marveled at the wonder of the six-week old life growing inside of me. We spent countless hours waiting in emergency rooms only to be told at 11 at night that the doctor had left, and I filled out forms and peed in cups until my head was ready to explode. We were supposed to be worrying about finals, not matters of life and death. I finally did get a sonogram, and saw my child in glorious grainy black and while, encapsulated in an orb about an inch in diameter.
    I somehow managed get medical aid called PCAP, or Prenatal Care Program. I received two Medicaid cards -the one for the baby read 00/00/00 for the date of birth, and U for unknown as the sex. The age for abortion without parental consent in New York State is fifteen, and although I was a few weeks shy of that, my privacy was guaranteed.
    I had an appointment for the abortion on the last Thursday of June, and I was to leave for summer camp on Sunday. Up until and even after that date, Linda would call Heather's house (where I received all hospital-related mail), trying to convince her to get me to keep the baby. But of course she disregarded Linda's pleas and accompanied Nick and I on my appointment. I sat in the waiting room watching soap operas, allowed to consume nothing but water for 24 hours before the procedure. The doctors told me that I must have an adult escort if I wanted to receive general anesthesia. They tried to talk me into calling my father, but I refused. I couldn't find any other adults. I was desperate and said I was willing to receive local anesthesia which was more painful, but by then it was 7pm and the doctor had already left for the day.
    I went home, and as soon as I saw my father's face I knew something was up. Apparently, someone from the hospital had left a message explaining the situation, even though it was supposed to be kept confidential. My father yelled at me disgustedly and I felt unworthy of being his daughter. But the bottom line was that I had two days to deal with everything before I left. The last thing either of us wanted was fro my mother to find out. I had left her house seven months earlier and moved in with my father; she was constantly criticizing us, so we thought it would only exacerbate the situation if she got involved.
    We pulled out the trusty yellow pages again and found a clinic in Flushing and scheduled an appointment for Saturday morning. I sat with Nick in the waiting room flipping through trashy teen magazines. The other women there were mostly in their twenties and non white. We had to wear these stupid pink paper gowns that did little to protect us from the air conditioning or others' eyes. The doctor called me in and I lay down on the table. The last thing I remember seeing was a huge syringe of anesthesia being injected into my arm. When I awoke I had no recollection of blacking out, and groggily asked the doctor "Didja do it yet?" He assured me that everything had gone fine and I'd only been out for about 10 minutes. I was in some pain but nothing unbearable. Sitting next to me in the "recovery room" was a woman dressed in a sari, rocking back and forth and crying in pain. To this day I regret not comforting her. I was given some pills to prevent hemorrhaging and infection and was assured that Medicaid would cover them. Nick took me home on the 7 train; I was semi-conscious. I wasn't going to be around for four weeks so we said bye and he gave me a necklace he'd made out of broken watch parts held together with safety pins. That's punk rock love for ya.
    I awoke at 6 the next morning and got on the bus. It felt strange to be around all these kids talking about sports and music. They had no idea. We hiked up a mountain the first day and I felt fine. After that, we were going to swim in the lake. I wasn't supposed to go swimming or engage in strenuous activity for four weeks. My father told me to day I had a bladder infection or something to explain why I couldn't swim. I tried to tell them that but I'm a terrible liar, and not saying anything was driving me crazy. I ended up spilling the whole thing to a counselor. She freaked out and said I would have to go home because they didn't want to be responsible if I got sick. Most of the kids at the camp were pretty rich but I was there on a scholarship, and I doubt the administration had ever had to deal with anything like that before. It as the fourth of July and I spent it in the infirmary reading fairy tales to the nurse's three-year-old son. The camp tried to get in touch with my father but he was out of town and they ended up telling my mother I had to be sent home because of a "medical procedure". I left after basically being quarantined for three days. I tried to tell my mother it was because I'd sprained my ankle but she wasn't falling for it. She said because I was acting so suspicious she figured I must have either OD'd or gotten pregnant and since I didn't look like junkie it must have been the latter. She had even calculated when the baby had been conceived. Thankfully, she didn't tell Nick's mother who would have thrown him out or worse. My mother was more angry at my father for trying to cover it up.
    My counselor at camp told me that one day I would look at this whole thing as a positive learning experience. It wasn't much consolation then, but now, three years later I think it has made me wiser, not that I would care to repeat it. Since then I've met girls in similar situations and I try to support them and give them advice. Besides the obvious, I have also learned that you can never guess the experiences that someone has had by looking at them, and that they probably have some pretty crazy stories to tell.