I was looking for a phone in an isolated area. The campus had about as many acres as students, but there were only a handful of public telephones. There were several near the cafeteria and that was where I would go to call my parents about once a week or so. That, however, was one of the most public places. There were two dormitories about two miles away from the center of campus. I had rarely ever even been in one of them, but I had a vague recollection of having seen a pay phone there, so I walked over.
The walk down the narrow curving road with woods looming on either side reminded me of a recurring dream I’d been having for about a year. In it, I was riding a bicycle on a road very much like that one, perhaps slightly curvier. Slowly, I would lose my eyesight until couldn’t see the road anymore. I would try to stop, but instead I’d be speeding up. Through partial vision, I could barely see the road well enough to follow it. Finally, I wouldn’t be able to see anything at all and I would crash. An anxiety dream, it was almost ridiculously easy to analyze.
A precocious student, I had graduated from high school early and received a nice, big, fat helping of scholarship money to attend this private liberal arts college. My first year, I loaded up on courses and was taking more than the suggested number of credits. My grades were excellent. Then my social life began to fall apart and, with it, my grades. I changed majors. Then I changed majors again. A year earlier, I went through a phase during which I didn’t bathe, didn’t get out of bed for days at a time and ate nothing but peanut butter. I received grades of incomplete in all the classes I had taken that semester. I had a year to make them up. The previous semester, the fall semester of my junior year, I finally settled on literature as a major for no better reason than I liked to read and it seemed to come easily to me. Read a few books. Mull them over for a day or so. Churn out twenty pages. I could do that even as I was falling apart. In fact, I felt as if I was finally beginning to put myself back together.
That’s where the anxiety dream came in. Unlike when I was younger, I no longer had a plan. I couldn’t see where I was going, I was just trying to navigate each curve as it came up on me. My grades were finally back up. I was attempting to make a few friends who were not part of a New Age cult. Did I really want to study literature? That certainly hadn’t ever been part of my plan, but now my plan was just to get the hell out of this fucking hell hole of a school with a bachelor of arts degree and my brain intact. What would I do after that? I barely had a clue.
And I had been so alone throughout all of this. When you’re young, and pretty, and talented, and bright everyone wants to be your friend. When you’re lost and confused, no one knows who you are. With help from no one, I was getting back to being someone people actually wanted to know.
Now, there was this.
The dormitory was a converted mansion. It was an odd building. Heavy and dark, it looked as if someone had tried to build a set for a production of Wuthering Heights without ever having so much as seen a picture of England. The first floor was a series of rooms, a kitchen and several other rooms with seemingly no purpose. It was the middle of the day while classes were in session and the dormitory was almost empty, as I had hoped. I walked into one of the purposeless rooms that had an array of institutional furniture that seemed nearly random. An indestructible club chair. A table. A couple of dining chairs. In the corner, as I had recalled, was a pay phone.
I dialed the phone number of the man I had met on New Year’s Eve. It was a long shot that he would even pick up the phone at that moment in the middle of the day, but he did. Without any introduction, I blurted out that I was pregnant, that I would probably have an abortion but male friends of mine had convinced me that it wasn’t fair that women make this decision on their own, so that if he wanted me to continue with the pregnancy we could talk about that. I had planned to add that he’d have to want sole custody, but I can’t recall if I got that far.
How did I know it was his?
Because he was the only man I’d fucked recently.
He didn’t believe me.
Fine, I was planning on having an abortion anyway. I was just trying to be fair to him.
Then this man about whom I knew next to nothing except that he loved Kant and had a larger than average penis, launched into one of the more shocking speeches I had heard at that point in my life. He accused me of trying to trap him into marriage. His family were aristocrats. They would never accept this. I was just a common slut and I was trying to trap him into marriage. He was outraged.
I never spoke to him again.
I’ve been writing down my experiences as a way of understanding why I believe some of the things I believe and why I hold some of the political positions I do. This conversation resulted in me feeling somewhat skeptical of men’s rights advocates when they complain that it is not fair that they have no say in abortion decisions. It’s not that I feel that they are disingenuous about their own position, but that they don’t actually represent men in general. Most men, I suspect, don’t really want the responsibility that this decision entails. Women have abortions, men don’t. Women have to bear the responsibility and the stigma. Many men, perhaps most, would prefer to keep it this way. However, I think I did the ethical thing in approaching this man, and it was obvious that he would have preferred that I hadn’t. I don’t know his position on abortion, but he was a practicing Catholic. One word and I wouldn’t have had an abortion. I don’t think he wanted that responsibility.
A while back, Dan Savage expressed the opinion that women should inform a man if they are going to have an abortion. I agree with everything he says, even the part that many feminists objected to, that the man’s desires should be taken into consideration. However, I think he is underestimating humans’ potential for denial and self-deception when he writes:
Guys need to know when they’ve dodged a bullet, CL. Being made aware that he came this close to 18 years’ worth of child support payments can lead a guy to be more cautious with his spunk—and, in some cases, more likely to support choice.
There’s an interesting assumption that Savage makes here, that what they are dodging are child support payments and not custody of a child, because the only way I would have considered carrying that pregnancy to term is if the man had agreed to take full custody. I can’t be sure, but I strongly suspect that the man in question barely remembers this incident. He probably doesn’t acknowledge having dodged anything at all. It would be all to easy for him to rationalize it away. The incident changed the course of my life and I suspect it didn’t register for him at all.
It was also my introduction to notions about social class. Growing up in suburbia in the United States in an environment in which people ranged from the upper end of stable working class families to the lower end of the professional upper middle class, I was only faintly aware of class differences that weren’t simply linked to income. I’ve had a hatred for social class ever since.