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parents at the airport in Abilene, where you are supposed to board a plane going back to the city where you live. But you’re not going there. You fly to Newark instead. For the next 36 hours no one will know where you are, nor why. Not your family, not the man you live with, not your friends nor the people at work nor your former lover. Not even your brother, who lent you the money and never asked what it was for. You enter a secret limbo of your own construction, and you take it methodically, doggedly, one step at a time. At Newark airport you find a bus to Penn Station. By the time you get to the dreary midtown hotel for women, it’s nearly midnight.You’re shown to a miniscule room with worn metal furniture, like a detention cell. That seems appropriate. The bathroom is down the hall and bantering female voices echo from it, a reminder that now you are truly, abjectly alone. You lie in your narrow bed like a zombie, waiting for sleep that never comes. In the dim light of early morning, you haul your red suitcasea high-school graduation gift from your dear aunt down a flight of stairs and ask the desk clerk to call a cab. When it arrives, you nervously tell the driver the address. He nods, and you know he knows why you’re going there. It must be emblazoned on your chest, like the scarlet letter “A.” You watch the meter because you’re worried about the money. The city is bathed in a depressing shade of gray. Though this is your first trip to New York, you have no curiosity about the streets or the buildings or the occasional people walking past with quick, purposeful strides. All your attention, all your energy, is focused on the task ahead. That, and getting yourself out of the city six hours from now. At the clinic, there are other women in the waiting room, anxious women like you, except most are younger. Just girls, really. One is sitting with her mother, who wears a tight, stoic look. Another, a college student from the Midwest, says she rode the bus all night getting here. A staff member comes out to tell her that she flunked her pregnancy exam: 12 weeks of gestation, too far gone. We can’t help you now Here’s the name of another placetry them. The girl looks stunned, as if someone had slapped her in the face. Twelve weeks.That means a different “procedure” altogether: induced labor, a rapidly forming fetus to expel, a hospital stay, more money. It will take time to set up and so much time has gone by already.You think of the long bus ride going back to Illinois or Ohio, nothing resolved, and you feel her panic rising in your own throat, like bile. Self-consciously you pull in your stomach; you will your insides to shrink up, your swollen uterus to contract into a little nut. If you ever get through this, you’ll never have sex again. You’ll never smile again, laugh again. Life as you knew it is already over. You’re just going through the last, fatal motions. The next few hours are a blur.You repeat the lie about your last period and manage to pass the physical exam, although the doctor takes a long time and frowns. A lengthy session with a counselor follows, but you hear almost nothing she says. You want to push the fast-forward button, get it over with.You’re a fox caught in a trap and you will chew your leg off and lick the stump dry to get out of here, and leave this pregnancy behind. When it finally happens, you’re surprised by the physical force involved. Every molecule of your body recoils at this invasion, but it would be stupid to cry out.You deserve this pain.You get off the table, put on the large sanitary pad you were instructed to bring with you and walk unsteadily into the recovery room. All around you are the still forms of other women lying in two rows of cots, thin blankets pulled over their hunched shoulders. No one talks.You curl up on one of the cots like a wounded animal. Someone takes your pulse and temperature and gives you a sip of juice and you listen to the muffled sounds around you. A cough, a moan. No one cries. By the time you make it to this place, the tears have already been wrung out of you. A woman puts on her clothes and leaves, another one comes in. In 45 minutes, you leave, too, acutely aware of a warm steady trickle between your legs. You pick up your suitcase and walk out the door. It’s even heavier than it was this morning. A fading winter sun casts long shadows in the streets.You feel weak and not the least bit hungry, though you haven’t eaten since yesterday. There’s a diner on the corner a block away, which is just about as far as you figure you can walk without sitting down to rest.You can tell by the tiny extra space people give you on the sidewalk that you must look like hell. So you keep your eyes on your feet all the way inside the restaurant, to a table in the corner. You order a hamburger and surprise yourself by eating it all, every bite. You don’t remember if it tasted good. But you do remember, and remember distinctly, that a huge wave of relief washed over you as you ate. It washed away the sadness that had dogged every step for so many weeks; the suffocating despair that cut short every breath. Your sentence is reprieved; your pardon granted; the doors of the prison flung open. Sitting in that no-name restaurant, a stranger in a city of strangers nearly two thousand miles from home, you begin to feel alive again. Eighteen hours after arriving in New York, you leave. You change sanitary pads in the airport restroom and again on the plane. They’re soaked with bright red blood, full of oxygen, purging the life it fed. Perhaps you will feel guilty about that some day. Later, in fact, you do, though it’s all tangled up in your trenchant regret for the missteps that led you to this sorry pass. For now there is just relief, pure and unsullied by any more complex emotion. Decades later a friend reveals that in addition to the children you knew she had, there is another, secret child, born after her high-school boyfriend’s inept attempt to arrange an abortion in Nuevo Laredo failed. Adopted at birth, that baby is now 34 years old, and though she wishes him well, she has no desire to meet him. It took years to crawl out from under 2/14/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31