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By Ronna Russell ~

Another new city, another new state, the third one in high school alone. My sister had tickets to Hawaii and was taking my mother along for a vacation. Preacher Dad took them to the airport in San Francisco, a couple of hours away. He wouldn’t let me come along and then stayed overnight, doing whatever it was closeted gay men did in the 1980s. That is how I found myself home alone on my 18th birthday, six weeks into a new place, knowing no one. I had a car, a bright orange Pinto wagon that ran most of the time, and I remembered the way to the Casa Maria restaurant and bar. I was damned if I was going to sit in that house by myself, staring at the walls. Also I hadn’t had sex in three years. I drove to the restaurant and walked in. The bartender saw me, but before he could ask for ID, the only guy sitting at the bar said, “Come here.” The bartender wouldn’t serve me. We walked out together moments later, tried another bar, but I got carded again, so we cut to the chase. We climbed in the back of the Pinto wagon, and he fucked me doggy style right there in the parking lot. Afterwards, as I pulled myself together, he peed on the ground. I watched the steam of urine flow underneath my shoe, a beige net peep-toe flat with a bow on the toe. Terribly ugly. He hopped into his sports car and drove off with Prince’s “1999” blaring through the window. I went home to stare at the walls; the whole thing didn’t even take an hour, but I was pregnant anyway.

Back in those days, pregnancy tests were only available at doctor’s offices or clinics, nothing of the kind was sold over the counter. The yellow pages and accompanying maps were a mystery to me. I had no idea how to get to the free clinics in downtown Sacramento. There was an ad for a free pregnancy test at a church nearby, so I made an appointment for 1:00 in the afternoon. Told my mother I wasn’t feeling well, stayed home from school. Feeling remarkably better at 12:45 as planned, I headed out to the “library.” As I raised the garage door, I heard a voice behind me. Turning, I saw a heavily made-up Asian woman standing on the sidewalk. She said, “You know what means the word slut?”

“No” I responded, got in and shut the door as fast as I could; pulled the car out. She was gone. Not on the sidewalk, not in a neighboring yard. Vanished. Hallucination? Maybe.

I found the church, handed over my pee cup and was told that in exchange for the information I sought, I was required to watch an ant-abortion film. When it started, I realized I had seen it before. Off the hook! My test results were negative, however it was too soon to really know for sure, she said. I could still be pregnant and I knew it was true. Knew that I was.

Days later, leaning against the church’s bathroom cubicle wall, twisting cramps contorting my body, I slid down the cold metal to a squat. After catching my breath, I drove home and went to bed only to wake hours later with violent abdominal cramps. PD was out of town. Mom called him, wondering what to do and PD instructed her to take me to the emergency room. No questions, no exams, no x-rays later, I was sent home with possible pneumonia.

A day or so later, the cramps began again with terrifying force. I called PD at work, “Come get me.” And he did. We went to the nearest walk-in clinic. There were questions this time. The doctor said to go to the emergency room right now. We did, I in my enormous lime green sweats that I wore to bed. I knew this had something to do with being pregnant, but had no idea what. While waiting for a turn in the ER changing room, Dad asked if this was the first time I had had sex. I told him about my first boyfriend. He didn’t say anything.

In the changing room, my head started to spin and I had to sit down, unable to undress. The ultrasound technician came in to see if I was ready, but I could no longer stand. She helped me onto the ultrasound table; turned the machine on. Instantly she was on the phone, urgency in her voice; words I could not decipher.

Wheeling down the hall, operating room, bright lights, lime green sweats shredded with scissors, masked faces, count backwards.

Recovery room. Slide from the gurney to the bed. Really? So far away.

Someone explained later that I had an ectopic pregnancy and my fallopian tube had ruptured. I was lucky to be alive. The ultrasound technician came to visit, stood at the foot of my bed, still pale and shaken, surprised I had survived. I remember the metal staples across my lower abdomen, a sponge bath, snarky birth control comment from the nurse. PD stopped by to read bible verses. My sister came to see me, but not Mom. No conversation, just a big fat Holy Shit atmosphere. Silence. I found out years later that PD did not tell my mother why I was hospitalized; would not allow her to see me. He told her she didn’t need to know and forbid her to talk to me about it. I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up; I knew how ashamed they were of me. And how angry.

Six weeks home from senior year, no one noticed when I went back. I had been a new face, anyway.

Nothing was ever said to me about what happened, except when the insurance bill came. I needed to make monthly payments to dad for the $3000.00 deductible. They barely got the new health insurance paperwork filed in time. It was a close call.

Later, I asked PD why he didn’t sue the first hospital for negligence. He said he would have if something had happened.


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