Published in Step Away Magazine and nominated for a Pushcart Prize
What No One Will Tell You About Having an Abortion
by Donna Kaz
He told me he wanted me to have it. He also told me he would never marry me. For a few days I kept silent about the fact that I wanted an abortion. Surprisingly, he left the decision entirely up to me.
I had a abortion in the summer of 1979. I was 24 years old and living in Malibu with a rising Hollywood movie star who beat me up almost every day. One night, he refused to wait for me to put my diaphragm in. After we had sex, I knew I was pregnant.
I sat him down and went through all the reasons we were not ready to have a child together, the primary reason being the violence in our relationship. I told him we would have a baby someday, just not now. He agreed and called a friend of his who knew someone who could arrange for my abortion. Abortion was legal, but it was hidden — something you needed to do a little research to find. We found a male gynecologist and made an appointment.
I wanted to have my abortion as soon as possible. I remember waking up some mornings and feeling like all my hormones were working over time. Other days I felt nothing. I was only pregnant for 7 weeks.
My boyfriend drove me to my abortion and asked to meet the doctor beforehand. He wanted to make sure that the procedure was safe and that I would be alright. The doctor assured him I would be.
My abortion was painless and routine except right after it was over. Suddenly, the doctor asked me what blood type I was. When I said I was type A, the doctor and nurse flew out of the room. A few minutes later they ran back in and I was given a shot. The nurse explained that it was needed because my fetus was a different blood type and that I probably should have been asked what blood type I was before they began.
My boyfriend’s deep concerns about me were gone once I left the recovery room. I wanted to go straight home and crawl into bed but instead of driving us back to our beach house he stopped at the McDonald’s on Pacific Coast Highway to have lunch. I had no appetite so I nursed a container of milk while he gobbled up a few hamburgers and a large order of fries.
The day after my abortion I tried to go for a run along the ocean but I felt awful. When I told my girlfriend what I had done over the phone she yelled at me. She told me not to work out for at least a week. I do not remember getting any post abortion instructions.
Here is what no one will tell you about having an abortion.
You will always have to check the box “yes” on medical forms that ask you if you ever had surgery. An abortion is a surgical procedure.
You should not do anything physical for at least a week after.
It does not hurt.
Know your blood type if you are going to have an abortion.
If you are on your parents health insurance and file a claim, your parents will find out about it.
You will have no remorse. Ever.
And for some, you might wonder for the rest of your life if he would have beat your child the way he beat you.
Before I leave I stack up the coffee cups, brush
the crumbs into a neat pile, ball up the napkins,
stuff the sugar packets into place then remember
I’m not a waitress anymore, not faceless anymore,
not one of millions of women in white shirts, black pants,
black shoes, white aprons, serving up phony smiles behind
six cups of coffee stacked to the sky, three small salads
balanced up the arm, side of fries held in place by a pinky,
bottle of ketchup perched against a shoulder, taking a drink order,
a dessert order, an order from the manager and a round
of vulgarities from the “sous” chef, not spending
my two a.m.’s filling half empty salt shakers, adjusting mustard jars
next to crumpled sweet ‘n lows, not giving someone
a few more minutes anymore, not giving until
good and ready to give, waiting
until the last possible second, teetering
on the precipice between twenty percent and squat,
not sassy anymore, proud of the fact that nobody
ever claimed squatters rights in my station, nobody
ever fired me because I quit first, nobody stiffed me
and was not cursed to burn in hell for all time, not armed
with revenge anymore, ready to fill the reservation book
with bogus names, lay down on the salad bar and refuse to move,
barricade myself inside the side station, throw myself
off the steam table, die every night with my apron on
When Ruby comes across the street to our house she always comes to the side door, never to the front. She calls my mom Miss Mary, and everything she says begins with or ends with “sorry.” “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she says over and over while squeezing her eyes shut and biting the coral lipstick off her bottom lip. Her hands shake like she has no control over them.
“Count to ten,” my mom tells her. “Take a deep breath and count.” She gets to three and stops. Then her eyes fly open and tears pour straight out as though a mini garden hose has been turned on underneath her eyelids.
Mom twists her face toward mine and gives me a look that means “you and your sister need to leave now.” We run into the hallway and lie down on the indoor-outdoor carpet. Slowly we crawl toward the kitchen, thumping against the sheet rock wall as we kick and squirm for a better position. We peek around the corner but cannot see anything, just hear mom repeat “count to ten.” We loll around on the carpet poking each other until the side door slams shut. I run to the dining-room window and see the back of Ruby’s summer cotton shift bounce around her knees as she walks back home.
At dinner mom tells dad that Ruby had come over to use the phone again.
“Is Ruby’s phone broken?” my sister asks.
“Ruby doesn’t have a phone,” Mom explains.
“When Ruby needs a phone she can come over and use ours,” Dad states in between mouthfuls of mashed potatoes. Mom and Dad say all this so matter-of-factly that I feel stupid asking a question of my own and so don’t. Ruby doesn’t have a phone.
Sometimes she doesn’t have bread either, because one time when she came to the side door Mom gave her half a loaf of day old Wonder Bread. Ruby took it home with her but the next day she brought back a brand new loaf, and that made mom mad. She kept trying to put the Wonder Bread back into Ruby’s shaky hands but Ruby would not take it.
“Sorry. I said I would return it,” she announced, her voice full of sadness.
After dinner I scrape the plates, hang the dishtowels on the line outside and then sit under the big maple tree in our front yard, swatting mosquitoes away. From there I can see Ruby’s little house on the other side of the street and a little to the left. The kitchen window glows yellow and someone moves back and forth behind it. I stare at it until my sister shoves me in the back and I chase her down to the rose bushes and try to make her run right into the big rock in front of the tomato plants. The fireflies come out and we catch a few and put them in the jars Dad made us with holes in the metal tops.
Mom’s time-to-come-in hoot sounds from out the kitchen window and we go inside for a glass of milk and three Oreos apiece. We put on our baby doll pajamas and watch exactly 30 minutes of television before dad tucks us into our twin beds, each with a kiss to the forehead.
We toss our dirty socks back and forth between the beds for a while and then try to crack each other up by putting an “s” in front of every word we speak. “Shail smary sfull sof sgrace,” spits my sister from under the covers. We giggle uncontrollably until Dad comes in and yells that it is time for bed.
Finally, I lie back on my pillow and look out the windows at the branches of our maple tree and the lone street lamp that makes a spotlight on the black asphalt of our road. The boats in the marina behind Ruby’s house gently rock to and fro in their slips, their halyards dinging against the mainsails. The leaves on the maple tree swish in the summer night breeze and the dinging and the swishing gently lull me to sleep.
Then, suddenly, I am awake again and I hear someone running down the street, the slaps of their soles hitting the asphalt hard. A woman’s voice splits the heat and the blackness wide open with four words. “Help! Somebody help me!” I hear a firecracker pop and then another and another.
I look over and see my sister sitting upright in her bed looking straight out the window.
“There must be a party going on down at the sand bar,” I say. She says nothing. “It’s a stupid party,” I repeat softly. I roll over, too groggy to say more.
The next morning I beat my sister down the stairs but the kitchen is empty. Out the picture window I see Mom and Dad talking to our neighbor, Mr. Katsikas. There are two police cars parked in front of Ruby’s house with their whirly red lights on. We put on our flipflops and sweat shirts and join our parents under the maple tree.
“Where’s Ruby?” my sister asks. “What happened at Ruby’s?” No one pays any attention to us. Mr. Katsikas lowers his voice. Mom shoos us back inside.
We do not go inside. We go to down to the rose bushes to look at Ruby’s house. My sister stands on the rock in front of the tomato plants to get a better view. A policeman comes out of Ruby’s front door with a plastic bag. He is holding the plastic bag out to his side like it’s trash. The bag is clear and I see two green pillows inside streaked with red like someone had spilt nail polish all over them.
Neighbors begin to gather in front of our house. I don’t want anyone in front of our house. I don’t want anyone to block my view of Ruby’s. I grab my sister’s hand and we squeeze through the Moynihans and the Malloys to the sidewalk right in front of Ruby’s front door.
There are people moving around inside Ruby’s house. The policeman has put the plastic bag on the back seat of his police car and now he is going back inside. We are the only two on the sidewalk right in front of Ruby’s. We stand very close together. No one tries to shoo us away. No one asks us to move.
Ruby’s going to come out any minute now, I think. She is putting on some coral lipstick maybe. Maybe she is counting to ten. When she comes out she will see us and know that if she needs to make a phone call or is out of bread, it is just a short walk across the street to our side door. She has such a pretty face, Ruby does. All I can think of is Ruby has such a pretty face.
There is a silence brewing in American theater. It’s not a Pinteresque pause or the dead stillness that happens when an actor forgets his lines. It’s the systematic silencing of women’s voices.
Women have been writing plays for eleven centuries. Without works by women the theater canon would be absurdly incomplete. Yet since 1997 Guerrilla Girls On Tour has kept statistics on how many plays by women are produced nationwide and for the past 16 years we have never come across any season that contained more than 20% plays by women, (and that’s being very generous). The last Broadway season experienced a significant number of productions of new plays by women – four. Yet not one of them earned an Antoinette Perry (Tony) nomination for best play. (This season has 2 plays by women on Broadway) And for the past 11 years we’ve kept “Girlcott” list – a list of theaters across the U.S. that fail to include a single play by a woman in their main stage seasons. This year the list includes 59 theatres.
Even as groups like 50/50 in 2020 and the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative form to fight the sexist trend in theater it isn’t getting better for women playwrights (and directors, designers, producers, etc). The question remains, are women playwrights falling to the same fate as bluefin tuna – both almost extinct?
I hope not. The theater needs women playwrights. Emily Glassberg Sand’s recent study, Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender: An Integrated Economic Analysis of Discrimination in American Theater, showed that productions of plays by women earned, on average, more money than productions of plays by men. But even if that were not the case I’m wondering if we really want to live in a world where we can only buy tickets to productions of plays written by white males.
Last fall I organized an event to protest discrimination in theater — a speak-out entitled We Are Theatre. I contacted 20 female playwrights and asked them to contribute a very short play or monologue about sexism in theatre. No one responded. I contacted the playwrights again. Nothing. Where were they? Were they busy? Were they afraid? Were they gone?
Finally, I got a response – a woman of color who had experienced some success (plays produced and published) early in her career wrote to me saying, “…it disturbs me that I have had such a tentative place at the theater table. I have since turned to novels and other artistic expressions.”
Horrors! I was too late! Women playwrights had moved on without anyone noticing. They were writing novels, poems and essays instead of plays. They were focusing their creativity elsewhere. There were no more women playwrights!
In my heart I knew this was wrong. I tried a third time, sent out more calls for plays and reached out to groups like the Women’s Initiative members of the Dramatists Guild to help me find women playwrights. And soon my inbox slowly began to be filled with beautiful monologues, scenes and short plays by women. The women playwrights had put my call to write plays for We Are Theatre on their “to do” list and for whatever reason (time, energy, rage) had postponed sitting down to their desks to write about being in the less than 20% category.
But those weeks of silence still haunt me. Has our constant dismissal of works by women playwrights eaten away at their drive to write for the stage? When they sit down at their desks will they make writing plays less and less of a priority until they don’t write them at all?
The theater won’t die, (right away at least), without women playwrights. But I think it’s time to start making a big deal about the lack of plays by women on American stages. The continually rejection, dismissal, censorship and deferment of plays by women is an extraordinary risk we are taking and it might drive women playwrights from the stage forever.
We need to raise our collective voices and speak out for change. Like the Walmart retail workers who are now beginning to win improvements in their lives and jobs because they shamed their employers into doing the right thing, we should all take a few minutes every day to write, email, call and text artistic directors with the message that we won’t buy another ticket until they schedule seasons of at least 50% plays by women. If we do not start doing this we risk never hearing the works of thousands of women playwrights. And if that day comes I am sure the silence will be deafening.
Aphra Behn is the Artistic Director of Guerrilla Girls On Tour! – an activist/feminist touring theater company. In September of 2012 she spearheaded “We Are Theater”, a speak-out against sexism in theater featuring 30 plays by women at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City. Stay tuned for We Are Theatre 2013
PO Box 2100 New York, NY 10021
AS PUBLISHED IN THE DRAMATIST June 2013