Kelly Anjon had called the San Diego Institute of Pathology in Solana Beach, and a woman there had told her the results of a test: she was pregnant. That was July 8, 1982, the same day Kelly had rented us a home in Cardiff. The home was our first together, Kelly was my girlfriend, and the pregnancy was a mistake. The two weeks that followed were so intense that actions were forced, distorted, as if only a day remained in our lives. What to do about the pregnancy became the inescapable center of Kelly’s life. She had never imagined that the decision whether to have an abortion could become something so confusing and emotionally painful. During that time I learned a great deal, nothing of which was moral in the sense of whether abortion is right or wrong, but about feeling sympathy for a woman who must make such a decision, and how best to support her. What I learned I wish I had already known. The story is true; only the names of the women have been fictionalized.
The first person Kelly called was Robin Aswell, one of her best friends. Robin was a Grossmont College nursing student, and she had gone through two abortions herself. Earlier in the week Kelly had told her she could be pregnant, but that she hoped she wasn’t. Now that Kelly knew she was pregnant, Robin was a good person to call; she understood.
“Oh my God,” she said. “What will you do?”
“I’m not sure.”
“How many weeks pregnant are you?”
“Nine, I think.”
“I feel so badly for you.”
I was in Los Angeles when Kelly called. My decision was made: I wanted the abortion. However, I wouldn’t tell her what to do, not because I’m benevolent, but rather I was certain that without my saying anything, she would quickly opt for the abortion. I assumed a liberal attitude and asked, “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you tell your parents?”
“I can’t. I’m embarrassed to tell them. I feel that they’ll think I’ve done something terribly wrong.” She hesitated. “I told Robin.”
“Great.” Her friends had always been a sore spot between us in the nine months we’d known each other. “Couldn’t you have waited to tell me first? Maybe I don’t want your friends to know. Did you ever think of that?”
“I just wish you’d let me know these things first.”
“All right already.”
I was mad and frustrated. She was always telling me she knew intuitively when she could get pregnant. Bull. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. I’m going to Elario’s to hear jazz. I’ll be back before 12. We can talk then.” She wanted to change the subject. This one was too pressured. “By the way, I rented us a home in Cardiff today. Aren’t you happy?”
“Only there’s no bed. But I know where we can buy a futon.”
“No. I can’t afford to buy a bed and pay for an abortion too.”
“Hey!” Her voice rose in pitch, tightening. “I never said I’d have an abortion.”
“All right. But I don’t want to buy a bed.”
“But aren’t you at least glad we have a home? We can make our place really nice.”
“But I don’t want to buy a bed. You have one in storage we can use.”
“I’m tired of talking about beds.”
As it was, she arrived home too late to talk. But she later described the dream she had that night. In a doctor’s office, she lay on a metal table, her skirt drawn past her hips, her belly big and round like a hill, her body sopped in sweat. Lights glared. The doctor came holding a long needle. He stuck it inside her vagina and pulled a bloody mass from her. But he couldn’t sever from her body what he pulled. He pulled and pulled, and the pulling hurt. She screamed and awoke. She stayed up through the night.
Almost all of Kelly’s friends had been pregnant and unmarried. All decided to have abortions; none seriously considered having the child. Mary Tomkovich’s abortion was in 1977 when she and Kelly were each 22 years old. Mary lived with a jazz musician in a studio in Carmel Valley. He was like a child. He assured her everything was all right when everything wasn’t all right. A big, strong woman, still Mary had cried after it was over. But the bad feeling — that the baby had been ripped out of her — didn’t last long.
That night Mary and Kelly went to dinner in Encinitas, at the Shepherd. They talked about things other than the abortion. They joked and laughed. To Kelly, Mary’s abortion wasn’t a big thing. That a frequently bitter national controversy raged over a 1973 Supreme Court decision — which nearly completely unfettered women from legal restrictions to obtain abortions through the first six months of pregnancy — hardly made a dent in Kelly’s consciousness.
Robin underwent her second abortion in 1979. She didn’t know whether the father lived in Hawaii or California. The first abortion had been physically painful. During Robin’s second abortion, performed by a North County gynecologist, as she lay on the metal examination table, she tried to get up and walk away. The nurse held her hand and said relax, that she had already made her decision to have one. Kelly paid scant attention to Robin, when after the second abortion Robin continually questioned social mores — why couldn’t she have a baby and not be married? Even in 1981, when Linda Covici — an artist friend from Carlsbad — had her abortion, Kelly intellectually understood that her friend needed support, but Kelly talked with her about the decision more from duty than emotional empathy. Abortion was just a thing people did when they got pregnant.
Kelly’s pregnancy, however, wasn’t an isolated crisis in her life. She had undergone surgery in early April for an ovarian cyst, but her whole ovary was removed. For three months following, she was depressed. She had given up her home in Solana Beach because with the surgery she couldn’t work and thus couldn’t afford the rent. Being forced to live again in Del Mar with her mother and father only made her feel worse. I did what I could to support her during that period — I cooked for her, I loaned her money, I spent a lot of time sitting with her inside the house. I should say I also intensely felt the loss of her ovary. In reaction, in fear of losing my own health, I began to run five to ten miles daily.