Updated: Jul 1, 2022
David was recently returned from the Vietnam War and had witnessed atrocities I’d heard happened there. He was from Louisiana though I didn’t know from where exactly. He’d come to southern California after his service and signed up for classes at the state university in Dominguez Hills. It was there that I’d met him in my freshman year, possibly in a history or English class.
David wore dark glasses and most often, denims. His eyes were deep blue, and big. His mouth quickly broke into a teasing, self-deprecating grin. He suffered from nightmares and memories I could not bear to hear. Sometimes I would see him sitting alone, his back to me, at the kitchen table in the apartment he shared with another Vietnam vet. I could feel the weight of loneliness and isolation surrounding him. In those moments, the gulf between us seemed impassable.
Somehow he found refuge in a Japanese sect based in Santa Monica. In its halls, pageantries of uniformed men and women marched and waved banners as others chorused together in chants. In his apartment he’d placed a long, thin scroll of Japanese calligraphy encased in a small wooden shrine on the wall. He knelt before it, rubbing a strand of dark beads between his palms, repeating a phrase in Japanese that he believed would save him, cleanse him, and make his life worth living.
I tried it once or twice, like when another, later boyfriend urged me to learn golf so we could play together, though I didn’t really want to. I knelt in my small, dim bedroom and slipped into a hypnotic state from the effort. I told David it didn’t work. We broke up under the pressure of his guilt and religious leaders, and my resistance to being included in his group of suited devotees.
The last time I saw David, he faced the shrine refusing to look at or speak to me until I knelt beside him. I did for a few long moments and then stood. I told him I didn't want to join his religion or to see him again. More quickly than I could have imagined he rose and knocked me to the ground. I remember him over me, his pant zipper down and then I blacked out.
We hadn’t been seeing each other even a year, and from that moment I became pregnant.
That April I drove down the San Diego freeway in my parents’ Volvo to my appointment. Turning onto the boulevards of West LA, I passed block after block of two story buildings in yellow, beige and pink stucco.
Stopping at the address I’d been given, at a building resembling those around it, I walked up the outdoor stairs to a small office and waiting room. Unlike the clinic I’d been to that had arranged the appointment with its waiting rooms crowded with women, mostly young, served by well-intentioned, harried counselors, I entered a room that was empty and quiet except for a shuffling of papers and the occasional roll of the receptionist’s chair from file cabinet to desk.
Sitting with a hand holding the other, eyes blinded with fear, I recalled that it was at one of them I’d once been escorted into a patient’s room and fitted with an IUD. It had been pushed into my uterus with too little warning, my blood pressure dropping drastically and my face and body breaking with sweat. I was to bleed deep and dark for days, doubled with severe cramps.
But here, the doctor was small and sandy haired with a trimmed beard and pale eyes. He spoke and moved assuredly as I lay on the sheeted table with the venetian blinds slanted nearly closed but allowing enough sun to pattern the beige carpet in light and shadow. Everything about the room, the walls, the carpet and furniture, the clothes of the people in it, the people themselves, were brightly neutral.
The doctor took my hand and held it, telling me what he was about to do and that it would happen quickly, painlessly. He smiled kindly and I believed his kindness. The sound of a machine that was against the wall opposite my feet hummed. A silent nurse stood by it. In a few moments, the procedure ended, the humming stopped, and its silence filled the room.