Authors: Joy DeKok
“Please give me rest,” I begged.
“Joni?” Ben’s deep voice reached into my sleep. “Honey, it’s noon. Are you hungry?”
“Do I smell pizza or am I dreaming?”
“I picked up your favorite on the way home—beef with green olives and extra cheese.”
“What’s up? You don’t usually come home for lunch. If I’d known, I could have fixed us something.”
“Natalie e-mailed me at the office and told me about your discussion. I tried to call, but you didn’t answer. I thought you might have gone for a walk.”
I threw back the comforter and stomped downstairs, not bothering to straighten up the bed. Slamming paper plates and napkins on the table, I said, “I cannot talk to you about your sister right now. What do you want to drink?”
Watching the cola foam over the ice, I felt Ben’s arms reach around my waist from behind.
“Honey, I not only brought you food, I bring you my love. We made a very personal decision after a lot of prayer and soul searching. We knew not everyone would understand. Remember? The most important thing is we know we are doing what’s right for us. We made a choice we can live with.”
I turned and rested my head on his shoulder. His words washed over me like a healing balm.
He continued, “I’m offended too. Natalie said things no one has a right to, but in ignorance. She can’t understand because we’re different than what she defines as normal. Our struggle frightens her—she can’t wrap her head around it. Her biggest personal fear right now is of getting pregnant again. And she may be a little threatened by your relationship with the boys. They adore you.
“I don’t expect you to talk to her if you don’t want to. I made sure she’s very aware that when she hurts you she hurts me. I love my sister, and I know she reacts to fear by getting angry, but you and I can’t control her response to our choice or let her cruel comments steal our peace.”
“People will think you should have married someone else—a woman who could give you sons and daughters.”
Holding me away from him and looking into my eyes, Ben said, “Don’t you think I fear the same thing? We didn’t get conclusive answers, so I wonder if there’s something wrong with me—some genetic flaw. I hate the thought. Then I pray it is me so you don’t carry any guilt or shame. I sometimes wonder if you’d be happier with another man—one who could give you the children you long for.”
“No! You are the love of my life. The man God blessed me with. Please know that our marriage is His greatest gift to me after my salvation.”
“I feel the same way about you. And I promise to chase the doubts away when they sneak in and threaten my joy. Will you do the same?”
“I’m glad I get to be your wife,” I murmured into his shoulder.
I heard his stomach grumble. His lips moved against my air, and I could tell he was smiling.
“Me too. But, sweetheart, I’m hungry.”
I giggled and served the pizza. It tasted good. I watched Ben eat and drink with enthusiasm as he does all things. He smiled at me over his fourth piece of Italian pie.
I knew I was blessed. My body no longer shook in anger. Now my insides quivered with desire.
“I have to get back to work. Will you be all right?” Ben asked.
I tried to calm my passion but promised myself,
Later he is so mine!
Out loud I said, “Yes. I’ll clean up here and get some writing done.”
As I did our lunch dishes by stuffing them in the wastebasket, the doorbell rang. My mind raced when I looked through the window and saw her face, still beautiful, but marred by a flood of tears. She turned to leave.
“Stacie! Please come in!” I cried yanking the door open. I grabbed her arm and pulled her into the house, kicking the door shut.
She sobbed. “I made a mistake. I don’t want to be here.”
“Why did you come?”
A sudden fire ignited deep emerald flecks in her eyes. “How could you? What kind of person are you? Who gave you the right to push your beliefs in my face?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The magazine article . . . and now my husband left me.”
Her knees gave way and she melted to the floor. Kneeling beside her, I took her into my arms and felt her lean in as though the strength had left her.
“I know why I came here but I don’t know what I’m doing here. Everything is so different now.”
“You are always welcome in my home.” I knew it was the right answer.
“I had the abortion. Am I still welcome?”
Her words jangled my nerves. I held her away from me for a moment and saw her eyes flash a challenge.
My soul cried out,
Yet I heard my voice say, “You are still welcome. I didn’t give you the magazine to torment you. I hoped it might change your mind before you went through with the abortion. I don’t know how to help you, but I’m going to pray for both of us right now.
“Dear Father, we are confused and hurting. Our hearts are filled with grieving and at this moment, we are both childless . . .”
Still tucked in but not able to sleep, I practiced out loud what I’d say to Mike when he got home. I now realized that he wasn’t going to like that I had made this decision without him. Refusing to panic, I focused on the lessons from my mother. She taught me that abortion was a simple removal of tissue—nothing more or less. A woman’s right to choose belonged to her and no one else.
I asked aloud, “With such a strong mother, how did I get to be such a wimp?”
My brain refused to think anymore. I had no energy left. I welcomed the opportunity to shut down and surrendered as sleep overtook me.
“Mike!” I levered myself up on my elbows. “Are you home or am I dreaming?”
He set down his suitcase. “I’m here. What’s wrong?”
“I’m not feeling good.”
“No . . . not exactly.”
I watched his eyebrows rise as he bent over me, concern in his eyes.
“Your cheeks are flushed. Do you have a fever?”
“I’m fine. I . . . I just had an abortion.”
I waited for him to hold me close. Instead, he stiffened and pulled away.
I sat up. His terse response sent tingles of shock through my body.
“Yesterday, I think.” I brushed my tangled hair out of my face. “Yeah. Friday. Since you’re home, I guess I slept all night and most of today.”
“Why didn’t you wait to talk this over with me?” he asked coldly.
I shrugged, defiance—and fear—washing over me. “I made a reproductive decision. It’s no big deal. We aren’t ready for a family. There are so many things we want to do before we’re committed to caring for children and investing in their future. Besides, it’s my body and my choice!”
My voice trembled, and I felt breathless. The reasonable discussion I’d hoped we’d have never got started. I felt something in our marriage alter as though my life spiraled out of control with the speed of a tornado, leaving piles of emotional debris in its wake.
Mike’s mouth tightened. “You said you’re not feeling good?”
“I had to go to the emergency room.”
“How serious was it?”
“I bled a little. I need some extra rest is all.”
I could feel him studying me, but I couldn’t meet is eyes. Instead I picked at the quilt.
“Did you consider all the risks?” he asked at last.
I bristled. “Risks? It’s a simple procedure.”
“What about the possibility of infertility and the increased risk of breast cancer?”
“When did you start listening to that anti-abortion propaganda?”
“Those are facts,” he shot back. “Because of the increase in malpractice suits, many doctors are no longer willing to perform abortions.”
My body rigid, I snapped, “So! You’re one of
Hands in his pockets, he paced the room. “I don’t know what I am. Confused for sure. You didn’t tell me you were pregnant, and now out of the blue you tell me you had an abortion as if it didn’t involve me. It’s your body, but it was my child too—our child. I feel left out of one of the most important choices you will ever make. Marriage is a partnership, and for it to succeed we need to make decisions together.
“I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well. I’m even more sorry you didn’t trust me enough to share this with me.”
“A partnership. Just like your parents right?”
“Yeah. They talk. About everything. They make decisions together, and they trust each other. I know you see them as old-fashioned—even laughable. But they are solid, and their marriage is vital.”
He paused and pushed his hands through his thick sepia brown hair, keeping his eyes focused on the floor. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
“I’m fine. Where are you going?”
I watched him pick up his suitcase and go to the door. Fear skipped across my insides, and my hands clenched.
“You need your clothes at the office?”
He still refused to meet my eyes. “I need time to think. Until this moment I had no idea I felt this way about abortion. Other than seeing what your dad’s gone through for years, I had no clue a man could feel so left out of his wife’s life.”
I let my growing panic dissolve into anger. “Leave my parents out of this.”
“Like you left me out of your decision?”
“I made the right choice for me.”
“What about us?”
“How can there be an ‘us’ if you run away?”
This time his eyes met mine. Anger and mistrust mingled with something even more frightening—hurt.
“I’ll get a hotel room and call you later. You have my cell phone number if you need anything.”
My heart pounded so loud I didn’t hear the front door close. I shouted to an empty room, “Who are you to judge me?”
For the next two days, anger propelled me. Nights with Mike gone bothered me more than I expected. He sent an e-mail letting me know where he was staying, asking me to call if I needed him. Instead, I sat by the phone waiting for him to call admitting he was wrong and asking when he could come back to me.
The phone didn’t ring.
Monday morning I planned to work at home. I pulled the research briefs from my purse and a magazine fell to the floor. The address label read Ben Johnson. The woman who sat beside me at the clinic had given me this.
I poured a cup of coffee and stood at the kitchen counter thumbing through the colorful pages. There wasn’t anything but old news until I saw the picture.
Out of an incision in a woman’s belly a baby’s minute hand rested on a surgeon’s gloved hand. Pain stabbed the tips of my fingers and toes. I slumped on a stool and read the article.
An ultrasound and tests had shown the presence of a birth defect in the baby, which the doctor attempted to correct in vitro. Anesthetized with his mother, he could not reach out to touch the doctor, so the doctor gently reached in and brought out his hand for the photographer.
Five perfect fingers branded themselves on my brain.
A longing for the fetus now gone flooded my body and soul. I threw the magazine across the room and raged, “How dare she? Who does she think she is anyway? These anti-abortionists will use anything to get in our way. Abortion is legal! It is my right to choose! Just my luck to meet up with a radical, right-wing fanatic.”
Fury turned to cold malice. For the next few seconds I found some creative verbal ways to condemn all religious know-it-alls who didn’t know anything. I had marched against them with my mother as a little girl outside the White House and met the national leaders of the pro-choice movement.
I decided to face this woman in person and let her know that her prejudice and judgment were not welcome in my life. I tore the label off the magazine and grabbed my purse.
Every light between my house and hers turned red, making my mood even worse. I pounded the steering wheel and exceeded the speed limit. I didn’t realize I was crying until I punched her doorbell button. Embarrassed by my tears, I turned away, wondering if I’d completely lost my mind.
Her hands gently pulled me in and my rage again found its voice. I don’t remember all I said, but I felt the words leave my mouth like bullets intended to inflict maximum injury. I wanted to wound her; to smear my anguish all over her.
I believed I was slinging the ultimate challenge at her. Her rejection would prove I was right about her kind.
Her welcome startled me. So did her next move. The truth cleared my mind as she prayed, “Dear Lord, our hearts are filled with grieving and at this moment, we are both childless . . .”
My childlessness became real.
Stacie’s sobbing slowed to gulps. On her gray sweatshirt I saw a damp circle of my tears. On my shoulder a wet spot cooled the skin under my blouse.
“Let me get a box of tissues,” I said.
Walking into the kitchen, I felt butterflies dance in my stomach.
What’s up here?
We blew our noses, and then just looked at each other. It’s funny the details you notice in a moment of silence. She’d rolled up the sleeves of her huge sweatshirt, and I watched her yank up her oversized jeans. It looked like she’d lost weight in the few days since we first met.
Without makeup, her eyes and nose red, her hair uncombed, she still looked beautiful. She stuffed the used tissue into her pocket, and I noticed her hands. It looked like she’d picked the polish off her fingernails.
“Now what?” she asked.
“Would you like a tour of the house?” My offer surprised me. I was even more surprised when she accepted.
Moving was better than standing and staring at each other. When we walked through the living room and into the dining room, she stopped in front of my new shadow box.