Why I march
On January 22, 1997, I boarded a bus with 50 other women and children. Once on board, my best friend and I sat next to each other for the short journey to Washington, D.C.
We ate blue Airheads, giggled the entire time, and talked mostly about boys. We called them “pusses” because they wouldn’t ask us out. We were a class of 28 at a Catholic school, and most of us had known each other since we were five years old. Even if they had asked us out, we wouldn’t have known what to do. So instead we imagined what we didn’t know, and talked and laughed.
The trip was led by a group called SABA, which stood for our school’s “Blue Angels.” I was failing religion class and joined the SABAs for extra credit. Every Monday after school, the group went to church and said the rosary. The actual act of saying the rosary was awful: the kneeling, the repetition, which seemed to go on forever. I went not knowing what or who I was praying to, what or who I was yet, what or who I believed in.
The trip was a way for my friend and me to get out of school for a day, wear clothes from Pacific Sunwear, and see something new. But when we got off the bus, everything changed. I felt my innocence leave me that day as I began to grasp what it meant to be a woman.
I didn’t know what being pro-life was — or, more importantly, what the opposite meant: to be pro-choice. As impressionable girls, we were taught the narrative that those who believe in abortion are evil. The women who needed to have abortions killed babies and deserved nothing good in their lives. They didn’t teach us what sex or contraception or procreation were, but they wanted us to believe that. This was, after all, a school that taught children there was a god who was born from nothing.
I didn’t feel influenced by that narrative, though. I really had no opinion — up until the point that I stood on the lawn of the National Mall and my 13-year-old eyes saw vitriol spewed by my fellow Americans and Catholics. They were holding hateful signs that depicted images of medical procedures meant to embarrass all women.
I had just gotten my first period three weeks prior to traveling to D.C. Looking at my diary entries from that time, it’s clear I was confused. I probably knew deep down that everything would change, that being a woman was no small feat. But in 1997, everything felt momentous, especially this march — the act of getting off that bus and seeing those signs, the hatred of those who held them as well as their fear.
After that day, any faith that I had was abolished. I stopped going to SABA. I failed religion class. I stopped going to church, and even though I continued on to attend a Catholic high school, I never once took confession or communion ever again. I understood that I had to personally decide what I believed in, and I stood by my convictions.
Five and a half years later, I woke up naked in my bed next to my best friend in my summer beach house rental. I didn’t know how I got there and he wouldn’t even look at me or talk to me. I had a massive headache, and when I lifted my hand to my head, I realized my thick black hair was wet with blood. I stumbled out into the sunny living room, in my ratty Grateful Dead T-shirt and a pair of black satin underwear that I had found on the floor. My three best girl friends were sitting there, looking pretty tepid themselves.
“You’re bleeding,” they said. They laughed.
I think something happened last night. I’m hurt. And Tim won’t even say anything. We haven’t hooked up in months. Did something happen? Did I do something? Was I stupid?
My friend then told me that she had heard us having sex. She had been in the bed next to mine. And heard me say “No, get off.” She thought it was funny. I was a virgin.
I didn’t even remember talking to him that night. I was with my old high school crush, flirting and playing beer pong. Someone took a video of me playing guitar stupidly and drunkenly in my teenage glory.
My last memory of that night was my crush kissing me as he left. I wasn’t pushed into a dorm room, as I had been too many times over the past nine months by some guy who wanted a blow job. The kiss was great enough and I believed that my college self was better than my meek high school self. Sure, we were drinking heavily … but now aside from the crushing migraine I was experiencing, I had a pit of emptiness that took over and remained.
I was angry and dismayed by all of it. My friends got his credit card, not knowing what a trip to the local beach clinic would cost, if anything. We had no idea what we were doing. We were 19. I asked for the “abortion pill.” The doctor laughed at me; he told me he couldn't help and to take some aspirin. I'll never forget being in the car on the way home and my friend turning to me and saying "Don't worry, Tim told me he didn't think he came."
A few weeks later, I didn’t tell anyone but I went back to another clinic — a Planned Parenthood. I felt shame as I sat in the waiting room trying to determine what my best next step was, but then slowly liberation and self-acceptance took over. I didn’t know what was on the other side of the waiting room, but I knew definitively, for my future and myself, that my body was my own, and no one would ever make me feel otherwise again. I was naïve, but determined.
On January 21, 2017, almost 20 years to the day since I was marching for something completely different, I got on a train by myself and I held onto a sign that read “women’s rights are human rights.”
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