What It Was Like by Catherine Klatzker
published in Split This Rock
2016, 2nd Prize in their Abortion Rights Poetry Contest
The world was always a place of silence, of congenital shame—even before those days in 1967, four years before you met your love. Your strength grew belatedly, fertilized as it was in the
knowledge that you were nothing. Your life did not matter to anyone, except to hurt you.
Every time you awake in your hospital bed
men in white say, What did you do? Tell us what you did! Did you try to abort? Every time for five hemorrhaging days, you say you
didn’t do anything. I did nothing, you protest. You deny the criminal abortion. A policeman
stands guard at your door. Surreal. Angry doctors shout at you, demand your statement of guilt. You are bleeding out in a Sacramento public hospital. Transfusions of living blood
finally drip into your veins, saving you for the confession they expect, to have you arrested.
Don’t tell. Never tell. The fallback admonition learned in your father’s house—now useful again. Dime-sized white tissue passes, and a D&C can be done. An angry medical resident scrapes
your uterus, no medication: You don’t deserve meds. You agree. You are nothing. You feel nothing.
You go into the wall. Surreal. Voices and images of other women and girls billow from the walls around you and you know them, their voices
are your own, sharing something you cannot
name, and you claim them: your witnesses, your delusions. Thirty years later, in the nineties, you blurt out to your partner that I almost died one time, from a criminal abortion. Watchful, you study his face for the disappointment you expect, the judgment, just like the men in white, that you are
the lowest of the low, not worth the life of a zygote. The silence between you stalls and ripens. His voice
chokes when he at last speaks, You must have been so alone, he says, and you wish you had known him then—impossible, but all the same. He has always seen you. His innocence didn’t need your
protection. You didn’t need your old shame. It is safe to stand up and speak.