Back-story: The following letter is written to a real friend of mine who I met in Atlanta three years ago. In 2008, I received a phone call that a woman was en route from five states away and was desperate to find anyone to be her “driver”, aka she needed someone to pick her up from and take her back to the clinic for her 2-day abortion procedure. This was the last week that she could legally obtain an abortion. Little did I know when I agreed to this that she would help me as much as I helped her, and we would form a unique relationship that endures today.
I just finished reading Linda Lovelace’s autobiography, “Ordeal”. Linda was the star of the infamous Deep Throat, which was considered scandalous for its time and featured the plotline of a woman who had a clitoris in her throat so giving head provided her with immense pleasure (as if, ugh). I have never actually watched Deep Throat, and after reading Linda’s autobiography I certainly never will. Linda details how she was forced to do the film by her abusive husband and raped repeatedly during the filming and forced to “service” many of the people involved with the production. Linda spent four years with this husband who essentially kidnapped her and forced her to be prostituted for his benefit (financial and psychological). She details in her book many examples of verbal, mental, physical, and financial abuse she suffered while trapped with this man. Abuse is the only way to describe what happened to her while with his man. Nothing else.
When I think about women I know in abusive relationships so many people come to mind. Some have varying degrees that they endure and it is often really hard for me as an outsider to make a judgment or to know exactly how bad things are. With physical abuse there are bruises and cuts and burns and attempts to cover up with makeup and scarves. With verbal and emotional abuse it can be so hidden yet so intensely damaging. I think about you and I think about me, because with both of us, at the point in our lives when we met, we both so desperately needed to leave people who were emotionally and verbally abusive. I still struggle to type the words, and even still doubt them. I have no physical scars or markers, only my memory and my confidence in how I experienced things.
I don’t remember when you started to open up to me about your abusive boyfriend, the person who you had gotten pregnant with. Was it at the clinic the first afternoon we met? Was it that night as we shared dinner over two steaming bowls of Pho? Was it months later over email, where you shared with me your emotions around your abortion? In the many emails we exchanged after we met, the topic of your abusive boyfriend came up. You knew that as long as you were with him you should not and could not bring a child into the situation. You knew that you needed to leave him before you could be the best mother you wanted to be. You knew that you had to prioritize yourself and grow strong enough to leave him before you could add a child to the mix. Having a child would have tied you to him forever. So you had the abortion, and he made you feel bad about it, which was just more evidence of his manipulation and emotional abuse.
I never equated my situation with yours. I was never faced with the added pressure of an unplanned pregnancy that would complicate my messed up and unhealthy relationship. Yet, the words you spoke about how he treated you felt like my own. I did not tell many people about the depths of what I was going through, just like you did not tell anyone about your own abuse and about the abortion. I was in major denial, and was living in a fantasy world where I hoped things would change. However, every time I heard from you and found myself giving you advice, I knew I had to stop being hypocritical and heed my own words.
Three years later and where are the two of us? I moved away from the city where memories of the emotional scars still haunt me. You left him and are making your way on your own. It is hard to tell over email how someone is really doing, but I trust your words. We reunited this summer when I traveled to your city and, while it was only the 2nd time we were together, I saw a light shining in you that was clearly absent that weekend back in Atlanta. I have seen so much strength in you over the years, first with the decision to have the abortion and then to leave him and finally to make solid steps to move on with your life. It took me living in a new place to truly rid myself of the damage I incurred. I think we both have grown immensely in these years and know what we deserve for the future. And if I ever forget you better remind me.
So to you I say thanks, and I’m always here for you.
Love, Vegan Vagina**
*not her real name
**not my real name