It's a shame
I am going to hell, because I think heaven can use someone like me. Heaven can definitely do with a little lightening up, I say. But, according to the pallid people in long sleeves who handed out pamphlets on the beach where I grew up, hell is where I'm headed.
And, I swear, I was just following my mother. She'd position herself in front of me with her arm out like a traffic cop every time the religious-pamphlet people came toward us. "Stay back," she'd hiss, "this is my daughter."
She announced that last part like it was some kind of universal call for propriety, and it worked. They stayed back, their pamphlets quivering in their pasty palms. But often they hollered at us as we passed: "You're both going straight to hell. Did you know that?"
I didn't think it was very fair that I should have to go to hell, too, but this was my mother here, and I couldn't go taking pamphlets from people she just finished hissing at. From the little I knew about hell, it sounded super uncomfortable. To avoid going there, I certainly would have accepted a pamphlet -- even after the awful Roe v. Wade incident in Washington, D.C., the year before, when I accidentally accepted a pamphlet advocating legal abortions. My father snatched it out of my hand and slapped the shit out of me with it right there on the steps to the Lincoln Monument.
I didn't think that was very fair, either. I did not even know what an abortion was, so of course I had to look it up when I got home. And the only definition our dictionary offered was "of or pertaining to the act of stopping suddenly" or something like that. So I wondered why I got the crap slapped out of me because of a paper promoting the act of stopping suddenly, because what the hell is wrong with stopping suddenly? My own mother had done it in the car earlier that day. I practically still had a bruise from that braking-mom maneuver of hers in which she slung her arm out and slammed it against me in order to keep my un-seatbelted ass from doing a face plant into the dashboard. So I figured I learned a new word if nothing else, and then I got the crap kicked out of me all over again when my father found out I'd been telling people my mother had an abortion in the car.
And still nobody explained to me what was so bad about abortions. I had to find out for myself at the Del Mar Fair, where an anti-abortion group rented a booth and displayed a succession of plastic pink fetuses. They were arranged in ascending order according to age and size, and a fetus at four weeks looked like a pollywog to me, and I wondered why anyone would want one inside them.
My Life Sciences teacher had taught us about tapeworms the week before, and I wanted to know the difference between a fetus and a tapeworm. I mean, they both feed off you, don't they? And we kill tapeworms, don't we? In fact, I was pretty sure I even had a tapeworm living in me right then, as I always affected the symptoms of the disease of the week from my Life Sciences class. Earlier my teacher had taught us about arteriosclerosis and held up a big picture of a bisected clogged artery and told us the coroner could take this dead man's veins and snap them in half like raw spaghetti. After that I went a whole week without eating my customary truckload of Halloween candy for breakfast before someone finally informed me that candy doesn't contain a lot of cholesterol.
But tapeworms -- now that's a whole different story. I was in the process of wondering if tapeworms were such bad things after all, since I was such a failure at being a bulimic. (I swear, you had to get up from the table right after you ate every single time in order to have a successful hurling. Otherwise, if you waited too long your stomach, which is your enemy, went on and digested everything.) I just couldn't muster the commitment it took, so it seemed to me a tapeworm was the ideal solution. All you had to do was sit there and let it leach up all your vitamins and minerals, and before you know it you're emaciated and on the cover of Cosmopolitan.
So I asked the man at the booth to explain the difference between a fetus and a tapeworm, and he told me people who have tapeworms go to the doctor, and people who have abortions go to hell. He was about to hand me a pamphlet when my mother jumped in and did the braking-mom maneuver right there, and we weren't even in a car. "Stay back," she hissed at the man, "this is my daughter."
So of course I was really embarrassed, because there I was, having been put to a sudden stop, which means my mother just gave me an abortion right there in front of the anti-abortion guy. And here I was hell-bound because of it. I was pretty upset until my mother said to me what she always said when I was worried about hell. "Jesus Christ, Hollis," she rolled her eyes, indicating the whey-faced man at the booth, "what bigger hell is there than a heaven full of people like that?" u