Someone to Listen

“No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body.”
― Margaret Sanger

“It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”
― Mother Theresa of Calcutta

I met her as a sixteen-year-old. Nothing about her stood out. I never say anyone is a “typical” this or that because I am wary of stereotypes, but she was what I would have expected a child her age to be. Average student; average physique; average ambition (in the sense that she had no idea of what she wanted to study, or where she would like to travel, or what the future held for her). I took care of her mom and her grandma. All of them lived in the same household. Mom had divorced from a hard-drinking man who mistreated her; grandma was a widow. There were no siblings.

Both mother and grandmother felt that it was time for Megan to leave her pediatrician. She had just started to date a young man, maybe a bit old and worldly for her age and level of experience, and they wanted me to discuss “life” with Megan. In retrospect, I think they thought that I might become a bit of a surrogate father for her.

The interview and the exam went well. Megan felt that she was not ready for contraception, but she took a gynecologist’s name in case that she changed her mind. Over the next three years I saw her very sporadically for minor ailments and routine checks. She graduated high school, took a few courses in community college, and decided that she would join the work force. She found a job as a teller at a local bank. The relationship with her boyfriend progressed, and at the age of 20 she decided to get married. Most of these pieces of information I got from her family. Mom and grandma repeatedly told me how mature she had become, and how much the bank supervisors liked her. Two years after her wedding she scheduled a visit. I seldom get to see healthy young women in the office, so I looked forward to her appointment. I was pleasantly surprised. Megan had matured indeed: by leaps and bounds. She was dressed in a sharp business suit. Her hair was expertly arranged. She no longer answered my questions about her future with silence or vague responses. She looked like a sharp, articulate young executive. She had fallen under the tutelage of the branch president. He had taken the time to mentor and encourage her. He had found a Megan that not even Megan knew existed. I was thrilled.

After we spent a few minutes catching up I asked her why she had come in.”

I want to have an abortion,” she said. “I wonder if you can give me the name of someone responsible that can do it.”

I was shocked. We had not discussed her marriage. Her face was determined; serious; even a bit hard. None of the tears and doubt that I would have expected from the “old” Megan.

Can we talk about this?”

I have my mind made up. My husband likes to go out with his friends. Five nights a week. They drink a lot. Last week he came home so drunk that he urinated on the flower pot. He thought it was the toilet.”

Her lips quivered a bit. Her right hand slapped at her thighs.”

I grew up with a drunk father. No way that I’m bringing a child into this world under the same circumstances. No way.” I saw a hint of one tear. Just one.

Her husband was not my patient. I knew very little about him. I felt that I did not know enough to discuss with Megan what was best for her.

OK if I talk to him? I can stay after hours tomorrow. I need to know how he feels about this before I can give you an opinion as to what is best for you.”

He does not know I’m pregnant.”

I was alarmed. I felt that maybe despite Megan’s newfound maturity she was reacting to an extremely uncomfortable situation. I did not know how much thought had gone into her decision. The fact that she wanted to hide this decision from her husband made it more likely that maybe she needed more time.

Megan agreed to talk her husband into coming to see me, on a social basis, late the next afternoon. I told my staff that they could leave after the last patient. Megan’s husband came into the exam room by himself.

Although he was five years older than Megan, he could have passed for her much younger brother. He was unshaven; he had a thick mop of hair that was unkempt. I told him that I was very fond of Megan and her family; that I wanted to get to know him better.

We began a casual conversation. He was a manual laborer. He must have been good at his job, because he worked fifty hours a week and was in demand for more. He gave me the appearance of an overgrown boy who needed someone to take care of him.

The conversation progressed. Within five minutes I knew that his father was an alcoholic; that his mother and siblings had been abused over the years; that he never finished high school. And that he worshipped Megan.

I saw an opportunity for an opening.

When you have a child, do you want him or her to grow up under the same circumstances that you were raised?

A look of surprise.”

Of course not!”

You drink an awful lot. Is your daughter or son going to grow up with a responsible father? One they can rely on at any time? A man who is never late; who will always be reliable?

He moved about in his chair. He moved his head from one side to the other.”

That’s not going to happen.”

Megan was here yesterday. Did you know that she is pregnant?

His eyes opened wide. Again, his head moved. No speech.

You need to be a husband; a father; a man. You cannot keep your current lifestyle up. You go out there; you talk to her; you need to reassure her that you will make it right for her.

He almost ran out of the room.

Megan decided to let the pregnancy proceed. She had a healthy baby girl. Her husband mended his ways, for a while at least. When construction was slow, his self-esteem suffered. At those times he began to drink heavily again. Megan, on the other hand, cultivated a string of steady promotions at her job. Her mentor talked the bank into paying for her to get additional formal education. He sent her to numerous seminars; he introduced her to many important higher-ups. As he rose in the hierarchy, he brought her along with him.

Megan filed for divorce. Eventually she married her mentor from work. He adopted Megan’s daughter. Her birth father made no effort to stop this move. Maybe he knew what would be best for his child.

Twenty years ago, I was at the mall when I ran into Megan’s grandma. After we talked for a while she told me that Megan and her daughter would be joining her soon. Within a few minutes a tall, beautiful, radiant sixteen-year-old girl walked around the corner. She waved at her great-grandmother and quickly walked over to hug her. Megan’s grandma introduced me to her.

I was overcome with joy. Maybe this is not an accurate description of how I felt. It was a combination of happiness; relief; excitement. As if I had been placed in a time capsule, and I could see what was happening sixteen years previously, and what I saw then, simultaneously, in real time. I had never had a similar feeling. I have not since.

The young woman extended her right hand. I hugged her. I was almost in tears. I am sure that, to this day, she wonders why her mom was so fond of this dirty old man.

I could have written down a name on a piece of paper when Megan asked for a referral. Something told me that I had to know more.

All it takes is a few minutes. When someone you care for seems to be in distress, turn off the television. Put down the newspaper or magazine. Smile; look them in the eye.

Talk to me.

At times we are so overwhelmed… No spare time; no money; no way that we can get our loved ones to reciprocate. There may be blue skies behind the storm clouds.

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  1. Maria Dolores Gonzalez

    Paco you are a priviledged soul, or a sage. In the classics there is a concept that is called “kairos”. I had a german professor that tought me the concept using german poems and latin verses. There is a time that is precise for fruition, as with the fruits, it happens to in human life too. That timing is regulated by the “goddess of the ocassion” as was known by the old myths of Greece/Rome, and needs to be plugged into a very broad context of existance. That is fruition. If you let it pass, or if timing is not precise, then it dies as flower that grow late, and winter kills them. But some others are resilient, because they either have the equipment to survive (the evergreens in winter), or they know how to die. The professor’s name is Manfred Kerkoff, and he published these essays in Revista La Torre, mainly.

    When I say I have a “lot a lot of experience in life” I have to confess a secret, most of it comes from reading the classics. Not my real experience. I really think that we share a friendship that is an evergreen. You have the “right” material to help others, and it is inbreaded in your nature, so I am. Sometimes people might misinterpret, but it is a secret language of “sages”.

  2. Ruben Silvestry

    Me alegra ver que eres el tipo de Dr a quien yo respeto. Tu hubieras sido perfecto para mi madre y probablemente ella te hubiera inspirado alguna historia. Que bueno que le sacas provecho a tus experiencias profesionales.