Last January, in the midst of my senior year of high school, I stumbled upon a box in my closet. See, my bedroom is a very large room in the basement of my house that has multiple closets, one used for storage. I was looking for costumes for the upcoming spirit week at my school and I found this odd box – it had music notes on it, and it was the type of box people would have used to keep records in, but it was full of paper. Newspaper articles, magazine clippings, notes, letters, poetry, lyrics – this was clearly a huge collection of things from around the time my mother was in high school. I was tempted to go upstairs and go through it with my mother, but I knew she was sleeping. I decided to look through it myself, not thinking anything of it – after all, my mother had shown me plenty of things from when she was younger, and it was in my bedroom. I found funny notes between my mother and her sisters, cute postcards, all such innocent, sweet things.
There were so many, so many letters. I didn’t read all of them. I skimmed some. Mostly silly stuff. This one letter stood out to me because the envelope was just lined paper that someone had folded into an envelope and written “I ran out of envelopes” on. Wow, someone was really desperate to send this letter, and they seemed to have a sense of humor.
The letter was dated the summer of 1975, the summer after my mom graduated high school. My mom was an older mom; she had my brother Eddie when she was 31, my brother Eric a few years later, and me when she was 38. And I had always thought that was the whole story. But reading that letter, the pre-existing truths of my world started to collapse. My heart began to pound in my chest as the vague language began to have implications for me. I kept thinking, “No, this is something else. This isn’t what I think it is,” as I read lines like, “I would have done the same thing if I were you.”
But my fears were confirmed as I read, “100 is not too bad for an abortion.”
I felt like I couldn’t breathe. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t have happened. My mother could never do that. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school and I had always just assumed my mother was pro-life. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized abortion was one topic my mother and I had simply never talked about. And it’s not like pro-life views had ever been shoved down my throat, but I had always been pro-life for as long as I understood the difference. It just seemed the idea was instilled in my being. Looking back now, I wonder why that was. Maybe I knew before I knew.
I didn’t know how to handle the situation and I was worried that if I so much as looked at my mother, it would slip out that I knew, so I dealt by leaving. I stayed at my friend’s house for the weekend. When I came home, I lasted not even a day before I broke down. I couldn’t just let this go. I started the conversation off calm, not wanting to sound judgmental, just wanting to talk. My mother would have none of it. She was completely closed off, wrote it off as, “Donna, that was 40 years ago,” and expected me to just drop it.
It was 40 years ago to her, but it was barely over 40 hours ago for me. Soon into the conversation the tears came. I have known people who have died, but never a close family member or anything. This was the most intense loss I’ve ever felt. I felt like I had been robbed of the life I was supposed to have. But then I realized I wouldn’t have had a life with this sibling. This sibling would have completely altered the events of my mother’s life. She even said to me, “If it hadn’t happened I probably never would have met your father and had you, Eddie, and Eric.”
Now on top of the grief, I was drowning in guilt. I was the result of unwilling sacrifice. If my oldest sibling had lived, I probably wouldn’t have. But it would have been natural. As a result of his (I think of him as a brother, though I don’t know the gender. I don’t know what it’s like to have a sister so I think my mind just jumps to brother) death, I was allowed to have life. But I would give up my life for him in a second.
A year has passed and I am still struggling. I love my mother and we still have a good relationship, but her refusal to talk about it (perhaps a defense mechanism) has left me feeling very unresolved.
My brother was going to change the world. I don’t mean the argument that people usually make – what if the doctor who cures cancer was aborted – though, who knows, maybe he was. What I mean is that he was going to change my world, and the world of so many others. He would have had a best friend. He would have fallen in love. He would have had siblings to love, probably not me, but perhaps others. He would have affected people. But he’s just… gone.
I am a writer (you can probably tell by how drawn out this is) and I have written quite a few poems about this loss. Here is the first one I wrote the night that I found out, called “Could Have Been”:
You could have been my protector,
My best friend.
You could have been my guiding light.
You might have
Held my hand.
You could have been someone special.
And I could have had your love.
But you never had the chance
To bring the world your gifts.
You never had the chance
To really, truly live.
You could have been twenty years kinder.
You would have had sights to see.
You could have been twenty years wiser.
But you’re only a baby to me.
Thank you for letting me share my story.