Monday, August 09, 2004

Baby Killer

This is a photograph that I took from the deck of my parents' house in Portland one day when I lucked out and the clouds were just right. Good afternoon boys and girls - today I want to tell you a story about a foolish sloth. As many of you will recall, I am a volunteer escort for Planned Parenthood. We get a gaggle of protesters every Saturday, sometimes more, sometimes less. The story begins with a few examples of the people who populate that particular piece of sidewalk every weekend... Ruth: For sheer volume, no one can compete with Ruth. She is an older woman with dyed brunette hair, bright red lipstick on thin, crinkled lips, a waifish figure, and a voice that could compete with a fog horn. She stands in the middle of the buffer zone (no, it is not enforceable), bible in hand, and hollers at the top of her lungs, "MOTHERS DON'T KILL THEIR CHILDREN!! MURDERERS KILL THEIR CHILDREN!!" Or, paradoxically, "YOU WILL BE A MOTHER FOREVER!! BUT YOU WILL BE THE MOTHER OF A DEAD BABY!!!!" Or, as if she would know, "WOMEN NEVER RECOVER FROM ABORTION!! YOU WILL BE A SAD EMPTY SHELL OF YOURSELF FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!!!!" Sometimes I want to say, "Actually I feel fine," but I'm not that stupid. The Nuns: These women (in full habits) come rushing at us in a swirl of black, like a great, dark blanket flapping in the wind, screaming "MOTHER!! MOTHER!! MOTHER!! Let us help you! We can help you, mother! What do you need? Just tell us what you need, mother!! You're a MOTHER - DON'T DO THIS, DON'T DO THIS!!!!" Rock For Life: The gang leader of this group is a kid who thinks he's punk rock and expresses that by having a green mohawk and a chain wallet. He also wears a shirt that says, "I Would Die Tonight For My Beliefs," which for some reason always cracks me up. They are all teenagers and they spend a lot of the time goofing off but they give me the creeps because they're the next generation of these people. Freak Family: This is two parents and a daughter who looks to be about 12 or 13 years old. She has long dark hair, a pixie face and precious freckles on her nose and cheeks. The parents shout at the patients while the daughter sits on the sidewalk and cries. For three hours. Does anyone comfort her? No. Does anyone touch her shoulder and try to wipe away her tears? No. What they do instead is stand a few feet away and watch this little girl as though she is Joan of Arc, sobbing for the dead babies in a state of martyrdom to rival the most pious saint. It's obvious that they would be thrilled if she suddenly started bleeding from her hands and feet. They whisper among themselves about her goodness and bravery to come and mourn for the dead babies. Obviously they missed the time she looked at me like Linda Blair and called me a bitch. Not very saintlike after all, hmm? Susan Collins: Wench. She's one of the worst. If she's not standing in front of us holding a poster of dead baby parts covered in blood or floating in formaldehyde, she's punching an escort in the stomach with an umbrella handle as she muscles between them and a patient. All of the other protesters are in awe of her because she wears Chanel suits and enormous fancy hats and she has run for office (like she would EVER win in Massachusetts). She knows she's smarter than the rest of them and it's obvious that she enjoys being the Queen Bee. She's the only one I'm actually sort of afraid of. Or she was. Until now. There are lots more people but you get the flavor. The last person I'll tell you about is a man who my friend R. calls the FBI Guy. The FBI guy doesn't yell at anyone or say anything. He doesn't even come near us. He stands under a tree in a suit and sunglasses, holding a rosary and praying quietly. He looks like he's on a stake-out. I've always kind of liked the FBI Guy, mostly because in contrast to the other protesters he's downright sweet. No elbowing, no shoving, no nasty names, no "they'll rip your bowels out in there," no threats, no nothing. He just stands under his tree and prays. Now, because I am a sloth and have a peculiar nature, I am always looking for a shred of humanity in everyone. It's hard to find, believe me, in any of the people who scream and stomp and spew vitriol in front of Planned Parenthood. But I crave it, you know? I want to see it. I want to have hope that they aren't ALL bad. And maybe because they are so angry and ignorant and aggressive, I had sort of come to appreciate the FBI Guy for being the antithesis of that. I thought, maybe he really just believes that abortion is murder and he comes to pray for the souls of the mothers and babies he thinks are going to Hell. Maybe he is just so concerned for their well-being that he comes here, stands under his tree, and prays his little heart out for their well-being. Maybe he's a good guy, you know? Maybe he's just trying to do what he thinks is right. Maybe I'm a fucking idiot. When the FBI guy showed up at the clinic this past Saturday, R. noted his arrival as he made his way to his shady spot and pulled a maroon rosary out of his pocket. I mentioned idly that I sort of like him in a he's-not-as-much-of-an-asshole-as-the-others kind of way. She just looked at me. What? What? I wanted to know. Do you not know why he stands under that tree? she asked me. No, I don't know anything, what do you mean? He stands under that tree, she said, because he is under a restraining order. He's not allowed within so many feet of the clinic because he did jail time in the south for his involvement in a clinic bombing. She couldn't remember which state. I don't know why I felt so sad right then. It was like this optimistic veil I was trying to lay over the world was in tatters. Everything was crooked and cracked and I just felt so stupid and defeated. Hollow. Naive. At that moment I turned my head to look at him. He was looking right back at me and for the first time in all the years I've worked there, he pulled a camera out of his pocket and put it to his eye. We stood facing each other and I waved as he took my picture. Posted by Hello