She is a freshman, and I am a senior. I have a car, so she asks me to drive her to Planned Parenthood. “I think I might be pregnant.” For half the year, she sits across from me, diagonally, at the huge table in art class. She’s cute—a short, spunky, blonde 14 year old who clearly likes boys and parties. She chews gum and has braces. She talks about the boyfriend, but I never meet him.
“You mean during school?” I ask.
“Yeah. I’ve already talked to the school counselor, and our absences will be excused.”
I’m shocked. I didn’t know that was possible. She doesn’t even seem scared. I agree to take her.
The next day, we meet at the school office at the agreed time. We get passes from a lady who apparently keeps attendance records. I have never seen her before. She doesn’t smile. I can’t tell if she is annoyed or concerned. She tells us that this will not be on record and our parents will not know.
We walk out of the stuffy high school halls into the California sun. It’s 1992, and life still feels safe. We get in my 1986 Nissan and drive down to the city. It’s a quiet 20 minute ride. The only reason I agreed to this, I think to myself, is to try to talk her out of an abortion if she’s pregnant. But I am tongue-tied. I don’t know what to say. The radio buzzes faintly. I am too nervous to turn it up. I ask her what she will do if she is pregnant. She mentions abortion. I ask if she knows how those work. She doesn’t. I tell her what I know about abortion procedures. Maybe knowing will keep her from this choice, I think. Silently, I pray.
We find the building. We agree that I will wait in the car while she goes inside. (I wish I had gone inside. I wish I had been with her the whole time.) She jumps out of the car and walks in. I think about what I might say if she is pregnant, if she’s not. I think about the class I’m missing and watch the clock. I have my own turmoil of life, moving to a new school for my senior year. Few friends. Family troubles. I can’t believe I’m doing this. I think about what her life at home is like—her mom is single and has a boyfriend. I don’t know much more than that. She seems popular. Why did she ask me to take her? Doesn’t she have other friends with cars? Did she not want them to know? The radio still buzzes.
She comes back to the car and bounces in. Not pregnant. She seems relieved, but not really any different than she seemed going in. Has she done this before? I don’t remember our conversation afterward, just the rush to get back to school.
As often happens in the weird culture of high school, our two lives went on. She changed classes, and I didn’t see her in art class again. Occasionally, we would see each other in the hallways. Our eyes would meet, then a smile and hi, and we’d walk on. After graduating, I never saw her again.
Twenty years later, and I think how differently I would respond to her. But I was 17 and she was 14, and maybe it happened just as is it was supposed to happen. Sometimes I still pray.