Engaged with the World

Tag: child

Fetus Frenzy and Abortion Angst – NSFL

The fact is that women have been trapped. Reproduction is used, consciously or not, as a means to control women, to limit their options and to make them subordinate to men. In many societies a serious approach to reproductive health has to have this perspective in mind. We must seek to liberate women.

Dr. Nafis Sadik
Executive Director, UN Population Fund

abortion Arkansas logoI am a woman in the Bible Belt. In my state, Arkansas, the most restrictive abortion law in the country just passed. The governor vetoed it yesterday, but I don’t expect that to stop it from becoming law. As I write this, the Senate has already overridden the veto, and the House is expected to do so. For some crazy reason, our state legislature can override a veto with a simply majority – the same as they passed it to begin with. Arkansas gives only lip service to separation of powers.

Last week our governor vetoed another extremely restrictive abortion bill, HB 1037, but the legislature overrode the veto in less than twenty-four hours. HB1037 is a more permissive bill than the one at issue today. It prohibited abortion for any reason after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergencies. However, the term “medical emergency” under this new act “does not include a condition based on a claim or diagnosis that a pregnant woman will engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death or in substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.” That’s right. If she were so psychologically distressed that she attempts suicide because she wants an abortion, allowing her to abort the fetus does not count as a life-saving measure. In making the decision to terminate the pregnancy, the law specifically prohibits considering psychological harm to the pregnant woman. Doctors who perform abortions anyway become felons under this law.

This law makes no exception for severe fetal anomalies, even if the fetus will never be born alive. It does make exceptions for rape and incest. It’s okay to kill “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth” – that’s how the act defines an unborn child – if it was conceived in reprehensible circumstances, because … why? Is that collection of cells “less human” than one conceived intentionally or negligently? This exception makes no sense, except if we accept that there is something morally wrong with forcing a woman to bear such a pregnancy to term.

And who makes the judgment call about when forcing a woman’s body into service is morally reprehensible? Not the woman herself. She is apparently incapable of that.

Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.

— 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo

HB1037 stops abortions at 20 weeks except for cases of rape or incest or to preserve the health of the mother. It ignores completely the fact that the first ultrasound is not done until about 20 weeks into the pregnancy. At 20 weeks, doctors often get their first clues that an “individual organism of the species homo sapiens” might not be viable, or might have horrific defects. At 20 weeks, testing of fetal anomalies may just be beginning, because that may be when they are discovered.

I have a pair of young friends. Six months ago they were faced with an awful diagnosis and a horrific choice. The husband wrote a letter that was posted on the Arkansas Blog. He sent it there at my suggestion. He and his wife wanted to get the word out, in as visceral a way as possible, that this 20-week abortion ban was wrong.

The day they told me they were pregnant, love and excitement shone in both their faces. They are in their late 20’s, comfortable in their careers – he’s a pilot in the Air Force and she’s a surgical nurse – and their relationship is strong and committed. They were over the moon with the knowledge that they would soon be parents for the first time.

A few days before hitting that 20-week mark, they went for the ultrasound appointment. This was when they would find out if the baby was a boy or a girl. Whether the nursery would be pink or blue. Whether they should prepare for a son or a daughter. The husband, K, described the appointment:

Within moments we were looking at our baby girl for the first time. Her name was Amelia.

Imagine how we felt when our ultrasound technician stopped smiling. … Even flying in combat over Iraq and Afghanistan, I had never fully understood the meaning of dread. Now I know, dread is what occupies the 15 minutes between an ultrasound and doctor’s return.

After a very long weekend, we were seen by a high risk specialist. Two new words were inked into our vocabulary: “encephalocele” and “holoprosencephaly.” Do not Google these terms; the results will break your heart. Of her numerous problems, these were the most serious. We had previously opted for every diagnostic test to ensure our baby’s health, and were one of the first couples in Arkansas to try a new screening of our baby’s chromosomes in blood taken from the mother. We had gotten a false negative. Amelia would not survive to term.

“Devastated” does not begin to describe their reaction to the news. Both K and his wife, A, have talked to me at length about that awful day, and the awful days that followed. Despite what K said in his open letter, I do think it is important to Google terms like “encephalocele” and “holoproencephaly.”

Encephalocele 2 encephalocele 1Encephalocele is a neural tube defect. After heart defects, neural tube defects are the most common congenital abnormalities. A common neural tube defect is spina bifida. Many children with spina bifida can survive, though. Those with large encephalocele cannot, because their brains protrude through a skull defect of the skull, usually in the back of the head. The protruding part of the brain is destroyed because of mechanical disruption of the tissue – it is not where it needs to be – and a restriction of blood flow to the protruding area of the tissue. Brain tissue around the defect is also malformed and disrupted. Large occipital encephaloceles are always fatal because of inevitable damage of the brainstem.

The embryonic forebrain fails to develop into two separate hemispheres in holoprosencephaly. Like with encephalocele, holoprosencephaly can be very mild, such as with a cleft lip and palate, or it can be so severe as to result in the facial features being seriously disorganized, the brain fails to develop, and brain function is severely compromised. Severe holoprosencephaly causes cyclopia – the fetus appears to have only one eye, usually where the nose would be in a normal fetus and instead of a nose, a tubular growth extends from the forehead. Even malformations that are not this severe result in miscarriage or stillbirth. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, most cases of holoprosencephaly cause malformations so severe that fetuses die before birth.


Various Degrees of Holoprosencephaly

Amelia’s holoprocencephaly was not the most severe, but it was severe enough that the doctors did not expect her to be born alive. If she did make it out of the womb, she would likely live only hours, if that long. With a “reasonable degree of medical certainty,” as we say in the legal arenas, Amelia would never see the light of day. Her parents would never hold her, and if they did she would never know it.

My friend A, who was pregnant with Amelia, is a surgical nurse. She knew exactly how grim this prognosis was. From K’s letter:

Regardless, I cannot adequately describe our grief, fear, and anger, or the agony of days spent on hold with insurance companies and hospitals.

The genetic counselors in the high risk pregnancy center were patient and understanding, but the situation was bleak. We could allow the baby to die naturally, but my wife could feel the tiny baby kicking and that constant reminder would be emotionally unbearable.

“Emotionally unbearable.” What an understatement. Pregnant women are emotionally labile anyway, but knowing that instead of decorating a nursery she was waiting for a miscarriage that might not happen for months would emotionally cripple most women. Instead of decorating a nursery, K and A would be in a macabre waiting game with nature. But in the meantime, A felt the baby kick and turn. She described to me feeling the baby move inside her in the days after the ultrasound, as she and K waited to see the specialist. With every flutter inside her womb, she cried. K could not bear to bring himself to touch A’s swelling abdomen, even though they had spent hours feeling Amelia move in the weeks prior. His emotional response exacerbated hers. If this pregnancy continued for another five and a half months, K and A would suffer incredible emotional harm. It hurts me to contemplate the potential damage to their marriage – I really love this young couple.

The doctors did not tell them what decision to make, but they knew they had only one reasonable option: terminate the pregnancy. Or, to use the hot-button term in vogue, a second trimester abortion.

Again, K’s words:

We returned to the specialist center later and sat down in front of the ultrasound for the last time. The doctor placed a needle through my wife’s uterus to the baby’s heart, which stopped immediately. Two weeks later, our stillborn baby was delivered in a quiet delivery room. She weighed eight ounces, much smaller than I expected.

The two weeks between that last ultrasound and the stillbirth were two very long weeks, when A knew that Amelia was gone, but still with them. Her belly was still swollen, but the baby no longer  fluttered inside her. She didn’t stop crying as she waited for the miscarriage to begin. Neither did K. They still haven’t stopped crying, but not because of their decision to terminate the pregnancy – they know they did the most reasonable and humane thing for themselves and for Amelia. They grieve for the child that they had hoped would be their daughter. But, they haven’t stopped crying in part because of the pariahs they are made out to be for taking the best action available to them, considering the prognosis and the totality of their circumstances.

Many family friends and coworkers have since come forward with their own stories of abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths. We had never suspected. As one mentor put it to me, I had joined a secret fraternity of parents who had lost a baby.

The Arkansas legislature refreshed K and A’s pain beginning in January with its focus on abortion. The wounds from losing the child they had hoped for are still fresh. They do not regret their decision, but they are very angry. Had this pregnancy happened in 2013 instead of 2012, they and their doctors would be criminally penalized for doing what they believed best in a terrible situation.

As K has said, the 20-week cut-off is arbitrary and wrong.

Our first ultrasound happened at nineteen weeks, as is the case within most pregnancies. It is usually the first opportunity for doctors to diagnose serious problems. By the time we were seen by a specialist, we were past twenty weeks. Recently a coworker came to my wife in tears, sharing her story for the first time. Her own ultrasound had revealed her baby’s fatal kidney failure and she faced the same gut-wrenching decision.

The Arkansas legislation establishes criminality at the very moment when parents and their doctors have to face painful reality. The bill is a product of ignorance and insensitivity to the suffering of parents and their unborn children. This legislation demands that grieving mothers carry their baby as long as possible, without exception. It declares that politicians know better than medical experts in every situation, even ours. This is not an argument about unwanted children. It is about the right of parents and their doctors to make educated and moral decisions with all the facts, not with a calendar.

The debate about abortion is personal for us. We wanted our child.

HB1037 ignores the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey which, because of technological innovations since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1972, moved the date of viability from 28 weeks of gestation to a less definite date. It defined viability as the point at which the fetus could be reasonably expected to survive out of the mother’s uterus. The Casey decision was very careful to point out that the decision of whether, when, and how many children to have was a very personal one, and the individual’s interest in such a decision outweighed that of the state before viability. This position in in line with

The Arkansas legislature apparently believes that if it redefines “viability” as something completely different than the stage of life anticipated in Casey and Roe, it gets around the holding in those cases.

At the capitol, the proponents of this bill were all about “saving children.” With complete disregard for the fact that some children can’t be saved and it is more merciful to end suffering, these people would have us believe that women are cavalierly having “recreational abortions.” Yes, that is an actual phrase that was used. Although there may be some out there, I cannot imagine any woman not thinking very hard about whether to terminate her pregnancy, no matter what stage of pregnancy and no matter what her reasons. Abortion is simply not undertaken lightly, no matter what the anti-choice advocates would have us believe.

They would have us believe that irresponsible women love getting knocked up just so they can have medical procedures done between their legs. Ask any woman: we so adore our trips to the gynecologist, because we get to put our feet in stirrups and have someone go digging around down there. For those people, the worth of a woman is measured solely by the reproductive capacity of her body. She does not have a brain to go along with her genitals, and therefore cannot be expected to use it to make ethical decisions.

There was much testimony pertaining to abortion from women who chose to continue their pregnancies despite fetal abnormalities. Those witnesses ignored the fact that they had a choice to begin with. About 70,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions, and many more suffer infections and other consequences.

Much of the violence against women occurs in the context of sexuality and reproduction. The health consequences of violence often occur in the context of reproductive health and seriously contribute to the burden of disease in women and young people.

Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima
Director General of the World Health Organization

I am very skeptical that if their wives were four and a half months pregnant with a fetus diagnosed with severe fatal holoprosencephaly or irreparable encephalocele, each of the legislators – mostly males – who voted for this bill would require her to continue the pregnancy to the point of natural miscarriage or stillbirth, knowing that instead of decorating a nursery they would spend the next five months planning a funeral. I cannot imagine that someone with such controlling demands would soothe and comfort their pregnant wives, wives who would feel every fetal kick as a false promise of a child that would never live. I can easily imagine that they would refuse to touch her belly so they wouldn’t get attached to a child that would never draw a breath – never mind that their pregnant wives have no escape from feeling those fetal movements. And I suspect that they have no appreciation for the psychological trauma suffered by pregnant women in these situations.

We can make the decision to terminate the life support systems for our aged and infirm family members who are already out of the womb, but we can’t make that same decision until they do make it into the world, under these laws. With the passage of these two laws, Arkansas creates an unconscionable double standard that disproportionately affects the young, the poor, and women.

K says,

It is unfair to demand that parents like us come forward with stories of personal loss, now in the state Capitol or later in courthouses. The decision we had to make was painful, personal, and ethical.

After overriding the veto of HB 1037, which would have made A’s doctors criminals for terminating her doomed pregnancy, Arkansas’s Tea Party-dominated legislature once again proved that a half-baked legislation makes good PR sound bites to a party that eschews freedom and wants to micromanage other people’s lives down to the most personal decisions.  These laws make mockery of a Republican party that once championed smaller government and greater personal freedom. And mock them we do, as we quiver in terror for the freedoms they take away from us. The Arkansas legislature ramped up its war on personal choice to legislate morality even more restrictively in SB 134.

This draconian bill, which the legislature passed and the governor vetoed yesterday, defines fetal viability as a “medical condition that begins with a detectible fetal heartbeat.” Never mind that the fetus is neither truly viable at that moment, nor that Roe. v. Wade defined viability as the point at which a fetus, when delivered, can survive naturally outside the womb. At 28 weeks, or seven months, the fetus has nearly a 90% survival rate, even thought it often needs artificial support to aid its continued development.  At 24 weeks, the fetus has about a 50% chance of survival outside the uterus, depending on its weight, development, its mother’s health, and the presence of congenital defects. Viability does not begin with a fetal heartbeat, which begins at around 21 days into the pregnancy.

4 week fetus

Human Embryo at 4 Weeks:
The heart is beating, so it’s viable in Arkansas

Reproductive rights … rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so,and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. It also includes their right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence…. In the exercise of this right, they should take into account the needs of their living and future children and their responsibilities towards the community. 

Paragraph 96, Platform for Action, Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing.

The current version of SB134 was modified from its original form. It is now ever so much more permissive. At first, the bill  outlawed abortion as soon as the cells that will become a fetal heart started rhythmically contracting, at about five weeks into the pregnancy, if counted from the last menstruation. Many women don’t even know they are pregnant by this point, especially if they have irregular menstrual cycles to begin with.

This bill coerces women to bear children whether or not they want to, whether or not they believe themselves to be financially, physically, and emotionally capable of enduring a pregnancy or rearing a child. It disproportionately affects young and adolescent women, who tend to be in the least powerful position to do something about their situations.

It abuses women, it insults them, and it oppresses them.

The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.

Paragraph 94, Platform for Action, Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing

Roe v. Wade didn’t start abortion, it stopped women from dying from abortions. Women who don’t want to bring a child into the world will abort their pregnancies, one way or another.

As a woman in Arkansas, my stomach has been in a knot this entire legislative session. The Tea Party, with its proud anti-intellectualism, its hyper-Christianity, and its coercive tactics is in charge of the state capitol, and Arkansas women’s rights are getting flushed down the drain.

The fact that these bills make exceptions in cases of rape and incest tells me that their supporters are not truly focused on the purported rights of human tissue that cannot survive outside the womb. If that was they case, it would not matter how those cells came to start dividing and how that fetal heartbeat came to be. It tells me, instead, that they care more about controlling the behavior of women. Only when the woman is pregnant under circumstances they find to be morally reprehensible will they permit her to make a decision about the number, spacing and timing of her children, or give her the means to control it if her first line of birth control fails.

I’m too old to get pregnant, and definitely too old to be personally affected by this law. There is a bigger issue, though. What these two laws say about my worth as a woman, as a thinking human being, devastates me. Solely because of my gender, I cannot be trusted to make decisions about my health and the health of any unborn child I might carry. Nor can anyone else born without a Y chromosome.

I have never liked living here. So many of the people I encounter seem to be willfully ignorant, racist, homophobic, disdainful of education and suspicious of those who are educated, untraveled, and hyper-religious to the point of denying the reality right in front of their faces. But before this legislative session I never before have I seriously considered what it would take to move away from here, to go someplace like Vermont or Washington State, to live in a place where not only would I be respected as a thinking human being capable of making ethical decisions for myself, but surrounded by like-minded people for a change.

I’ve thought about leaving my extended family, who I know would not follow me. I have wondered how often I would see my son, who is my only child and still is the light of my life, even though he is a grown man. I have thought about leaving my comfortable home, making new friends in a strange place, and who would care, in this new place I would go to, if I lived or died.

I don’t want to live in a place where the law restricts me or people like me – my sisters in gender, if not in generation – from doing what we honestly think is best for ourselves. I don’t want to live in a place that has no respect for my brain’s ability to make decisions simply because of my chromosomal makeup.

I feel trapped. This is a dystopic nightmare.

handmaid's taleThe Handmaid’s Tale is not a fiction in every society of the world, even today. It will not be a fiction for long in America.


If I Had Known Then What I Know Now

Do you ever wish you had known at 23 what you know now?

At 23 I was passionate, opinionated, brave, and uncertain. I was passionate in my relationships, opinionated about what was right, brave to do what terrified me, and uncertain that I could do it. At 47, of course, I’m still passionate and opinionated. I bravely embrace change, just like I always have, even though a part of me is terrified by it. But instead of being uncertain about my abilities, I am only uncertain as to how to help my own child bridge this awkward abyss between childhood and adulthood. Being even more passionately opinionated in my dotage keeps the rest of the uncertainty at bay.

Knowing what I know now, I would make my 23 year old self choose differently about some pretty substantial things. I would require my 23 year old self to make it on my own where the weather was tolerable. I definitely would not allow my 23 year old self to return to Arkansas. The summers are just too damn brutal.

Sure, I should have gone to graduate school. But I should have gone for history or literature, not law school. I should have followed my own dream, not someone else’s. It wasn’t my idea to go to law school. My dad planted that seed, and although I don’t regret having a career that I can pick up or put down at any time, I do wish it was more transportable. (How do I hate the summers in Arkansas? Let me count the ways…)

There is lots of advice I would give my younger self.

* Follow your dreams. You want to study paleoarcheology, be a writer, go on a dinosaur dig, or live in Greenwich Village? Do it. Don’t mistake the dreams other people have for you as your own dream. Be sure of whose dream you’re following.

* Travel. Everywhere. Maintain your rucksack in good condition and stash money away for no purpose other than to pay for plane tickets, cheap meals in exotic places, and museum fees. It’s okay to sleep in a train station or on the steps of a cathedral in Europe when you’re 23.

* It’s not love. At least not yet. Lust, pheromones, and heat, yes. But it is not love and you can live without that person because someone else will be along shortly to scratch the itch. For the love of Pete, don’t get married, start having babies, and acquire a mortgage yet. You’ve got too much to see and do before you’re chained down to all of that. Love doesn’t develop until the bright flush of physical desire dissipates and you’re used to each other’s most annoying habits and bodily functions, and you’ve decided not to commit either murder or seppuku over them.

* Run toward things, not away from them. I was terrified of looking for something different, but I hated – absolutely hated – my sales job just after college. It was worse than waiting tables, and I was truly horrible at that. But going back to school a year graduating from college was a cop out. I made the decision to go back to school – and back home – because I hated my job. I made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons. I was running away, not running toward something. There have been so many times I have wished I could take a mulligan on that one.

* If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. If you can’t move to a new place by loading everything you own in your car, you have too much crap. Get rid of it and don’t buy more. It’ll save on the interest you pay for those credit cards, and it will simplify your life. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. Unless it’s prescribed medication.

* There is no reason to be bored, ever. With so much in the world to see, do, and make, boredom should not be a concept within your realm of familiarity. If you’re bored, it’s because you won’t open your eyes to the world around you. Go to a park. Visit a museum. Watch a river flow. Go to a bookstore or library.

* It’s okay to fail. Fear of failure prevents us from doing so many things, and more often than not it is a hollow fear. Robert Sculler asked, “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” We should never assume failure. If we assume failure, we try nothing and therefore achieve nothing.

* Screwing up is okay, too. Stupid mistakes are also a way to learn. Granted, they aren’t the best way, or the least painful way, but they are effective. And the next time, we slow down and think things through more carefully.

What advice would you make your younger self heed?


Madeleine McCannThere are a young husband and wife who are British doctors. The wife is a GP, the husband is a cardiologist. They have three children. The twins are two years old and their older daughter, Madeleine, was three when the family went on a beach vacation to Portugal a couple of weeks ago.

The parents left their three sleeping toddlers in their ground-floor resort apartment and went to dinner at the restaurant next door. The parents decided against a babysitter for their three children. The children could have been taken to a drop-in service or an individual could have come to their room. Either service was free. The parents were only going next door, after all, and could take turns leaving their dinner to check on the children periodically. They faithfully checked on the children every half hour, according to a family friend.

At her 10:00 p.m. check, however, the mother discovered that the eldest child was gone. A bedroom window was open. The three year old girl had vanished at night in a foreign country. A guest at the resort said, “The parents left the door ajar so they could keep going over and looking at [the children].” A second family friend remarked that the medical couple “are fantastic parents and could see the bedroom from the hotel restaurant.”

Fantastic parents? Do fantastic parents leave toddlers alone in a different building for half an hour at a time? Do fantastic parents leave their tiny children in a hotel room with the door ajar? Do fantastic parents ignore their children’s security so they can enjoy a meal?

I realize that the focus needs to be on finding this little girl. After nearly 20 years working in the field of child abuse and neglect, however, I cannot believe that the two year old twins have not been removed from their parents’ custody yet. These parents have demonstrated their unfitness to have the care of children with very public repercussions.

Parents who disregard the safety of their children deserve to lose them. Period.

Someone on another site I frequent was commenting on this situation and brought up the question of class. A poor or working class (blue collar) family would have had criminal charges brought and the other children removed for fear of additional harm. Because these were middle class, more affluent people, they were free to criticize the efforts of the Portuguese law enforcement officials who unsuccessfully searched for the child.

Regardless of socioeconomic status, these children were toddlers left alone. Protection of children is common sense, not a class issue. It infuriates me that money and status protect negligence of this nature.

Had the children been alone and asleep when a fire broke out, would have been criminal charges brought against the parents for their deaths? It only takes a moment for a child to be electrocuted, to drown, to be burned, to fall and be seriously injured.

Someone in that other forum pointed out that even if the parents had been in the apartment, a kidnapper could have broken in and taken the little girl. This fact is no excuse. Presumably had the parents been there, the door would not have been ajar and the cries of the child as she was being abducted could have been heard. Their very presence would have been a deterrent to this unthinkable act.

The cold, hard fact is that these parents, who probably see abused and neglected children in their medical practices, neglected to supervise their children adequately.

I am concerned for the missing girl. I am just as concerned for her younger siblings who are still in the custody and care of these thoughtless parents. My concern is for the children. I have very little sympathy for the mother and father, whose selfish, lazy decision not to get a free babysitter increased the likelihood that something of this nature would happen.

Have these parents been punished enough for their negligence? I would say they’ve been punished in the most horrific, unforgettable manner possible. When and if their daughter’s abused corpse if located, they will never be able to forgive themselves.

Nevertheless, the notion that their socioeconomic status protects them from the legal repercussions a less affluent couple would face is wrong. Either this couple needs to be prosecuted, or the less affluent parents who allow something like this to happen should not be. Our society needs to choose.

Return to Vicksburg

Three of us traveled to Vicksburg.  We talk excitedly about the memories this trip has stirred up, and we stories from when we were at the boarding school in Vicksburg. We are riding in my sister’s minivan.  The ride is bumpy but the stereo is good.  I have recorded a mix of songs from the 70’s to put us in the mood for this reunion.
We check in at the hotel, asking for messages left by our old classmates.  Most people are coming to this reunion from other places.   Arthur has left us a message saying he’ll be in town close to 6:30.  It is only 3:00.  The three of us decide to drive around our old town and reminisce.  We tumble back into the van.  How many times have we ridden down the streets of Vicksburg in a minivan?  We laugh at ourselves because we are cruising the old familiar streets once again, in a van once again, just like we did in high school.  Oh, those familiar taxi-vans of Vicksburg!
We travel by all the sites we knew so well so many years ago as teenagers in this town.  The cobblestone streets near the river rumble beneath us in that percussive complaint, too blurred to be staccato, too sharp to be piano.
We find ourselves on Clay Street, beyond the motels that used to be the Ramada and Holiday Inns. Even Maxwell’s elegant table linens have been replaced by something seedier in a fast food venue.  There are Wendy’s and Shoney’s, and we drive past the Old Southern Tea Room with its peanut brittle and its pralines that melted in our mouths into a gooey, gluey sweetness so rich we could eat only one.
The fountain!  Remember the fountain, and its clouds of detergent rising then floating down to the street?  It was not the river of suds we imagined when we planned the prank, but with our help a puff or two did indeed hesitantly tumble down the cobblestones toward the Mississippi River.  It was a story better in the telling than in the living.
We turn left from Clay onto Washington Street.  The Cathedral!  It is not as imposing as we remembered, but stark in its purpose as the real place for Episcopalian worship.  Our campus chapel was pitifully small and quaint in comparison, but so much more beautiful with its shafts of light through stained glass windows during afternoon assemblies.  There were stained glass windodws, weren’t there?
That community center – wasn’t that the place where the dance was held every year?  What was it called?  We remember sneaking out of the building to smoke with friends who did not have permission to kill themselves with tobacco.  We remember creeping through a side exit as though it actually offered a refuge for our desperate teenage gropes and sloppy kisses.  Mr. Hooper, who taught chemistry and owned the adult novelty store near Wendy’s, would saunter through the same door to chat with us about things we thought were cool but, at that moment, inconvenient.
As we near the old Mississippi River bridge, we despair to see it is closed and that a detour directs westerly travelers to the new I-20 span.  Can we find PJ’s liquor store from there?  What about Goldie’s barbeque?
The Magnolia Inn!  We stayed at “the Mag” the night before my junior year began, and Susan and I met up with Hartley Clay and my erstwhile boyfriend Don Scott.  The four of us crossed Washington Street, skulking behind a monument to some Yankee infantry to smoke something illegal.  When the policeman approached to question us, Don in his alpha male persona strode out to meet the officer. “Son, what’s your name?” inquired the cop.  Don offered that his name was Scott.  “Scott, what is your last name?”  Behind the monument we exchanged panicked looks.  Would Don be able to come up with something? We need not have worried.  Just uninhibited enough, Don declared, “Humphrey!”and still in hiding we girls smothered our giggles, understanding that Don was telling us not to Bogard the joint we were passing among ourselves.  Hartley hid the evidence in her bra and we emerged from our hiding place. We admitted we were staying at the motel across the street with our parents and we agreed to go back to our rooms.  Our snickers were not disguised well.
Today we dutifully follows the detour and we find ourselves not on I-20 but on the access road.  We used to buy rice rolling papers and sometimes beer at that Eckerd’s.  And there’s the theater where we saw Animal House!  Remember how the bus dropped off about thirty of us in front of the theater that night?  We howled our approval as the Deltas dared oppose authority and damn the repercussions!  We dreamed that we, too, would overcome our minority and fearlessly practice anarchy under the dorm counselor’s malevolent stare and Father Dickson’s curled sneer.  People who do not like children should not work with them.  Twice we went in cars to that theater without permission to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  We marveled at our own daring.
To our dismay the Confederate Mall is boarded up and run down.  Long live the mall!  Taco Casa is gone; the coupons we have saved for twenty years are useless.  The grand department store with its living models and its ready acceptance of our parents’ BankAmeriCards has disappeared without a trace.  We imagine the Things Remembered kiosk, where we bought our fifteen-year-old lovers their engraved cigarette lighters for Christmas, abandoned in the dark.
We walked the mile from the school to this derelict Mecca each and every Saturday for three years, then drove there the fourth.  Walking was actually better than driving, because to get to the mall we walked through the historic battlefield where nature was allowed her profusion ten feet behind the marble and granite monuments.  Canny students found real refuge within her living walls.  Our bowers were just out of sight of curving Confederate Boulevard, and within their protection we reveled in nature’s gift to our expanded minds.  Several Saturdays we sucked the strychnine from squares of paper just before our fourth period class, and by the time we reached the woods we were fully prepared to appreciate nature’s beauty and wonder.
One Saturday my friend Vicki did not realize it was going to rain and we would be imprisoned on campus.  Several of us took turns containing her.  I walked into her room just in time to hear her moan to her room mate, “Lorraine, I just can’t get high enough!”  My room mate Paige looked at me worriedly, and I took upon myself the task of entertaining our dorm counselor to prevent her from patrolling the south end of the second floor for the duration of Vicki’s trip.  That evening we hustled her onto the All Saints bus to freedom at the bowling alley, where odd behavior was the norm.  She spent most of the evening crying and laughing her chemically induced hysterics.
Our van respectfully navigates the empty parking lots and we ride up the steep hill toward Halls Ferry Road and Mission 66.  Where Halls Ferry and Confederate Boulevard meet, we are glad to see that Toot’s Grocery is still open for business.  The same old sign announces its availability for All Saints students, both O’s an eye giving the proprietors’ name an astonished look as the students probably still pass beneath it to cash their checks from home, hiding their true wealth from the prying supervision of the school.  In tenth grade Peter Harmon somehow discovered the bookie there, and knowing his brother in the Marines would approve he placed bets religiously.
There’s the mechanic’s shade tree, in front of that white house.  Paige and I had walked past it one day, leading Frank as though he were blind, speaking encouraging words to him.  “See?” remarked the older black fellow from under the hood, “Whenever you think you have it bad, there’s always someone who has it worse.”  “You ain’t lying,” agreed his younger companion, the one we had feared.  We had heard that during the summer a gang of Vicksburg youth known as the “BBB” (Bad Black Boys) decided its initiation rites would include the rape of a white girl.  Throughout the fall no All Saints girls could leave campus without a male companion.
We are now on I-20, traveling west from the easternmost edge of Vicksburg toward our school.  We fly down the freeway at the speed of light.  We are relieved to exit and find ourselves safely in the battlefield.
We pull into the All Saints driveway and we find ourselves walking behind Green Hall and Johnson Hall, on the high side of the Dell.  Ahead of us lies the chapel, but its bell tower is gone.  Inside rows of interconnecting chairs have replaced the hard wooden pews we sat on two decades before. And the windows!  We are told that the chapel can no longer be used as a place of worship, and that it will be closed.  “What about the stained glass windows?” we ask. “They will be removed,” we are told.  We argue that the chapel can still be of use, that students need a place to gather, that the seating is adequate and already there, so why must it be closed down?  We do not get an answer.
In St. Catherine’s dormitory, where I lived for four years, the halls are dim and silent.  Asbestos floor tiles lie broken and unswept.  I hear only ghosts of sounds of the thirty-two girls who lived there each year.  Our blow dryers and stereos,  shrieks, laughter, and arguments have faded into the past.  Thirty-two girls were made sisters for a school year, but no blood sisters resided in any of the dorms. My sister lived in St. Anne’s, which my freshman year had housed the younger boys.  Hartley lived in St. Mary’s and her sister Carol was in St. Anne’s.  Stacy, Jan and JoAlice Buckler shared a father, but Stacy’s mother was not Jan’s nor JoAlice’s.  Nevertheless, sharp-faced Jan was in St. Catherine’s, blonde Stacy was in St. Mary’s, and plump, awkward JoAlice was in St. Anne’s.  There were three Mize sisters as well: tall, soft-spoken Amy, ordinary Alison, and pretty Adrienne.  They were thrown together by birth but separated by the wisdom of All Saints.  What God has placed together, All Saints School would indeed put asunder.
Later that evening, we meet our friends at the antebellum restaurant near the river.  We remember that there is something odd about the bathrooms here, but we don’t recall exactly what.  I have to go, though, so I volunteer to find out first.
The wooden stairs lead down to a room empty except for tables and chairs awaiting patrons and an armoire on the back wall.  The armoire, I now remember, contains the old toilet.  I open its door and seen a worn wooden trough.  I remember that once this served as the latrine, but it obviously is no longer used.  I let the door slam shut in disgust.  To my right is a line of people, male and female.  Above them a sign points through a door with the symbols for restrooms.  I join the queue.
Once in the modern bathrooms, we are able to finish our business quickly.  I leave the restroom just as I hear my sister, who was in line behind me, ask if there is any toilet paper in the next stall.

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