“That Time I…” posts are true stories that am I retiring from my social repertoire. To honour them, I am committing them to text for the first time. Read stories about sound torture, my awesome tattoo, and the infamous Tragic Hand Button.
As I drove down a forested back road, I kept an eye out for moose lurking near the treeline. John promised that he was not exaggerating. He said that a moose is a mountain on legs and there were many of them in northern New Brunswick. If my car collided with one, the mountain would crush me to death and then get up and walk away. So yes, I was being diligent but the local wildlife was not the concern foremost on my mind. I was really worried about meeting John’s mother.
All I knew about Margie was that she was exceptionally religious and that’s how she raised her children. As John’s long-time friend, I was often on the receiving end when he went through bouts of guilt. The nagging voice of his mother, forever implanted in the back of his mind, chided him for smoking pot and having sex with his girlfriend. Sometimes he was able to tune her out. Other times, John admitted that he worried about the fate of his soul.
When he invited me to participate in the expulsion of his sex-shame (marriage), I understood that I was going to spend significant time with Margie. Of course, I desired to get along but I wasn’t confident that I could be perfect for the two days I would be in her company. Could I guarantee that I would never swear within ear-shot? Or that I would not express a conflicting liberal opinion? Could I promise that I wouldn’t let slip the slightest eye-rolling micro-aggression when things got too sanctimonious? For my friend I would sincerely try.
When I arrived at John’s childhood home, a white bungalow cut into the trees, Margie ran out to greet me. She was a short, round woman with boy-cut grey hair and a flowery blouse. She welcomed me with a big smile and asked if I was hungry. That night she hosted a bon fire on her property. She fed John’s friends, several of which had driven from Toronto, and supplied us with marshmallows.
Margie was momly in ways that moms are: she was curious about where I grew up and what I did for a living; she laughed at jokes even if she didn’t get the reference. The rest of John’s family was really nice as well. His brother Stephen was just as John described which was funny and mature for his age. We soon learned of a snag in the wedding plans, that Stephen could not perform his role of witness to the signing of the marriage certificate because he was only seventeen. He didn’t seem upset by the decision so I joked with him, “Don’t worry about it, Stephen. So what if the law doesn’t consider you to be a legitimate person.” He laughed. Later, when it got cold, the wedding party gathered inside the big garage where we played guitars and sang 90s songs like ‘Brian Wilson.’ First day down. Swish.
The next day was wedding day. That morning, we men put on our three piece suits and took photos in a yellowing field. Margie brought us bottles of water to combat the dry, thirty-five degree heat. As she handed me one she said, “Brian, I know there isn’t a lot of time today but I would like to talk to you about something.”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“Not now. We’ll talk later.”
“Whatever you need.” A few hours passed and finally everyone was ready to go to the church. As I stood by my car Margie passed by me and said, “Brian, I don’t want to forget about our talk.”
“Do you want to do it now?”
“Not now. We’ll talk later.”
The wedding was very nice. John and his bride both agreed to marry each other so that was good. The reception was also nice. There was pie instead of cake and somehow way more wine than was required. The table I was sitting at happily took in several orphaned bottles. I danced. I got really drunk. It was late in the evening and I was on my way to the bathroom when I remembered my chat with Margie. Rather than be relieved that it didn’t happen, I became very excited to solve the mystery. Also, she was specific about the conversation happening ‘today’ and the day was nearly over. “I have to find Margie!” I called out to no one and began running around the hotel looking for her. “Margie!” I cried, interrupting whoever she was talking to. “We almost forgot about our conversation!” “Oh yes. Let’s go over here,” she motioned to a pair of puffy arm chairs and we sat.
Truly, what I expected was for her to ask me to look out for her son. I thought she was going to say that mothers worry about their children no matter their age and even though it’s silly, Brian, can you keep John safe in the big city. I would have said ‘of course’ and then she and I would have hugged and then I would have peed. Instead Margie said, “I want to ask you about your views on abortion.”
My stomach dropped as she explained how we arrived at this moment. She said that the issue was very important to her and that she often attended anti-abortion rallies around the province. She was very confused about the opinions of young people and she was hoping that I would be the ambassador of my generation. Why? Because of what I said to Stephen about not being a person, a thing I said within hours of meeting the family. So much for my efforts.
Rather than just ask me out right, she acknowledged seeking permission from her son. John warned her, “If you ask Brian for his opinion, he’s going to give it to you,” which didn’t sound like a compliment. She claimed that sort of honesty was exactly what she wanted and he gave his blessing. So, if I didn’t mind, why were young people so supportive of abortion?
Keep I mind, I was very drunk. If she knew that I was drunk, she didn’t let on. She wanted to have the conversation either way. Of course, there was a moment after her question when I tried to think of a way to get the hell out of this. But something about her tone kept me in my chair. She was calm and curious. She asked the question in the way someone might ask how the stock market works: “There’s a thing. I don’t get it. If you can explain it to me in simple terms, I’d really like to hear it.” All she wanted was my opinion and the respect she gave demanded that I respond in kind.
I opened by trying to take religion off the table. “I can’t speak for a whole generation of people but I can tell you my personal thoughts on it. First, most people who are against abortion feel that way because of a religious belief. They believe that human life is worth more than other life because God said so or because all humans have souls. I don’t believe in souls so I don’t believe there is something of supernatural value to save.”
She didn’t respond to this point nor did she show any indication of being upset by it. I felt I was being given leeway to push this point further.
“I feel confident that even if there is a God, he’s cool with abortion. There are so many babies that die in childbirth. I remember reading a stat that millions of babies each year are lost before the mothers even realize they’re pregnant. It happens naturally. So, I’m not worried about fetuses not being brought to term. What I am worried about is babies being brought into an environment that cannot support them.”
She nodded which I took to mean that she understood and perhaps had some sympathy for the argument. From there, I could have gone in a few different directions. I could have, and perhaps should have, made a case for women’s rights. I would have eagerly busted out the comparison that dead people have stronger rights to their unneeded organs than live women have over their pregnant bodies. But I didn’t. Maybe it was the alcohol or maybe it was the friendly mother asking the question. Anyway, I went personal.
“I’m adopted. My biological mother was a teenager when I was conceived and then given to the government. Lucky me, I was raised by a great family. But I recognize that that doesn’t happen to all kids. Some of them spend their whole lives bouncing around the system, never knowing stability or love. And if I hadn’t been given up, my birth would have pushed my mother out of university, prevented her from having a career, and forced together two people who didn’t want to be together. I know what those households can be like. Not enough money. Families who don’t care about each other. Honestly, if that was my option, I’d rather not be alive. Give me the choice and I would easily take not existing. It wouldn’t hurt and I wouldn’t miss anything because I would never have been.”
Margie furrowed her brow like she was considering something new but didn’t respond to the point directly. However, we did talk for forty-five minutes…about abortion…on her son’s wedding night. I don’t remember how we filled that time but I do remember it flew by. Eventually we exhausted the topic and she thanked me for being honest. I thanked her for being curious. We hugged.
Then I ran – RAN – to the bathroom to pee. It was spectacular. It felt amazing. It felt like something I had never felt before, like something special was happening deep inside me. A feeling of peace, a lightness of being.