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When I First Became a Criminal
I had been infatuated with several women and girls on various occasions, beginning when I was 11 years old. In the fall of 1966 I was 20, a senior at MIT, and feeling a bit jaded. But this was different from anything that had happened before. I did not even know that it was possible to feel so strongly and so differently about someone about whose life I still knew nothing, on the strength of a few minutes conversation on topics that no one would suspect of seduction.
I had assumed, from the young woman's conversation, that she was a student, perhaps at Wellesley or Radcliffe. It was only when we were down in the subway that I discovered she was taking a train which would carry her to neither. She was living at home and working at a clerical day job. As I gradually discovered, she was living in a world I had hardly imagined existed. She was a 16-year-old National Merit Scholar - and not going to college. Her parents were too well off for her to receive more than a nominal stipend from her scholarship, but they were pietistic Christians whose worldview did not encompass the possibility of a woman at university studies. Their maximal concession, to what they considered their daughter's strangeness, was to let her live at home while she earned her future college tuition with a day job.
My lover's day job and unpredictable commute back to the suburbs had one advantage: we were able to meet almost every week without her parents suspecting a thing. We were giddily aware of being the same ages at which Dagny and Francisco "learned it from each other," and it was our turn. Thanks to the absence of any sex education in the schools of that time, neither of us knew what we were doing. Pharmacies sold condoms, but the pharmacist said nothing when he sold me a dozen rubbers and a tube of petroleum-based lubricant. The days when high schools classes would teach the fact that petroleum-based lubricants dissolve latex condoms were still a decade in the future. When condoms broke, we ascribed the breakage to ardor. We were both on fire.
In mid-winter my lover missed a period, and instead of taking her to bed I took her to a near-by doctor. She was pregnant. In 1967 abortion was illegal everywhere in the United States, and nowhere more illegal than in puritan Massachusetts. Both of us still had years before there could be room in our lives for a child. So for the first time ever, I skipped classes and headed for home. My parents lived in New York City, across the Hudson from those small New Jersey cities where anything illegal is available for a price. I would find a way.
At first, I hoped that my father, a physician, would be able to help. He tried for a week, and came up with nothing. The FBI - in those days still composed exclusively of male agents - was cracking down on abortion, and every male, even a physician, was suspect. There was no way for anyone but a woman to find out what was available, even across the Hudson in New Jersey. Eventually I turned to a cousin, a recent graduate a few years older than I. When she agreed to ask, I knew that whomever she asked would assume that the information was for her, and that her "reputation" - considered a valuable asset in that era - would be gone. I hated imposing on my cousin's sense of family obligation, but in those days double suicides of young lovers were not uncommon, and I must have seemed desperate. In another few days I had a phone number in New Jersey, and a password, to be used for a same-day appointment on Wednesday of the following week.
My parents, new immigrants putting two children through expensive universities, somehow managed to save enough money to buy me a car as a graduation present. I now took the money, instead of a car at graduation, in cash. On the appointed Wednesday, my lover and I met at Boston airport. She called the number, gave the password and received instructions. We flew to Newark. I drove her in a rented car to the place and parked a block away. She walked to the appointment, as instructed, alone.
I was back after two hours - that is how long the procedure was supposed to take - and waited. Three hours later my lover came out. She was pale and in pain. The feds were monitoring the sales of anaesthetics, and the doctor, whom the blindfolded patients never saw, used little. Here was the woman for whom I would have fought the world, to spare her the least pain, in pain that I could not have imagined. I drove back to the airport, and flew with her back to Boston, in a self-imposed emotional fog. From the airport she took a taxi home. I took the subway back to MIT, a sleepless night, and the first exam that I ever failed.
I did not hear from my lover for several days. Then she called me. She began to hemorrhage in the taxi, and had the driver take her to the emergency room of a hospital on the way. Her parents picked her up, then put her under lock and key in the house. She expected that they would disconnect the telephone when they found out that she had called me.
That summer, my parents received a letter from my lover's parents. They wrote that they had evidence that I had taken their daughter to New Jersey for an abortion. Taking a minor across state lines for an immoral purpose - and nothing was considered more immoral in those days then an abortion - was a federal felony, punished with ten years of hard time. The letter was an ultimatum: I was not to attempt to communicate with their daughter in any way. If they had the least suspicion that the two of us had gotten in touch, their evidence would be on its way to the US Attorney.
Their daughter was not permitted out on her own again. Her parents enrolled her in a closed, well-guarded female teachers' seminary of a Christian sect similar to their own.
By the time the statute of limitations expired on my felony, abortion was legal, and sex education classes began to be offered in the schools. I had been in love twice more, and married once. I later learned that my first lover completed graduate school while working as a teacher. Today she is an academic like me, somewhat better known in her field than I am in mine.
The Christianists, in the meantime, have been doing their utmost to roll back the law to where it was when I first became a criminal. Sex education was taken out of most schools, replaced with "abstinence education" as devoid of useful truth, as what was taught back when I was in high school. Taking a minor across state lines for an abortion is, again, a federal crime punished by ten years in prison.
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