The Sixth Street Bridge

The Sixth Street Bridge
At the tender age of 17, I walked across this bridge, alone, into Downtown Pittsburgh, with $300 in my pocket that my mother had given me to get an abortion. I went into the Fulton Building (in the picture) and did what I was told to do. I didn't have a choice - if I did, I wouldn't have chosen abortion.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Bridge Too Close

Recently, I had the chance to visit my hometown of Pittsburgh.  Though I’m not that far away and get there pretty much as often as I want to, I always return with a twisted mix of emotions.  While I wade in nostalgia most of the time and have great memories of the ‘Burgh – living a bit away for a while has made it both difficult and easy to return home.  When I left Pittsburgh with starry eyes and a heart bursting with new found, true love,  I was 24 years old – so just 7 years after the abortion.  When I look back over this journey of mine, I realize, sometimes so painfully it’s hard to breathe, just what all took place in those 7 years before my knight in shining armor showed up.  I’d like to say I was well on my way to turning my life around right before Prince Charming arrived, and in some ways I was. I had put my foot down on most of the garbage that inhabited my life until then.  I made promises to myself that I would not allow anyone to hurt me ever again, not my body, and not my heart. I had made resolutions that my life was going to be different.  I had a good job and my own apartment and my first brand-new car.  In a lot of ways, things, and I, were all good.  That is, except for the loss of Grace, whose name I knew, but whose life I had no idea how to grieve for or if I even should or could.  Acknowledgment of her was stuffed down in my soul somewhere.  I had told Prince Charming about her, well not really about “her,” but about the abortion.  It was a short conversation and he made it easy.  It was in the past and it didn’t matter to him.  What neither of us realized is that it mattered to me and it would be decades before I realized how much.

Anyway, when I do go back home, I make conscious efforts to avoid certain places.  I avoid places where a bad memory resides or some bad experience, the memory of which is torture enough so that I don’t need the physical reminders of it at all.  I’ve talked a lot in these “pages” about my lonely walk across the 6th Street (now the Roberto Clemente) Bridge to the abortion clinic in downtown Pittsburgh.  That bridge has come to have so much meaning for me and I don’t yet have it all figured out.  Is it a bridge between my two lives?  Is it a walk away from Grace? Is it a walk toward my destiny?  Does it bridge the gap between then and now, a bridge too far?  Is it just a bridge?  No matter what it is – it’s a bridge that I haven’t walked across in over 20 years and one I turn my eyes from while passing by whenever I’m in town.  

Adding to the bad memories of this bridge is the fact that my mom and I both worked near each other in town while I was in college and we would walk across the same bridge to go to lunch together.  I’m not sure how many times we did that, but it was a lot.  I don’t remember if I thought about it then – I’m sure I had to at some point or other – when we crossed over the hump in the middle of the span and the Fulton Building came into full view… did she ever think about me going there for an abortion? Did she ever think about it at all? Had she ever thought that she paid for her grandchild to be snuffed out? Did she wonder if I was thinking about it?  Did she care?  I have no idea, and I never will, of what may or may not have gone through her mind when we walked past that building together on our way to our many lunches.  

In a sense, the bridge came to be a symbol of everything that happened and the utter loneliness of my long walk across it with Grace still part of me and the lonely, painful walk back without her. 

I had been thinking for a while that I wanted to return to the bridge at some point, not sure of what I would do once I got there or what it might mean for me.  This last trip home I went back.

I parked my car on the north shore and started toward the bridge.  It was a beautiful, breezy spring day with puffy white clouds and happy tourists around.  I started walking across and stopped in the middle.  I started walking again, and stopped again a few steps later to catch my breath which wasn’t lost due to exertion but for everything else.  

I stood on the bridge and looked at the Fulton Building.  I remembered the abortion clinic was on the 3rd floor.  I leaned back against the yellow metal and just was still for a while.  I’m afraid of heights but I forced myself to the other side of the sidewalk where I could see down to the river below if I stood on my tiptoes or peeked through the spaces in the metal.  The familiar thoughts came to mind and I wondered if I had considered jumping 27 years ago.  I wondered if anyone would have cared.  I wondered if my mom would have fessed up and told my Dad that she knew the reason I had jumped.  More things that I’ll never know. 

I took a deep breath and walked down the other side.  There was always a panhandler on the bridge then – he’s still there – in the same spot.  I stopped at the end of the bridge for a while.  I’m not sure what I expected to do or feel.  I suppose maybe I just wanted to walk across it not as a pregnant 17 year old scared out of her mind or back across it as a 17 year old who just had her first experience with a gynecologist – who just happened to perform an abortion along with it.  I wanted to walk across it as who I am today – or who I fancy myself to be today.  The problem was, or is, that that simple walk across a bridge made me forget for a few moments who I am today or who I think I am.  Then I got angry, or sad, or both, at how close I still stand to despair. I began to think maybe I have never been far at all.  

I know that most of the thoughts I was having weren’t true, but that didn’t make them hurt any less.  As my usual m.o., I took on this challenge alone.  I hadn’t even told my husband what I had planned on doing.  So, in a sense, it was my own fault that I was there alone, without anyone to help me process what I was feeling or even just to hold my hand.  I half dialed his number and hung up.  I contemplated a call to the Good Father to ask him to pray with me at that moment, but decided against it.  So, I tried to say my own prayer.

I stood there looking up at the 3rd floor windows of the building remembering that the procedure room had no windows at all.  I hadn’t decided before if I would go inside the building.  After 27 years and a few million dollar restorations, it hardly would be the same at all.  But, in some sense it was hallowed ground.  Grace was killed there. It was the closest I’d get to any real “burial” site for her.  I felt like I owed it to her and to all the others who died there.

The doorman smiled and said hello as he opened the over sized doors to the lobby.  It is a beautiful building and the lobby is grand and added to my feeling so small.  I sat down in a plush, pretty chair just for a moment or two.  I was afraid the knot in my stomach and the lump in my throat wouldn’t be contained for much more than that.  So, I got up and walked back through the door as the smiling doorman wished me a good day.

I sat down on a bench outside the door in the warm sunshine and waiting for my trembling legs to steady.  Right across the street there is a parking garage, and next to that another parking garage. In fact, there are probably 5 or 6 parking garages on the block.  I thought about why my Mom hadn’t told me to park there.  It’s right across the street.  The rate that day was $5.00 so 27 years ago it couldn’t have been much at all.  But, yet, she told me to park across the bridge in the Three Rivers Stadium Parking lot because it was free.  I almost laughed at the idea that she had given me $300 in cash to pay for the abortion but no extra for anesthesia and no extra for parking.

I stood up and turned back toward the way I’d come.  With each step, I tried to remind myself that I wasn’t 17 anymore and that I wasn’t afraid anymore.  I tried to remember that I had a husband who loved me and tried to forget all the ones who came before who hurt me with words or hands.  I tried to remember that I have two little girls on this earth who need me and who hopefully will someday know and love Grace.  I was almost back to my car on the other side of the river when I couldn’t hold the tears in any longer and they streamed down my face underneath my sunglasses, mascara staining my cheeks.  In the safety of my car, there was no holding anything in and I sat there for a while saying the only prayer I could, “Jesus.”  

I had a long drive home and a long time to think.  I know that I’ve done a lot of healing these last few years.  I know that I‘ve worked through much.  I know that I’m forgiven for the abortion.  I know that I am a child of God and that He means for me to be here on this earth whether I feel like it or not.  And even though I know all of this, I don’t always feel the truth of any of it. I still need reminders. If anything, the trek across the bridge cemented the fact that I still have healing to do, things to work out, anger to deal with, room to grow. I hadn’t returned from my sojourn a conqueror. If anything, I returned quite the same as I was before it.  But, I did realize that I need to find a way to not be one step away from despair at any given moment.  I don't have to be stuck in the middle of a bridge between then and now, but I also don’t have to pick a side, do I?