The Live One, Part 1

Feb 08, 2001 |J. Budziszewski

Can abortion make you suicidal? What if you're a man?

"Theo?"

"Speaking."

"Bethany, at the Center. We've got a live one here."

"A live what?"

"A suicidal young man. He needs to talk with a male."

"You've got him there now?"

"No. Telephone contact."

"He called the Center?"

"His mother and roommate did. They're with him."

"Why didn't you refer them to the suicide hotline?"

"The mother and roommate have been talking him down, and they don't think he'll actually kill himself. The question has changed from whether he'll kill himself this week, to how he'll live with himself next week."

"Maybe you'd better start at the beginning."

"Okay. The young man and his girl friend are students at your joint — at Post-Everything University. The usual story. They started having sex, she got pregnant, he took her to have an abortion, and they told themselves it was over."

"How long did that last?"

"About a month. Here's the twist. She's not the suicidal one; he is. His roommate was worried enough to ask his mother to fly into town. She doesn't want to go home until he's connected up with a counselor."

"Do the roommate and the mother understand that we're not therapists?"

"Yes. But I told them about our post-abortion groups, and the young man strongly wants to get into one."

The post-abortion groups are a Christian recovery program for post-abortion trauma — the trauma that some psychologists say doesn't exist.

"Then get him into one."

"Can't. Several post-abortion groups for women are about to begin, but we can't put him in one of those. We have workbooks and things for men's groups, but we've never actually run one. There's never been enough demand."

"Not surprising. Abortion messes men up too, but they're less likely to notice."

"See, you know about those things. But this guy noticed. That's where you come in."

"Where do you mean?"

"Wed like you to consider counseling him one-on-one."

"I'm not even one of your counselors."

"Of course not. You're a man. But so is he. Besides, you've had our training. You've had other training. You've done counseling of other kinds. And he's a student. I hear that you talk with students one-on-one all the time."

"About things like why having an abortion is wrong."

"Well?"

"Not about things like how to live with yourself if you've had one."

"You know those things can't be separated."

She had me there.

"Do you need to pray about it before giving me your answer?"

"No." I'd already been praying. "How do I get in touch with these people?"

"Just a second," she said. "I've got the roommate's number."

I wrote down the digits as she called them out. "Is the girlfriend still in the picture?" Relationships often break up following abortion.

"No information."

"All right. I'll be in touch."

"Theo."

"Yes?"

"Thanks."

PART TWO

Before calling the roommate I phoned my wife. As I listened to the rings I glanced at my computer monitor. At the top was the title of the article I'd been writing. "The Ethics of Abortion: A View from a Non-Participant."

So much for the ivory tower, I thought.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Abby."

"Oh, good. Did Bethany reach you? I gave her your university office number."

"That's what I'm calling about."

"Are you going to do it?"

"How can I not?"

"That's what I thought too."

"Listen, Abby, I'm going to need your sage advice about this."

"I've never counseled post-abortion men."

"No, but you've counseled dozens of post-abortion women. The post-abortion series for men is shorter — I suppose because men don't have as many words in them — but otherwise pretty much the same."

"How do you mean?"

"Similar sequence of topics. After the initial session we work through the character of God, the character of man — I mean in the sense of "male" — and then each of the other issues."

"Relief, denial, anger, depression, forgiveness, those things?"

"Yes."

"Yes, that's similar."

"You have a gift of the Holy Spirit for this work. I've always said so. In counseling you know intuitively what to do."

"Sometimes."

"I come at these things the long way around. Through the head."

"That's because you're a teacher."

"Maybe. Whatever the reason, I need you to do three things for me. The first is to tell me more about your own experience counseling post-abortive people. Nothing that would compromise their privacy, of course."

"Don't we already talk about it?"

"Usually. But do you remember last year when you were leading the post-abortion group?"

"I'm not likely to forget."

"It was so draining that for once you wouldn't talk."

"That was one reason. There were others." She was amused. "You were particularly annoying at that time last year."

"Funny, I thought it was you! You'll talk with me about it now, won't you?"

"All right. What's the second thing?"

"If I do counsel this young man, we'll meet every week for about two months. During that time, will you be a sounding board? I'll tell you what happened, you give me your reactions."

"If it's theory you want, Theo —"

"No, that's not your gift. It's your intuition I'm asking for. When we talk, some of it rubs off."

Abigail made a noise something like a snort; she thinks I make too much of things. It was the characteristic matter-of-factness of the female commenting on the characteristic melodrama of the male. But it was also assent.

"The third thing is that I want you to pray with me."

"We do that every day."

"I mean right now."

"Why didn't you say so?"

"I just did."

"All right. You start."

She was still amused, right through the prayer. We hung up, and I dialed the roommate.

PART THREE

Some days later I was seated in a counseling room with two young men, one of them twenty-one, the other about twenty-seven. Richard, the younger, was the one who had taken his girlfriend to an abortionist. Edward, the older, was his brother. Richard called him Skeet. The roommate had left town for Spring Break, and the mother had returned to her home. It had taken a surprisingly long time to arrange the meeting.

Edward was there just to check me out. He understood that if Richard committed himself to the counseling series, I would meet with Richard alone.

I had asked Richard to tell me the story.

"The next day, Cindy —"

"That's Richard's girlfriend, Mr. Theophilus."

"Sorry. I'm sorry," said Richard. "I should have said that."

"The next day ..." I prompted.

"The next day she called on the phone and said the test was positive."

"Did you talk about it?"

"They were concerned, Mr. Theophilus, because both of them are graduating this Spring, and they're already having job interviews. They couldn't consider a pregnancy."

"How do you remember the conversation, Richard?"

He shrugged, face blotchy, eyes focussed just below my own. "Cindy said we had to get an abortion."

"What did you say?"

"We were worried because we didn't have the money. But I called Skeet, and he loaned it to me. He said not to tell Mom and Dad because it would — it would kill them."

So he was in this too.

Richard continued his story: the waiting room of the abortionist, the other people present, and the numbness after it was over, followed by three weeks of hardly thinking of it at all.

"When did you begin to feel different?"

"My grandfather died. I was close to him all my life. That made me start thinking about death." Long pause. "On the way home from the funeral the radio was on, and — do you know the pop singer Liz?"

"Yes."

"She's real famous."

"Yes, I know."

"Well, a guy on one of those corny radio programs was talking about how a long time ago a woman was lying on a table waiting for an abortion, and she said to herself 'I can't do this' and walked right out. And seven months later the baby was born. And that baby was Liz."

"That's when it came to me. I thought, 'I killed my baby.'" Richard bent forward, clutched himself with his arms, and began to rock back and forth. "I killed my baby."

We talked a little more. About his fear that God would never forgive him. About his hopelessness because his girlfriend didn't understand why he was upset. About his shame that his grandfather, now in heaven, would know what he had done. We arranged the next meeting.

On the way out, Edward paused to thank me. There was no way to know what he was feeling. He hadn't asked for counseling; only Richard had. I pressed out of my thoughts toward him everything but gratitude that, despite his own complicity in the deed, he had brought Richard here for the meeting.

My mind was full, but I found a free corner to send in prayer a single imploring thought on Edward's behalf — something like the silent word, "Please."

PART 2: The Live One »

Copyright 2001 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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