I will now tell my one Planned Parenthood story.
When I moved to Seattle in the mid-90s I first lived in a small prefab house behind a bigger, older house in the Judkins Park neighborhood, which, at the time, was a bit of a no-man’s land. I have no idea what it’s like now, but in 1995 it was all fast food joints and car dealerships and one really amazing Goodwill, and then a bunch of houses that were sketchy enough that you wouldn’t want to walk around late at night, though it was definitely not worse than the neighborhoods I had lived in Baltimore during college or DC after that. But our rent was dirt cheap – I want to say it was $750 for the house – and there were three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and we had a backyard, and there was this sweet foliage-lined walkway you could wander along and peer over all your neighbor’s fences. One of them had an old horse who would come over and eat dandelions out of your hand. So I guess when I moved in there, at least for a little while, I didn’t think it was that bad.
I don’t know if I had the power at that time to judge if a situation was good or bad anyway. I was fully in transition. I had no clue what I was doing with my life. I was half-assedly temping for the city, and going to rock shows every night, and writing extremely bad poetry. I shared the main floor of the house with a woman who worked at Elliott Bay Book Company, and she was smart enough to keep her nose in the books when necessary. There was also another roommate who lived in the basement, this young ex-military guy from Minnesota named Peter. Our relationship quickly disintegrated, and when we fought he called me Princess repeatedly. I found him physically intimidating.
The guys who lived in the front house were all from Redding, CA, and they were stoner snowboarders with long hair who had moved to Seattle because they liked Pearl Jam and wanted to start a band. Occasionally we would hang out with them but they were a real handful, and, generally, not my scene, and also sometimes they used the word Jew in a derogatory way, because, as they explained to me, they had never really known any Jews and they didn’t know why it was bad to say that, so I wasn’t allowed to be mad at them.
One night they had a big party and we all went over to their house, and I met a friend of theirs from their hometown who was staying with them for a few weeks. He had the same name as me, except he spelled it, “Jamey.” He had blond hair and he was tall and masculine and when he spoke he sounded extremely dumb, even though he was not. (Although I am one hundred percent certain he didn’t read books ever.) He worked as a captain on a ship. I genuinely loved Seattle for being the kind of place where you would regularly meet people who worked on fishing boats in Alaska or as captains on massive ships, because it was so different from where I came from, even if it was also a place where I encountered people who thought being Jewish was a weird, potentially mockable thing.
I slept with Jamey a few times because he was sort of good-looking and there was at least a small possibility that we both strangely got off on the fact that we had the same name. Eventually I think I decided he was too dumb for me, or perhaps that he was just sort of dull. Also he drank so much. I guess he drank like a sea captain. He would get so drunk I wouldn’t be able to understand what he was saying. We had an argument, and then I blew him off. He didn’t like that I didn’t want to see him anymore. He kept coming over to my house, and I would hide in my room. He would follow me to my car in the morning, and I would rush to get inside and lock the door. He went off to sea for a while, and then when he came back he knocked on my front door and told me that he had tested positive for an STD. He did not think he had gotten it from me, but there was a chance he might have given it to me. I can’t remember which STD. I’ve blocked it out. It was something awful-sounding like syphilis or gonorrhea. It felt Biblical.
I, of course, didn’t have health care, so I went to Planned Parenthood, an organization I knew about because I had been neck-deep in the world of volunteerism and non-profit organizations since I was in high school. I had marched on Washington for a women’s right to choose, but I had never once needed their services. Until I graduated from college, I had always had healthcare. Now I was on my own and while I had made some awful choices since I had moved to Seattle, not the least of which was sleeping with an alcoholic sea captain with stalker tendencies, I am pretty sure I did not deserve to suffer through a terrible STD. I was extremely grateful for Planned Parenthood’s existence.
As it turned out, I did not have syphilis or gonorrhea or whatever it was. The very nice lady at Planned Parenthood listened to my story and, to her credit, did not crack a smile at my gullibility. She told me that she was pretty sure that I didn’t have anything, but that of course they would test me. She thought he was just messing with me, that this was a thing that an angry, rejected person might do in order to get my attention, but that I should take medicine anyway. It goes without saying that she was the only grownup in the situation. I was so deep in it – everyone around me was – that I couldn’t see what was happening was wrong. Sometimes it is enough just to have someone new to talk to about the problems in your life.
I took the medicine. It made me horribly sick. A day later I got the test results and it turns out I did not have anything except a case of Terrible Living Situation coupled with a small Bad Judgment infection. I got my act together and moved to a small studio over on Capitol Hill, near the intersection of 19th and John, right around the corner from the apartment building that appears in “Singles.” I got a job in a nursing home. Every day at work I would talk to people who had dementia. They all thought I was the most beautiful young thing they had ever seen.
I have donated money to Planned Parenthood for as long as I’ve had an income that has allowed me to do that and even sometimes when I don’t. I was an idiot, a child, a fool, and they were there for me. Even just to hear someone say that I was going to be OK meant the world to me. They’ve helped millions of people, many of whom are genuinely sick and not just being messed with by crazy ex-boyfriends. They also help prevent people from getting sick. They provide basic care when it is needed to people who cannot afford to take care of themselves. They educate people, women, men, and teenagers. No one else does what they do.
Last week the U.S. House of Representatives voted to bar Planned Parenthood health centers from all federal funding for birth control, cancer screenings, HIV testing, and other lifesaving care. You can send a letter to the people who voted for this here, and tell them they were wrong to do so. You can also make a donation there. New Yorkers, you can join me at this rally for women’s health next Saturday, Feb 26. Let’s make some noise. This is unacceptable.
If you have a Planned Parenthood story you want to share, feel free to do so in the comments.