I drive my best friend to the New Haven Planned Parenthood on a cold Saturday morning. I show up to Bella’s house, tell her parents she’s getting breakfast with me, and we flee. Music screams through my 1996 station wagon’s speakers. We dance as we scoot along the highway, laughing and gossiping. Kelsey has a new boyfriend, Oliver. Sydney’s thinking of making a Tinder account when she’s 18. What’s your dream prom dress? We never once change the station to the news.
Bella needs a simple STD test done, and to pick up prescription birth control, but her parents wouldn’t be happy if they knew of either. They think birth control will encourage sex. Bella knows she needs it for debilitating cramps. She also needs the birth control for its original intended use — birth control — but that won’t be her explanation of choice if her parents find her pills.
We park outside the building and enter quietly. Here in Connecticut anti-Planned Parenthood protesters are rare. We’re lucky to not be victims of strangers’ harassment. Still, we show up early, and go in quickly. I stand close to her as she presents her school ID and insurance card to the receptionist. Photo ID is required but her parents won’t allow her to get a driver's license. They don’t trust her to not crash and besides, the lessons cost too much and would interfere with schoolwork. We sit and wait for her appointment.
A friendly nurse calls Bella in, and I continue to wait in the reception area. Women and men start to stream in, some looking nervous, some looking tired, some looking cool. The sunlight softly slips into the clean room. I pick through a magazine. Afterwards we will get breakfast at a cheap diner not far from here and we’ll gossip more and wonder about our future. What do we want to do with our lives? Get away from home, certainly; be independent.
Bella wants to be a marine biologist. She worked in a Yale lab over the summer and, while she hated never seeing her friends and the work was stressful, it excited her. She would text me at night, after getting off the train sweaty and exhausted, and tell me confusing facts about cells and sea life. She got in to Vassar, her dream school, and she’s counting down the days until she can move to the dorms.
I’ve been in an art school for the past three years, and while I’ve learned much about myself through my time there, the most fulfilling experience of my life was working in a women’s center. I did receptionist work, answering phones and sending the callers through to volunteers more experienced than I, emptying out trash bins and dusting when it was still. Knowing that even my little contributions of cleaning dishes and replacing toilet paper made the lives of the volunteers a little bit easier, giving them more time to help women and families in need, filled me with enormous pride. I want to show the world the way this center helped so many, often quietly. I want to either be a journalist or get a political science degree — I am trying to decide which is better to use to fix the world.
Bella comes out of the doctor’s office, holding her pills in one hand. She smiles at me, which lights up her face and makes her look so human, so young.
“All clear!” she says, “Tests came back negative!”
We scuttle to my car, heads down and silent per usual. Still, there are no protestors, but there’s never a guarantee. I call our senators every day, for Bella and I and the nameless clients I sat next to while waiting for her appointment to end. I drive us past streets I’ve protested on because Bella couldn’t, because she had soccer practice that day and her parents would rather explode than have their precious daughter skip a practice, or day of school, or night at home safe where they could monitor her. I understand their fear. There’s a reason why we have to walk fast everywhere, why we pass through places without a sound.
We drive away from the Planned Parenthood and behind us lay down to sleep all the women who’ve lived and died for our right to walk through those doors. I turn on the news, just for a minute, just because I’m addicted to it and on the lookout for what I have to next call our senators about, and somewhere Margaret Sanger sighs, knowing that’s one more saved today, one more with a negative test and birth control in her hands, as is her God given right. I don’t think we’ll ever be done fighting in my and Bella’s lifetime. There will always be misinformed parents, sexist or racist or homophobic without realizing it, but there will also always be parents who want their children to be safe when the world is not. I can only hope what our grandmothers hoped — that our descendant’s world will be kinder than our own. Bella and others will always have battles needing to be won, but I will always have a Saturday morning to drive them where they need to go, a tank full of gas and a car full of music, and afterwards there will be pancakes and gossip to be shared.
Ana Blanchet is a memoirist and creative writer.