Conversations of Substance: The First Example
We stood in the 116th subway station, waiting on the downtown train to go to rehearsal in a new space somewhere in Chelsea, when Tom, who played alto saxophone, told me that he was upset that his girlfriend was going to get an abortion.
I was sitting on my up-ended saxophone case finishing a cigarette. The light was bright and grey. The air was biting cold.
Tom’s girlfriend was pregnant and was going to the clinic to get the abortion the next morning. She didn’t want Tom to come with her.
“What do you think,” he asked. “Do I have a right to be upset? Or don’t I have any say?”
We were in the last year of college. We played in a band together. I was envious of how he could play interestingly discordant solos to challenging jazz numbers, while I tried to overpower the chords with streams and streams of sound. He’d been with his girlfriend a while, in the kind of premature domestic nesting that happened when college wound down. He was sincere and easily confounded, but not especially sensitive.
We talked while we waited for the train. “I’m not saying that we wouldn’t go ahead with the abortion, but I think that what I want is important too. This is my responsibility also.”
You don’t have to carry the child, I said. And, you don’t have a commitment to each other that makes you responsible no matter what. So it’s ultimately her choice to do whatever she wants to do.
The conversation centered on how he felt ineffectual and responsible. I was sympathetic. He wanted to be responsible.
Vibrations washed up the tunnel, followed by a rush of heat. The #1 train pulled in. A few people came running down the stairs to the platform to catch the train. We stepped on. Our conversation lapsed. The doors closed and the train jerked ahead in the tracks. We didn’t talk about his child and the abortion ever again.