The Soapbox: Pro what?

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Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.

At the turn of the millennium, I was working with local teens at risk through a two-year grant administered by Franconia Notch University.* These were tough kids – butane huffers, illiterates, tempest-tossed, just plain tossed out like so much refuse. Our primary work was to mend a thousand traumas as best we could and to point these kids in the right direction before they were forever lost.

Barbara was one young lady we worked with. She had a six-year-old daughter, the result of a rape by her father when she was 13. We obviously hadn’t known her when she was 13.

Her daughter Emily was born developmentally disabled and with Strabismus, crossed eyes that could only be corrected by surgery. She was prone to intestinal problems, at one time only eating Burger King fries, outbursts of anger, and speech limited to single syllables.

My wife Lorrie and I first connected with Barbara by doing respite care every other weekend with Emily.

Barbara never talked about the toll it took on her to have a baby under such circumstances. She never talked about testifying in court against her so-called father. She never talked about the years she lost – valuable teenage years. Gone was high school. Gone were dating and close friends. Sports? Forget it. An after-school job? No way.

Here’s the thing: Barbara loved Emily and we did, too. She delighted in the single-syllable words “hush,” “mush” and “moon” in Good Night Moon. She liked to pretend to sneeze with an increasing “Ah-Ah-AH-A-AH CHOO!” She called me “Shon,” lending my common name an air of royalty. We once watched her for a half-hour extract every drop of maple syrup from each nook and cranny of a waffle. A neighbor would hold his electric garage-door opener behind his back as Emily walked in a shuffling gait to touch the door. When she did, voila! The door opened as if by the magic in her fingertips! Arm flaps. High-pitched squeals. Toe dances.

At the time the grant ended, Emily was in temporary foster care and Barbara was studying to be a computer programmer. She lived with us for a year while she finished her studies. She got a good job, moved out and met a man who said if you want to keep Emily, she will be part of our family, if you don’t, I understand.

Barbara surrendered Emily to the state. Sometimes love is not enough.

Sometimes Lorrie and I wonder where Emily is.

What we don’t wonder is that there are untold Emilys all over the place. The smelly pan-handling mentally ill guy in your neighborhood…He’s a life, too. The droopy-faced opioid-addicted woman propositioning men for five dollars on lower Union Street…She’s a life, too. Seniors living in squalor. Families who have lost everything because of disability or illness. $1,100 a month gets you food and a tent.

Having worked in special education and rehabilitative services for much of my life, it galled me to hear our former president spout pro-life soundbites while he admittedly had to look away at times from watching the Special Olympics.

Pro-life becomes pro-what when law forces a woman to carry a baby with gills, with hydrocephalus accompanied by severe retardation, with a fetus that’s a bird-headed dwarf. Thankfully, such fetuses often result in miscarriages, but the current state of affairs will soon put women under suspicion for miscarriages, too. 

Here’s what we would have told Barbara when she was 13 and pregnant: Here are your choices. We will help you do what you want. This is not about guilt and shame, it’s about incest and rape.

When a woman’s choices are taken away because of Pro-What, those wagging the finger of shame should rush with all possible haste to offer their home to that smelly man with the mental illness.

He was once a fetus too.

*All names and references here other than John and Lorrie were changed by the author for publication.

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About this Author


John Angelo

John Angelo’s humor has appeared in “Publisher’s Weekly,” “Writer’s Digest,” and “American Bookseller.” He is a frequent contributor to the “New Hampshire Business Review.” For a Christmas concert at his Catholic grammar school, the nuns told him to mouth the words and that he’d better not make a sound under any circumstances.