After about a dozen roommates had come and gone through my life, I was ready to live alone. I found a reasonably priced one- bedroom apartment that was just a short walk from Lake Michigan, as well as from the bars and restaurants along Brady Street. I signed the necessary papers, paid my first month’s rent and security deposit, and waited for the first of the month to arrive.
When I excitedly told my then-boyfriend about my new home, he asked me, “Isn’t that right by that abortion clinic?”
The only building in my new neighborhood that had caught my eye was Body Ritual; a tattoo shop that was across the street from my apartment building. I hadn’t seen any abortion clinic. But sure enough, thirty feet from my front door was an abortion clinic.
I never would have noticed its existence had it not been for the protesters who seemed to start picketing 24 hours a day as soon as my lease was signed.
Being a bartender, I often came home in the early hours of many Sunday mornings, and right near my house I’d see a cluster of old white people standing around and looking bored, like loitering teenagers.
Sometimes they carried signs on sticks, or held up their Bibles as pedestrians passed by. Occasionally I saw them gather in a circle, and then genuflect for several minutes in prayer. But the worst was when the stretched out their oversized banners with blown up photographs of aborted babies. Anytime I left home I was greeted by a horrifying billboard of infant limbs surrounded by blood and partially formed organs.
I’d spoken to some people in my building who passionately hated the protesters. I myself had always appreciated people standing up for what they believe in, but these protestors were relentless and there was an endless supply of them. I tried my best to avoid them, leaving home by exiting through the back door as much as I could.
When my best friend had a baby that summer, I decided I wanted to get to know my new goddaughter, and I wanted her to know me. I started babysitting every Wednesday. Often times I strapped Alaina into her stroller and walked her to the lakefront. On these days, I always took the opportunity to march right through the clump of protestors, even if walking past them involved me going around the block to get back towards my destination.
No one ever said a word to me as I passed by.
That, more than the grotesque signs, bothered me. Presumably pro-life advocates support the women who chose to have babies, and I could easily have been Alaina’s mother. Yet these protesters, who had no problem yelling at strangers, never turned to me as I passed to say, “What a beautiful baby!” or even, “Hello.”
I’d slowly stroll through, pushing the stroller and attempting to meet their eyes, and no one even gave me a smile.
One day I was walking home and had to pass through their crowded portion of my sidewalk. I was carrying groceries and listening to music. I held my head high and looked straight ahead as I walked by.
An older man stepped in front of me flailing his arms and saying something. Alarmed, I shifted my grocery bag and pulled out one of my ear buds. “What?” I asked.
“Do you believe in Jesus! Jesus SAAAAVES!” He yelled. He waved a small paper pamphlet at me.
“Yeah, I do.” Argue with that, I thought. I pushed my ear bud back in my ear and walked around him.
He followed me. “Jesus SAAAVES! JESUS SAAAAVES!” He shouted.
I rolled my eyes and continued on towards my house, vowing that I’d research neighborhoods-to-be before I ever signed another lease.