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Spring days in Colorado arrive early and depart late, like your mother at an already too-long dinner party. It was finals week, and one of my computer science projects had defied completion. I spent a night in the engineering center’s computer lab, a quaint box of hot computers. Before the internet and personal computers became ubiquitous, programming occurred in this special building with lots of hardware and air-conditioned floors.

As I made notes with a pencil on a paper listing of computer code, I noticed a woman from my class seated on the floor across from me. I’d always avoided her; she was tall and gangly with the most beautiful legs, and—as a senior—seemingly unapproachable from my perch as a freshman.

We talked. We bought coffee from a vending machine. We met again the next night.

As hearts fueled desire, minds leapt toward free expression. I confided in her: my near-death experience in a skiing accident a year earlier. She confided in me: her rape by a university basketball player over spring break, and the possibility of pregnancy.

I wanted to hold her secret, delicately like I had held her, but I was ill-equipped to carry this bombshell. My mind reeled into the next county. Should I embrace her or run? By then, logical reasoning was out of reach. Feelings were the only thing that remained.

Days later, she invited me to a friend’s dorm located at the center of campus, sited next to a grass-green field, and featuring a Mediterranean inspired red-tile roof and walls of quarried sandstone. My memory of the interior room remains intact. Bunk beds. Unmade sheets on the bottom mattress. Hot lips and exploring hands. “At least I don’t have to worry about getting pregnant,” she joked. The one thing most young men are so strongly conditioned to desire, first sex, was upon me. I was nearly in a state of shock.

A few days later, after classes were finished and the computer program successfully turned in, reality finally caught up with emotions.

Upon hearing of the rape, I immediately hated this unknown basketball player. How could he hurt her like that? I’d asked her how it happened. Her answers were murky. Descriptions lacked specificity. This was about her, but feelings of jealously and rage lurked within me. Did I really want to know?

Then, the pregnancy was confirmed. For a week, she swirled with uncertainty about what she wanted and what could be. Fate is cruel: after stripping her of her own free will, it now left her with nothing but choices.

She asked for my help. Anything, I thought. “I want to get an abortion,” she said, “and I don’t have the money. Asking my parents is out of the question.”

I agreed to help her. I’d been a Boy Scout, after all. Getting an abortion in Colorado required a doctor’s evaluation and assertion that the mother’s mental or physical health was threatened by going to term. And Colorado was a progressive state.

I accompanied her to the psychological exam and then to the hospital for the procedure. A nurse first looked at her chart, and then toward me with a face filled with disgust. I wanted to protest that I wasn’t the father, but was merely trying to help. I paid the bill, about $300, and the hospital promised confidentiality. Later, a bill for twenty-four cents arrived at her family home.

I still hated the basketball player. I’d once checked the roster and wondered who he was.

As young loves go, this one ended when she graduated and moved to Alaska. I started my sophomore year. Distance does make things hard.

Last week, for the first time in over 20 years, I walked past that friend’s dorm, where my life had inexorably changed. It looked the same. I wish I could withstand the passing of time as well as it had. What if a freshman’s dorm could speak? The stories it might tell.

That building had seen 80 years of incoming freshmen. Imagine the hopes and dreams that had flowered there. I sat on a bench in some shade and thought of her. I wondered if she ever thought of me. I thought of him. I didn’t hate him. I didn’t even know him. We’d all moved on.

Steven M. Wells

Steven M. Wells writes on rainy days, or walks his dog, and lives near Seattle.

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