el paso church

Sagradas: A Texas Story

by | September 9, 2021

“Dude, did you know we’ve been excommunicated?”

Inez’s voice crumbled. I fumbled with the phone and looked at the clock on my nightstand. It was six-thirty a.m. on a Sunday morning.

“What?” I asked. “Excommunicated? From what or where?” We had just been out the night before, and for a moment, I thought she meant from the bar we’d gone to.

“We’re excommunicated. From the church, guëy,” she sobbed. “For having an abortion. I didn’t know that would happen! It can’t be fixed. You can’t just go to confession and repent. Like, we can’t take communion, ever.” She said the last sentence slowly, like she was telling herself more than she was telling me. “My ama told me. I think she knows.”

She cried softly as I tried to think of the right words to soothe her.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know, either.”

I hated hearing her so down. I felt only a shallow sadness about what she was saying. I didn’t take communion, and at twenty-three, I felt far removed from the approval of the Catholic Church. As a young woman, it seemed you could never please them, and besides, I didn’t want to be anything like the ones that did.

But it mattered to Inez.

“They just don’t know…I talked to God about, you know, about what happened,” she sobbed. “It wasn’t an easy choice. People just, they hate you for it, like, the ones that protest outside Hilltop, they don’t know what it’s like, or why. I did what I had to do, dude,” she cried. “Only you know why.”

“I do,” I said softly. “You don’t need them; you know you don’t need them to talk to God.”

I’m going to tell you a story.

My first experience with anti-abortion protestors happened when I was sixteen. My dad very randomly pulled me out of school one morning and said I had a doctor’s appointment.

I distinctly remember that it was cloudy. The car ride was silent.

“I’m not sick, Dad.”

“I know you’re not sick, m’ija,” he chuckled anxiously. “I’m taking you to a doctor for women. Linda said this doctor was very good.” Linda was his co-worker. “You’re older now so I just thought I would bring you for a check-up and if you have any questions, you can ask the doctor.”

To this day, I find this moment hard to believe when contrasted with so much of my upbringing. My dad was not a feminist man. I’m not sure what or who could have led him to take me to an OB-GYN at sixteen but I’m assuming he must have thought I was sexually active and that perhaps I’d need birth control pills. I don’t know if he’d ever admit that now. I grew up with very traditional Mexican parents, so try imagining a señor saying these words and simultaneously looking as uncomfortable as his daughter had ever seen him.

As we turned into the medical center, I noticed a small crowd making a commotion outside of an office door. We walked through the parking lot and found that they were protesting outside the doctor I was there to see. There must have been at least ten people there, but they felt like a hundred. They were angry and screaming. Several were holding anti-abortion signs. A bearded man walked up to us. His face was twisted.

“You’re here to see this murderer!” he yelled. “You must be a murderer, too!”

I looked down at his hands. He was holding a pickle jar filled with liquid, a tiny baby doll floating inside.

There was so much I didn’t understand then. I look back on my child and teen years and so much of it feels like it happened while I was underwater. We waded through the protestors and found our way inside.

The gynecologist’s office was just like any other; rows of sterile chairs, a coffee table with a few magazines. Absolutely nothing “criminal” about it. The doctor was an athletic-yet-tired looking older blonde woman wearing a white coat and running shoes. She was kind as she gently asked about my body and sexual history. At that time, the latter was non-existent.

“I’m sorry about those people outside. Did they scare you?”

I know it sounds strange, but I don’t think I understood at that moment that those people were outside because she was an abortion provider. There’s that underwater part again.

I realized it six years later, when I was twenty-two and found myself in a paper gown at Hilltop Women’s Reproductive Clinic, the only abortion provider in town. I was there to terminate a pregnancy.

Griz Muñoz
A picture from exactly that time

“The doctor will be right in,” said the nurse before gently closing the door.

I recognized her the instant I saw her running shoes. She wore her whitecoat and her straight blonde hair was twisted in a messy bun. Her face was still kind, her voice soft and soothing. I was too overcome with shame to tell her I knew her, that she had been my first gynecologist at sixteen.

I was lost. If earlier years had been like being underwater, I was now caught in a whirlpool. Although I had never imagined myself as a mother at the time, I knew it couldn’t happen the way it was going to. I was despondent and caught in a physically, emotionally and sexually abusive relationship. And I’d been doing cocaine, first as a party drug and later, quietly on my own. My spirit was disintegrating.

I didn’t need a child. I needed help.

During this terrible time, I experienced a clear realization that if I went forth with this pregnancy, my baby would suffer.

I don’t have to say more about why. But I will say that in that moment, I knew that woman in the whitecoat was there to guide me, just as she had six years before. It wasn’t until then I understood why the anti-abortion protestors had been outside her office that morning.

She was risking her life for my freedom.

My freedom over my own body, which had always been subverted and dominated by the patriarchal system that I lived in. No one had taught me about bodily autonomy because it did not benefit them. My intentional ignorance benefitted the patriarchy, the state, and the church. My unfreedom enabled others to use my body for labor. Through this ignorance, they ensured my submission.

How would I have known then that a woman, especially a Black or Brown one, having control over her body was considered radical?

The doctor gently asked me about my health and sexual history and after a short examination, wrote out a prescription for RU-486, the abortion pill.

I took half the dosage in the office and had to take the other half at home.

Except I lived with my parents and I couldn’t do this at home and I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t have money for a hotel and I didn’t want to be in one anyway. I couldn’t bear my mom finding out, she would be devastated, and every fiber of my being told me to get away from the man I was involved with. I also needed to escape from the version of myself I didn’t even recognize in the mirror anymore.

It was all bad.

“My mom said you can stay here,” said Angie. “She doesn’t agree with it, okay, but she doesn’t want you out there with nowhere to go. She said you can stay in the living room, on the couch.”

It surprised me to receive this news from Angie. Her mom was like mine, a traditional señora, but she had also been a single mom who raised two daughters. I knew that she didn’t approve, but I had nowhere else to go. I couldn’t afford a hotel, and even then, I didn’t want to be in one alone.

I saw Angie’s mom only once, when I arrived at her home that night with my duffel bag. As we spoke, there was a deep concern in her eyes.

“Ay m’ija, cuídese mucho, por favor. Su cuerpo es sagrado,” she said before going upstairs to her room and closing the door.

I understood she would not be coming down again until I was gone.

I took the pills and it was there, in that little apartment in East El Paso, where it passed. My friend made me hot teas and my body learned to grieve in a new way.

I have often thought of that señora, how much of an act of grace it must have been to let me stay there that night, on her floral sofa. Her eyes had looked upon me in the same way my own mother’s might have, full of grief and maybe a little bit of fear that what I was doing went against God. To them, God was Everything.

I have had the pleasure, and occasional displeasure, of having lived in the same city for most of my life. I am now a mother, an author, and a practitioner of traditional Mexican curanderismo. I am no longer living underwater. I guess you could say that these days, I am almost painfully aware.

It wasn’t until later that I learned about the folk healing and curanderismo of this place, how the abuelas and curanderas, the hierberas, would help relieve women of the pregnancies they could not carry using herbs and teas. I learned how it has long been taboo and intimidating when women are connected to the earth in this manner. These women healers have always been here and always will be. Our connection to the earth predates feminism.

Every time that I drive past that little apartment complex, I remember the family that welcomed me. They have long moved from there and I have lost touch with them but as years pass, I find myself thinking of them more and more. As someone who has been invited to perform home cleanses, I wonder what traces of sadness and violence I left in that home. The shame I felt for many years has been replaced with a deep sense of gratitude. The last time I drove by, I extended my arm out as I passed, and I prayed, I asked the Creator to bless that woman for her bravery and love, if even in defiance of her God.

She was an angel to me in that moment.

Today, under new Texas law, Angie, her mother, and my doctor could be criminalized for leading me to freedom. I know that had I not made that choice, I would not have had the opportunity to heal.

Today, under new Texas law, Angie, her mother, and my doctor could be criminalized for leading me to freedom. I know that had I not made that choice, I would not have had the opportunity to heal.

I believe anyone should be able to receive a safe and legal abortion and I have a final detail to add to my story.

I have run into that man whose child I sent back to its origin. He never left the city, either. In these twenty years, I’ve seen his face in the paper three times.

The first time it was for drunk driving. The second was for domestic violence. The third time put me in bed for a week. He was accused of molesting an eleven-year-old girl. At the time, my daughter was twelve. I had her when I was twenty-eight.

I do not blame the scared, confused woman I was. I wish I could embrace her. And I can’t imagine what our life would have been like had we not made that choice. I’m grateful for her, too, because she made that choice for the woman we’ve become. She followed her instincts and for that, I am proud. Like a river that would have changed course, there is no telling where I’d be now if I hadn’t had that choice to make and the legal control over my body that I exerted.

The choice was mine and mine alone to make. And it was sacred to me.

Gris Muñoz is a frontera poet and storyteller. She is the author of the bilingual poetry and short-story collection, Coatlicue Girl, most recently named a finalist for the John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry by the Texas Institute of Letters. Her work has been highlighted by The Rumpus, Bitch Media and The Smithsonian Latino Center among others and she has been featured by The Texas Book Festival, The Tamarindo Podcast, and the Latino Collection & Resource Center at San Antonio Public Library in collaboration with Texas Public Radio. She is also the co-founder of the digital map and storytelling project, GeoTestimonios Transfronterizxs, which aims to record the experiences of women living on the El Paso/Juarez border. Gris is currently commissioned to write the biography of acclaimed LA artist Fabian Debora. She is Xicana of Apache descent.