05 | You’re Not That Important

In 1961, Leonid Rogozov, a young surgeon at the Soviet research station in Antarctica, had appendicitis. Winter was setting in, there were no flights out, and the ship that brought him wouldn’t return for a year. He wrote in his diary, “Still no obvious symptoms that perforation is imminent, but an oppressive feeling of foreboding hangs over me.... I have to think through the only possible way out—to operate on myself.... It’s almost impossible...but I can’t just fold my arms and give up.” With a local anesthetic and working by touch, he cut into his abdominal wall. “Well, I thought, it’s going to end badly and all that was left was removing the appendix.” Rogozov survived his auto-appendectomy and was back at work in two weeks. He returned to Russia hating Antarctica but as a national hero. - LINK

I’m no hero in any story, not mine or Betty’s.

In February 1973, four months before she was murdered, I learned I was pregnant. Roe vs. Wade had just become law. The decision to have the abortion made the future serious, and Doug and I decided to marry at the end of the school year. Right before Mother’s Day, without telling me, he told his parents about the abortion. Betty cried. Did my abortion light a match?

The night of the murder, I went to a pay phone near Doug’s house to call my mom. A couple of days later she flew to Colorado. She already knew about the abortion, and now I told her about Duane’s bruise, his heavy clothing, his weird behavior at our flat. She cut me off. You don’t really know anything, do you? she said. And think what it’d do to Doug. But mom, I said, I think Betty died because of me, because of something I did. You’re not that important, mom replied.

The cops didn’t interview me in 1973, and I didn’t talk to them. Was telling my mother enough? She was probably trying to protect me, but why did I buy into her line? It was easier to believe I knew nothing, that stealing Betty’s son and aborting her first grandchild were nonevents. More than anything, I hoped mom was right. In 2008, when Duane’s lawyers pummeled me on the stand on what they called a duty to come forward, it was nothing compared to the nightly auto-appendectomies I’d undergone for thirty-five years. And by then I knew the truth.

In 2005, the cold case cop who contacted me had two questions: Did I know where the murder weapon was, and did I have an abortion in 1973?

Somewhere between Leonid Rogozov and total insignificance, I fit into the story. And it wasn’t just Betty’s story. It was also mine.

In the scheme of things, where do you fit? How important are you in your own story?

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