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hidden past and a clear future
I let out a sigh as I sit down at my small kitchen table with a freshly brewed cup of tea. I am exhausted from my long day of work and I’m ready to unwind. I mix my tea and sugar with a spoon, swirling it, creating a tiny, black whirlpool as I flip through the grey pages of my newspaper. I lift the cup of tea towards my mouth. Steam pours over the edge and fogs up my glasses that are perched on the tip of my nose. I gently blow on the liquid to cool it down, then I sip slowly. This is the time I look forward to every single day- me time. As I skim through the horoscope section, I hear lightweight, flighty footsteps pattering across the ceramic tile of my kitchen floor.
I glance up through the lenses of my glasses and see Anna. I notice her wearing that same ratted, red sweatshirt she borrowed from her boyfriend. The drawstrings that hang from the hood are frayed at the ends, the tattered hem comes halfway down her thighs, and the once snow white text that reads “Varsity Football” has now faded to a dingy, sickening shade of yellow. It makes her look like a hobo.
“Anna, dear, you’d think that ugly scrap of material is the only piece of clothing you own,” I criticize. “Your father and I work hard and buy you nice things, yet you’ve insisted on wearing that same glorified dishrag for weeks. It’s practically 4 sizes too big! You have such a cute shape, too. Why are you hiding it?”
Anna avoids eye contact with me. I’ve seen this look countless times before: flushed cheeks, widened eyes with dilated pupils, shifting her weight side to side between her feet. She’d made a mistake and is about to confess. I set down my newspaper, close my eyes, and rub my temples. “What did you do this time, Anna?” I groan.
“M-m-mom, I have to tell you something,” she stutters. “But I really don’t know how to say it.”
“Go on,” I moan, crossing my arms over my chest and rolling my eyes. I’m preparing myself to hear about the D she got on her last physics test or the detention she received for cutting class, yet again. I was going to have to take off work to meet with her principal and try to come up with a way to straighten her out. The principal and I are very well-acquainted by now.
“But Mom, you have to promise me you won’t get mad and yell. I can’t handle it right now. And don’t tell Dad, please. He can’t know yet,” Anna says frantically. Her big blue eyes grow glassy, she twirls a chestnut brown curl between her slender fingers, and she timidly bites her lower lip.
“Anna, tell me. Now,” I snap. Anna has never been this nervous or upset when she tells me about the trouble she gets herself in. Nothing fazes her. Not low grades, not the principal’s threats and warnings. “This must be big,” I figure.
Anna retracts her arms into the sleeves of her sweatshirt and wipes her runny nose with the torn wrist. She finally makes eye contact with me. Tears brim in her eyes and she chokes on her own words.
“I’m pregnant,” she whispers.
“Excuse me?” I question. There’s no way I heard that correctly. She’s too young. Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me. Maybe this is just a prank. And a really cruel one at that.
“I’m pregnant, Mom,” Anna whines. She crinkles her eyes shut as tears pour out of them. Then, she lifts the ratty hem of her sweatshirt to reveal a small bulge protruding from her stomach. A baby bump. Suddenly, the reason behind that red sweatshirt is crystal clear.
My mind is blank and I am at a complete loss for words. I just sit there in silence. It’s so quiet, I can hear the clock ticking in the next room. I part my lips, but no words come out. I reach my hand forward and rest it on my 17 year old daughters slightly rounded belly. I feel the baby shift inside her.
The baby is an alien invading my daughter’s insides. Squirming in there like a worm, its movements make her abdomen deviate and ripple ever so slightly. It’s not normal. It’s not supposed to be there. Even as I feel it press a tiny against my hand, I’m still in shock and disbelief.
All I can manage to say is, “How?”
“God, Mom, you know how,” Anna says, disgusted. She wrinkles her nose and rolls her eyes as she sharply pulls her sweatshirt back down over her stomach.
“Anna, you know very well what I mean. Who’s the father?” I say, raising my voice.
“Don’t yell, Mom. Please. The dad’s Dylan. You like, Dylan, Mama. Remember?” Anna says placing a soft hand on my shoulder.
“Not anymore I don’t, “ I say sharply. Anna pulls her hand away and looks the other direction. “How far along are you?” I ask.
“Um, about 4 months,” Anna mumbles, looking back at the floor and fidgeting with her fingers.
“4 months? 4 months and you’re just now telling me?” I yell. My voice cracks and I try to hide my tears. That hurts. Why didn’t she tell me right away? “Who else knows?”
“Just Dylan. But, Mom, he says he’s gonna help with the baby. He’s gonna get a job and help pay for things and- I’m so sorry, Mom,” Anna replies. She slumps down in the chair next to me, defeated, and breaks down crying. She lays her head on the table and hides her face in the arms of her sweatshirt. Her body trembles and quivers as she sobs.
All this information is too much for me to handle. I just can’t deal with it right now. I’m hurt that she hid this from me for so long and I’m about to cry, but I can’t cry in front of her. This is all too reminiscent of a situation I am very familiar with. “I’m sorry, Anna, I just need a moment,” I say shaking my head and pushing my chair away from the table.
“Wait, Mom, please,” Anna calls after me. I get up and leave Anna- my pregnant, teenage daughter- there in the kitchen. I immediately feel a little guilty, but I don’t stop walking. I storm down the hall to my bedroom and slam the door shut in frustration, letting out a small grunt. I pace in circles on the floor. How could this happen? Where did I go wrong? I’ve tried so hard to make sure that this would never happen to Anna so she wouldn't have to go through what I did. I always told her to be careful with boys and, no matter what she did, be safe. But I failed her. What will everyone think of her? Of me as a mother?
My heart drops to a dark pit in the bottom of my stomach and starts churning like a washing machine on steroids. I run into the bathroom and lean over the toilet. All of the sudden, I am that scared, confused, pregnant 17 year old girl again, and I retrograde into memories of my past- memories I’ve repressed for so long.
I woke up drenched in a cold sweat. It felt like someone sliced my stomach open and tied my intestines in a knot. That knot twisted and squirmed inside me and started climbing its way up my throat, threatening to launch itself onto my comforter. I ran to the bathroom and spewed into the toilet. Sweat soaked my hair, fusing it flat to my scalp. I sat there for a moment, weak, shaking, and clinging to the alabaster porcelain bowl. “What the…?” I thought to myself. “I wasn’t sick last night. I don’t have a fever...” Something felt off. Different. Just not right. “Oh, God, no.” A thousand thoughts flew through mind- all worst case scenarios. I was scared, alone, and powerless.
First, I tied my stringy hair back off of my face. Then, I sprayed the bathroom with Lysol to cover up the stench, vigorously brushed my teeth, gargled Listerine, and hopped in the shower. I sat down, crunched on the frigid tile floor and allowed the cold water to pour over my body, completely consuming me. As I sat there, I closed my eyes and feared the worst. “I’m not pregnant. I just can’t be,” I told myself. I got out and dried off, then threw on a sweatshirt of my boyfriend’s- the same tactic Anna used- to hide my body along with my suspicions. This routine continued every morning for a week and my fears tackled their way to the forefront of my mind.
The next week, I chugged five bottles of Gatorade and drove to the gas station three towns over. “No one will know me there,” I figured. I bought a pregnancy test and locked myself in a bathroom stall. After those two minutes passed- the two longest minutes of my life- I looked down at that cheap plastic stick. I saw a pink plus sign. Positive. I was pregnant.
I hear a knock on my bedroom door. “Stacy, dear? Are you in there?” It’s my husband, Vincent- Anna’s father. I don’t answer. He comes in anyway.
“Stace, what’s going on? Anna’s crying but she won’t tell me why she’s upset. Do you know what’s wrong?” he asks. He looks so concerned and perplexed. His brow is furrowed and raised, making the crinkles around his eyes much more prominent. My poor, clueless husband. I have no idea how he will react.
“Yes, Vinny, I know. Come in here and I’ll tell you.” I sit him down on the edge of our bed and hold his hands in mine, looking him in the eyes as I told him our Anna was going to have a baby. I still didn’t quite believe it myself. As we spoke, his brows relax and the corners of his lips draw downwards into a frown of disappointment. We sit there in unbearable silence for a long time as he stares at the hypnotic, swirling pattern of the carpet and bounces his heels on the floor. “Well, Vin?” I say after a few minutes.
“It’s not true,” he says, pulling his hands out of my grasp and turning his knees away from me. “You’re trying to pull one over me. And it’s not funny. I’m not laughing, Stacy.”
“That’s the truth, Vinny,” I reply, shaking my head in disbelief. I kneel on the bed and hug him from behind, resting my chin on his shoulder and rubbing his upper arm with my palm. “Anna’s pregnant. I don’t like it, but that’s the truth. We have to decide what to do. Vin, she is having a baby.”
“Well, it can’t happen. She can’t have that baby. I won’t allow it,” he yells. Vincent abruptly bolts upwards, pushing me off of him sharply with his elbow. I tumble backwards onto the mattress.
“Vincent, shut up! You take that back!” I scream back, bouncing off the bed and chasing after him as he storms out of the bedroom, slamming the door in my face with a loud crash.
The slam rattles the wall and sends a picture frame flying off of the wall. The frame crashes to the ground and shatters. I jump and gasp. Then, I kneel to the ground to sweep the broken glass into a pile. As I gather the shards of glass, I notice the picture on the carpet: a picture of me and my parents at my church confirmation. I was about 13 years old. They looked so proud of me in that picture. Little did they know that less than 3 years later, I’d become the biggest disappointment they could have ever imagined.
I sat on the edge of the bed and told my parents that I was pregnant, in that same sweatshirt of my boyfriend’s that I had been wearing for weeks to hide my expanding belly. I didn’t know what to do, but I was tired of this sinking, lonely feeling. I needed help. But my parents were super religious. My mother cried into my father’s shoulder, thumbed the rosary around her neck, and whispered silent prayers to the Lord. My father called me an embarrassment, a disgrace. And I believed him. I was supposed to graduate high school, go to college, and then, on to medical school or law school. But I ruined his perfect plans. How were they going to show their faces in the church ever again? I reached out to touch my mother’s hand, but she pulled it away and turned her back to me. My father couldn’t bear to look at me.
“This isn’t how we raised you, Stacy. Get out,” he said under his breath.
“Daddy, I-” I whispered.
“Stacy, I said get out. Get out of my house. Now!” he yelled.
I ran into the cold rainy night. As I ran, I let my tears and the cold falling raindrops mix together on my cheeks. I ran until I got to my destination: my boyfriend’s house. I had to tell him. He deserved to know. I needed someone. Anyone. Him. When I knocked on his front door, I was a soaked, pregnant, hormonal mess. My hair was soaked, my eyes were bloodshot, and mascara stained my cheeks in grey streaks, but I didn’t care. Jacob answered the door with a smile. That smile quickly faded into a look of horror and concern.
“Stace, baby, what happened to you?”
“Jake, I need to tell you something,” I sobbed.
“Come in first,” he said, throwing his varsity letterman jacket over my shoulders and taking me in his arms.
When we got inside, I thought, “Finally, someone who loves me.” Jacob wrapped me in a warm, dry, blanket and sat me on the couch. I suddenly wanted him- needed him- badly. I leaned onto him, placed a hand on his muscular chest and ran my other hand through his thick, wavy hair and firmly pressed my lips against his.
Jacob seemed surprised at first, but quickly relaxed and kissed me back. He wrapped his arms around my waist and placed his hands on the small of my back.
After a few minutes, Jacob pushed me off of him. “Wait, wait, wait, Stace. What’s going on here?” he questioned. “One minute, you’re outside my door, crying, saying you need to tell me something, and the next, you’re all up on me. What did you want to say?”
I blushed. “That must have been the hormones acting,” I thought to myself, utterly embarrassed. I hesitated and looked at the floor, tapping my toes. Then I took a deep breath and told him about the whole ordeal: my parents basically disowning me, the look on my father’s face and the pain in his voice, and that I was carrying his child. The entire time, he sat with his elbows resting on his knees and his head supported by his hands. After a long silence, I said “Well, Jake, say something. Please.”
“God, Stace, I thought we were careful. We were being safe!” he groaned, shaking his head.
“We were, Jake. But it still happened and now we have to deal with this,” I answered. “What are we gonna do?” I cried, leaning into his shoulder.
“I don’t know, Stace. I don’t know. I wish there was something I could do to help you, but I just don’t think I can. I’ve got football and the scholarship and everything,” he said. Jacob stood up and paced back and forth in front of the couch. “ I can’t get a job. I can’t raise a kid. I’m too young to be a dad. I’m so, so sorry, Stace.”
Those words stabbed my heart like a knife. That pain spread through my whole body and paralyzed my soul. No one wanted me. No one loved me. No one cared. I had never felt that alone before. I supressed my tears and tried to act cool. “Oh, that’s okay, Jake. I can figure something out.” I said through a fake smile. “I don’t need your help anyway. I just thought that you would want to know.” I stood up and headed back for the door.
“Hey, don’t be like that, Stace! It’s not like it’s my fault!” Jacob called after me.
“I said I’ll deal with it,” I growled through gritted teeth. “Oh, and you can have this back!” I grunted, pulling off his sweatshirt. I didn’t want it anymore. I was left in nothing but a thin, skin tight camisole that exposed the bottom of my rounding midriff. I didn’t care, though. I tossed the sweatshirt into a heap on the floor, stomped my muddy sneaker on it, and stepped over it. I didn’t look back. I kept my eyes forward as I stepped back out into the dark, brisk night.
I hope Anna isn’t feeling the way I did. No one deserves to feel that lonely. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I really don’t want Anna to see me as the enemy. Vincent is reacting the exact same way as my father did, and I hate it. It fills my heart with a fiery rage. I flop back on my bed and the mattress bounces under me. As the rippling box spring settles, my comforter deflates like a balloon slowly releasing its helium, and I throw a pillow over my face to block out the blinding light of the crystal chandelier above me. I need darkness. I try to come up with a solution, but my mind draws a blank. All I can see in one big, fat question mark. Any problem solving ability I once had is now replaced with a hangover-esque, searing migraine. I need to do something to help Anna, but I just don’t know what. The one thing I am sure of in this hazy, groggy, miserable state is that I certainly can’t do with Anna what my parents did with me.
I came home from Jacob’s house that night shivering with my camisole drenched all the way through. I told my parents I didn’t want to keep the baby. It wasn’t human to me. It was a parasite, eating me from the inside out, ruining my life. When I told them that, however, my parents made it very clear that wasn’t an option. My mother cried and reached for the Bible she kept sitting on the mantle and fidgeted with the rosary around her neck, praying to God to “forgive me for my ignorance.” “Stacy, you have sinned once by breaking your oath of abstinence, but I will not allow you to sin again. I don’t want you to have this baby, but God decided that this is your punishment, and he will not be disobeyed,” my father bellowed as my mother waved her crucifix and sprinkled holy water around the room.
Their solution was to send me away. They told neighbors that I was going to visit my grandmother in Connecticut, but they sent me away to a school for “troubled girls.” This school had girls with all kinds of problems: drug addicts, dropouts, and of course, there was me, the pregnant girl. I kept to myself and didn’t make any friends while I was there. But is that really such a surprise? I was absolutely miserable. While I was at the school, I found a couple who wanted to adopt my baby. They seemed nice enough. “Good,” I thought. “In 6 more months, it won’t be my issue anymore.”
6 months passed by slowly. One morning when my stomach was so swollen I thought it would explode, I woke up screaming, writhing in pain. Contractions. “Get this demon out of me!” I thought. I was taken to the hospital and the doctors called the adoptive parents. Each excruciating contraction made me hate that baby- that thing- even more. After 18 hours of grueling, agonizing labor, I heard a baby cry. My part was done. Finally. I closed my eyes, dropped my head back on my pillow and took a deep breath.
A few minutes later, the doctor tapped me on the shoulder. “Stacy, honey, would you like to hold your son?” I opened my eyes and raised my head.
“It’s a boy?” I asked. I saw him, swaddled in a blanket in the doctor’s arms. The corners of my lips perked up slightly. He was so cute. He looked so foreign, yet so familiar. He had big chubby cheeks and round blue eyes, just like mine. When I saw his curled toes and an outstretched arm, I was hit with a pang of guilt. How could I have hated such a sweet, innocent little boy? How could I have wanted to get rid of him? I wanted my son. My maternal instincts kicked in and I reached out for him. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw his adoptive parents peering through a crack in the delivery room door. They were so excited. Their eyes sparkled when they looked at him. I realized they needed him more than I did. They had this whole time and it was wrong for me to be so selfish. “No. He’s not my son,” I said. I laid my head back down on the pillow in defeat. I squeezed my eyes shut to keep in the tears that threatened to stream down my cheeks. “He’s theirs.” I pointed to the couple, who were practically beating the door down. My son was carried out of the delivery room; I never saw him again. He didn’t even cross my mind. At least, not for a while.
I returned home and everything returned to semi-normal. I finished high school and graduated with top honors. When people asked about my grandmother’s in Connecticut, I replied with a smile and said I had a lovely time. I went back to being a cheerleader and returned to my friends. However, when I saw Jacob in the halls, we didn’t speak, and my parents avoided the topic of my pregnancy as if mentioning it was a sin. They acted as if nothing had even happened.
My second pregnancy with Anna was much more well received. I was out of law school, had a stable job, was married to Vincent, and, best of all, I was not an immature teenager. My parents cried of joy when I told them the news. I had tons of baby showers and I was spoiled like a queen, and Anna was born into a world full of love.
But ever since Anna was born, not a day passed that I didn’t think of my son. Giving him up became my deepest regret, but there was no one I could talk to about it. I certainly couldn’t speak to my parents about it, and Vincent didn’t know about that dark time from my past. So I just spent my time wondering about my son. What was his name? Were his adoptive parent’s good to him? Was he allergic to peanuts like Anna and I were? Maybe he had a hidden talent. Was he a violin virtuoso? A soccer superstar? Did his parents send him to private school like I did with Anna? Was he happy? Where was he? And, my deepest question: what if I hadn’t given him up?
Sometimes I imagined what my life would have been like if I kept my son. I called him Eddie in my mind. Little Eddie and I would have moved out of my parents house. I would have gotten a job to get by. It would’ve been hard, but I’d make it work. I’d go to community college and get a degree in something. Business. Or maybe design. I’d give him a home, a place to play, and drive him to baseball practice, or something like that. Most importantly, I’d make sure he knew how much I loved him. But if all of that had happened, I wouldn’t have my Anna. My sweet, lovely, Anna. Sure, she messes up sometimes, but don’t we all? If anything, her carefree spirit is a relief from my strict upbringing. She is such a light in my life and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
“Anna,” I say to myself, coming out of my past and back to reality. I have to help her through this, and make sure she won’t make any decisions she’ll regret for the rest of her life. I know she is stubborn and strong willed like I am. “She better not have run away!” I think. I run down the hall to her bedroom and pound on the door. “Anna? Anna?” I yell. No answer. I fling the door open. She is wearing a backpack stuffed full with supplies and that same red sweatshirt. The window is wide open and the breeze outside whips Anna’s curls wildly around her face. One leg is already out the window, about to climb out and run away.
“Anna, no!” I bolt to the window and grab her arm, pulling her back into the room and sitting her down on her window seat.
“Mom, I’m so sorry,” she sobs into her hands. “I’ve decided. I’m not gonna keep the baby. It’ll be better for everyone that way. I heard you and Dad yelling earlier. And besides, I’m too young to be a mother. I don’t know the first thing about kids.”
“Anna, you’re talking nonsense. Don’t be ridiculous,” I say, wrapping an arm around her. Anna looked up at me with a surprised expression on her face. “That’s not even an option, sweetheart.”
“But, Mom, what am I going to do? I heard Dad. He hates me and he hates this baby” she cried.
“No, honey! Dad doesn’t hate you. He’s just gonna have to get over himself!” I assure her. “You can get through this.”
“I’ll help you. This baby is going to be born into so much love, it won’t know what to do with itself.”
“She, Mom. She’s a girl,” Anna reveals.
“Well, we’re gonna love the heck out of this little girl,” I say. I place my left hand on Anna’s belly and feel my granddaughter kick through the sweatshirt. A jolt of joy sparks in my hand and strikes my heart, warming like a campfire on a cold autumn evening. That warmth radiates throughout my body and causes a genuine smile to spread across my face.
“She’s never done that before, Mama!” Anna giggles, wiping away a tear.
“You’re not going to be needing this ragged sweatshirt, anymore,” I say, playfully tugging on the tattered hem. “I’ll take you shopping for proper maternity clothes,”
“I love you, Mom,” Anna whispers, burying her face in my shoulder. I stroke her soft, curly hair.
I chuckle lightly. There is so much about me that she doesn’t know. “You and I are more alike than you’d think, kid. I’ve got you.”