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Okay, I’m pregnant, and so here’s what I’m scared about. What if my kid turns out to be a mass murderer? You know, one of those kids who shoots half the school, then shoots himself? Or maybe a drug dealer, or really, just—just what if my kid lies to me, or sneaks out a window to go see her boyfriend, or gets pregnant at sixteen like me? I’d hate to have me for a kid.
I waited until I was five months pregnant to tell my parents. I guess I had sort of hoped the whole thing would go away. At first I thought maybe I wasn’t pregnant, and I just tried to ignore the signs, like painful boobs and feeling sick all the time and, oh, yeah, a missing period or two. But then once I figured out that yes, I am pregnant, I thought that I would probably miscarry, because in those first weeks I had been drinking V-O’s (vodka and OJ) and smoking my Camels, which, okay, I realize now was a bad idea. But like I said, I didn’t know for sure I was pregnant, and I figured the baby wouldn’t live, because my mother miscarried three times before she had my older sister and twice before she had me. My sister has already miscarried twice, and she’s been trying to get pregnant with her husband for four years. It figures: my baby is alive and kicking.
I hate doctors. The whole reason I didn’t have an abortion, besides the fact that I didn’t believe I needed one because I figured I’d miscarry, is because I hate, hate, hate doctors. And, okay, my parents would more likely kill me if I had had an abortion than if I were just pregnant, because that’s very against their religion. So now I’ve got to somehow get this baby out of me, and from what I’ve seen in health class and in the movies, I’m in for a night or two of complete and utter torture!
When I told my dad that I was pregnant, he stormed through the house yelling at me loud enough for the whole state of Maine and part of Canada to hear. Then when he finally calmed down enough to talk to me in one place, the cozy farmhouse kitchen of our cozy, most favorite house in the world, he stood in front of me with his fists on his hips, his graying hair standing up on end from raking his fingers through it while he raged—maybe pulling it some, too—and he smiled at me. It wasn’t this friendly, “I love you, anyway,” kind of smile. It was this victorious, self-satisfied smile, like he’d just pulled a fast one on me.
“Well, well, well,” he said, still smiling. “I guess it’s payback time. All the times you snuck out of this house and ran away with Lam and worried your mother and me—payback. All the times you lied to us, came home drunk and way past curfew—payback. You like staying up all hours of the night? You’re in luck. Your baby will keep you up whether you like it or not. And all the griping and complaining you did in Africa, making everyone miserable, the rude and nasty things you’ve said to us—”
“I know, I know,” I said. “Payback. I get it, I get it.” And I do, which is why I’m so scared about this baby. I don’t want me for a kid. I really, really don’t. Worse, I don’t want my boyfriend for a kid. Hell, I’m not sure I really even want him for a husband, but my parents and his parents kind of pushed me into it, so what can I do?
I tried to get a little sympathy. “I know I messed up again, Daddy, but can’t you at least say something nice? Are you just going to lay curses on me every day for the rest of my life? Won’t you feel sorry if you’ve cursed this baby?”
“Hah!” Dad threw back his head and grabbed at his hair again. He looked a little wild—crazy wild. “Eleanor, you’ve cursed your own baby by getting pregnant. You’re only sixteen! What kind of life can it possibly have? You’ve got a C average at best in school, so what kind of job do you think you’ll get? And that punk-o boyfriend of yours isn’t any better.” Then back to that ugly smile of his. “But you’ve made your bed, and you’re going to lie in it. We’ve always done right by you and your sister. She turned out beautifully, and she got everything you got, and you were treated exactly the same, so I don’t blame myself for any of this.”
“Well, neither do I, Dad, if that’s what’s got you so steamed. I was just born wrong, I guess.” I felt tears stinging my eyes. “I’m a total loser.” I rubbed my belly. “And this baby’s going to be a total loser, too, because it’s going to have such losers for parents. But thanks for all your love and caring sympathy, Dad. I knew I could count on you.” I ran out of the kitchen, hoping my dad would call me back, hug me, say everything’s going to be all right, he’d take care of everything, save me from my fool self, but he didn’t.
My mom’s reaction wasn’t much better. I know, I know; I should have told them both at the same time, but I was afraid of the way they would gang up on me—two voices shouting and ranting, the two of them feeding off of each other’s anger. To tell the truth, there is no good way to tell your parents that you got knocked up.
Mom’s big deal was to find out who did this to me. That’s what she said right off the bat. “Who did this to you?” As if he’d splattered mud on my shirt or something. She was setting the table in the dining room, not even looking at me, not even pausing to digest what I’d told her. She just set the plates down one by one, carefully, gently, as if the plates were my baby, its fragile skull cradled in her hands. My mom’s calm reaction hurt as much as my father’s rage, maybe even more. I knew she had grown used to my terrible surprises, maybe even bored with them. Two times in juvie for stupid stuff like breaking and entering—my boyfriend’s house—and stealing a car, my parents’ car. All the drinking and drugs, sneaking out, and running away—it’s been too much for her, so now she’s just bored. She’s so bored she doesn’t even care anymore. I think she’s so done with worrying about me, she’s just cut me loose. She couldn’t even bother to look at me. Not once. And she didn’t once say anything about this being a sin. It used to be I got the sin word slapped in my face every time I did something wrong, but come on, when you live in a sin-free family with sin-free parents and a sin-free sister, well, you can’t help but sin a little extra on their behalf.
Mom just kept setting the table—knife and spoon on the right, fork on the left, carefully folded napkins, those tidy triangles of hers, placed under the fork. “Who did this to you?” she asked, and I told her.
“Thanks a lot, Mom!” I said. “Who do you think? Lam Lothrop, who else? I mean, come on, Mom, what do you take me for?”
Lam’s real name is Lamont, which is why he goes by Lam. Mom didn’t even raise an eyebrow or indicate in any way that she’d heard his name. She poured ice water in the glasses from a 1950s pitcher she found in the cabinet under the sink one day and had used every day since. She loved that pitcher, with its bands of orange and yellow painted on it, more than me. That’s what I thought, watching her:She loves it more than she’s ever loved me.
Mom and Dad didn’t say a word during dinner. The only sound was the clink and scrape of our forks and knives, the heavy swallowing of our food and ice water with lemon. I couldn’t eat much. After a while I asked to be excused, and my mom nodded, still not looking at me. I grabbed my plate, knife, fork, spoon, napkin, and glass and headed for the kitchen. On the way I knocked into the side table behind my chair and elbowed that pitcher my mom loved so much. It fell off the table, hit the wooden floor, and broke into two thick pieces. I froze. Mom jumped up from her seat, looked right at me, and exploded. She cried and she yelled at the top of her lungs so that all of Maine and half of Canada could hear her. She screamed at me to go to my room and stay there. I nodded and left, taking my plate and stuff up there with me, forgetting that I had them in my hands.
For two months my parents barely spoke to me, and when they did, it was to argue about what to do with the baby. The more they wanted me to give it to my perfectly prim, older sister, Sarah—just hand it over like a sack of potatoes—the more firmly I said that I was keeping it. “It’s my body and my baby, and I want to keep it,” I said. I mean, what the hell was I saying? I was just mad at my parents. I didn’t really plan to keep the baby, but I couldn’t shut up. I couldn’t save myself. I was just too furious with them.
They’re missionaries—educators. We’ve been in the States three glorious years, but they’re heading back to Kenya tomorrow for three, maybe four years! Along with their teaching and all their good works, like fundraising for AIDS, and running a soup kitchen, and being leaders in their church, they’ve been raising money so they could to go back to Kenya. It’s their big dream to return to work with the AIDS babies in the orphanages there.
At first, they expected me to go with them. Just give birth, hand my baby over to my sister, and go back to Kenya with them and forget about everything else. They assumed I’d go back there, when I’ve got my whole life here in Maine. They act like I got pregnant on purpose just so I could stay here. Well, if I had thought of it I might have done that, but it didn’t occur to me. So anyway, they said that I knew their life’s work was in Kenya, and that hundreds of people were counting on them, and that my grandmother, who also does good works in Kenya with my grandfather, is quite ill and dying of cancer, so they can’t exactly changetheirplans. Okay, I’m sorry about Grandma Lottie having cancer—I am, even though I never liked that self-righteous do-gooder and the way she was always tsk-tsking and shaking her finger at me and then smothering Sarah with kisses and praise. The last time I saw Grandma Lottie, she told me I was going straight to hell, her favorite topic, and I told her if heaven meant living for all eternity with her looking down her long, pious nose at me, then hell sounded like a much better deal. All right, so that was mean, and I’m sorry for what I said, now that she’s dying and all, but I still didn’t want to go to Kenya and watch over her sickbed. So I told my parents one day when we were arguing in the kitchen that if they thought I was ever going to leave Lam, the love of my life, and go back to Africa with them to be chased by hyenas and get dysentery again and live without electricity and a real toilet, or worse, go to that horrible boarding school they sent me to there, then they had another thing coming.
“And if you think you’re going to stay here in Maine all by yourself, thenyou’vegot another thing coming!” my mother fired back at me. “Honestly, I’m just so fed up with you. I’m at my wits’ end.”
Since my mother was always telling me she was at her wits’ end, I’m surprised she had any wits left.
“You have two choices,” she said. “Pick one. Either you go with us to Kenya, or you go stay with Sarah and Robby in California.”
My mother should have known by now that I wasn’t about to let her have her way. I’m way too stubborn for my own good, and I know this, but I couldn’t help opening my big fat mouth. “That’s what you think,” I said. “You can’tdragme all the way to Kenya, or California, and even if you could, I’d only run away.” I crossed my arms and stood pouting in the kitchen like a little kid. My dad jumped up from his chair. He looked like he was about to throw me over his shoulder and march all the way to Kenya right that second. I saw him start to open his mouth, but before he could yell at me, I shouted, “And anyway, Lam asked me to marry him and I said yes, so there, we’re getting married.”
My mom yanked her silky scarf from around her neck and I thought for a moment she was going to wrap it around mine, but she slammed it and her hand on the kitchen counter and looked purple-faced at my dad for help.
“Is that so? Well, you can’t get married at sixteen without our consent,” Dad said, his voice firm, as if to say,So that’s that—end of discussion.
“Fine,” I said. “Then we’ll just live together, but I’m not going with you.”
I knew this would get my missionary parents good. There’s nothing like adding the sin of living together on top of the sin of sexual intercourse. Only in the end, my parents got me good, because they agreed to the marriage. They insisted on it even, and the way they insisted made me feel like they were tricking me somehow. I just couldn’t figure out how. Maybe they and the Lothrops had decided to let us get married and all because they figured we’d mess it up so royally that we’d finally come to our senses and give up the baby and then go our separate ways. Oh, yeah, I could just see the four of them hatching up some kind of scheme like that. My parents had talked it over with the Lothrops before I even had a chance to tell Lam what I had said. And I needed to talk to Lam because the truth is, I lied. Lam had never asked me to marry him. Who knew my parents would actually go for that idea? Luckily Lam knows me pretty well, and he said he knew what was up as soon as his mother jumped on him about it.
“Don’t worry. I was cool about the whole marriage thing,” he said when I did call him. “I was like, yeah, I asked her, so what? We love each other and we’re going to have a baby, so why not get married?”
So, it ends up Lam’s parents and my parents decided marriage was the best solution if we were so hell-bent on keeping the child. They acted like the whole thing was their idea in the first place. They had it all reasoned out. A child should have both parents, and by getting married I’d have a home, because my parents are only renting the house we’re in and the lease is up today, and both sets of parents agreed that this baby was Lam’s responsibility, too, so it was the right thing to do. If I got married I’d live with Lam and his family. We didn’t know what we wanted, me and Lam, but it sounded a lot better than either Kenya or California, so we agreed to get married.
Now I’m in court again, only this time it’s not for stealing anything, it’s to get married, and I’m seven months pregnant, but I look and feel like I’m nine and ready to give birth any minute. My sister, Sarah, flew in from California for a couple of weeks, more in support of my parents than me, and she’s looking at me squeezed into this orange maternity dress that makes me look like a pumpkin, and she’s shaking her head. I think she’s still wondering how I, the loser/moron/geek/freak/coffee-addicted, cigarette-addicted, booze-addicted, food-addicted, shopping-addicted younger sister ended up in this family in the first place.
My mom is dressed in beige and she’s got her soft brown hair all knotted in a bun, and both she and Dad are looking so calm, maybe even a little pleased, and I know they’re probably just so relieved to be getting rid of me. No more playing police or grounding me for the rest of my life. No more court dates and juvie sentences. I’m someone else’s headache now.
Lam’s parents are here, too, and it’s a good thing they love babies, because they hate me for supposedly ruining their precious son’s life. Who do they think pressured me to have sex in the first place? Who do they think got me onto dope and shit? Oh, don’t worry, I’m off of everything except food and water and vitamins for the baby’s sake. And believe me, getting clean was no walk in the park. Anyway, the Lothrops think they’re so noble ’cause they run a camp for fat kids, but what’s so noble about starving children for a living? They charge extra for the camp because it’s specialized, with nutritionists and weigh-ins and such, and then they feed them half as much as any other camp, so they’ve got to be making big bucks at this fat camp. Since they love babies, and since they had always wanted two children but had lost their first child before it was a year old, and since they love Lam, and since we’re getting married, and since my parents are leaving for Kenya, they’ve offered to take the baby if things don’t work out with me and Lam, and they’ve offered us one of the cabins at the camp.
The camp is another reason why the Lothrops agreed to us getting married instead of just living together. We have to set a good example for the kids. I have to pretend I’m twenty (yeah, lying—what a great example), and we have to be married and pretend the marriage came before the baby, so that it doesn’t look like I got knocked up by accident or anything. Also, I have to tell the campers not to take drugs, not to smoke or drink or have sex, should these topics come up, because they might think I’m cool, and that would be wrong. So—fun—I’m going to be living deep in the back of beyond, surrounded by pine trees and starving fat children, giving birth and raising my baby in a one-room cabin heated with wood, with the kitchen up the hill in the main house, and the bathroom a hornet-infested latrine six cabins away.
Now here I am, standing in front of the justice of the peace, trying really hard not to give birth right here on the courtroom floor, but really something feels like it’s about to burst down below, and I’m trying to figure out if I really even love Lamont Lothrop—I mean, enough to live with him the rest of my life, forever and ever, amen. For two and a half years I thought I did. That’s why we tried to run away together, that’s why I climbed out of my bedroom window at three in the morning—to be with Lam, my soul mate, my prince of a guy, my knight in shining armor, only right now, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, he looks more like a dude and nothing else.
I hear something about husband and wife, and Lam leans over and kisses me—leans way over. He’s six-two, and I’m five-two; he’s a hundred and ninety-nine pounds, and I’m not quite ninety pounds (well, usually). He’s all muscle, and I’m all bones. I don’t know how this marriage is going to work, but I kiss him and shout, “Yahoo!” and my dried-up, laced-up, thin-lipped sister comes forward with her ramrod-straight, penny-loafered husband in tow and says, “Don’t expect us to cheer about this, Eleanor.”
“I don’t expect anything from you,” I say, rubbing my belly, wishing I could put my feet up somewhere.
Lam puts his arm around my shoulder and squeezes me, and I’m so proud of him for doing this in front of Sarah that I almost forgive him for showing up stoned.
“Well, I think once you see how hard it is to take care of that baby, you’ll give our offer another thought. It still stands. We’ll take your baby. We’ll raise it as our own. Won’t we, Robby?”
Robby, Sarah’s husband, nods, but his sour expression tells me he doesn’t want anything to do with anything coming from me, and that’s another reason why I haven’t agreed to Sarah taking the baby once it’s born.
“Yeah, well”—I rub my stomach some more, because it comforts me and maybe comforts the baby and it definitely annoys Sarah—“it’s my baby, mine and Lam’s, so we’ll see.”
“Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face,” Robby says.
“Yeah, okay, whateverthatmeans,” I say. He talks like that all the time. He says things like “Don’t beat a dead horse,” and “Don’t kill the messenger,” and “When pigs fly.” I guess he’s got to borrow someone else’s expressions because his own don’t amount to a hill of beans. Ha! Take that expression, Robby boy.
My new mother-in-law comes forward to join us while my parents and Lam’s dad talk over “future plans.” I hear the words “cabin” and “when the baby comes,” but then Mrs. Lothrop is speaking to me, so I turn my attention to her.
“I guess some kind of congratulations are in order,” she says, frowning, and I wonder what the hell I’m supposed to say to that. I look her up and down. She’s tall, sturdy, and beautiful, in a rustic, country-woman sort of way, and she’s got herself all dressed in black. Black pants, sleeveless black shirt, and black gardening clogs—you know, rubber clog things—a real funeral outfit, I figure.
“I guess so.” I sorta smile.
“I’m so stoked, Ma,” Lam says. “I can’t believe I’m married.”
“No, none of us can believe it,” she says, and her sarcasm goes right over Lam’s head.
He gives her a peck on the cheek. “Thanks for everything, Ma. I mean the cabin and furniture and junk.”
We all jabber for twenty more minutes or so, but then my parents have to go because they have to finish packing and cleaning. They leave me their car, a hunk-a-junk they named Rambo, bought cheap and well used, and only to last them the three years they’d be in the States. I’m grateful for it, though, because I can’t drive Lam’s stick-shift Jeep, and I need it for my days off from the camp. I’m grateful, too, for the baby stuff they bought—crib and car seat and baby carrier and stroller.
Mom hugs me and kisses my cheek, and I see tears in her eyes. “I do love you, Elly,” she says. “Anytime you want to join us, we’ll get you a flight and take care of everything. Remember that.”
I nod and feel ashamed for the millionth time that I’m pregnant. Yeah, I admit it, I’m ashamed. I talk a good game and my big talk gets me into all kinds of messes, but I know I’ve been stupid, and I know, too, that most likely, after I’ve made my sister jealous long enough and she’s suffered some as payback for always being better than I am, I’ll give in and hand her the baby to raise.
Dad pats my back and kisses the top of my head. “You’re still my li’l gal,” he says. “We’re gonna miss you.”
I nod and feel queasy in my stomach. I can see they’re so anxious to get going, to fly far, far away, and get back to feeding the bodies and souls of people who really need them. I want to say, “I need you, too. I need you, Mom and Dad. I just have a crappy way of telling you.” But it’s too late. When it comes to me and my timing, it’s always too late. Too late to get an abortion, too late to say I’m sorry, too late to say I need you, and I’m scared, and I don’t want to live in a cabin in the woods. It’s just too late, or maybe too hard to admit that I don’t want a husband and baby, and that I’m just so tired of being me.