“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”“ Luke
I remember the anticipation before that weekend. The knowing myself and warning him in that bright hallway outside the classroom, that after this weekend, I’d come back a new person, committed to Christ. And that would mean an end to what made up most of our relationship.
The next three days of the Youth Discipleship Walk were spent in earnest, hot tears. Hours alone in a Beatles jacket and short, artificially-red hair weeping on an altar, cheeks stained with runny eyeliner, trying to comprehend how I’d arrived at this point, what was so wrong with me, what the future held. Candles, songs, mentors, hugs, Bibles with notes of love and encouragement scrawled in the covers.
I boarded the bus home resolved, renewed.
And also suspicious.
My mom and I were tracing the contours of the neighborhood, nearing home, when I stated that I’d like to get a pregnancy test, “just to be sure”. Elevated eyebrows thinly masking her surprise, one flexed in subtle indignation, she bought three pregnancy tests for three mornings. The sun barely awake, I’d stumble into the jarring light of my bathroom, where she’d hand me a test. Each morning the same, each test positive, each positive surely false. In her disbelief, she carted me, sixteen, across town to our family doctor who would call us with the final results as we were walking through Kroger, relaying what we already knew three days ago.
There were two overwhelming emotions. Fear of my dad. And excitement. I shared the news with my boyfriend in the darkened kitchen of our downstairs. He was a year ahead of me, a senior, tall, his angular face held sloping grey eyes and a sharp nose. A mess of dark blonde hair; scruffy sideburns, a regular Rocky at the Rocky Horror Picture Show Saturday night showings. We’d been on-again-off-again for just several months. We embraced, we trembled.
His parents, small-framed homebodies with matching scraggly wool hats and haggard eyes, were excited, likely due to them not having any religious morality walls to climb.
By contrast, my parents were in shock, my dad was silently angry, exasperated, his eyes avoiding mine for months, yet they walked alongside us those next nine months, advising, lending, helping, blessing. My mom would later tell me they knew if they stepped in the way of what I wanted, they would lose me completely.
My dad was strong, quiet, with pale blue eyes that never slept and an unrelenting work ethic as a body man. He grew up all over the west and forever held a wanderlust spirit, if only for the expansive American red rock and dry air. Though reserved with his affection, we shared an enviable bond, an identical sense of humor, a spiritual understanding of one another. Under a hardened exterior he hid regrets and suppressed emotions, experiences, memories.
When I was two he married my stepmom, a Midwesterner with a passion for horses and a quaint upbringing. She was logical, analytical, but hesitant to nose into controversy or sensitive waters, which left her paddling along the surface of conversational shoals.
The evening we found out, or maybe a week later, my mom and I rested on the edge of her bed, poised to spread our options between us. We faced each other, her near the pillows, me perched at the foot of the bed, the room around us familiarly chaotic, an organized mess of hangers and clothes, books and hidden Christmas presents bought a year in advance. Abortion was first, and I discarded it from the pile; the thought never crossed my mind. She praised me for my bravery and wisdom, we shared an intimate moment. The first of many during this pregnancy. The first after a lifetime of tension and discord between us. She brought up adoption and I shuffled it away as quickly as abortion. In five minutes, we’d concluded I would raise this child.
It wasn’t long after my February birthday and turning seventeen, after sharing an uneasy afternoon as a family watching “Deliverance”, maybe a week later, that I experienced a sudden onset of bleeding. The father and I scattered away from each other yet both to the bathroom. His face was pale, his body agitated, torn between holding me and avoiding me and my heart dropped with fear and knowing.
We made an appointment, which the secretary arranged with nonchalance. Someone implied it not being meant to be, the problem resolving itself.
The next day I was in a room with an ultrasound tech and there he was, a gritty gray lima bean with a fluttering heart. The bleeding subsided and remained unexplained, and my eyes spilled tears without my permission as I saw the baby for the first time.
I only hold snippets of images from those early months of pregnancy.
Harsh February mornings and his car without heat.
Walking home from school in the spring, alongside a steady stream of cars. The white Civic pulling off in front of me one day and an old boyfriend letting out an exasperated sigh. He drove me home in silence.
The night a drunk, sexually obtrusive manager of a local pizza place drove me to a hotel. Feigning fatigue so he would leave my room, jumping up to lock the door as soon as he left.
My own birth mom calling to rattle off her beliefs about adoption, and how it was the only right answer for my situation. My heels digging in deeper.
And then spring came, and the father graduated high school and we moved into an apartment together outside of the city.
We came to this living situation each unpacking our opposing expectations. For him, this was the moment he had been waiting for: independence, freedom from an abusive household and troubled childhood. For me, pregnant, emotional, unstable, this was about us. He eluded my grasp, leaving my desires for love and maturity and responsibility hollow, abandoning me without notice to hang out with friends, play Guitar Hero, drink beer.
Our apartment was small and never realized its full potential; the bedroom contained an air mattress and large black bags, never unpacked. Later it would house broken lights and holes in the wall. We started with lawn chairs in the living room, until someone gave us a couch. We had a TV and a computer and my desk, and a vacuum cleaner and some plastic shelves, a pantry full of cereal, ramen, Ensure.
I ate regularly, the pregnancy a reprieve between long-term anorexia but not the distorted self-image, gaining weight slowly.
My coupon-clipping mom and I would walk through Wal-Mart, her waving her wand, the dust of frugality illuminating good deals and Hamburger Helper, and banishing excess costs like paper towels.
I would have spells of horrendous stomach pain, locked away in the bathroom for hours in my late pregnancy. Him sleeping on the air mattress. Me utterly alone while my insides twisted the breath out. I didn’t know if the pain was comparable to labor or death.
Lonely and wandering by the still pond behind us, I would call her while she was working each morning and she’d cradle the phone in the crook of her neck as long as she could until she’d inevitably have to get back to her reality. My mom went with me to appointments, and they kept me on their insurance, footing the bill because we could not. Any left over money we happened to have was quickly spent on something frivolous, like roll-your-own-cigarettes kits.
I remember drawing furiously, trying to pour myself into something creative, because that’s how they tell you to do art, to create from the wells of pain. But I’ve never been able to channel pain into creation. My art works logically and realistically. I draw and paint what I see in front of me, I obsess over perfection, detail and realism, and the only emotion which proves essential is the motivation emotion. But I tried. I drew women in graphite and charcoal on vast sheets of drawing paper, disheveled, haunting.
Our fights erupted violently every day. I provoked and feigned insanity. Or do mentally stable people feign insanity? Questions lurking under the surface. He would turn up the stereo so the neighbors couldn’t hear the crashing and screaming. The father had a look, a glare, he would inflict upon his dog, laughing at the way the animal cowered from him, and that was the look he would give me in public when I aggravated him. Pinching and squeezing me discreetly, silencing, scolding. At home, I would sit at his feet for hours while he played computer games, and it would always devolve into him pushing me into some sort of sexual gratification. I remember the first night he hit me. The second. The third, the day before I was induced.
I remember standing in Hot Topic while he reached and pointed out a onesie he wanted and with my head tilted up, following his finger, I absorbed how utterly different we were. The resentment inched in, one grain of annoyance at a time.
We fought one afternoon over dishes. Because I wanted him to want to do the dishes. He forcefully huffed and we yelled and I cried. The sands of resentment poured.
And I remember sharing that air mattress one afternoon and the topic of adoption surfacing. He was laying back, I was sitting sideways on the bed, looking at him. The whole conversation must have been one incomplete sentence, trailing off, swallowed up by that sharp pain in our stomachs. We closed that door.
I brought my dog to live with us at the apartment and I walked her faithfully each day. I was very pregnant when it began raining on my walk, and a man approached me as I was nearly finished walking. He made small talk, I don’t remember what he was saying, but I scrambled to think of ways to avoid leading him to my apartment door. We stood outside the hallway for as long as I could manage, until I gave up and told him I had to go. He watched me open my apartment door.
Later that night, he and some of his friends assaulted our door and windows, shouting and threatening while I hid in the corner of our bedroom with my boyfriend and his broken, bandaged hand. We shook, hearts racing. We called his sister at Butler, who offered no consolation. Why didn’t we call the police? I don’t remember.
Eventually they left.
The next day my mom and I went to the police, but there was nothing that could be done.
I had two constant friends throughout my pregnancy: a Childhood Friend who had never left my side, always and continually lavishing me with undeserved and rarely returned love and affection. She was athletic and spiritual and kind-hearted with long dark, golden hair. The other was a family Friend, an eccentric, pale, lanky college student, who made his own clothes and dyed his hair black and was a friend to everyone. We became closer during this time, discussing life and God and the meaning behind it all, but not too close, as the embarrassing memory is burned in my brain: a desperate and pregnant teenage self, clinging to him in the night in his driveway, waiting for something to happen, only to be rejected.
In what feels like a past life, my Childhood friend and I had spent carefree summers and weekends together, stuffing our feet into dusty boots in her garage, driving under the waking sun out to the barn. Sometimes we would walk. Sometimes as teenagers without a license we would drive, sometimes her mom would take us. The grass was tall and the insects were loud, the fields stretched on and on, promising days of freedom and beauty and exhilaration. Her cousin would sometimes meet us, and the two would race each other with their horses, one, a tall hickory-bay Quarter Horse, the other an elegant gingerbread-chestnut Saddlebred, and they would run and run, and I’d watch timidly on whichever horse I borrowed that day. My heart pattering, torn between staying safe and feeling the rush.
I remember swiveling my hands all over their bodies with the curry brush, scrubbing the fine hairs and particles of dirt away with another. Running my hands slowly, purposefully, over the indentations of their muscles, the bumps of their veins, my fingers like hidden eyes, storing images that would spill upon thousands of papers and canvases later. I remember the buzzing of horseflies and the gritty handfuls of feed, the hardened, weathered nylon leads. The swinging up and over and landing deep in the saddle. The power and swaying and the mane brushing my knuckles and the stretching to stroke the neck and the sweat after hours of exertion. I remember the smell, the pungent earthy smell, of the barn. The smell that takes me back to the sun and the grass and the flying and the wind and the leather running through my hands.
There was no place greater to be than in those fields.