My mom was a stay-at-home mom until they began their business just before I went into middle school. Grass and toads, fireflies and creeks, trees and dogs and guinea pigs and crawling around on all fours dance upon the floors of my memories. I made good grades, I had a solid group of good friends, I loved animals, I loved writing, I loved drawing. My mom was frustrated with one elementary school teacher who let the rules bend for me just out of her own personal curiosity: how would that drawing turn out all over my desktop?
Math was always a struggle for me. And I’m not sure which came first: the class being a struggle and using that class time to write my would-be novel about the Iditarod fervently, or maybe the writing came first and the struggle to keep up followed.
I loved God, I stood in my mom’s room at eight and told her I wanted to be saved, and my mom would ask me to pray for things because she said whatever I prayed for always happened. I worshiped in the adult sanctuary, hands held high, a young child with untainted faith.
During my pregnancy, my Childhood Friend faithfully drove entirely out of her way each Wednesday to take me to her church. My only opportunity for a social life beyond the sketchy friends we’d found at the apartment. I confided in her more and more as I hated him more and more. Sometimes he would come with me, wriggling drumsticks out of the drummer’s hand to show off some indecipherable beat.
Cracker Barrel had some deal with pancakes, the three of us went one night after church. I remember muttering vitriolic complaints as she and I pushed through the bathroom door, him barely out of earshot.
The straw broke shortly after a weekend afternoon where we were clicking through TV stations and he stopped on some celebrity countdown, hottest women. He watched it like a porno. Like all the other pornography invading our relationship. I was livid and hurt and he made some comment about not getting anything from me (voluntarily) and I stormed out in tears. I smoked one cigarette while pregnant, and it was at that moment. The memories are fuzzy, but I put this one in close proximity to me storming out again, getting in the car and driving to my other good Friend’s house, something I never did owing to the fact that we never had gas or gas money.
I, my Friend, and a mutual friend stayed up late that night on said mutual friend’s driveway, sitting cross-legged and exploring the fundamental questions of life. It was the first time I let my guard down and allowed my friend’s attempt to transfer some logic into my head. Adoption, he said. You could turn your life around, he said. Go to college, get away from him. You don’t want to be with someone who treats you like that. And what would the child’s life look like, anyway? What would we offer? What sort of stability? I filled in the rest; what did we even agree on? Would we be stuck in that jank part of town, would we be locked into this life? Would his abuse spill onto our son as well? What if I raised him alone? No, he’d be torn between two warring families, his parents would demonize me. What kind of a life could we give? What hope would there be?
I was silent. Or the image in my head is silent. Contemplative. Knowing. Praying.
I’ve made two major life decisions overnight in my life, and this was the first.
I woke up that next morning and called my Childhood Friend, away for a conference, and told her I was choosing adoption. I felt sure, light, hopeful, but the memories are enclosed in an opaque film. Things happen quickly now.
There are no images of conversations with the father discussing adoption. Those inhabit a deeper world of Repression within. He was fervently opposed to the adoption, but somehow agreed and we began the process together.
I remember the year every good thing ended.
The summer before middle school, eleven years old. I went out to visit my biological mom for the first time that I could actually remember. My parents and I saw Shrek in theaters before they watched me board the plane. She was still married to the same man from the last time I did visit, and he was an alcoholic. There were faint impressions from that earlier visit, I must have been six or so. Being left in a truck while they camped outside. Riding in the brake-deficient Bronco. Crying when the kids sang a song about Barney dying. Looking up at the curled interior of a CT scanner when my birth mom panicked at my upset stomach and made wild demands of the hospital staff.
She wasn’t medicated back then, and I remember her being present that summer before middle school. Alive. She talked to me like an adult, about things I wasn’t sure why she was talking about with me. But her husband was no longer drinking, and I found him hilarious and entertaining, and she was angry and jealous and didn’t approve of us running through the house with the hose, spraying each other. I have good memories from that trip. Riding horses through dry mountains. My brother and sister and I panhandling at a gas station after we ran out of gas and money. Tetris. The body shop. My mom trying to run over her husband with the van, me in the backseat. A rape scene in a movie, and her compelled to tell me she would never let that happen to me.
My senior year was spent at an alternative school with a pretentious name, one that offered day-care and a way to make up for whatever I’d been doing the last three years of high school. Only a couple of months away from delivery, I took my classes seriously and tested out of several. The supervisor for my study hall was an older, thin woman with glasses and impatience. It wasn’t long after I began my year there that I decided on adoption, and once she heard, she pulled me aside to encourage and praise me. I don’t know what she said, but I know I agreed with it. Adoption or not, I had been detached the whole pregnancy and once I crossed over into that decision, there was no changing my mind. Compliments were welcome. I felt sure.
But the storm at the apartment raged on.
I fractured a light bulb one morning and tried to convince myself that I was suicidal. Tried to convince myself that I had convinced myself that this would be best for both of us. Shots in the dark. A plea for something. I cut all around my wrists and arms and laid on the deflated air mattress next to the window, where the sun slipped in and the birds sang and bodies shuffled by, until he came back and took me to the hospital. But I was a minor. They wouldn’t admit me without parental signature, and maybe everyone knew it wasn’t worth the thirty minute drive and that I wasn’t really going to do anything. And that maybe, given the extremes of the situation and the extremes of my volatile personality, this was just to be expected.
I missed school for a few days.
I was not a faithful girlfriend or person or Christian, and hadn’t been for many years. His parents firmly believed our son was not his, knowing about that night responsible for the break we had taken, holding that accusation until the moment they saw him and were unable to accuse any longer.
Just before I’d taken those pregnancy tests, I’d developed a hopeful friendship with a boy who sat behind me in class. A year younger, he was slender and behind his glasses sat syrupy brown eyes, shaped by dark scalene eyebrows. He was sweet and kind and withdrawn and funny. I spent hours on the phone with him, not attempting to hide my infatuation from my family, who tried to pry in and impart some sense. He believed we were soulmates, and I told my boyfriend this Boy was gay and we stole kisses in the hallways until we both knew there was no real possibility of love, of a family, of a future. When I found out I was pregnant and he vividly described his ambitions of letting me and the baby move in with him and helping me raise it, I laughed him off as naive and immature.
I overwhelmed Boy with my graphic descriptions of sexual abuse and another barrier went up between us. I moved. He left the country for the summer. I called him looking for comfort when I was locked out of the apartment for hours. He dated and moved on. We stopped talking.
The father was always bringing home junk he’d find from vacated apartments, which one day included a large keg. Our home was far from a respite.
I remember visiting him while he was living with his best friend. With the same air mattress, surrounded by a comparable mess, but this time perfumed with cat urine. A dense fog of cat urine. We had spent the night after prom there together, five months pregnant. At one point I drove there and stayed for days without my parents’ permission until I woke up one morning to my car gone. My parents had picked it up and left me. His best friend cornered me against the wall and berated me, presumably in righteous anger. I think for my being an under-aged nuisance. He wanted me gone.
They drove me to work, before they left for a concert, and that’s the beginning of the story about the drunk and high pizza place manager who had a thing for coming onto noticeably pregnant teenage girls and licking their ears and driving them to hotel rooms.