The couch scratched my thigh in the most distracting way. I immediately regretted wearing shorts. As if I was not vulnerable enough, opening my mind and turning my truths into air for others to breath, sound for others to interpret, tangible realities for myself to confront. And the itching of the twill couch on my bare thighs created a most unwelcoming sensation. As if the couch was whispering to me: “pssst, you’re not safe here. You’re not supposed to be comfortable.” My truths are safe inside the private universe of my own mind. Protected by their failure to ever leak into anyone else’s mind space where they could be whirled and battered into anything other than what they are to me. He sat across from me, his eyes awaiting my exposure as if his delicious prey was cornered.
The bathroom was always a sort of haven. A refuge to cry, to pee, to gossip. A literal no man’s land to check texts or take a breath from class. Gwen had assigned the collegiate toilet stalls with this schema. Never had she imagined the act of the using the bathroom to challenge the most terrifying moments of her nineteen years.
Regardless of her imagination, there Gwen sat, her eyes displaying the antonym to tears – pure, dry, emotionless terror. Eight days late. So, on a stick she peed.
She took the gray walls wrapping around her personally. An appropriate, yet alarming, setting for the approaching events.
Of course, she wasn’t pregnant. Things like that didn’t happen to normal people like Gwen. Or so she would truly believe, until three minutes later.
“You’re not gonna keep it, are you?” fell out of her best friends mouth in a whisper stained with horror.
“Some women your age feel that they are ready to have a child, and if that’s what you decide let me know right away because we’ll need to change your medication.” Her doctor said calmly with a shrug.
Her older sister texted her in response to the news.
Ok. Don’t worry.
I’ll make an appointment. Mom and Dad can literally never know.
It’s gonna be fine G
Don’t tell anyone ok but Carrie got one last year
And like it was no sweat she said the people at planned parenthood were soooo nice and it was really emotional and stuff but like she knew she was doing the best thing for herself and the baby uk? like she knew it was the most ethical thing she could do
I love you
It’s gonna be fine
I’ll hold your hand through everything ❤
“You know Gwen,” said Kyle, her gay best friend. “This is your choice.” He clutched her hand. “If you want to do this, you should. It is your body and your life, and this is something you want you’re entitled to that.” Gwen smiled.
“Holy fuck.” Said the father. “Holy fuck Gwen. What the fuck.” Gwen swallowed. “Gwen I’m like, I’m like really fucking Catholic. I mean, I’m not, my parents are. My parents are so Catholic they think I’m a virgin they can never know about this. Please just keep it under wraps. I’ll pay though. Of course, I’ll pay.” Internal eye roll. “Whatever you need, I’m here. I’ll make the appointment”
“I’m not sure…” she whispered, her heart exploding, the fetus may get a concussion from the eruption within Gwen’s chest.
Urgency crashed over him like a tsunami. “What?” he exclaimed. “Gwen you’re not serious. You’re keeping it? Why?” He clutched her forearm tighter than she would have preferred.
Gwen was silent. Her face became red and she felt pools well up in both of her eyes. The father, Andrew, slid his fingers into her straight brown hair that was tucked into a bun. His other hand brushed her soft, conventionally pretty face, and he forced her to look into his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry Gwen. I shouldn’t have said that. I just got really freaked out.” She felt an ick towards him. His room smelled like ick. He baseball gear polluting the air in his dark, poorly lit dorm room. Gwen’s eyes locked with Pamela Anderson’s, posted on his wall holding her face and wet hair in a position that covered her naked breasts. Is he the father of my child? She wondered. He was, no doubt about it, but should he be? Should she bring a human into this universe that is half her and half him? It ran through her mind that their child would be beautiful. As icky as Andrew was in this moment his big dark eyes, wide smile, and curly brown shag would complement her slim features and thin hair.
Gwen and Andrew had been hooking up for about a month. They would snapchat every day, and would always leave the party together even if there some flirtation with other people intended to provoke jealousy in the other. Andrew always let her sleep over, was a consistent cuddler, and very mediocre in bed. He was sweet and would kiss her cheek when they woke up, but as soon as she left he would tell his jock friends details about how he fucked her the night before. He called his friends fags which she hated.
“I just don’t see how you could possibly have a child, I mean come on Gwen.”
Gwen noted his use of you rather than we.
“I should go.”
“Gwen wait,” She looked at him tryingly. “Let’s just not be ridiculous.” He took a deep breath. “You’re not having my baby.” He looked deeply into her, no thread of remorse or apology in his deep brown gaze.
“It’s my baby.”
Gwen stormed out and cried the entire walk back to her dorm.
Two nights later Gwen ate dinner with Alessandra and a few other friends. “Wait Gwen what’s up with you and Andrew?”
Gwen’s stomach twisted like a nasty Indian burn. She thought of him enough as his DNA twisted with hers at all times, she wasn’t eager to gossip about her love life over the potluck Tuesday dining hall meal.
“Not much. Why?”
“Are you still hooking up?”
“Who knows? Feeling a bit off him lately.”
“Oh. Ok. So, you’re not into him anymore?”
Gwen’s jaw hung open slightly at Alessandra’s nosiness. Normally these questions wouldn’t phase her, but given her circumstance it felt like the most violating prying.
“He probably won’t be going into me this weekend if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“Alright then! Cool, I’ll tell my friend she’s clear to ask him to her formal.”
Gwen jolted aback as her face and emotions tensed. Imagine. Andrew going to random girl’s formals. She couldn’t help but scoff invisibly within herself. She had to excuse herself to the farthest stall back in the women’s room and she bewildered herself with her fear dripping down her face in silent sobs.
“Hi Mom.” Gwen whispered into the phone. “Yeah, that test actually ended up being fine… yeah no it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be… yeah… yeah, sorry I keep meaning to call her I’ve just been caught up with school and stuff… yeah how is she doing?… Ok yeah I’ll call grandma later tonight… of course… yeah I can totally come to Dad’s work thing… no the timing should work actually… Did he enjoy London?… of course I know business trips aren’t supposed to be fun… Wait really?… I didn’t even know he went to India… that’s sick, I’m dying to go to Asia… Yeah I can’t wait to talk to him about it… yes mom I know he’ll be busy… I know… yeah… yeah I actually have the blue dress you got me for Christmas with me at school so I’ll just wear that… don’t worry… Mom?… I need to tell you something.” Deep breath. “Yeah I’m ok… no?… mom it has nothing to do with eating… yes trust me I am eating… Mom this is not what I want to talk to you about… Mom! I’m pregnant.” She sat allowing the oxygen to enter and exit her body. Dry, invisible, breaths were the only sound on either end of the line. Gwen’s dorm room suddenly felt very small. She took a moment to stare into pictures printed from CVS of herself laughing on the beach with friends. She glared into her own eyes – herself before this. Her carefree, extinct self. “Yes. I’m sure.” Silence. “Yes I do, his name is Andrew… he’s my age…” Is he nice? Gwen’s face crumpled. Her lips curled into each other and her eyes helplessly wandered her walls for an answer. Is he nice? Is he nice? “Of course.” She dumped out as tears soothed the anguish of her lie. “Yes he knows… He’s been very supportive.” Gwen knew the tears could be heard on the other end of the line. “No I’m not fine mom… no I don’t want to go home… what?… ok fine! Fine, I won’t tell dad…no it’s fine I won’t tell dad… I know, I know mom, he’s stressed… mom!… Stop!… I don’t want you to set up an appointment! Why does everyone keep thinking that is the only possible way to support me right now? Has it ever occurred to anyone, that maybe I’m not sure what I want to do right now?” Silence. Tears. “Because it isn’t that simple ok. How am I supposed to be sure what I want to do I’ve never exactly been pregnant before… I know!… I know!… I know this mom! I know I shouldn’t be pregnant but I am, I can’t undo that… Yes, actually we did use protection but you know what I was drunk so I’m not sure if it broke. I was drunk and I had sex and now I’m pregnant. I am so sorry if this damages Dad’s career aspirations.” Beep. White numbers turned gray, a red hang up button turned gray. Call ended.
It turns out there were all types of ways to go about adoption. Gwen never really thought about it, she’d only ever seen it in the movies and subconsciously assumed there was one specific way to do it. As she researched the different agencies and protocols she imagined scenarios of being reunited with her child in 20 years like in the movies, of a newborn being dramatically taken from her cradle as she wept in a hospital bed. She then thought about the child being raised by her mother who would roll her eyes and introspect: I didn’t want to do this again. Or by Andrew’s rigidly catholic family who may think “sin” would make an appropriate first name. Or by herself, a college dropout with no skills or qualifications to raise a child, who would kiss it as she dropped it off at preschool, and would drive away thinking what if for the rest of her life. And this child, never knowing a father’s love.
This child, having a gaping hole in it’s heart thinking: I wasn’t worth it to him. I wasn’t worth being a parent for. I wasn’t worth any sacrifices. I wasn’t worth having a dad.
Gwen pulled up her shirt and rode down her underwear. She stared at the skin just below her belly button. Her fingers lightly brushed her bikini line and imagined herself once that small.
“Hey.” Gwen said. “I’m Gwen, I’m your mom. I’m your mom. I want to talk to you. I’m not sure if I will ever meet you. I’m not sure if you’ll ever meet anyone actually. I’m not sure if you’ll ever walk through a dewy park in the spring after the rain just passed. I’m not sure you’ll ever feel cool air run through your lungs or if you’ll ever wake up and stretch your legs. I don’t know if you’ll ever dig your fork into hot cornbread fresh out of the oven and feel it sink into your stomach with satisfaction. I don’t know if you’ll ever get your period or your first boner and think shit. I don’t know if you’ll ever hear your favorite song randomly come on the radio and suddenly believe that everything is good. I don’t know if you’ll ever tiptoe down the stairs past my room because your friends parked around the corner and you’re just longing for some freedom. I don’t know if you’ll ever cry all night because you haven’t accepted that some people just suck. I don’t know if you’ll ever kiss someone and think: this. This is all there is in my universe right now. I don’t know if maybe if you did, you may really never have even wanted to because it hurts more to be a burden and that’s not a weight you ever decided to carry.”
Her conversation was interrupted by the buzz of her phone which she automatically reached for.
Andrew: Hey can I come talk to you?
Gwen glared at the screen with resentment. She contemplated never responding, very briefly, before deciding that obviously he can come talk and it took him long enough. He had had four days.
Ok, what are you doing right now?
Just sitting in my bed.
Can I come to your room?
Less than ten minutes later Gwen heard a knock on the door. “Come in.” Andrew’s shaggy head peered into her room as he sheepishly met her eyes.
“Hey.” He said softly.
“Hi.” She said challengingly.
“I haven’t been in your room since like, the third time we ever hooked up.” Gwen furrowed her brows as if to say with her eyes: for real? Silence consumed the dorm. “How are you doing?”
“I’m ok, thank you. How are you?”
“Can I sit?” Andrew asked approaching her bed.
“Sure.” He sat rigidly on the end of her comforter.
“Can I hold your hand?”
“Because I’m scared too Gwen.” She nodded. “I know I was a huge asshole this weekend. Trust me it’s been running through my head like nonstop. I’m sorry that I was that way. And I’m sorry that I haven’t reached out to you. I have been absolutely fucked up. I don’t know what to do. I have been such a wreck – and obviously, I’m sure it’s been worse for you. Obviously. I feel so bad about how I handled things. I was just so shocked. That was seriously douchey, and cruel, and inexcusable. And like it’s fucked up because, even though you probably won’t believe this, I do care about you. Like I didn’t show that at all, but I seriously liked – like, I mean, present tense, you. And I didn’t show you any respect.”
“Are you saying this because you mean it or because I’m pregnant with your child?”
“What I really wanted to say Gwen, is if you want to have this baby then ok. Like it’s your body and whatever.” Gwen scowled. “—not whatever. Poor choice of words.” He took a deep inhale and rubbed his face into his palms. “Jeez ok Gwen. What I’m saying is I’ve processed and I’m done being a coward. I was so freaked out when you told me I didn’t know what to do. Like does that make sense? It was shock and fear talking.”
“Yeah,” she softened, “that makes sense.”
“If you want to have this baby I’m in.” he dug into her eyes. “I’ll do it with you. It certainly wasn’t a part of my plan, but…” he hesitated, “I’m would never do to a child what my dad did to me.”
“Your catholic dad?”
“My catholic dad is my stepdad.”
“I actually have dreamed about being a father. Obviously not like this, but I always knew in my head the type of dad that I was going to be. I was going to be a fucking awesome dad. And this just totally – totally threw off that dream. But, not to the extent that I would leave my child fatherless. If you have this baby, I will be it’s father.”
They stared at each other.
“You have my word Gwen. I will be there for you and our child.”
Silently Gwen removed herself from beneath the covers and pulled Andrew into her arms. They held each other in this moment. The only two people in the world who could remotely understand how the other was feeling.
In this embrace Gwen remembered the night that she met Andrew. “Over My Head” by the Fray came on at an off-campus bar and in a group of people the two of them belted it out to each other word for word. At the end of the song Andrew kissed Gwen softly and briefly, before they spent the rest of the night laughing and exchanging clips of their favorite skits in SNL.
“Everyone knows I’m in, over my head, over my head.” Gwen softly rang as they hugged. Andrew pulled her away and smirked.
“Eight seconds left in overtime,” he smiled.
“She’s on your mind, she’s on your mind!” They sang together.
Gwen gave him an understanding smile. “Thank you for coming back.”
“Thank you for listening to me after I was such a royal asshole.”
She nodded. It dawned on her: what now? She had Andrew’s reassurance, what now? No cop outs now. Was she having this child or not?
His fingers traced her lower stomach and he stared at her flesh. His child lying beneath.
“Crazy.” He whispered.
“I know.” She followed his gaze.
Baby or no baby? Child or no child?
Gwen stepped into the fresh spring air and took a deep inhale. She stepped over the dewy grass. She held her stomach tightly against herself. “Hey friend.” She whispered to her fetus. “We’re going to have a day.” She placed her earbuds into her ears and tied her running shoes. On her iPhone she pulled up Spotify, then directly went to her “favorites” playlist. Gwen had made the playlist just that morning, scouring through the archives of her life to find her all time anthems. The songs that held her when she cried, that lifted her up when the world crumbled on top of her, that set her free into a world of light when darkness was on the edge of victory. “Lets. Fucking. Go.” She smiled.
She ran down her favorite jogging route, through trees dripping flower petals, which she stopped to smell. She sweat and jammed to her favorite songs. She stopped on the way back to campus and indulged in all the greasiest cuisine. She had her favorite sandwich, followed by a deluxe ice cream Sundae with extra Oreo crumbs and chocolate fudge. “This,” she whispered to her stomach, “is the proper award for a good exercise.” She rubbed her belly, occupied with triple chocolate mountain and a life. “Alright I’m going to tell you the story, of the first time I got my period. It was grim.” She proceeded with her most cringe worthy middle school moments, her first kiss, her first time, her dream wedding. Her fantasy of being the CEO of a sustainable fashion brand, the funniest moments of her summer at drama camp. She told her child about their grandfather, and how angry she was at him. She explained that she didn’t even think he even was aware of his shortcomings as her dad, and that was the worst part.
She went to the movies. She hadn’t done that since high school. She sat in the direct middle of the theater accompanied by a large slushy. She whispered during the opening credits how proud she was of her appetite after she conquered her high school devil of an eating disorder. They watched a mysteriously entertaining superhero movie that Gwen only half followed.
As it grew dark after the movie ended and Gwen began back to campus and whipped out her phone.
It didn’t take her long to reach the A’s in her contacts.
“Hello?” Andrew asked. “Is everything ok?”
“Hey yes, are you busy right now?”
“Ummm nah I’m just pretending to study.”
“Cool. Meet me at the docks in twenty.”
“The fuck Gwen?”
“Please. Please meet me at the docks in twenty.”
The sun had retired and the sky was a kind shade of navy blue. Not quite pitch black, but not enough for daylight to illuminate reality. Gwen sat staring out at the lake neighboring campus when headlights approached the empty parking lot. Gwen didn’t need to turn around to feel Andrew exit his Uber, she heard his footsteps coming towards them.
“What’s going on?” He sat next to her, staring out forwards parallel to her.
“I’m not keeping the baby.”
He turned to her. “You’re sure?”
She nodded. “it’s not fair. To me, to you, to them, whoever they may be. It isn’t fair.”
They sat for a moment. “Ok. If that’s what you’ve decided.”
“But whoever they may be, they’re here right now. If you want to say anything to them.”
He glanced from her eyes to her stomach.
“This is weird.”
“I know. But it’s helping me.”
He stared down at her belly and pulled her shirt up.
“I’m your dad, I guess. Since I’ll never get to meet you – I’ll just say it now.” The lake’s air whirled around them, capturing an infinite moment. A family. The smooth spring air wrapped around Andrew, Gwen, and their child. The lake kept that air and that moment forever. “I love you.” Andrew said to her skin with pain on his face. “I love the absolute hell out of you.” He wrapped himself around her stomach, his face pressed against the womb.
Gwen laced her fingers through his hair. “Let’s swim.”
Peeling off their clothes they dove side by side into the lake. Andrew pulled her stomach against him and spoke to the surface of the water. “This is as free as you get little person.” He grinned. “This right here, is absolute freedom. This is what’s worth living for. You got it all, right here.” He wrapped his hands around Gwen’s wet head and kissed her lightly, the way he did the first time.
In the morning, they made an appointment.
I have many times had been made to feel like a toothbrush. One appreciates his toothbrush. One uses his toothbrush how he pleases, when he pleases. One cares for his toothbrush, but only because it works to his advantage to do so. One does not worry about what’s going on with his toothbrush, or if his toothbrush is having a bad day. One actually completely forgets about his toothbrush whenever he doesn’t need it. But if the toothbrush does work as well as usual or doesn’t give him that minty fresh feeling right after he spits, he may show concern. One doesn’t think much of his toothbrush being there every morning and night, but if it wasn’t he would feel frustrated, as if his life was vacant of something of great value. One would certainly care very much if someone else used his toothbrush. And when the bristles of a toothbrush begin to round and grow coarse, or the body of the toothbrush snaps and holding it is now an inconvenience, then he throws the toothbrush in the trash, and gets a new one.
I have been a loyal toothbrush that served my purpose for years. I would make him feel clean and satisfied. I sometimes didn’t even mind digging into his back molars and pulling out the remanence of his dinner. I was glad to dig the pulled pork out from the crevice between his gums, or to smooth the moist hamburger bun out the dip of the teeth in the back of his mouth. I cleaned up the messes that nobody else knew of or could possibly notice. That only he felt, and weighed intensely on him, but were essentially invisible to anyone besides the two of them. I was his only remedy to feel comfortable again. I didn’t mind being his toothbrush, it gave me purpose, and was satisfied to do my job right and feel his gratitude.
I was only important to them relative to them. I was a counterpart to their life, not a human in my own right. As genuinely as their care for me seemed, it was really just care for themselves. As a toothbrush to one’s dental hygiene. The only point of a toothbrush is to make one feel good. Nobody cares how the toothbrush feels.
So, if I stopped making their teeth feel pearly and fresh morning and night, a new toothbrush they would find.