* May 2007 *
The bell rang and within moments the sound of scooting desks, broken chatter and hallway traffic filled the room. Lunch.
I could see her approach my desk as I shuffled homework papers around into various nonsensical piles. Organized chaos at its best.
"Mrs. L? Can I talk to you about something?" I remember how this piece of hair would hang in her eyes, how she would nervously pull it back over and over again. I wanted so much to give her a clip or something to make it stop falling. It distracted me.
But this time, it didn't. I just wanted to reach out and pull the piece back for her. Do something for her. I had no idea why.
She sat down in the over sized office chair, the one I confiscated from the Dumpster and tried to upholster with frayed denim scraps. The one that smelled of hairy wet dog when the first hint of summer entered the room. But the students loved that chair. Loved how it would rock back, the headrest practically touching the floor, and then lurch forward without warning. They fed on the rush of near death by office chair, I supposed.
I took a seat in the tiny chair with foam padding and scratched plastic arms. We sat for a moment in silence in the small space between my two mismatched desks, piles of paper and the planning that I would never get to that day or the next.
Our knees touched as she leaned forward to whisper her secret.
"So, I'm going to have a baby," she bit back her lips as her eyes peeked through her lashes. Cautious. Hopeful.
Why was she telling me? The students and I, we got along. We had established mutual respect. But, I was not their BFF, their mother, their counselor. I was not the warm and fuzzy teacher with cute drawings and tiny squeak toys on my desk (OK, I was, but it was because they made me laugh). I wasn't the one who hugged to comfort, gently touched hands in encouragement or patted heads in recognition.
"My mom knows. And, I'm keeping it" she said. I hoped she didn't hear the escaping sigh as it limped from my chest. She wasn't looking to me to make decisions for her. This talk had nothing to do with who knows what or what to do with the little life inside her.
She was 16. Her hair fell to her shoulders, hiding the tiny tears in the seam of her t-shirt. Her hands, motionless, rested in her lap. I pictured those hands as that of a child, flawless, chubby. Fat crayons. White paper. Dreams filled with color. Dreams left unfulfilled.
She didn't look at me, but I could see her chin tighten, tiny little dimples awaiting a cry.
I did something I never do. I reached for her, my hands resting on hers.
"How did this happen?" I asked her, not realizing the absurdity of such a question.
A smile curled around her cheek. Crooked. Knowing. "Well, Mrs. L, " she looked at my swollen belly, "I think you know."
Oh, yeah. A halfhearted attempt to suppress a giggle. Screw it . . . my brain cells decided to take leave and wander off the premises. Excellent timing.
"I don't want her to be like me." And there it was. The sobs came fast. She buried her head in my shoulder, her tears wetting my maternity top. Me, soaking in a cruel not-yet-realized irony.
In only moments, between heaving breaths, she let her fears form a puddle in her hands. Her mother had her at 15, never finished school, never married, never held down a job, had no clue what to do with her baby daughter. And now, the daughter, seeing her future in her mother's history. Her hands, tight-fisted, rested on the top of her tiny belly.
"My grandmother. My mother. Me. We're so messed up, Mrs. L. So messed up." I closed my eyes, images of my own mother. My own grandmother. The histories that collided with regret and guilt. The histories that shaped my life.
I understood. The baby boy in my own belly moved. A reminder.
"You are not your mother. You are not your grandmother. You are you." Silly little platitudes, as if sewn on a cloth and framed on a wall or written in pink on a cue card.
She deserved more than this. I closed my mouth and leaned back in my seat. She didn't need words of wisdom. She just needed . . .
"A girl. You are having a baby girl," I said simply with a hint of a smile and a tilt of the head.
"Yes," she smiled and her fists relaxed as she smoothed the t-shirt, following the rounded curve to her lap.
I was not trained for this. No classes. No workshops. No . . .
"You'll love her. With everything you have, you will love her. History doesn't have to be repeated." I reached out again, cradling her hands in mine. She spoke in whispers, sharing stories of her past, the fears that wrestled away her youth, the hopes she had for the tiny heart that beat near her own. I sat. Silent. Listening. Blinking back tears.
I knew the challenges that awaited her, as did she. She didn't need a lecture. She didn't need advice. She just needed me to listen.
She was giving birth to a baby. A baby girl. A baby girl whose future she saw resting within histories that were not her own. Would this baby girl travel down the same path as her mother? Her grandmother and so many of the women before her?
Would she have a chance?
"You will love her . . . "
More tears and more whispers passed between us before she said goodbye. I had only a few minutes left for lunch. But I wasn't hungry. Instead, I leaned back in the denim-patched chair and thought about the baby boy readying himself for the world. My own history, the biting memories, the tender scars, crept in, clouding my reverie. But I pushed back.
I closed my eyes and thought of the future, my hand finding comfort in the warmth of the life that moved beneath it.
* March 2009 *
My foot tapped, rhythmless. I sucked in air as I checked my phone again. What time is it?
What day is it?
My fists clenched. Unclenched. I begged my body to relax. Pleaded with it.
"You're having a girl." I smiled when she said the words even though I knew exactly what she was going to say. Her little body wiggled in fuzzy lines and curves on the screen. A girl.
A mother knows.
I'm going to have a girl. A baby girl.
JR and his daddy had already headed to the car (celebratory donuts in order), carrying the news with them. I was left, waiting. A doctor to see, an exam to be performed, a heartbeat to hear.
I was alone in a room full of expectant moms. The chatter was deafening. Joy bounced around the room (aided by the energy of anticipation and a healthy dose of fear).
I'm so happy.
But I can't breath. The smile, fading.
The endless questions, the brazen fears, the unruly angst paraded around in my mind, assaulting any small shred of excitement that dared to dwell.
I don't want to wonder if she'll have my frailties. I don't want to wonder if the mistakes of the past will rest with her. I don't want the histories of my mother, my grandmother to be her legacy.
I can hear the loud cacophony of support ringing in my ears . . . Words of encouragement. Words of love. "You'll be OK." "Everything will be fine." "You'll be a great mom!" But these are thoughts that were destined to be mine. I pushed them back for far too long.
But right now, I just want to wonder if she'll be a lover of words. If she'll get lost in her daydreams. If she'll pull apart her Oreo and lick the frosting. If she will paint her toes pink or red. If she'll have her father's lips. If her giggle will sound like JR's. If she'll have eyes like mine.
That's all I want to think about.
That . . . and how I will love her. With everything I have.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
* May 2007 *