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I have always been just a little late.
Back when I was 15, my high school had physical fitness tests that we were required to take. One of these was a mile run. The goal for girls was to do it in ten minutes to prove that we were physically fit. Mind you, I was 5’1’’ at the time, and running had never been my sport. I was a dancer with the legs of Gumby. At least that’s what people would say to me when I was stretching. It was as if I had no bones in my body. My flexibility was unmatched, and I had the ability to keep my energy up through hours of dance class. But put me on a track and give me a stopwatch, and I never did well. They called me a sprinter—I had no idea what that meant at first. It was explained that I had a quick burst of energy, which would fuel me for a short time, and then I would burn out. In the world of track, that meant I would do relay type of running, and I would probably have gone first.
Running had never been my sport. I was the creative type of person who wrote poetry and choreographed passionate dances to songs that moved me in the middle of my living room, and I was always behind a camera. The idea of just running for fun made me think of Forrest Gump. I had no desire to do so. So when the day of the physical test came in, I had a feeling I was going to do badly. The timer began, and my feet took off, and I bolted to try to stay ahead with the others in my class. I made it through the first lap, feeling like a racecar, and the gym teacher shouted out to me “57 seconds!” Whoa! I made it through a quarter of the mile in 57 seconds? “ I can do this, no problem!” At least, that’s what I told myself as I started the second lap. It wasn’t until I felt the stomach cramp on my right side, just under my rib that I started to slow down; or when I began to lose my breath and my mouth went dry, and then I couldn’t breathe at all. I slowed to a walking pace, and tried hard to catch my breath. After that, speeding up was a dance of its own—I would jog for a few seconds and walk for a few seconds. When I finally crossed the finish line of the mile, the teacher said to me “10 minutes and 57 seconds”. I was angry with myself for being off by the same amount of time that I had been so proud of in the first lap. I HATED being late.
I remember when I first found out. It was December 19, 2006. My dad had driven me to the CVS so I could pick up the test I had been dreading for weeks. Here I was, a few months past my 20th birthday, shivering in the cold of my coat, partially from nerves and partially from the frigid Connecticut winter, wondering how I had gotten to this point. My calendar must have been off; it HAD to be off. There was no other explanation. The last time he and I had been together was Halloween. We had gone to a haunted house in Baltic, and the strobe lights and sound of chain saws made me feel sick. I loved getting scared, but this place must have had a master’s degree in creepy because I not only jumped out of my boots, but I also threw up just before we went home. I didn’t tell that to my boyfriend. Regardless, we drove home. The moon was out, perfect for the notion of werewolves and naughty behavior. Now here I stood, six weeks later, completely sick to my stomach, tired, and completely sore-breasted. I loved that I was sick on a breakfast shift; maybe I would get lucky and throw up to the greasy smell of bacon and sausage and I could go home early to rest. “Please, God” I said, “let this just be the flu.”
The three minutes didn’t even have to go by before I had proof that a flu shot wouldn’t fix this. Twenty dollars and about two minutes later, I sat in the stall sobbing into my waitress apron, as I saw the digital screen pop up with the word “pregnant”. I put the test on the floor, buried my face in my hands, and slid down the side of the stall. How was I supposed to tell him? He had broken up with me. What could I possibly say about this? My mind raced; maybe he doesn’t have to know. I don’t have to tell him. We aren’t speaking anyway. No, that’s dumb, Jodi. He works right across the street! You’re going to bump into him sooner or later. Not knowing what else to do, I called my mom to tell her the results. She suggested that I go to the local clinic to get it confirmed before I tell him, just in case. So, after making it through my shift, which involved munching on saltines, taking mini sips of ginger ale, and holding my breath around the breakfast meats, I put my coat back on, and ventured out into the freezing cold to go to the clinic. And, since I had crashed my car back in October, I was walking, however long it took me.
The wind blew through my hair, and I could see my breath ice up and then melt before my eyes in the thin air. Thank God for slip resistant shoe, I thought to myself as I cracked my feet over the icy patches of sidewalk. I wondered what he would say, if he would even answer his phone. I grabbed the phone from my pocket and warmed my fingers the only way I knew how. I sent him a text message. I waited for him to respond, and he callously asked me what I wanted. My only response was clear and blunt—I’m pregnant. Can we talk now?
I came to find that I hated the smell of alcohol, but it wasn’t until New Years’ Eve that I came to that realization. It was extremely late, and the group was playing pool and waiting for the ball to drop. In the meantime, they were dropping ping pong balls into each other’s beer cups and guzzling wine and vodka straight from the bottle. I was now 8 weeks along, using elastics to hold the buttons of my jeans shut, and hoping to find an apartment for him and me to move into. The day I gave him the news, we went out for lunch after he got off work, and he told me that he wouldn’t leave me alone in this fiasco. He said that he would be there and be supportive, and that we would find a way to raise this baby right. Yet here we were, and with all the peppermint schnapps and flavored vodkas and chocolate wines, my 6’3’’ “hero” of sorts smelled of Old Spice and burped the flavors of Christmas morning. I sat there in utter disbelief. For starters, I had no way to get back to where I was staying because I still had no car and he was my ride. Also, I was witnessing the man who was supposed to be a father to my baby acting like a teenager who snuck into a frat party.
I woke up late that day. It was January 4th, 2007, a Thursday. It was the only day the clinic was open until 8pm. They had warned me not to eat anything for at least eight hours, so with about two hours available, I went into the kitchen nook to grab some soup. His friend’s parents were letting us stay with them until we could sign a lease of our own. I had a falling out with my parents and my grandmother, and his parents were less than thrilled with us. I could barely stomach the warm broth. In part it was because I was depressed about what was coming that day, but also due to the tasteless humor of his friend’s father making cracks about how a coat hanger would probably be easier. I tuned it all out, thinking about the counseling I had received a few days prior. The meds I was going to get were supposed to put me into a twilight sleep; I would be awake, but remember nothing because I would be extremely high. They would perform an ultrasound just to make sure that the procedure for which they were was the correct one. From there it was going to be more consent forms. I tried to prepare my heart for what was going on ….you haven’t heard a heartbeat …. It’s just a blob of cells......That’s what you know from biology class….. It looks more like a tadpole than a baby…… Don’t think about it….. Just don’t think about it.
I felt the familiar warmth of his large hand as he reached for mine and told me it was time to go. The second he touched me, I wanted to crawl out of my skin. He couldn’t comfort me through this. I thought back to New Year’s morning, while he was hung over and grouchy, telling me that he wasn’t ready for a baby, and that I wasn’t either . I knew I wasn’t, but I was willing to face that and to be an adult about it. “Lots of people aren’t prepared”, I had said. “There’s adoption, you know”.
He yelled and got close to my face, “I DON’T WANT MY DNA RUNNING AROUND SOMEWHERE!”
I froze against the wall, shocked at what he was proposing. “What do you want from me? Are you telling me not to have it?”
And his brown eyes that once had seemed so kind grew cold. “Yes. I’m telling you that you’re not having it.”
“Do you want to see the ultrasound, Ms. Longton?”
I snapped back to reality as the nurse looked at me with questioning eyes. To this day, I don’t know why she was asking me that, unless she was trying to help me talk myself out of it. But with him in the waiting room and his desires made clear, I just quietly shook my head no, careful not to let the tears fall from my overly watery eyes. She finished the exam and printed a picture for the records, and then she left the room. I overheard her talking to the doctor in the hallway as I gathered myself to sit up. I was 9 weeks along. 9 weeks…. About the size of a grape, with teeth. I learned later that all the chambers of the heart had formed by then too. If medical technology had been any better, they could have told me if it was a boy or girl. That’s what my post procedure depression research told me.
Another nurse came in to ask me some questions before taking me to another room.” Has the procedure been properly explained to you?”
“Are you allergic to any medications?”
“Do you have someone here to drive you home?”
“Yup, though I’d rather walk than see his face when this is all over”.
I didn’t say that last part one. Instead, I just nodded. She grabbed her clipboard and asked me to follow her. She brought me into another ultrasound room which had one light and resembled that of an interrogation room with stirrups.
I looked at the clock…7:20. Not much time was left. I thought about everything. I thought about my cravings for kiwi and tootsie rolls in the weeks prior. I thought about how we laughed a few days after I told him, how we could call the baby “Clementine” since he called me his little Tangerine. I thought about the nights when I suffered insomnia and I was rocking in the chair at my grandmother’s house, flipping through What to Expect when you’re Expecting in the dark as to not wake anyone in the house.
I stood there, barefoot in my hospital gown, feeling a tingling in my toes. I was about to cry, when I wiped my eyes and ran my fingers through my hair. Then, as I was beginning to calm down, I heard it… the whirring sound of the machine in the next room. I closed my eyes and the tears fell silent down my flushed cheek. I tried to imagine I was at the dentist and nowhere else. As the sound got louder, I placed my hands over my ears, as more tears fell. The air grew thick and it was hard to breathe. I whispered to myself, “Baby Killer.” I don’t know how long I stood there crying silently in the last minute room.
The last minute room was what I called it—the last minute to wipe your eyes, the last minute to admit what was going to happen, the last minute to prepare. But even in the newfound silence that now came from the next room, nothing could have prepared me for what I would go through.
I was rushed into the same room that I heard the dreadful machine by a nurse who was looking at her watch and reminding the doctor that I was the last appointment of the night. The room was very dim, as if the only light was from a desk lamp. It contained an ultrasound machine, blood pressure monitors, and an IV bag already hung and ready for me. The twilight sleep was supposed to help me not know what was going on—if only I had that when I was in the previous room. They told me to climb up on the OB table and to lean back. I could see the doctor in the corner preparing his metal instruments; I heard the tools scraping together and I scrunched my eyes shut as to not see anything. One of the nurses shoved my arm into a blood pressure cuff, while the other tucked an IV in my arm. The room began to get blurry, and I felt nauseous immediately. “The room… it’s spinning,” I said to them nervously.
“It’s just the meds,” one of them said to me. “You’re gonna be fine.” The room drifted off in circles and I started to fall asleep, just as I heard the machine turn on. I heard my own voice say, “I’m sorry, Clementine.”
I woke up in a bright room filled with hard cots, the ones you lay on after you give blood. Surprisingly there were no people. I could barely move, let alone get up. He walked into the room with the nurse, and she assured him that I had come through just fine. She then let him know that they were closing and we had to leave in a few minutes. I opened my eyes as wide as I could, and within seconds I felt sick. I had nothing in my system, because I hadn’t eaten for eight hours, so I assumed it was just nausea. But the urge was so strong that he had to practically carry me to the bathroom, and I began to throw up uncontrollably and with incredible force. He turned green, and he begged the nurse to check on me. She said it looked as though I had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia and I was throwing up stomach acid. My throat burned as I continued to purge, my eyes practically bulging out of my head with the violence of the muscle clenching in my belly. The wave finally stopped, and I crawled to the sink to attempt to sip some water. The nurse handed him my clothes, and insisted that we let them close up, but that if I was really sick, he was to take me to the emergency room. He looked at me, pale and weak, my eyes completely bloodshot and my hair a sweaty mess. In an instant of kindness, he helped me get the energy to get dressed into the outfit I came in. He then scooped me up and carried me to the car, helped me get in, and put my seat belt on. I rolled down the window, hoping the cold air would relieve the feverish feeling that had come over me, and I let my head droop on the sill of the door.
That night I had a dream of a newborn baby in a crib, smiling and cooing, but when I went to pick her up, her smile turned evil, and she grabbed tweezers-like tool and began ripping her limbs off. The crib was bloody and her twisted face lay broke, blood splattered everywhere. I woke up screaming in terror. This happened for months.
A few days later, I had a friend bring me to church, and I tried to act as though things were okay. I had taken the Percocet the doctor had prescribed me for the pain, but I took them to stay numb. The worship team opened up with a song called “We Humble Ourselves”… and as the lyrics spoke to me, I dropped to the floor, crumbling into a ball, and sobbed uncontrollably until my stomach hurt. I begged God’s forgiveness. I begged for His healing. I begged that I would someday be okay with what I had done. I stayed on the floor a long while, eventually trying to get up.
But I was so blessed that God granted me a vision—the greenest hilltop you could imagine, with a cottage and a swing on a tree branch, a picnic bench surrounded by flowers, and my great-grandmother walking around the hillside. She smiled at me and opened her hand as I approached her. In her hand, was the tiniest little baby I had ever seen, with emerald green eyes and mahogany hair; it looked like the colors of the Irish trees were blessed on her body. She was no longer than my pinky finger, but she was smiling at me and reaching up for me. My great- grandmother looked at me and smiled. And she whispered, “He forgives you. And she is here with me now.”
It has been six and a half years, and time has healed that wound. At first there were nightmares. If we had baked potatoes for dinner, I would have a dream about oven- baked babies inside the tinfoil. Each dream was twisted and scary and made me scream loud enough to wake the neighborhood. But as time passed, I began to heal. Some part of me wonders what would have happened if I had run from that room when I heard the machine. What if I had remembered that I was a sprinter, and had bolted away before the IV put me to sleep? I will never know that answer, and I know that I can never go back and make that decision again. What I do know is that I have to live with the decision I made, and the regret that I feel, and the fact that I knew it was a mistake, about a minute too late…
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