Excerpt from Chapter 5
Like everything else that happened that year, I never planned it; it just tumbled out when I was suddenly confronted with “the question.” I was sixteen; I was pregnant, and I was trying to survive the best way I knew how. I didn’t want to admit that I was horribly flawed, bad, the black sheep of the family. But the truth was large in my belly, and to avoid the consequences, I told a lie—and in so doing, I created another wall that I would have to live behind for many years.
Mom and I were sitting in the car outside the doctor’s office. I was six months pregnant by then, and we did not need a doctor to confirm what she and I already knew. There was nowhere to go, no place to hide, no denying the truth anymore. As we sat there looking at one another, all I saw was the hurt, the disbelief, and the utter disappointment in Mom’s eyes. I could barely meet her eyes. All I wanted was for Mom to stop looking at me that way. As my mind searched desperately for something to say, out of nowhere the lie appeared and tripped off my tongue in a rush, before I had time to think about the impact it would have.
“I was at a party, and something must have happened, I don’t know what…” I blurted out. “I woke up and found myself outside the house, sitting on the curb, crying.”
I hung my head in fear and shame.
There was silence in the car as Mom sat staring intently at me as she listened to what I was saying.
“I… I… I think I might have been drugged,” I blurted out.
Shame and relief sat side by side within me. Once again, I had weaseled my way out of admitting the truth with an explanation that ensured Mom and Dad wouldn’t be mad at me. And they wouldn’t have to admit that I had broken the rules and conceived a baby out of wedlock. There… Problem solved! In one fell swoop, I had fixed it so that Mom and Dad went from being the parents of a sinner to being the parents of a victim. And in my desperation, I had taken the sweetness of my relationship with Craig and twisted it into some crazy, sordid, nameless event devoid of any trace of love. My equally desperate Mom accepted my story without question and never pressed me for any details.
Dad was at home when we arrived back from the doctor. I remember meeting him in the hallway as I went to go into my room. We hugged. I don’t remember any words being said, only his hug, and then I went into my room, and he and my mother went into theirs. I could hear the murmuring of their conversation, as I lay on my bed, not wanting to know what was being said.
There is, of course, no such thing as a single lie. They have a way of growing and multiplying like a massive weed whose roots dig in and strangle the lifeblood out of everything within reach. My stubborn tenacity kept the lie going and growing. I was determined to not let anyone know the truth; even when I had to go to juvenile court to stand before a judge and swear that the identify of my baby’s father was unknown to me, or when I had to talk to the social worker later at the Unwed Mother’s Home. I knew the social worker wanted me to open up and talk about my feelings, to cry, to show emotion. However, I stubbornly resisted and gave her nothing. It became a game to me. I would sit there, listening intently, concentrating on the social worker’s lips, which would stick together when she talked. When the session was over, I‘d go to my room, congratulate myself, write in my journal, and then cry. It was the only sense of control I had in a world that was getting smaller and smaller, and progressively more out of control. It bothered me how much I cried. No matter how I tried not to, I could not seem to stop the tears from coming. It was like water spilling over a dam. I think the tears provided a relief I needed to keep me from cracking and leaving devastation everywhere.
* * * * *
You know how powerful a lie can be when you see it turn honest, loving people into liars—like my mom, for one. A practicing Catholic who attends church each Sunday, Mom had to go to my school and tell the Principal and my teachers that I would be going to Europe with my grandparents for the rest of the school year. I think about that sometimes and regret putting my mom in that position. She did it for me—for her child—the victim. She had no idea that she had lied for a liar.
My teachers mailed assignments home for me to complete and send back to them from Europe, not knowing, of course, that I was still on the island, holed up in the Home for Unwed Mothers. I was assigned work, like writing descriptive reports of my (imagined) journeys in Europe. Encyclopedias were handy items, as I’d search out the names of rivers, or the proper spelling of towns I might never set foot in. More lies. There were also mind-numbing worksheets to fill out, endless busy work for my math and business classes. I would do this, not from a hotel room in Munich, but from a desk in my little room at the home for unwed, pregnant women. My older sisters, who truly were going to Europe, received instructions for their part in our masquerade. I would mail my schoolwork to them, and they would reroute it to my high school. Everything was working out. It would all be okay. My life would be back to normal soon.
At least that’s what I told myself.
I went away to the Home for Unwed Mothers, like other kids go away to summer camp. I still had three months to go. I had no idea what to expect, but if I’m honest, it was a blessing to be separated from the normal rhythm of my life at home. Run by Catholic nuns, the Home was nestled deep in the back of Kalihi valley, about sixteen miles away from my own home. Our days were regimented; we each had chores and were expected to take turns cooking dinner and washing the dishes. I had to learn how to cook and plan menus. But once my chores were done, I would have some space and time alone. I’d go outside and wander around the grounds, and maybe lie on the grass and catch a few rays, or I’d go into the room where there was an old, rickety stationary bike and get a workout. Occasionally I’d walk to a nearby store and buy a candy bar that I’d been hankering for, along with some goodies that I’d bring back to relieve the latest cravings of the group. Mostly, I would concentrate on taking care of my own and my baby’s health. We all took birthing classes together and the nuns would caravan us around town to our doctor appointments. I learned about proper nutrition for pregnant women and about prenatal vitamins. Most importantly, since I wasn’t around my friends, I wasn’t tempted to make bad choices, like drinking, which, thankfully, I’d only done a little bit in the early days of my pregnancy.
It was good for me to be at the Home. I had access to a big box of old hand-me-down maternity clothes kept in a closet in the laundry room. It was a relief to not have to have to squeeze into my regular clothes. I could wear comfortable, shapeless, unflattering frocks without having to worry about how big I looked. The last time I had looked carefully into a mirror, I’d seen an expression on my mom’s face that I’d rather forget. Once she knew about my pregnancy, she had taken me to the store get some new bras. As I undressed, I realized I could see her face in the mirror without her knowing. As I briefly stood topless, I had witnessed my mom’s reaction to my stretch marks and my naked swollen breasts. The look in her eyes revealed the depth of her sadness. It wasn’t difficult to imagine her thoughts. I was only sixteen, but my body bore the scars of experiences that she would have preferred me not to have for many years yet. Unable to comfort her or take away her pain, I had turned away, telling myself that I didn’t care how I looked. I didn’t glance in the mirror for several months after that. In fact, I couldn’t look closely at myself in the mirror for many years. I guess I just couldn’t bear to see myself.
As the days passed, and the privacy afforded by having a room all to myself eliminated the need to suppress my feelings, I began to feel a new sense of freedom. Finally, I was able to write truthfully in my journal without the fear that someone might read it, and know the truth about me. Alone in my room, I could retreat into stories, I could cry freely and deeply as I wove fantasies about seeing Craig again, and what I would say when I told him about my baby. Wow! It’s only now, as I write this, that it hits me that I never once thought about the baby as being ours. It was mine. In hindsight, I see that I had been so thoroughly conditioned by the prevailing standards of the society I grew up in, that I absolutely believed that I was a bad girl—I had gotten myself pregnant so the baby was my problem to take care of, ergo Craig had no role in this. In my naïve daydreams, I simply wanted him to know why I was gone, and that everything would be okay. Kim would be back when this was all over.
One story that I liked to tell myself was that giving my baby up for adoption was a noble thing to do, and I would fantasize about the lovely people who would raise my baby. They took on practically mythical personas. They would be a wonderful couple that had a hole in their lives that only I could fill. This was my solace. I would be the great giver, the hero of the story, literally the bearer of the most amazing gift ever—the gift of life—and because they couldn’t have children of their own, they’d be twice as loving to my baby. They would have a lovely house on a quiet, tree-lined street. Dad would go to work, while Mom would stay home and take care of my baby. They would have grown up things like life insurance, a mortgage, and a beautiful nursery filled with colorful stuffed animals. They would be smart and loving, and would know exactly what to do when my baby got sick. They would make her safe, and most of all they would see to it that she always felt loved. Of course, I never gave these paragons any faces. They were thoughts, not images. Giving them form would make them too real, and I couldn’t take that. They were my fantasy, and they were the antithesis of me.
Other nights, I would spend hours whispering soft words that spoke the language of my heart to my baby. Lying in bed, with my arms wrapped protectively around my tummy, I would tell her how much I loved her, and that, in my heart, she would always be my baby, my love. All I wanted was for her to be happy and healthy. At the same time, I worried that all the tears I shed might be bad for her as if my sorrow might imprint itself on her personality, forever stamping her with a propensity for melancholia. Then I’d beg her forgiveness, and tell her how sorry I was for being so sad. I also tried hard to develop a sense of detachment by blocking out any possibility of keeping her. I convinced myself that she didn’t belong to me; she belonged to parents who would be able to attend to her every need… parents who, unlike me, were worthy of her love.
Some people believe birth mothers are selfless. Some say we are selfish. I was a bit of both, teetering by degrees to one side or the other. I had just had my seventeenth birthday; not only was I convinced that I knew everything; I also stubbornly believed I could navigate this experience alone. Afraid to expose my vulnerabilities and my wickedness, I refused to confide in anyone—that would be giving away far too much power. So, I kept my distance, and became the selfless martyr, which felt good to me for two reasons. In addition to being a fitting punishment for all the many wrongs I’d done and the lies I’d woven, it also got many people off the hook. Craig was one of them. My father, who worked in the same office as Craig’s dad was another. I was also sparing the rest of my family the embarrassment, the sideways looks, and the ridicule of the neighbors.
And then there was me, of course… the victim, whose lies had made her untouchable.
Oh the tangled web we weave…