The last time I saw him I was exiting a Planned Parenthood.
I ran down the concrete stairs, shaken and teary eyed right into his arms. He held me, let me cry a river of tears into his shoulder, and turned us both towards the car. There were no words exchanged. He was intuitive enough to know that asking me questions, at that moment, would not be in his best interest. We drove in silence.
I attempted to get my bearings. Images of the pamphlet I had viewed the words I had heard and the ones I spoke in return echoed in my ears. I felt nauseous. Given my physical and emotional state, the nausea was no surprise. I thought of him, the father, my former boyfriend, my high school sweetheart. I thought of my parents, their religion and their beliefs. Beliefs that I should have absorbed but clearly hadn’t. I knew I owed my friend, the driver, an explanation yet the words would not come to my throat let alone form on my tongue. I was choked, stifled, paralyzed by my own thoughts and the images they produced in my head.
I did not want to abort my baby. I knew that before I went there. Unlike my parents, I had no objection to the idea of abortion. Even at my young age, I believed in a woman’s right to choose. I attributed that partly to the era I grew up in and partly to my innate desire to rebel against my parents’ beliefs. If they thought it was good, I thought it was bad. If they said yes, I said no. If they said abortion was a sin, I said abortion was a woman’s right. Yet even with that right, that belief, I did not want to make that choice. What I wanted was for the people who were supposed to love me, supposed to help me, to do just that. I wanted them to help me have my child, keep my child, raise my child. I wanted them to look at me with something other than disgust. I wanted them to rejoice in the birth of my child, the product of a deep love between her father and me.
My friend continued to drive north on I-95 in silence towards our hometown. I continued to stare out the window, tears dripping down my face, my cries of pain audible only to myself. We passed the exit for the beach and I involuntarily whimpered loud enough for friend to hear. I felt him slow the pressure on the gas pedal and look over to me with concern. I turned to him and offered a weak smile.
“Are you going to be okay?” he asked.
“I don’t know” I answered.
“Is there anything I can do? Do you need money for the procedure? I can loan you money if you need some” he says with a crackle to his voice.
“No. I am not going to do it. But…thanks. Thanks for being such a good friend. Can you just drive me home?” I said as I turned my head toward the window to shed a few more tears.
Friend was unaware that the cause of my whimpering was my memory of the night I lost my virginity. In my boyfriends’ car, parked in the tall reeds at the beach, I allowed my boyfriend to “pop my cherry” after we had an argument over my continued refusal to have sex with him. Driving by the exit, remembering that night, in my present condition, caused something painful to erupt out of my mouth.
Friend dropped me off at my parents’ home. It was mid day. No one was home.
“Do you want me to come in? Do you want to talk?” friend says with serious concern in his voice.
“No. I want to be alone. Thanks though. I will be okay.” I respond as I walk away.
“Will you? Are you sure?” he hollers from the car.
I don’t answer him. I honestly do not know.
My husband and I arrive at the restaurant a few minutes early. The pizza parlor is located a few miles from our home, less than fifteen minutes away. As we wait for our friends, we muse over our relationship with them and how we met both came to know them, individually and as a couple ourselves.
Rich, my husband, repeats some of the same stories he has shared before. He tells me of growing up on the same street as Rob and playing with him and other neighborhood kids when they were both young. Rich shares the names of others that grew up on their street. Some of the names are familiar to me. I smile at hubby’s stories. I find myself wondering what kind of young boy my husband was, how he played with others, was he a follower or a leader. Remembering Rob as he was in high school, I struggle to see how he and my husband could have been friends as children, and yet they were. Years before that agonizing car ride home from Planned Parenthood with Rob, he played baseball with the boy who would become my husband.
Husband begins to talk about Robs wife, Margaret, someone neither one of us have met in real life, having developed a relationship via Facebook and frankly, only because she was married to our friend. I express concern over the possibility that I won’t like her. I worry she may be too religious for me (reflecting on several of her status postings over the year). I also worry that Rob may have told her about me, about what happened and what I did. If she is religious, and she knows about me, I fear it will be Father Lynch all over again. I want to like her. I want to be friends with Rob again; he means so much to me. He was one of the few people expressing kindness to me when I was pregnant all those years ago. I smile thinking about him. I remember that car ride home from Planned Parenthood. Something in my stomach turns.
“I guess we should sit the other way, no? “ I ask my husband. “They won’t recognize us from behind. We have never met Margaret and its been twenty-five years since I last saw Rob.”
“I think they will recognize your hair not to mention they have both seen photos on facebook” Hubby jokes. I laugh and realize he is correct. My hair and its bold colors are not easily missed.
Our drinks come and hubby continues with the conversation. I am only partially listening. Long forgotten memories coming rushing to the forefront of my thoughts.
Shortly after I found my daughter in 2005, I searched for Rob as well. I found him living in our hometown. He was married and that fact startled me at first. He seemed, at least years ago, to be a life long bachelor. He dated lots of women and lived on the edge, active in nearly every sport imaginable. The perennial party boy, I never imagined he would settle down. Yet he had. Some woman had calmed my friends’ wild side, or so I assumed.
When I found my daughter, I wanted to call him, to meet up with him, to run to him and share my happy news with him. I wanted to share pictures of her and tell him all about her. He deserved to know. He, my friend, who cared about a lost pregnant teenage girl when no one else had. He, my friend, who saw ME and my love for my child and my child’s father. He, my friend, who saw good in me when all others saw bad, evil, dirty things.
The knowledge of a wife stopped me from contacting him. What would she say? How would she react to some random woman from her husband’s past calling him? What would she think when a girl who got herself knocked up in high school and then abandoned her child to strangers, called her home and asked for her husband? Age old fears and feelings of shame stopped me from calling friend. I mailed a short note instead.
The note was brief and to the point. I found her I exclaimed. I found my daughter. There were many, too many, exclamation points in that note. I thanked him for being there when I needed someone. I alluded to the greatest pain of my life and thanked him for doing what he could to help me manage that pain. I told him I was finally filled with joy. My child was alive, she was beautiful and talented and she had responded to me via email. I wanted him to know, after all these years, things might finally be okay. I wanted to answer the question he asked me all those years ago. I wanted to finally tell him I was going to be okay.
I sense movement to my right and I look up and there he is. Rob. My friend. Smiling. I jump up with a screech and immediately reach out to hug him. He pulls me close and we share a quick friendly hug. The embrace ends and I turned to his wife. Completely out of character for me, I hug her too. I thank her for coming and tell her how happy I am to meet her. Rob and Margaret share welcoming pleasantries with my husband and they settle into their side of the table.
Conversation flows freely, easily. We reminisce about our younger years. Rob asks for updates on my family. Margaret shares the story of how they met and tells me about her family. We are surprised to learn my sister’s sister-in-law is best friends with her sister- in-law. We talk of former teachers and former friends. We chuckle over the fact that their son recently had a customer service call with my brother-in-law. We realize once again how small the world is.
The entire time we are talking, there is uneasiness in my speech. As reigning queen of the social anxiety kingdom, I realize it is something more than just my typical rapid speech due to being somewhat socially inept. It is my old fears, my own shame, my curiosity over that note I mailed in 2005. I wrestle with apprehension.
I chew my chopped salad slowly. Rob, Margaret and my husband Rich share a large buffalo chicken pizza. Rob engages my husband in conversation and Margaret and I discuss children and parenting.
“So how is your daughter?” Rob interjects during a pause in my conversation with Margaret.
I feel as if a door has been unexpectedly blown open and the wind behind it rushes up into my face, down into my throat. I momentarily unable to breathe and do not respond immediately.
“Good. I guess. I don’t really know. All I know, I know because I creep her online.” I say.
“What do you mean you creep her?” Rob asks.
“Perhaps creep is the wrong word. That sounds well, creepy. Ha. She is as overexposed on the Net as I am. So I keep up with her via her blog, her twitter feed and other sites. I don’t comment, she prefers I don’t, I just watch and read. Hence, creep.” I explain.
I realize Rob is waiting for more information. Margaret is looking anxiously at me. I feel pressured to come up with some fabulous news about my daughter. I don’t have it to share.
Hubby continues to eat his pizza and I look down at my salad. I cannot look at them when I answer. I stutter a few more lines about how she doesn’t want to meet and how we no longer correspond. I rush the conversation. I want it to end. I don’t want to talk more about the reunion that is not a reunion for the likely outcome will be a suggestion that there is something wrong with her and if not her, than with me.
The conversation turns to a new topic and the gust of wind goes back out the door. I am feeling sick to my stomach and I excuse myself to use the restroom. As I exit the booth, my husband says he has to use the facilities as well. We leave the table together.
I return before my husband and I find Rob alone at the table.
“Margaret decided to follow your lead” Rob jokes.
“I know” I say as I sit “I passed her on my way back”
I begin to poke at my salad while Rob and I await the return of our spouses to the table.
“I am sorry if I made you uncomfortable by bringing up your daughter. I really wanted to know. I was so happy when I got your letter a few years back.” He says rather sheepishly.
“No, no, it’s okay. I was just surprised. I never know what to say. I am never prepared. Half the people in my life pretend she doesn’t exist and the remaining half regularly asks me about her. I am glad you asked. Really, I am. It means a lot to me.” I respond.
“I still have the envelope and the card. I remember it so clearly. I carried it around in my day planner for quite a while. I don’t know why I did that but I did. I am sorry she hasn’t been kind to you. I hope someday she realizes, or wants to realize, what happened. I was there. I know how much you loved her. I know the situation you were in. Sorry I brought it up. Are you okay?” Rob says sadly.
I stop pushing my salad around and look up at him. I catch his eye and I smile at him.
“Really, it’s okay Rob. Don’t worry about it. I prefer people be open and talk to me about her, what happened…and yeah, I am okay. Really.” I say firmly.