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Emancipation

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So as it turned out, I was pregnant when I graduated high school. To this day, I don’t know who the father was. It might have been Uncle Andrew, sure. Or it might have been one of the two hotel employees Mommy encouraged to rape me. I’ll never know, and I think I prefer it that way.

I walked down the aisle at my graduation ceremony to a few pointed looks. Everybody was eager to gawk at the pregnant principal’s niece. But even the serial gossipers of my school didn’t have much to say about it. I was never particularly liked or hated in high school. I was a strange, quiet girl who kept to myself, and so while my finishing the year with a baby in my belly was a surprise to most, it didn’t come with the same glee as it would a better known person. When someone said “Annabelle Smith is pregnant,” the common response was, “who?”

Mommy had been ecstatic when I’d missed my period. The storm-clouds that'd been brewing in her for months disappeared at once. She’d danced around, singing cheers and throwing her arms around me, gleeful as a kitten. “My baby’s gonna have a baby,” she’d cooed. “Me and you, Annie-girl, we’re having this baby.”

Is it cliche to say that it felt like the end of a chapter? That’s not to say that the chapter hadn’t been concluding for some time. I think a part of me had been ending for years. Maybe it was the culmination of a lot of things hitting me all at once: my impending graduation. The realization that I was, in fact, an adult now. The multiplying cells in my body that could one day become a human being separate from myself. 

Something, though.Something in me whispered, ‘aren’t you ready to change, yet?’

I didn’t want to listen to that voice. Change is easily the most terrifying force in the world. Sometimes I think I’d take death over change any day.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Once I let that voice whisper to me, it became impossible to ignore. I could dial it down, mute it, but I’d still feel the echoes following me to doctor’s appointments, swimming down my throat with every swallow of protein shake and prenatal vitamin. It tapped a rhythm at the base of my skull as I finished my exams for senior year, and when I tried on my cap and gown on in the mirror. I hadn’t gone to prom — nobody invited me, and if they had, I'd surely have said no — so this was the single biggest school event I had ever, would ever attend.

Once I’d made my decision, things lined up in an unpredictable and yet... Strangely ideal way. Maybe it was the universe waiting for me to decide before aligning the stars. Maybe it was pure, random luck.

They scheduled both Mommy and Darla to work at the diner the day of my twelve-week checkup, and so Uncle Andrew had to drive me to the doctor’s office. He didn’t make small-talk with me, which was for the best... I had nothing to say to him. Nor did he try to go inside... The only words he said to me, aside from “hello,” was “I’ll wait out here.”

As I walked into the clinic, I heard the muffled sounds of choir music as he put a C.D. into the player and closed his eyes. I got the feeling he was depressed... Presumably, he’d hoped that getting me pregnant would put him back in Mommy’s good graces. But heck; I could’ve told him that wouldn’t work. 

I signed in at the receptionist's desk and waited patiently for my appointment with other happy, glowing pregnant women.

I want to make something clear here: I don’t resent the fetus for existing. That wasn’t his or her fault, any more than it’s mine. But I will confess to some jealousy at the happiness of the surrounding women in that lobby. They’d wanted this. They’d asked for this. Me? I should’ve still had the chance to be a kid.

That was stolen from me. I’d never had that chance, and now I never would. Why was that suddenly so clear to me? What illusion had been shattered on the morning I first urinated on the pregnancy test and saw the pink plus sign pop up?

A smiling nurse came to take my weight and vitals, and then I found myself on my back while a tech smeared gel over my belly. Like at my last appointment, I heard the steady thump of my baby’s heartbeat coming from the computer monitor.

Knowing my time was limited, I opened my mouth to speak. I still wasn’t sure what to say — “I need help getting an abortion,” maybe, or “I’ve been raped nearly every day since I first hit puberty; do you think my insurance can do anything about that?”

But my words were drowned out by a, “that can’t be right,” and then a quiet, “Oh, no...” The wand on my belly shifted. The tech clicked some enhancements on her computer, studying, frowning.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, straining to see whatever had her so distressed.

She looked at me, and I saw genuine sorrow in her eyes.

...

When I returned to the car, chilled and tacky from ultrasound gel, Uncle Andrew started the car up. “How was it?” He asked, backing out of the parking lot.

I didn’t tell him the scary word — anencephaly. I didn’t tell him it meant that my baby was missing parts of his or her brain. That I would either miscarry, have a stillborn baby, or at best, birth a baby that would die within a few days. I didn’t tell him I now had an appointment at Portland’s abortion clinic in two weeks’ time.

“Just fine,” I lied instead. “Perfectly healthy.”

I continued this lie with my mother. A serene calmness had settled over me. A vague detachment, like being distanced from my body, but only by a few feet. She took this change in me to be a “maternal glow,” and I didn’t correct her. I ate my nutritious meals and took my vitamins and got my prescribed half hour of light exercise every day. I sat and kept a smile on my face as she chattered on about nurseries and baby showers and name choices. It felt like she couldn’t take her hands off my stomach; she was touching it constantly. 

“This is our baby, Annie-girl,” Mommy said what felt like twenty times a day. “We made her. We’ll be her mothers.”

Her. When had Mommy decided my baby was a “her”?

I’d carefully scheduled my appointment for a Saturday. The first Saturday of July, in fact. Those were the diners’ busiest days... They stayed hopping with customers from noon til seven, and then they did stocking and inventory for the month.

As soon as Mommy left for work, I put my plan into action. I’d had to go through Uncle Andrew’s school records to find a “Marker, Joseph"s cell phone number. Joseph was a student teacher who worked at my alma mater; the same high school my uncle works as a principal for.

He’d also raped me several months prior. Payback was a costly bitch. I dialed his number on our house phone, as I wasn't allowed a cell phone. I'd have to remember to delete the call history later. If he didn't answer, I planned to call his mother.

Lucky for him, he did answer. "Hello?"

Unease twisted my stomach. I thought of all the humiliating, disgusting things he'd done to me... And I channeled that rage into action. "Hi, Joseph. This is Annabelle Smith."

There was a pause. I wondered if he remembered me, or if he'd forgotten. All he asked was, "How did you get this number?"

"I have more than just your phone number, Joseph Brian Marker, born August twelfth, 1999. Social security number five-two-zero—"

"What the fuck?!" he interrupted, sounding truly disturbed. Good; I'd gotten his attention. I'd never really felt powerful before... It was kind of nice.

"I'll cut to the chase, Joseph." I tried to keep my voice cool and steady as I spun my lie. "On February ninth of this year, you raped me in my bathroom, and I have video evidence from the house's security cameras. If you don't give me what I want, that file is being sent to your mother, the Dean of your college, and the Clackamas school board. Good luck trying to get a job in education after that."

Joseph's breath grew sharp in my ear. I wondered if he would call my bluff; point out that my house was clearly too run-down and poor to have any such security. I wondered if he'd outright deny my claims. Instead he asked, "What do you want?"

"I'm glad you asked. If you had any plans today, you're going to cancel them. Then you're coming to my house, picking me up, and taking me on a little trip to Portland. Oh, and on the way there, you're giving me eight hundred dollars. Cash." I deserved more; much more, but I couldn't expect a college student — much less a college student going for a degree in elementary educaction in the poorest county in Oregon — to have all that much in his savings. His mom, Jenna, was a nice enough lady; she didn't deserve him stealing from her.

He swallowed again. I tried to picture his face, pale and anxious. It was a pleasing thought.

Seconds ticked by. "I'll be there in an hour," he told me, and hung up.

Smiling, I finished the arduous task of packing my bag. Having lived in this house all my life, you'd think I'd feel sorry to see it go, but the truth was, I'd've been happy to see it burn to the ground. Something in me had snapped; something dangerous and calculating, and I was done; done; done.

...

It was only a forty-minute drive through Milwaukie, but I started it off right, showing Joseph Mommy's Smith & Wesson in my bag. "If you so much as look at me in a way I don't like," I informed him, "You'll find yourself missing half a face."

He swallowed. I didn't climb into his car until he gave a jerky nod, staring straight ahead. He looked like he'd aged twenty years in a single afternoon."Where are we going?" he asked, voice hoarse, as I buckled myself in, holding my bag in my lap.

"Don't ask questions. I'll tell you where to turn."

Wordlessly, he took a familiar path towards the freeway. He probably figured there was nowhere else to go. Because he was correct, I stayed quiet.

Ten minutes passed in silence, with only my careful instructions ("get in the left lane," "you'll want to take the off-ramp," etc) to break it. Fifteen minutes. Twenty. Finally, he could take it no longer. "If you share that video, you'll be fucking your mom over, too," he pointed out. "She told me I could do it."

I give him my biggest, brightest smile. "Oh, gosh and golly, I never thought of that... Oh; it'd be such a shame for my rapist mother to face legal trouble after abusing me for all eighteen years of my life..." I lose the smile; the sickly sweet tone, and conclude with, "You must think I'm really fucking stupid, don't you, Joseph Marker."

He didn't say anything else after that. Neither did he catch on to our destination until he was pulling into the parking lot, reading the "Planned Parenthood" sign on the building. Understanding finally flashed in his eyes, and he looked at me, then at my stomach. "You—!" he gasped.

Oh, spare me. Was he one of those douchebags who thought scraping a clump of cells from someone's uterus was somehow worse than anything he'd done in his wretched life? He didn't need to know that my baby would have died no matter what I did; that he or she had a malformation that was impossible to cure. That even if I'd wanted to be a mother, this was not going to be my chance. "I what?" I asked impatiently.

Instead of accusing me of baby murder, or whatever, he only looked at me, biting into his scabbed lip. Finally he asked, "is it mine?"

Well, I guess it's good he wanted to be an English teacher, not a math teacher. He'd raped me over five months ago, and I was less than four months pregnant. "Yes," I lied cooly, and held my hand out. "Money, please."

...

The actual procedure wasn't that bad. It only took half an hour. It wasn't fun, don't get me wrong; definitely not something I want to do more than once. But the employees were really nice, and they made me feel comfortable and cared for, explaining everything to me carefully and making sure I understood. I signed paperwork and passed over Mommy's insurance card, and soon I was lying on a table with my feet in stirrups. I wasn't tied down. I could get up and walk out if I wanted to. This was nothing like what Mommy did to me.

The doctor sitting on a chair between my legs talked me through her actions as she inserted a speculum and began cranking it, removing the seaweed dialater I'd inserted myself the night before. "This procedure is called a 'dialation and evacuation.' There are other forms of abortion, but this one is most suited to your needs."

I already knew this, but it was helpful to hear her speak. To be reminded, again and again, that she was not Mommy. Not Mommy. Not Mommy.

The pain medication was great. I dozed through the procedure, I think. I'd already specified that, unlike some women who aborted for health purposes, I had no interest in holding my baby and "saying goodbye." While I understood the sentiment, it just wasn't how I felt. They let me rest on the table-bed for a while, before the doctor returned to talk with me about side-effects and treatments.

I stopped her. This, right here, was perhaps the most difficult moment in my life. If I didn't say it now, I might never say it. "I'm being abused at home," I told the doctor. "I'm only eighteen, and I have nowhere to go. I'm scared. I need help, right away."

Six Years Later

Ten pm; that blessed time when Safeway officially shuts its doors, booting the stragglers out. When the store can be cleaned and prepped for the next day. I wipe my sweaty forehead on the shoulder of my shirt, sighing, and my coworkers offer sympathetic smiles.

"Alright," I tell the other girls, who range in age from seventeen to forty-two. "What's on the agenda?"

"Doughnuts and bagels; same as always," says Colette. "You washing or shaping?"

"Washing," I reply. She enjoys shaping the rows upon rows of buns, to be chilled and baked in six hours' time by the morning shift.

Marcia and I take the dirty pans and trays to the back; a communal area where all specialized departments do this sort of work. Only a few feet away, the deli boys are doing the same as us. We wash and sanatize the trays. No bugs are wanted in our grocery store; we do all we can to discourage their interest.

As I fill a yellow mop bucket with water and degreaser from the hose, Marcia glances at me. "You got a ride home tonight, mija?"

She's a mother of two sweet kids. I babysit for her sometimes. Her maternal instinct extended to me ever since I started working at the grocery store... Maybe she knew how alone I was, free from my halfway house and still trying to understand the world. I give her a grateful smile. "I do, actually. Do you remember when I told you about Roxanne?"

Reason number two that Marcia is the best: she always has the best reactions. She gasps, clapping her rubber-gloved hands. "That hot little number you met on the interwebs?!"

I grin. "That's her." My therapist and I agreed that I felt ready to poke my toe in the uncertain world of internet dating. I'd had a few tepid dates with various girls so far, but I'd never really hit it off until Roxanne. Maybe I'm getting too excited, too soon, but I really feel like we might have something here.

"Ooo, look at you!" Marcia shimmies her shoulders, winking. "Don't get too caught up. Andrea and Isaac would miss their babysitter."

"They won't have to; I'm not going anywhere," I promise. "Tell them I'm excited to see them next weekend!"

We clean and prep. I mop our section of the sprawling grocery store, carefully checking all the hidden corners for any insect activity. Carlos gives me a wave as he takes trash out to the dumpsters, and I wave back, fighting back any unease. It's silly that men should make me uncomfortable, when my main abusers were female... But that's how it's mostly been for me. My therapist says to allow myself to feel my feelings for what they are, but to let my mind and experiences dictate my choices. Carlos has given me no reason to be wary of him, and so I'm as polite to him (and the other men) as I am to anyone else.

Still, I'm glad Marcia waits with me out front while I wait for Roxanne. She could just as easily hop in her car and leave me behind, but she doesn't. She doesn't make me stand out in the night on my own.

She offers a stick of gum, and I take it, meeting her eyes. "Thank you," I tell her, reaching to squeeze her hand. I hope she understands that I mean for so much more than the gum.

She gives me a nod. Squeezes my hand in return. The New Mexico summer night is hot and dry... It's as close as I can afford to live to California, but one day...

When headlights approach, I straighten and toss my hair back. A window rolls down, and Roxane peeks her heart-shaped face out at us. "Evening, ladies," she says in a silly voice.

"Hi, Roxy!" Trying not to seem too eager, I scramble into the passengers' seat. She promised she'd take me out to dinner tonight after my shift, and my stomach growls in anticipation. She smells good, like the perfumes in the fancy little shop she works at. Her short black hair is still damp from a recent shower. She likes wearing makeup, and she's good at it, but I also like that she already feels comfortable enough around me to go without.

I like her. I just do.

"Bye, Marcia!" I wave out the window, and a fresh blooming of LIKE fills me as Roxy waits for Marcia to get in her own car, then waits for that car to start, before leaving the parking lot. I like people who make sure other people are safe. I like people who care.

An excited bubble of energetic laughter leaves me, and Roxy gives me a smile. "What is it?" she asks.

"I'm just happy," I explain. 

"Me, too. Shrimp tacos from Bampanos? Fuck, yeah."

I'm excited for more than just dinner, but that's fine with me. I give Roxy a gentle nudge, and she nudges back. "How was your day?" I ask.

"Made infinately better by the knowledge that I'd spend my evening with a pretty girl."

I duck my head, grinning, blushing. "Same here."

"Happy?" she asks, making sure, and I give an energetic nod.

"Happy."