Pregnancy was everywhere. That’s what happens after having really good unprotected sex. I bragged about it to my best friend: about how my lover and I had been spontaneous and placed our bets on the pull-out method, how I’d broken my rule of saying his name. Hundreds of miles away and with her face bright and close to the camera, she said, but what if you get pregnant? And I hadn’t thought about it, but she spoke it into existence, forcing the thought of pregnancy to travel to the forefront of my mind. I was terrified and it was all I noticed.
In one season of America’s Next Top Model, three contestants had gotten pregnant the first time they had sex. As they laughed about it with Tyra Banks, photos of the women with their babies popped up on screen. I remembered the first time I’d had sex, less than a month before, and the relief that washed over me afterwards, the excitement with which I embraced my period and blood. Stories of my best friends circulated in my memory: how one had taken multiple pregnancy tests after simply lying naked with her ex-boyfriend because “fluids” and how her mother had found the discarded tests with their distorted negative symbols. With another friend, I laughed about “the scare,” the creeping fear of being pregnant that always comes after sex. Pregnancy was always a running joke between me and my friends, all of us graduating as motherless teenagers and heading to college. Waving around celery sticks in our hands during lunch, we would talk about the possible as the impossible: what if you got pregnant? What would you do? I’d brag to my friends about how I would never get married and never have children in an attempt to embrace my youth and smother any secret longings for a family of my own, and they’d point to me: You’ll be the first to get pregnant, and have a boatload of children. They had been betting on it for years and there I was: walking around, feeling like I was drowning in the now blurred vision of my future.
They had been betting on it for years and there I was: walking around, feeling like I was drowning in the now blurred vision of my future.
I never bought a pregnancy test. That would admit defeat. That I was conceding to have the baby of a boy I wasn’t sure I loved. We said “I love you,” but what did it mean? As friends, we’d do anything for each other and were calling it love. There was no dating, afraid it might lead to more, and I was left wondering if he really meant what he said or if his lips were just forming words. I hovered in the condom aisle of CVS, sidestepping past the condom boxes and lubricants, to casually glance at the pink and purple boxes of pregnancy tests before slipping out of the aisle. Lying in bed, I would catch my hands pressing on my belly, as if they had a mind of their own, trying to figure out fat from baby, if I was gaining weight from stress or pregnancy. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t married. I was afraid I’d end up like your stereotypical black teenager from a Lifetime movie, having made one mistake after years of climbing up only to spiral all the way back down. Worst case scenario: I saw myself homeless, begging for pennies in too-tight clothes with skin stretched tightly over an exposed belly. I replayed the conception, how such a brief moment of pleasure could become an abandoned future. I was supposed to go to college and do college things: go to parties, get an education, and indulge in reckless behaviors before being rebirthed into the adult world. I wanted that life, those experiences, untainted by a child.
My parents never married. I’ve spent years romanticizing my arrival into their lives as their first child and daughter, the first concrete object to tie them together for life, later followed by my sister. Their relationship is shrouded in mystery. My one available source for answers, my mother, has plagued her memory with single mother bitterness; I can’t ask her. Depression trapped each of us in a haze when he died, keeping me in its grasp for years, smothering the thoughts and questions I had of my dad, and forcing me to answer them myself. My mom loved my dad. She would never admit it, but it’s there in the way she’s smiling in the yellowing Polaroid photos he took, in the way she laughs at her memories with my aunt and cousins, and in the way she looks at me: the undisputed child, the replica of my fire-born, Sagittarian dad.
I had an astrology book that my mom had given to me at the point in our relationship when she still allowed me to believe in something other than God. I devoured the information, lapping up everything I was told about how to love certain zodiac men. The first time I flipped through the book, ready to find out the secrets of my lover, I found the section already heavily underlined. My mother had taken her pencil through The Sagittarius Man chapter – years before I flipped to the same series of pages with a pen in hand – and underlined things about my dad. I added to her pencil lines with black ink, memorizing how to make the third fire sign fall in love with me. Astrologically, I had the perfect parents, though they might not have been the perfect match. My mom, a watery Pisces, and my dad, a fiery Sagittarius, had me: their feisty Leo lovechild.
No one knew I was counting nine months from May to find out when I’d be exposed, when I would no longer just be getting fat, but instead develop that glow and that bump, when rumors would swirl and my mom would disown me. I waited for the blood. As weeks passed, I thought about if I could get rid of it, or even extinguish myself with it. I considered it, knowing I had only so much time to make it look like nothing was ever growing inside of me. I wondered if I had the courage to lie back and have my problem pulled out of me an appendage at a time. Could I live with myself, if I did? If I showed up to my high school reunion with a toddler or a child would people try to do the math, would my friends and peers be able to count back to the time I lay naked and naïve, feeling invincible. Could I come back?
Looking at my mom, I could do it. Be a single mother. I’d go somewhere, pick up my things and travel from Columbus to somewhere in northern Ohio, working until my ankles swelled. Give birth to a beautiful baby boy and give him all the love I searched for in my lover and wanted from my mother. We deserved it, someone to love us wholly. I deserved it. The idea was romantic, irrational, but I believed I could do it. I was smarter than average and I had an array of talents, ready for any job. Women did it in the movies, embraced their children and their independent lives as they charged into motherhood.
I lay in bed and imagined my future baby boy. I could feel the fragile softness of his milk chocolate brown skin tone, a swirl between his parents’ shades of brown. Espresso brown eyes, or maybe tar black, like his father’s, but I wouldn’t be able to read him as he carefully watched everything and everyone through low lids and thick eyelashes like blinds to his thoughts. Tiny pink lips to slobber on my shirt sleeves, sitting underneath a miniature version of the wide-set nose his parents have. He’d be chubby, but small, and very quickly I’d learn to forgive him for the pain that comes with being split open and be grateful for the gift of a new beginning. I knew his name: Aaron Edward Joseph. But I never tacked on a last name, building his identity of recycled names: his father’s middle name, followed by my father’s first and middle names. A tribute to new life, a tribute to the two men I loved. The name rolled off of my tongue and bled into my notebooks, filling my head with a picture of a happiness I’d never known. I imagined Aaron’s face, the sound of his babbling, and wondered if he’d laugh even while looking at the years of sadness etched into my face. The longer I waited, the more I wanted those feelings, the more I fell in love with my unborn child.
Twenty-three days I waited before the fantasy was over. I hadn’t been pregnant, just irrational. The sex hadn’t been careful, we’d just been lucky. I told my lover the “good news” on “national sex day,” June ninth. He hadn’t considered the possibility of me being pregnant, of us having a baby, when he’d pulled out of me, semen dripping onto the carpet. The next day, I walked across the stage to receive my diploma in a navy blue cap and gown, praying that I wouldn’t bleed onto my white dress. I smiled in the photos. I had a summer job. I was going to college. I was seventeen and my entire life was laid out in front of me: a book of blank pages for stories to be written. My son didn’t exist. He never had. He’d merely been a microscopic fragment of a glob saturated into the carpet, vacuumed up and possibly covered with carpet fresh. I hadn’t realized how badly I needed him. A child to run away with and start over, creating a new legacy for ourselves. I was stuck in my plan, my bland layout of a future trying to be good enough and prove myself to the world. It hurt. I felt like I’d lost something, a glimmer of hope of a permanent connection I’d been desperate for and was never going to have.
Negesti Kaudo is a born and raised midwesterner who writes (almost) too honest nonfiction to wrap her head around life. As a twenty-one year old and recent college graduate, she finds “adulthood” essentially means finding a good balance of frozen margaritas and stress. Currently, she’s all about getting it wrong while trying to get it “right” because either way, she’s got a story.