Back in college my friend Shleisel and I lived in a dilapidated house near campus that we affectionately dubbed “The Hovel.” After a year of debauchery and less-than-wise choices we decided it was time to “grow up.” I’d formed a bad habit of running away from my problems but I figured I could do it one last time and really make it count. Hoping to get as far away as possible, I booked a one-way flight to China and promptly sold, gave away or trashed the majority of my possessions. What was left—mostly books and memories—went into a storage unit.
I’d booked the flight one month in advance, poetically opting to leave the country on my 24th birthday. I spent those last four weeks sleeping on the floor of Shleisel’s new house, trying to learn how to use chopsticks while watching every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. My priorities were rather obvious– I’d not bothered to learn a word of Chinese but I had planned a last hurrah trip for the two of us in Los Angeles.
It was the night before our flight and I was repacking my bag for the thousandth time, fully stocked up on a years worth of deodorant and contact solution. The main thought on my mind was what my last meal in America should be. Shleisel walked into the room, her face white. In her hands she held the belated arrival of so many consequences, and spoke like a jury delivering a sentence.
She was twenty years old, a senior in college. This wasn’t part of the lack-of-a-plan we were living. This lone pregnancy test had lived amongst our toiletries for months as part of an old joke and for some reason she’d gotten the random urge to pee on it.
“Wait,” I said, “it’s generic. It’s probably a false positive. It has to be. Let me google it.”
I typed furiously, reading everything aloud.
“Lots of things can cause false positives… improper testing, evaporation lines… what the hell is an evaporation line?”
“Also it looks like taking other medications can cause a false positive. Or cancer.”
“Oh God,” she said, “please let it be cancer.”
I shoved a bottle of water at her and grabbed the car keys. We drove to CVS and bought a box of the most expensive and boastfully reliable pregnancy tests available. Shleisel peed on two more sticks, the jury deliberated, and the sentencing was final: Generic brands are accurate and two lines always means pregnant.
“We got this,” I told her, “Shleisel, we got this.”
“No,” she said, “I cannot have a Hovel baby.”
I canceled our flights to LA, but it only bought us four days before I was leaving the country.
The next morning I took Shleisel to a clinic for everything to be verified and they confirmed what we already knew. Options were offered and I walked away with an arm full of brochures and informational packets. I took her to an insurance office, where we stood behind a pane of dirty glass with dogged expressions and halos of doom. I filled out her paperwork while she stared glumly at the floor. The receptionist was far too cheerful for our liking.
“When’re you due?” she asked.
She looked so eager, as though this were something to be happy about. We weren’t the types of people to knit booties and hum over pastel paint swatches– we lived in a house where you had to duck your head or else you’d bump the ceiling.
Shleisel consulted the slip of paper she’d been given at the clinic.
“A Christmas baby” the woman smiled, “A miracle. Dark hair and warm brown eyes. You remember it was me who said it first. Your very own miracle.”
My mind strained to comprehend how this situation could be defined as a miracle. Divinely parted waters, crying statues, and rainy days where The Hovel didn’t lose power—those were our sort of miracles.
We had a long drive home, during which I read aloud from one of her numerous brochures.
“Right now it’s the size of a sesame seed… but its heart is already beating and has chambers.”
She didn’t tell me to stop, so I kept going.
“In two more weeks it’d double in size.. and have hands and feet and eyelids. And apparently you’ll have to pee a lot more.”
“Awesome,” she said.
Most of the brochures were either gloomy women or smiling babies. I picked one with a tree on the front.
“Adoption is a loving, selfless choice you make in order to give your baby all the security and benefits of a permanent family.”
“I hope it has my mouth,” she interrupted out of nowhere. “I like my mouth. And it will get free stuff for being a Native American. You want it?”
I couldn’t help laughing.
“I’m unemployed and homeless, not exactly fit to mother.”
“Right,” she said, “because I am?”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so we drove in silence.
“I just wish I could start over,” she finally said, “and not screw everything up. How am I ever supposed to fix this?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe you don’t. Maybe nothing’s broken.”
“I would do things differently, if I could go back.”
I wanted to tell her it was time to face things head on, but the hypocrisy of the statement tasted foul in my mouth.
“This kid won’t have a Dad, Aussa.”
“Hey,” I reminded her, “we both had Dads… look at all the good it did us.”
She laughed, finally.
“Families are something you choose,” I mumbled awkwardly, “so I’m in yours.”
“Okay,” she said, “That makes three of us.”
We scheduled doctor appointments, purchased prenatal vitamins and I crunched the math to figure out how she could fit an entire year’s worth of college courses into the summer and fall semester. If I got it right, she’d graduate one week before the baby was due.
My iPod was synced and my bag was loaded with everything I’d need for the next 8 ½ months.
“I will not get fat,” Shleisel vowed while browsing pregnancy workouts on YouTube.
“I will not stay fat,” I declared, swallowing my last spoonful of American ice-cream.
“When you get back, you have to teach this kid to not be mediocre.”
I nodded, taking my duty very seriously.
“I will teach him or her to find Nepal on a map. And to not be racist,” I added.
“and I will teach it to not have sex.”
Two hours later, we were at the airport. It was just the two of us, like always.
“Remember to take your prenatals with food, and the iron at night.”
There was no goodbye hug, no solemn farewell or acknowledgment of everything that was about to change. We were both entering new worlds, blind and alone. I tried to trace back every decision, to figure out where we’d gone wrong or what we should’ve done differently. But there was no point. Looking back was just as cowardly as trying to run away. It was time to start living.
Has there been a moment in your life where you thought you’d ruined everything beyond fixing? Is there a person who is always there for you when reality shows up? Do you tend to think about “what might have been?”
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