To Take A Life
I woke up to the terrible sound of the alarm clock. I dove from bed, slapping the buzzing contraption into silence. At four in the morning, it feels like a sin to break the quiet of the night. The house was warm, but I could see the frost on the windows, reminding me of how cold the car would be. I stumbled through the darkness until I found the bathroom. My parents were heavy sleepers, but I wanted to be sure. If by chance the alarm had woken them, I would have a Hell of a time explaining where I was going. Inside the bathroom, with lights on, I checked my wallet – $275, exactly. Restitution can get expensive. I had been saving the money for a summer trip after graduation. I was going to drive to Yellowstone and spend two weeks hiking through the wilderness. That dream died in a single moment.
As I slipped out the front door, the cold air hit me like a freight train, running through me. The grass crinkled and cracked under my feet. The yard, covered in icy dew, sparkled in the streetlights, and my breath froze into beautiful white clouds that boiled in front of me and then disappeared into the air.
I stood with one hand on the roof of my car and stared for a moment at the sky. I had never seen so many stars or the sky so clear. It looked like one solid canopy with little white Christmas lights strung from end to end, wrapping themselves into shapes and clusters. The cold metal roof felt slippery and cold on my hand. I took out my driver’s license and scraped the ice from the windshield. I knocked the car out of gear and rolled it down the driveway and into the street, trying to reduce the amount of time the popping pipes would be in earshot of my parents. The engine came to life on the first try, rumbling and shaking. I loved that car. A 1973 Plymouth Duster with a beautiful metallic blue paint job with metal flake and a 318 with a four-barrel carb. That monster could finish a quarter mile in less than 11 seconds. The heater, however, barely worked.
I hadn’t decided if I was happy to be going to Atlanta, but I knew it was something that had to be done. We had our whole lives ahead of us; we couldn’t just throw it all away. I did dread parting with my hiking money, though.
Selena was standing in the front yard when I pulled into her driveway. She reminded me of those tall statues in the park, determined and Stoic. I moved schoolbooks and cigarette packages out of the way as she swung herself into the passenger seat. Wearing an old pair of sweatpants, her bare knee shone through a small tear. She was wearing a large navy pea coat that her father had gotten when he was in the service and her hair hung out from under an old Penguins sock cap.
“I was worried your parents would be here.”
“No, they’ll be gone until next Thursday.” Her eyes sparked more brightly than the ice on the lawn. Those beautiful brown eyes enthralled me. I could sit and stare into them for hours — So warm.
“Did you bring the money,” she chewed her lower lip.
“It’s in my wallet.” I pointed toward the glove compartment.
She pulled the wallet out and started flipping through the wad of tens and twenties inside. She acted like she was counting, but I knew better. Her mind was not on money.
We sat for a moment, staring into each other’s eyes, wanting to say something, but neither of us knowing what to say. In the weeks before, while we were planning this trip, we had decided that we loved each other and that we would go on like nothing happened. But already, the awkwardness had begun to set in. Finally, she laid her had on mine and shifted to reverse.
The sun was a slow riser that morning. Its orange warmth made me drowsy, so much so, that I dozed several times. Each time I would wake up to the constant thumping of the emergency lane. We had an appointment for 8 o’clock and the way things were going we would be early. Since the death of Dr. Gunn, Alabama had temporarily stopped accepting patients, so Selena and I had to go to Georgia to the nearest clinic.
The place looked like a funeral home. It was one solid building with a covered entrance on one side with a huge sign that read Patient Pick Up. We walked in and a heavy-set black lady handed us a book of papers to fill out. The waiting room was filled with women, but mostly girls Selena’s age. Some had guys with them, but others were all alone. I felt sad for all of those girls; I’m sure they never thought they would be there alone, but it turned out that they were.
Selena filled out the paper work while I looked around trying to guess how many of the girls were raped. I felt guilty because I was a man. My brothers had left those poor girls in such a sad position with no one to comfort them. I also felt proud that I had not left Selena in such a situation. No, I would be there and we would go through everything together. When she was done, I took the papers to the desk and paid $250, less then I had expected.
An older white lady with graying hair peeked her head through the large wooden door and called Selena’s name. Selena just sat there staring at the floor and squeezing my hand.
“I’ll be right here.” I said softly as I rubbed her back. “I love you”
Without saying a word, she stood and followed the lady.
I sat in my chair, my legs crossed in a figure-four and my knee bouncing. I tried to remember the details of the conception, but could only remember bits and pieces. The first time just slips by. You get caught in the moment. Part of you is wanting to notice everything and enjoy it all to its utmost potential, while your heart pumps harder and harder, speeding up time and blocking out everything except the most sensitive areas. That was the first time they had sex. The next time they remembered to use a condom.
“If you’ re gonna play in the rain, wear a raincoat,” my dad always said. Too bad I didn’t listen. Now I’d be spending the summer laying tile rather than 20 miles from civilization.
Across the parking lot was a small flower shop. I pulled $25 from my pocket walked over and bought a bouquet of flowers. I thought Selena would enjoy them.
Finally, after about 45 minutes, Selena came out. She walked kind of like she was a little sore, but otherwise she looked all right. I pull the car around and helped her sit down. As we drove out of the parking lot, we didn’t speak. I wanted to be supportive, but I had no clue how to start a conversation. So I drove as carefully as possible. I found it hard to look at her. I felt sad and I wanted to cry. We were completely alone, together. I could hear her sniffle every few minutes and I new that she was crying. I tried to reach over to hold her hand but she pulled back.
“It’ll be all right, baby,” I wanted desperately to believe my own words. She sat without speaking, resting her head against the window and staring blankly at the pavement blurring past. I took off my jacket and laid it across the bare knee that stuck from her sweat pants and we made the rest of the trip in silence.
As I drove, I kept thinking about what we had done. A true guilt sat in. I wondered if the doctor had shown Selena the fetus. I wondered whether it was a boy or girl. I even wondered what we would have named it, if it would have had my nose, and what it would be like to hold it, knowing that it was made of me.
Back at her house, I helped her into bed, and sat stroking her dark brown hair until she went to sleep. I stayed for a few hours while she slept, watching her eye muscles as they jerked with every dream sequence. I wondered what she was dreaming. In her dreams was she holding a little girl, a perfect reflection of her, pointing at me waving, or was she caught in a cat and mouse game with a monster that would follow her for the rest of her life.
I kissed her forehead, locked up the house, and drove out to Lester’s peak. I looked off over the SmokeyMountain foothills as the evening fog rolled in. I smoked a cigarette and wondered if I was still technically a father and how I would feel on Father’s day.
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