I didn’t want to see pain in Mama’s face as much as I didn’t want to see anguish in Papa’s. I never wanted to look at their faces twisted in a way that I have never seen before, or hear unfamiliar gasps and cries because they wouldn’t have words to scold me. It was not like breaking my Grandma’s urn, or my mother finding out that I had just transferred the mess inside my room to my locker, piled underneath my clothes. It was much, much more profound and complicated than that. I was pregnant.
The morning I found out about it, I was seventeen, and I could not believe I was seeing two red lines on the test kit. The first line was darker, and the other was a little faint, and yet there was no mistaking that the result was positive. It would not sink in that easily, I even laughed in disbelief. I had many dreams before that seemed so real I could almost taste the mouth of the boy I was kissing. I was hoping that it was one of those dreams, or nightmares. But it was already eight o’clock in the evening, and there I was back in the comfort room holding another test kit, with another two red lines that looked exactly the same as the first, if not glaringly sharper.
I began thinking about sin, heaven, hell, God, though I had stopped acknowledging his presence since last year. If I killed myself, I’d surely drop down there. Looking at the bright side, maybe I’d see Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, but maybe we’d all be too busy despairing, we’d have no time to talk. And besides, at that moment in my life I hadn’t proven myself worth anything yet so they’d probably just shrug me off.
It’s still hard for me to utter the word ‘abortion’ because the weight of it crushed my spindly seventeen-year old legs. At that time, there were no options except abortion or suicide—death of the child or death of the mother and the child. If I aborted the fetus in its first trimester, the sin at least would be less (I convinced myself), and I would have time to repent. I’d go to church for confession, and if the priest would say I could not be forgiven, I’d go to the Vatican if I lived in Italy. Maybe they’d be more forgiving there.
It was much easier for my best friend Michelle to tell me that that this thing growing inside of me was a gift. But a gift is something that is given to a person, and which one willingly receives. That was not a gift to me because I made it myself. I should be giving it to someone else. Or else discard it. I have the right. I made it.
It was really hopeless, to depend on Michelle and her cliché advice for help. She said then, after I refuted her first statement, “Well, your parents are going to learn to accept you really. Please Julie, don’t do this.”
I wanted to shout at her “You don’t understand!” Instead I told her she was right, and that I’d tell Mama and Papa when the right time came.
The Internet cafés were fuller than usual. And the computer screens were larger than the way I had seen them before. Every passerby seemed to inspect what I was researching and the headings of the web sites didn’t seem to understand the concept of discretion. They were written in bold, bright letters that hurt even my ears. “Baby Hopes,” “Congratulations! These signs confirm your pregnancy.” I almost cried at the irony of their enthusiasm.
“Please Lord, make this go away,” was all that I could say.
Marco sat staring blankly at an equation on his physics book when I told him about it. Then he looked at me with misty eyes. “You’re being paranoid again, Frances Julie Rodriguez.”
But I knew that he knew that that time I wasn’t. And all that I could think of was if only the child would get Marco’s long eyelashes and pointed nose, and his genius in physics, maybe keeping the child wasn’t such a bad idea at all.
We couldn’t keep it, we both agreed. We had ambitions, there was a future awaiting us. And we were both liberal minded—a concept that at seventeen, we never really understood.
We searched in books, on the Internet. We tried conversing with students in the university who had been rumored to have experienced inducing ‘natural miscarriage,’ for want of a more subtle term. It was difficult trying to look nonchalant when I knew that I looked too transparent and that everyone who looked at me knew what I was thinking, what I was doing, what was inside me.
During mornings I’d always feel that there was something I could do, something I could take, that one day I’d find blood between my legs. But as darkness set in, doubts began to set in too. What if they didn’t work? What if after three months it was still inside, damaged by all the things I popped in to my mouth? Then I would begin to consider joining Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf again. But then I’d remember Mama and Papa, and I couldn’t bear to think how they would feel. And if God would not forgive me for destroying my life I wouldn’t forgive myself either for letting my parents feel such despair.
I waited for Marco in a little store, two buildings away from the drugstore where he bought a tab of medicine tablets. The storekeeper was a big woman, probably in her thirties. She had three sons, the youngest looked little more than a year old. “Maybe someday, I’d become as big as her,” I thought. I looked at my thighs, the size of my wrist, they were thin and pale. I was still a child.
I remember that the moment I stepped on the university grounds, I felt that I was already a grown up. I’d study, fulfill my ambition, go to Italy, become a waitress there while studying philosophy or film, be liberated as I can be and have wild sex with Italian men. I felt I was capable of doing everything.
Marco handed me the tab of pills wrapped in old newspaper.
“Drink them first, then don’t eat or drink water for as long as you can,” he instructed, not looking me in the eye. Then he bought a cigarette and sat down beside me.
I never knew how badly I needed to be comforted. I had always been independent even as a child, but how I needed someone at that moment to feel safe with.
At night, I’d whimper in bed, trying to read Plato and Longinus, which I found out didn’t interest me anymore. Then I’d wait for Marco’s text message asking me what I was feeling. I had always fought the urge to message him first because of my feminine pride. And he never failed to send me a message whenever he got home to his own boarding house anyway. But during those nights, his messages came in drips.
During afternoons whenever we walked home together from school, my eyes watered, my nose swelled and turned red. Then he’d just tell me somebody might see me, and I had to force myself to think of happy thoughts. I thought of those days when I was still a freshman in the university and I had a set of friends that hoped we’d all get to Italy. Then that would bring more tears and I’d sob all the way home.
Mama and Papa and my older brother, Pico, brought me to the airport during the end of the semestral break. We had done this two times already back in my freshman days, but it always made my mother cry seeing me away. And I would always sniffle a bit when I was already seated inside the plane.
“My daughter’s already half-way in college, before we know it you’ll already be graduating,” my father said when we were in the car.
Then he smiled, not at me, but at the road. Papa was a silent man. If one didn’t know him well, one wouldn’t know what he was thinking. But having been with my father for seventeen years, I’d always know if he was happy or sad. I’d know if he was disappointed. I saw it in his eyes when he caught Pico with bruises and paddle marks on his thighs. His silence became haunting.
But Papa had always been happy with me. I could always see how he trusted me and how proud he was of me whenever we talked. I would not be able to bear seeing his face and hearing his silence if I came home with my condition.
“Do you think they’re working?” Marco asked the morning after I drank the meds.
“I don’t know. I don’t feel anything.”
“It will, just don’t drink and eat for at least three days. You want me to buy you another tab?”
Then suddenly, I began to feel alone. I could not believe how detached Marco had become the past few days, how he only cared about getting rid of the baby.
I wanted to go home to Mama and Papa. I wanted to be their little girl again.
That night, as Marco and I headed for home, there were no longer whimpers. I’d tired myself out crying in front of him and in my bed, when my roommates had slept. I seemed to have been crying whenever I found myself alone since a week after I found out about the pregnancy.
Marco would glance at me from time to time, and I wondered how he would write our story from his perspective—if he would even find this worth writing about.
That night, I thought about Marco. We were too busy finding ways to get rid of what we had created. We no longer had dates, no talks about the future, which at that moment seemed so distant, so dim, so unsure. There was no going back for us now. Marco was beginning to drift away, to his assignments, to the library, to his friends in the basketball court. And I, in my room, in the upper deck of the bed, crying, writing farewell notes, trying to read short stories and novels that seemed so disconnected with reality at that time.
At eleven o’clock, when I was preparing for sleep, a text message from Marco came: “Julie, can I ask you something?”
I thought he was just going to check if I was experiencing signs of a possible miscarriage.
“Why didn’t you get angry with me?”
I was not expecting his question, and when I tried to answer it, I realized I didn’t even know how to answer it at all.
“I don’t know Marc. . . It’s because WE did it, I guess.”
“I know. But I was the one who’s hard-headed. Whatever you want that to mean ü”
For the first time that week, I smiled, a little. I recalled the past, when our worries were petty. They wouldn’t even have passed for problems. We worried about how we would be able to catch the latest sci-fi movie when our allowances were already running low. We worried about midterm exams the next day when we were walking around the city, not wanting the other to go home. We worried about my parents finding out I had a boyfriend. We worried too about finding out that I had gotten pregnant. And now that it did happen, we worried about not being happy for the rest of our lives.
“I’m sorry Julie. . .”
The next morning, I woke up soaked in blood. I was so scared I didn’t know what to do. The blood was bright red and was so wet that I was worried that it had seeped in through the cushion straight into my roommate’s bed.
I wrapped myself with the blanket then went straight to the comfort room. It ached a little. Sometimes, the pain would stop, but there was this persistent dull ache I was afraid would never go away even after the miscarriage.
I saw Marco sitting in our usual spot in the university, a bench underneath an old towering tree. It was rather windy, and the small finger-nail shaped leaves the trees had shed scuttled on the streets. I told him what had happened that morning. He received it without as much as a glance at me, tapping his book with his pen. Then he stood up, wrapped his arms around me. I held on to him, feeling the blood draining away from me, persistently emptying my womb.
Alpha Khristine Fortun recently graduated from the Creative Writing program of UP Mindanao. Her thesis, a collection of short stories, received an award of distinction from the department.