Moving On: The Tadpole & The Scorpion

CFzrdQSWEAAwE26“I’m pregnant,” Laurie told me.

We were standing along the east wall of the Fairview. It was a Thursday after 2 AM. There were people brushing past on either side.

“I was going to have it aborted, but it’s already got limbs and ears, and so I guess I probably – ”

“You’re sure?” I interjected.

Yes,” Laurie insisted.

“You’re sure it’s mine?” I kept right at it. An insult. A cliché. And yet it beckoned me to wonder. Laurie and I shared a history leading back to the previous April. The first time we’d had sex, it had started on a beach, then found its way into a bathtub. The second time, Laurie had requested that I tie her up with nylon binds. Laurie had a clit ring. She’d gone to bed with several locals. Over the course of 13 months I’d come to view her as a stalwart – irretrievably disposed to getting off at any price.

“How are we gonna handle this?” Laurie asked me. I could feel her blonde split
ends beneath my eye.

“Well, the first thing we’re gonna do is put this beer down,” I said. I took the Miller Lite from Laurie’s hand. “The second thing we’re gonna do is figure out what makes good sense.”

My mind was racing, cataloging through a series of events that had taken place within three months. There was that episode over Memorial Day, a gruesome lay that failed to account for any growth of limbs or ears. There was that episode toward the end of April, a drunken tryst throughout which I had failed to maintain any significant erection. And then there was that bender over Easter – a 48-hour period during which all the appropriate pieces seemed to gather. “It’s OK; I can’t
get pregnant,” a rum-soaked Laurie’d told me. And like a fool, I listened, digging in with
corpusced thighs.

Laurie and I spoke at length, after which I left the bar alone. My legs had gone to jelly and the pulse of speakers filled my ears. I could not focus, and yet it occurred to me that Laurie’s story could’ve been for shit. Laurie had sound reason to feel spiteful. I had behaved like a chauvinist; enjoyed the spoils like a pig. And yet her level of complicity was such it begged the question of
dual fault.

All of these angles just kept orbiting, exploding in my consciousness at once: Would I be forced to stay in Wildwood? To secure year-round employment? Would I require benefits? A stroller? What would the costs be? Would there be any litigation? Would I love the child? Neglect it? Would I become a victim of postpartum? Would I wind up in a bar, passing around a picture, telling strangers, ‘She’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me’? How could I have been so fucking reckless? And Jesus-Lord, how could I make it stop?

I wandered back to the apartment, drank at the table until morning. It was the weekend now, which meant 14-hour shifts. I persevered, securing naps during my breaks. I’d told Laurie I would call her. Yet as the afternoons wore on, I put off looking for her number, completely cognizant of the notion once I phoned there’d be no turning back. I had only contacted Laurie once; had scrawled her number on the reverse side of a coaster. I employed that coaster as my alibi, maintaining I had little thought of where it might be found. In reality, I was 99% certain that it resided in a box stacked in my closet – Pandora’s chest among the ruins, the dirty secret in my room.

As passing days bled into weeks, there were only three people in whom I had confided. The first two were Lori and Joanna, and the third was a trusted coworker. I had told Lori and Joanna because they found me in the kitchen several hours after I had abandoned them at The Fairview that first night. I had told the coworker because I wanted credit for my ability to keep my head amidst the rush.

Toward the end of June my state of mind began to sour. I went from home to work to home again, and almost nowhere in between. I avoided the bars for the same reason I avoided my closet. Lori and Joanna had spotted Laurie in the nightclubs several times. According to them Laurie was drinking, going out of her way to smoke cigarettes on the sly. I hated Laurie. I hated her for what she had come to represent. I would envision her with an exaggerated overbite; I’d replace her nostrils with a snout. I would demonize Laurie’s stonewash jeans and that stupid ruffled shirt she wore. I would demonize the nasal quality of her voice, the way her cheeks ran deep with blush whenever she felt called upon to comment. I hated Laurie for allowing me to defile her; for failing to complain after I had passed out cold one night, then pissed on her during our sleep. I hated Laurie for liking me, for not accepting that I had nothing suitable to offer. The very idea of her made me nauseous; convinced I could not do the least bit better than myself.

Throughout high school and early college I was decidedly pro-life, denouncing abortion as a mainstream failure of accountability. My position reflected a lack of empathy, a lack of experience, a lack of respect for what it meant to carry any entity full-term. My position reflected the fact that – up until the age of 18 – I was a virgin, lacking any relatable compassion for what it meant to be a woman. Confronted with a child I was in no way prepared to adore, I had adjusted my perspective, maturing into yet another asshole for whom there was no right or wrong … only the sanctifiable promotion of self-interests.

Working on the boardwalk, I would often see them – disgruntled parents who had transformed their summer dalliance into a choice. Most of these parents were single, overweight, poorly dressed or oddly formed. Their children appeared distant, apprehending the world via snarl and glare. Looking at them reinforced the notion paternity was not a role for which I would be suited. Paternity remained the purview of my father. My father? The news would come as a surprise to him, but not a shock. My mother would cry. My sisters would fret. In the meantime, I kept refusing to answer the phone, fearful of who – or what – might force me into any obligatory disclosures. I started sleeping on the sofa, wind-drifting off into a world full of ambient sound.

***

“Bob … Bobby.” The voice belonged to Joanna, but it could’ve just as easily belonged to
my mother.

I sat up, disoriented. I could feel the mist of dawn through sapphire blinds.

“I have to tell you something,” Joanna insisted. She was sitting along the edge of the couch. “I saw Laurie at The Fairview tonight. She was drinking a Miller Lite.”

“Oh, who cares?” I bristled. “I think we both know what Laurie’s been up to this entire time.”

“I said something to her,” Joanna interrupted.

“You said something to her about what?”

“I said something to her about this,” Joanna responded. She was circling the sofa with her arm. “I suppose that I thought it needed to be done. Anyway, I went up and I asked Laurie what the fuck her fucking problem was, and she looked at me as if I was insane. Only I kept at it, explaining you were sick to death over everything that was happening, and that it didn’t help that she was out enjoying her good time.”

“Why would you do that?” I stretched one hand across my temples. “Now she’s gonna show up at our door, assuming that I need her by my side.”

“No, she’s not,” Joanna lit a cigarette. “In the middle of our spat, Laurie started to cry.”

“To cry?”

“To bawl.”

“About what?”

“She claims she had a miscarriage.” Joanna told me. “She claims that it happened a couple of weeks ago; that she was afraid to tell you for fear of how you might respond.”

“And then what?” I muttered.

“And then she left,” Joanna told me. “Ran out before I could ask her anything more.”

I leaned my head against the armrest. “You think she’s full of shit?” I said.

“No,” Joanna paused. “Up until tonight I would’ve said the entire pregnancy was just a hoax. But if that display that Laurie put on over at The Fairview was any indication … well, I just figured that you’d want to know.”

“Yeah … no … I do. I appreciate it. Thank you,” I said.

Joanna disappeared into her room.

Later that evening, Joanna and Lori surprised me with a “Bitch-Ain’t-Pregnant” party – a mid-July gathering that neglected to account for, or even acknowledge, any truth regarding my cowardice. There were loose-leaf banners strewn across the walls. “No Baby for Bobby,” one read; “You’re Free to Go Fuck,” another one offered. My secret was out, assuming that it had ever been an actual secret at all. And who could complain, what with all the pressure of it resolved? Tomorrow I would go to work, and I would have no way of knowing whether to mourn or curse or celebrate. Or at least that’s what I’d tell people. In my mind it remained fairly certain that I would’ve abandoned Laurie. The sudden news of any miscarriage only meant there’d be no dealing with that chore.

Day 1,292

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)

©Copyright Bob Hill