“I’m freaking out,” Gina said as she flung herself into the chair in my office. “I’m sorry. I’m just freaking out…”
“Relax, girl. It’s just a paper.”
The quarter was almost over. Portfolios were due in a week. My office hour was crammed with back-to-back conferences with panicked students. It is hard right before finals week not to take on some of their stress. “It’s just a class. Just do the work,” I want to tell them. Sometimes that helps.
But not Gina.
“No, no. No, it’s not that,” she was starting to cry.
I handed her a tissue.
“I’m pregnant again,” she blubbered. “I’m sorry I’m sorry. You don’t need to know this…”
But she went on, the words spraying out like water from a ruptured pipe. She was a fast talker to begin with; it was all I could do to keep up.
Gina had frustrated me all quarter. She was loud. Constantly late. In the habit of interrupting class to ask a question that I had answered just minutes before. But I liked her. She laughed easily, and there was a ferocity to her that lurked just beneath the surface.
In her first paper, I learned that she had been incarcerated for two years prior to coming to school. She wrote about her meth addiction. It had begun as a way to cope with sleep deprivation and weight gain following the birth of her child, and had landed her in jail after she moved in with a loser who was cooking it in his basement. The baby went to foster care. The boyfriend was in for five years.
But now she was out, she was clean, she had her now-three-year-old back, and she was determined to do right by him. College was the first step, and she was not, in her words “going to fuck it up this time.”
So this discovery, coming at the end of her first quarter of college when things were looking so good for her, was an earthquake.
“I can’t have a baby,” she sobbed. “I can barely take care of the one I have. I can barely take care of myself.”
Her honesty was raw and brutal; her fierceness had deserted her. I didn’t quite know what to say. I could not presume to suggest options, but I didn’t have to.
“I can’t have an abortion,” she said preemptively. “I’m adopted. Somebody gave me a chance. I can’t…”
She had written about her middle-class upbringing. Her struggles with ADD. The parents who did everything right, but still raised a troublemaker and an addict. She seemed vaguely apologetic for not having been the daughter they deserved, but also grateful to them for not giving up on her. She never once blamed them; it was as though her troubles had been predetermined in her genes.
“Well, what about that, Gina?” I offered. “Couldn’t you do the same? Give this baby a chance by putting it up for adoption?”
“He won’t let me. He has already said he won’t sign the papers.” She went on to tell me, as my blood pressure rose, about her poorly chosen mate, his financial issues, his debt to two other women and their children. It would not have done any good to shout what I wanted to ask: What the hell were you thinking, sleeping with this loser after all you’ve been through? Have you ever heard of birth control?!? But I didn’t have to. She said it for me.
When the storm had subsided, she sat for a few minutes while I handed her Kleenex. I encouraged her to talk to the baby’s father again. Talk to her counselor and her sponsor. She had some time to make a decision. It was too soon to give up.
“I have to go to my Psych exam,” she finally said. “I’m sorry I dumped on you. I’ll figure it out.”
When I saw her next, she was preternaturally cheerful.
“Hey, you look better,” I said.
“I am. I’m good, I’m good,” she told me. “He’s agreed to adoption. It’ll be fine.” She delivered this in her typical rapid-fire style, her jittery energy back in evidence. “I’m going to do this, you know.”
“I know,” I told her.
But I didn’t know. I still don’t.
I saw her again only once, about six months later. We were in a crosswalk on campus, rushing in opposite directions. By the time I recognized her and started to speak, she was gone. I couldn’t tell whether she was pregnant; by my calculation, she should have been close to delivery by then. But even shrouded in a heavy coat, she didn’t appear to be carrying a child.
Maybe it had been a false alarm, or she had miscarried, or had an abortion after all. Maybe I had calculated wrong, and she had already delivered the baby. I didn’t have a chance to ask.
Today, as I was writing this post, I got my daily email from The Rumpus. The editor, Stephen Elliot (author of The Adderall Diaries) said this: “You pull yourself up by the bootstraps. You get, in life, what you deserve. It’s patently false. You don’t get what you deserve, for better and worse. Bootstraps only work with safety nets, something to catch you when they snap.”
Here’s hoping hers didn’t snap, or if they did, that the safety net held.