Ugly flowers on a brown dress, I wear this handed down thing from a stepmother. It is taller and darker than me, plain just like her, running across the tops of my feet. Barefoot, walking up white stained carpet steps in a split-level suburban home, I meet my father in his room, one of three in a tightly packed second floor. Hard to settle on the edge of this bed where they sleep together. Everything is cramped, a tornado of smells swamp around my face and I hardly hear him tell me he knows why I want to wear this dress, or how he can spot ballooning things. I hold my breath in hopes to lose it. I don’t want to be here anymore, in this stiff and dirty house, stuffed in a bed with my sister, a wall away from our fat yellow father, and that pale baby in room three with the duck mouth of his momma whose ice water we make of spit, who is pregnant again, who decides there is only room for one growing belly.
Upstairs my father says, “You know what to do,” but I don’t. Only thing I know is this means he will not help me, and I shouldn’t show up to church in maternity clothes. The godly women tell me I have fallen, the holy men can only offer an oily hand over forehead in prayer. Talk shows, magazines, people in grapevines, they all say my life is ruined, that I am like all the rest, and hopeless, no longer a smart girl. They explain how wisdom doesn’t come from the number of books you read, how if I were bright I would hold a nickel between my knees and keep it there. There is only redemption in shame, god, and forced marriage, lest I be that circular kind of poor, or that ghetto rodent girl switching black hips in hot pants behind a cheap stroller.
I want to hate them and their god, who once belonged only to me. I want to put them in hell, tell them the heavens love me more, but the sky doesn’t break and the rods of light strike no one; there is only thunder in my belly. And there are the visits, like the one in a dark parked minivan where a young woman intensely warns about the struggle and spite that makes a mother. Her face is scary and full of pain, but she loves me; I can see that in the flecks of streetlight in her glasses and green eyes. I believe her, those two babies, that one husband she has put into the ground.
Each day I argue with my father until I decide it is all his fault, and tell him how the sins of daughters belong to daddies too. His bulging eyes and twisted lip mouth, seeping air through teeth cracks. He says it’s not his fault or mine, but that I was destined to be ruined. It is summertime when my sister takes me to my first appointment. I am nervous, embarrassed about all the things inside myself, staring at the ceiling, mumbling all the answers to questionnaires and white coats. The co-pay is ten dollars, and math says an abortion will cost more, though if I wait too long the not-yet -moving thing will stick and stay, and I will be like the rest, the so many who call this normal life.
I practice the proper response waiting for the doctor’s call. I would like to termin . . I would like to termina . . . I don’t want to be pregnant. Over and over in my head, in a whisper, walking the creaky floors and crying alone in my mother’s house. I cannot get words out before the phone rings, the white one with caller ID, a tangled curly plastic cord. I slip behind her door into the shadowy room, myself and sunshine, a tall window and a flat voice operator asking, “Would you like to continue or terminate this pregnancy.” I would like to . . . continue this pregnancy. Then a dial tone, confusion, heat underneath my wet skin.