Profoundly stirring green eyes contrasted by bright, bubbly red curls–this is what people see when they lay eyes on her. Those curls are really going to drive her crazy when she’s a teenager. Right now, they bounce when she walks, making her dangerously adorable. It even tends to irritate her mother at times. The compliments were nice at first, but now she wishes she could just get through the store without being stopped and told how beautiful her child is (however true it may be).
Her green eyes offset the color of her hair in such a way that it catches people’s attention. People do generally divert their eyes, however, when she starts to laugh. Only dogs should be forced to suffer through the high-pitched squeal; it has been making her parents laugh and shake their heads in dismay since her first giggle at 4 months old.
The fiery fear within her is so overwhelming, it is like she was born with it: it has just dwelled within her, in hibernation, waiting for the perfect moment to subjugate the tranquility that has always been the ruler of her heart. She tries to ignore it at first, as she looks down at the plus sign, forcing a smile. This should be something that makes her happy. A child. Yes. God’s gift. But the fear is already filling up the spaces within her body like smoke fills her kitchen when she burns bacon.
She never imagined a plus sign could be so foreboding. She can remember learning to add and subtract in the 2nd grade; thrilled by the way her teacher lined up numbers and effortlessly worked out a solution. Numbers have always thrilled her. She does not recall a time that she did not sense a small giddiness rising up within her when she’d lay eyes on a mathematical symbol–it has always meant her chance to shine, but now, it seems to mean the exact opposite.
The red-haired girl always smells like a mixture of coconut and sweet tarts. Her sweet tooth developed a dramatic and desperate persona when she was very young, and her parents have finally stopped fighting it, accepting that her teeth may just fall out someday. The coconut is her mother’s doing–allowing her beautiful daughter to use her anti-graying shampoo in the bathtub, despite its hefty price tag. The excruciating decibel of her laughter has mollified a bit through the years, now it only brings a smile to her parents’ faces, instead of a shake of the head.
When she was four she got her first pony for Christmas–a Fisher-Price life size version of a Clydesdale. She spent the entire month of January combing the mane and braiding the tale, until like clockwork, the month was up and she began asking for a real pony. She has not stopped since; her parents try to take pride in her persistence. Her obsession for horses almost crossed the line when she opened the horse gate at her aunt’s farm, convinced that if she could just get the horse over by the car, he might fit into the trunk.
“You need to get rid of it.”
She was not expecting this reaction from David. They had been together for three years, so she assumed he would be willing to make it work with her–she thought they both wanted a family someday.
She tries to reason with him by lying through her teeth, “David, listen, if you don’t want anything to do with this, then don’t worry. I can do this on my own.”
“Theresa, you have to get rid of it. What about our plans for college? You can’t go to UM if you are pregnant, and I will never live it down on the football team if I’ve got some bastard child running around somewhere.”
His logic hits her so hard that she thinks he may have actually physically harmed her, the reality of his words and his actions melding into one. She feels herself falling deeper into a hole she never intended to dig. She has to come up with a reason to keep this baby. Right now.
“Okay, David. I will put off going to college for a semester and I can put the baby up for adoption. It will just postpone my plans for a little while and no one on your end needs to know.”
The vision she had of this conversation is unraveling like the seam of a shirt. She can’t breathe, and when she looks back into his eyes, she knows there is no way out. Her heart breaks before he even opens his mouth.
“This is my problem too, Theresa. Either get rid of it, or I’ll get rid of you and it.”
As he walks away, her feet give out from beneath her; she sinks against her car door, despite the puddle of water beneath all four tires. She doesn’t take notice of the water soaking into her jeans.
The red-haired girl’s parents are at their wits end with her attitude. Her mother does not know what happened. One night, she tucks her precious little diamond into bed, and the next morning the girl has morphed into a teenager. Since she refuses to look like a “baby”, her curls are long gone, replaced by something, resembling hair, that has been chemically straightened. The red hair that has always reminded her mother of a field of poppies is gone too: the color now is a freaky mixture of greyish, blue, and purple.
Still, her mother and father never fail to tuck her into bed at night. For a few precious moments, as they kneel beside her bed to say prayers, she seems to let go of the attitude she works so hard to maintain, allowing herself to be their child. They each bend down to kiss her on the forehead; she pretends to hate it, but all three of them know she wouldn’t be able to sleep without those kisses.
Since the teenage years hit, her mother always wipes away a tear or two as she walks out of her room for the night. The deep gratitude she has for her daughter is greatest during these times. She knows she acts like a hellion, but no one knows her daughter’s heart like she does. No matter how difficult her daughter may be, she will never forget the desperation that used to keep her up at night as she hoped a child would grow inside her. When they found out she would never become pregnant, her marriage, and her life, nearly ended. But now, that red-haired beauty was all her own, despite what her DNA said, and for that, she is eternally grateful.
She tries not to think about the size of the baby or the gender of the baby or the kicks of the baby as she mindlessly combs her red hair in her bedroom mirror. Visions of her child dance in her mind, despite her best efforts. She hopes he or she would have her red hair and David’s wicked green eyes. It was those eyes that drew her to him in the first place. She wonders what might become of her son or daughter. She assumes he or she would rebel as a teenager, since Theresa nearly drove her parents to sell her to the circus when she was just starting high school.
None of that mattered now.
David promised her he would go along, for support, but he backed out this morning, fabricating some excuse about having a cold. Theresa would have to do this on her own and since she is having trouble even getting to her feet, she doubts her ability to do so.
David was right. This baby would ruin her plans. People would judge them. No good could come of this. Theresa wanted to be an accountant; David wanted to play for the NFL; a red-haired, green-eyed baby would just get in the way of that.
She stares at herself in the mirror for one moment longer, attempting to memorize the features of her face before she kills her child–she will surely never look at herself again. She takes a deep breath, fogging up the mirror, as she leans forward to use her vanity to hoist herself up.
The red-haired girl’s mother is having trouble sleeping tonight. She keeps dreaming about the worst time in her life, and her husband’s, when they waited for a baby. She calls it difficult when strangers ask her to tell the story of the adoption, because she thinks the terms hellish and wretched are too honest. Tonight, though, she can almost feel that pain, even though it was nearly 18 years ago. Perhaps, it is on her mind because her red-haired beauty will graduate tomorrow.
She distracts herself by going through her to-do list for the party tomorrow. Her daughter graduates at two and the party will follow. She was surprised when her daughter asked for a horse-themed party; she and her husband both assumed she was long over that. However, she still thinks she is going to college for equine science. Her mother doesn’t have the heart to remind her that she hates science.
Despite her best efforts to find a distraction, when she does finally fall asleep, she has a nightmare of her life without her daughter. Her husband wakes her up when she starts screaming, and as she tries to catch her breath she realizes she hasn’t had that kind of nightmare for 18 years.
When Theresa makes it downstairs, she is hoping her parents will not be awake.
“My little Tay-Tay! Can I make you a pancake?” Her dad’s morning excitement has always exasperates her, but this morning it nearly makes her cry.
“No thanks. I have somewhere to be.”
As she walks out of her house, she can’t help but feel like she will never return, not the girl her parents know anyway.
She takes the bus to the corner of 5th and Roosevelt, the closest she can get to the clinic. As she walks the last 10 blocks, she considers turning around many more times than she considers continuing her walk forward.
She does not know what keeps her moving, perhaps her selfishness, perhaps her love for David, perhaps her shame…
perhaps Satan deserves all the credit.
Forcing past the pro-lifers praying outside the clinic, she places her hand on the door
handle and pulls–she is immediately struck by how effortless the door opens.
Then, with the push of Satan himself, she walks forward.
The red-haired girl’s mother woke up this morning in a fog. Her first movement outside her bed is to reach for the Xanax. Her denial has fallen off her in the night like a cloak, meant to keep one warm in the winter, blows away in the frigid air.
It is the denial that she has gone 18 years waiting for a child, waiting for a miracle, begging God to let her be a mother.
It is the denial that her husband moved out long ago, tired of trying to be enough for her.
It is the denial that her red-haired diamond is just a figment of her imagination, brought to life by sheer will.
Yet, each night when her shades are drawn, the sun has fallen, and her eyes close for just a few hours, she dreams of what might have, should have, been.