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by John Sikes
It’s the final college semester for three young women getting ready to make their way into the world. Before they graduate, choices will and have been made that will change the course of each one’s life. A surprise pregnancy announcement leads to a painful secret revealed that will ultimately transform the life tracks of all three.
The sun rose slowly over the majestic brick Century Tower signaling the start of another day. Waves of college students start to make their way through campus. Some are new – full of idealistic dreams. Others near graduation are approaching their journey into the “real world”. At the local campus coffee shop, Joltin Java, three senior friends sit down to discuss the current state of affairs.
“I’ve got some exciting news,” Maria said. “I think John is going to propose soon.”
“Really, I thought you told me he was considering moving across the country for graduate school,” Julie replied.
“True, but he told me the other night how much he loves me.”
“I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you.”
“Hey Julie, can’t you ever be positive about anything,” Faith said.
“No, it’s not really in my DNA.”
These were three of the most unlikely friends. They had met in a dorm room during freshman year and struck up a friendship that was still going strong heading into their last months as students together. It was September and in a few months they would graduate and go their separate ways. They would have one final semester to enjoy college life together. One last time to see big time college football as students. One last time to check out their favorite bands. One last time to make choices that would last the rest of their lives.
Julie Stone came from a broken home. Her father left when she was 8 years old and barely had any contact after that. Her mother bravely soldiered on as a single parent. Understandably, Molly didn’t have much use or anything good to say about men after that. Julie learned to be strong and fin for herself early on in life. She developed an inner strength of will that had grown over the years. By the time she arrived in college she was tough and no one, especially a man, would take advantage of her. Fiercely feminist and pro choice, her world view had never really been challenged.
Maria Salazar was of Mexican descent. Her parents were first generation immigrants. They were disappointed how different she was from them and their old school values. A slender, dark eyed beauty with long black hair, she still wore a cross with Jesus on it, a remnant of an attachment to the catholic faith. She was quick to laugh, made friends easily, and could always be counted on to volunteer at various campus events.
Faith Holden was reserved. Brought up in a very conservative Christian home, she was nervous and guarded and desperately wanted to make her parents proud of her. Petite, fair skinned with short auburn hair, she really admired how bold Julie was. If only she had the courage to speak up so forcefully for her self.
“So Maria, when do you see this big event going down?,” Julie asked.
“Well John has to make a decision next week about grad school. My guess is that he’ll propose after he decides to stay here and be with me,” Maria answered.
“Me thinks he’ll tell you he’s not ready for marriage and he needs to mature more. Blah…blah…blah. Get ready and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
At least I know sister Christian over here already has a ring and a date. I think you found the only guy in this stinkin’ place who decided to save himself for marriage. So you have my approval on that count, Faith my dear.
When you find a decent one, hang on. But Maria, you better watch out. I’ve never trusted John. He always seemed way too slick, like some kind of used car salesman. He also a frat guy, right?”
“Yes, but what has that got to do with anything?”
“Let me set you straight here. These are the same guys who marry the sorority snobs and then keep their “little sisters” around for some action on the side. Pure jerks if you ask me.”
“Wow Julie, you are in rare form this morning. Where did all this anti-Greek venom come from anyway? You know Debbie Collins. She’s in a sorority and is a total sweetheart,” Faith said.
“There are always a few exceptions. Overall, why do I loathe these people? Simple, they have an entitlement mentality and they think they are better than everyone else. They pick and choose who is in their pretentious social club like some elitist Hollywood celebrity wanna-bes. And the guys – don’t even get me started. Rolling around in their sports cars that Daddy bought them for their 16th birthday. They come from $20,000 a year prep schools and ooze with the kind of phoniness one can only find in our politicians. They all make me want to puke.”
“Wow don’t hold back. Tell us what you really think.”
With such divergent backgrounds, there wasn’t a lot that united the 3 friends except for two things – none of them were involved with the Greeks and they loved music. Together they must have seen a dozen different live shows a year at places like the Bandshell, 40 Watt Club, the Rathskeller or Drakes Uptown Lounge.
“On a lighter note, anyone up for seeing the Connells Friday night? Maria, even your alleged future husband is welcome. Faith, my guess is that you’ll be home studying for those last remaining finals or something, right?,” Julie cracked.
“Yea, John and I are in. I’ll talk Faith into it. After all, this is our last go round – right,” Maria said.
A few nights later the gang gathered at Drakes for the show. Between sets, they started to reminisce.
“Do you remember how straight laced Faith was? We finally got her to take her first drink on her 21st birthday. It was legal by then after all, but it came with the pre-condition that no one would ever tell her tee-totalling parents,” Julie laughed out loud.
She hadn’t laughed much lately. Thoughts of what her next steps in life would be, along with a heavy burden from the recent past was weighing on her.
Maria piped in: “That was the first time we took her to Guadalupes. They make the best margaritas in town.
The ole loco liquor can make the head spin. We didn’t have to tell you to keep it at one as a first timer. I think you were getting a little tipsy after finishing half of it.”
“Funny people. Not all of us in college are professional booze hounds, but I guess I did need to loosen up a bit. So many students around here think that if 2 or 3 is good, 8 or 9 is even better. Not exactly a recipe for getting ready to climb the corporate ladder. Or maybe it is, who knows. I just see a lot of future alcoholics in the making around here,” Faith replied.
“That reminds of the time when Maria was so buzzed one night that she walked right into the men’s room and came out laughing so hard and acted like she had never caught a glimpse of a urinal before,” Julie said.
“Well I probably had seen one before, but not with guys using them,” Maria said with a laugh.
After the last set was finished the group headed home. No one had more than a few drinks so having a designated drive wasn’t a concern. Julie sat down in her Honda Civic and cranked the ignition.
As she got out on the open road, she put in a cassette tape of U2. It was after 1 am and she was tired. But the music started to transport her to another place. As Bono sang “Surrender…dislocate…let it go…this condemnation …this revelation…in temptation…isolation…desolation…let it go”, her mind started to drift. She was wound up in a mess of thoughts and not really concentrating on the road. She kept thinking about something that happened one day a few months earlier.
Suddenly a car’s headlights were coming right at her. She panicked and jerked the steering wheel hard in the opposite direction. Slamming on the brakes, her car careened off the road and barely missed a tree. The Civic came to a grinding halt. Smoke was pouring out from under the hood. Slowly collecting her thoughts, she wondered what to do next. (These were the days before cell phones).
She remembered hearing that if you ever have an accident you should sit tight and stay with the vehicle. But it was so late and who was going to be coming to her aid at damn near 2 in the morning. Maybe the car would start up and she could drive home. That wasn’t going to be an option as the car was stuck in a ditch. She was going nowhere fast.
Her mind started to race. She wondered if anyone had seen what happened. What if the cops came? What if they didn’t come? Would she have to wait until morning and then just walk somewhere and get a cab home? She felt as dead inside as the car’s engine.
She waited for what seemed like an eternity, but it was only 25 minutes later when a police officer stopped after seeing the car in the ditch.
The officer got out of his vehicle and walked up to the car and tapped on the window.
“Can you step out of the car Ms? Can you tell me what happened here?,” he asked in a monotone voice.
“I was driving home to my apartment when a car came into my lane and I swerved to miss it.”
The officer looked across the road. It was a divided highway and there was no evidence of any tire tracks coming across the medium.
“I’m going to have to give you a breathalyzer test.”
Julie’s heart sunk. She only had 3 drinks, but what if she tested positive? Her dream of law school could take a significant hit. And what was Molly going to think of this whole deal.
Julie slowly blew into the tubing. She almost started to pray for God to get her out of this situation. But then she thought, “Oh what’s the use. I really don’t believe in any of that religious crap anyway.”
“Ms Stone, you just registered a .07, which is just a shade under the legal limit. I’m going to have to give you a citation for driving while impaired and reckless driving. You will have to appear in court, but this will not go on your permanent record.”
“Whew, dodged a bullet on that one,” she thought.
“I will call you a cab and the towing company will take your vehicle to the local Honda dealer unless you want it to go someplace else.”
“No, that’s fine. Thanks.”
After getting out of the cab, she went into her apartment and looked at the clock. 3 AM. She could wait until morning to tell her mother what happened. Crawling into bed, she stared at the ceiling wondering where her life was headed.
Barely able to sleep, she got up and made some coffee before calling home a little after 7 am. She hesitantly dialed the number.
“Mom, it’s me.”
“Isn’t this a little early to be calling on a Saturday?”
“I’ve got some bad news. Last night, I wrecked my car.”
“Oh my god, are you alright?,” Molly asked with motherly concern.
“I thought you would be angry with me.”
“Listen, all I care about is that you are safe.”
“Was drinking involved?
“Yea, but I wasn’t drunk. The officer only gave me a ticket for reckless driving (she left out the impaired part).”
“What about the car?”
“It got towed to the dealership. I don’t have any idea the extent of the damages.”
“No biggie. I’ll get down there tomorrow and help you get a rental and pay for the repairs. Of course, you’ll be paying me back after law school.”
“Thanks mom. I love you. It’s always been the two of us as a team. You’re my greatest strength and support.”
“We’ll get this whole deal straightened out. Don’t worry.”
The next afternoon Molly arrived and knocked on the apartment door.
“Hey mom, so good to see you,” Julie said as she hugged Molly.
“We can pick up my car Monday from the dealer. Do you want anything to eat or drink?”
“A glass of wine would be nice.”
In the background on TV, there was news coverage of a pro-life rally.
“Look at all those nut jobs out there trying to destroy women’s rights. When will the fanatics learn we don’t want them in our bedrooms?”
“True mom. But maybe they think they are doing something their God would approve of. I don’t know.”
“Are you growing soft on your pro-choice stance in your old age?”
“Of course not! All I’m saying is that the issue is a little more complicated than I used to believe.”
“Not really honey. They just need to stay out of our business. Period.”
“Can we talk about something else?”
“Have you heard back from either of your law school applications?”
“Next week, should find out for certain.”
“You’ll get in no problem. Your LSAT scores were great.”
“I hope you are right. I still don’t know what discipline I want to specialize in.”
“You can figure that out during your first semester.”
“Thanks for always believing in me.”
“You are going to do amazing things one day.”
Later in the week Julie, Maria, and Faith are together at the Joltin’ Java for more gal time.
“Well you were right Julie. John is an a-hole. He broke up with me last night.”
“Are you serious? That carbon (bastard in Spanish).”
“Don’t make me laugh. It figures the few words in Spanish you learned from me are all curses. I’m hurting right now. I really believed I was going to get a proposal, not dumped.
“He tells me how moving across the country is best for his career and I wouldn’t like it in Colorado anyway. It’s just an excuse. Apparently, love was just a one way street. I’m sick about it. I keep thinking about the line from that old song, ‘Our love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and broken hallelujah.’ But I sure don’t feel like singing anything but the blues at this point. No hallelujahs, that’s for sure.”
“I think God speaks to us most directly through the tough times in our lives,” Faith said softly.
“Do you always have to bring your religion into this? Try concentrating on the matter at hand – ripping that duplicitous SOB. I hope he goes to Colorado and breaks his leg skiing or something. But listen, don’t let him bring you down Maria. This could turn out really well for you. John was the kind of guy who would have cheated on you a few months after walking down the aisle. Good freakin’ riddance. Let’s discuss this more later. I’ve got to get to class.”
“I’ll be able to cuss him out later. Right now all I can think about is that this is the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
Maria was a hospitality management major. She wanted to manage a hotel in a vacation resort one day. Faith studied social services with plans to work with the disadvantaged in some capacity.
“Are you able to focus during your classes because of all this?” Faith asked.
“It’s really difficult. I just want to push through these last three and be done with college. This whole break up deal has made me to want to hurry up and get on with my life. What about you?”
“Awesome. I’m meeting so many people through my internship with the local social work agency who can help me network my way around the state government.”
“That sounds wonderful. At least I can be happy to know that you and Steve will be getting married after graduation.”
It was now mid-October and the campus looked like a postcard with the majestic old oaks flashing brilliant red and yellow leaves. Maria’s recent break up would not be the end of her problems. The phone rang in Faith’s apartment and Maria wanted her to come over right away and wouldn’t say why. Faith dropped what she was doing and rushed over. Maria looked like she had just seen a ghost.
“What. I thought you guys used birth control.”
“I guess this proves it doesn’t always work.”
“Have you told anyone?”
“You are the first. My parents are going to freak. They never liked John to begin with. I think they wanted me to find a nice Spanish boy to settle down with. My life seems totally out of control right now. I feel like I’m driving in a car with no brakes. Starting my post-college life as a single parent wasn’t what I had planned out.”
“Life takes us on all kinds of twist and turns. I guess it comes down to how we react to what life throws at us.”
“I may need your help navigating through social services – especially if I can’t land a job right after graduation.”
“What about John? When are you going to let him know about this?”
“Eventually. The next highly charged emotional conversation I will have is mi madre y mi padre. Not looking forward to that one.”
A few weeks later Maria was hanging out at her apartment when Julie came over unannounced.
“I thought you would be home on a Friday night, being the future mom and all. Guess those margaritas are on hold for a while, right Maria?”
“Oh yea and lots more diet restrictions. There are so many things you never would have thought about until you start to eat and drink for two.”
“I was curious about something. When you found out that you were pregnant, did you ever consider getting an abortion?
“Is that because of your family or what?”
“Well, I haven’t always practiced my faith, but that’s one area that has stuck with me since I was little. Life is a gift from God.”
“So even after you had broken up with John, the thought of ending the pregnancy never even crossed your mind for a moment.”
“Si. It’s like this. This isn’t the way I would have wanted to start my career in a million years. But, I’ve got a wonderful family who will help support me and be my babysitters when I go to work.”
“What’s up with John? What did he say when you finally spilled the beans?”
“He was surprised to say the least, but he also had to know that abortion was out of the question. He told me he would help out financially – once grad school was over. I’m not counting on him for anything. The truth is I’m not sure I even want him involved with this child. If he didn’t want me – he doesn’t want our child either.”
“So your plans haven’t changed. Get a job after graduation and soldier on as a single parent?”
“That’s where it stands now.”
“Sounds like a tough road ahead if you ask me, Maria.”
“It’s funny. Faith mentioned giving the baby up for adoption but I could never do that either. Once I hold that baby in my arms, it’s mine forever.”
“Before we graduate there is something I wanted to tell you.”
“What? This sounds like a long held secret.”
“Do you remember Scott Simpson, the poly-sci professor?
“The young hottie. How could I forget? I had a crush on him during my sophomore year.”
“I think everyone did. But I took it a step further.”
“What are you saying? Did you and the professor get more acquainted than just the typical office flirtation.”
“Yea. Now keep in mind this all happened long after my class with him. We met at a restaurant last spring and one thing led to another.”
“Wow. This is huge news. I can’t believe you kept quiet all this time. Details, details.”
“Well we ended up back at his apartment and he put on some Sinatra. He was a charmer that’s for sure. The jerk never called me after that night.”
“My guess is you weren’t the only one. That guy was like a cat in the hen house. Under 30, stunningly handsome, completely engaging in class, and single on a college campus. Well you were one of the his conquests I guess.”
“I don’t see it that way,” Julie shot back. “I was in control of the whole deal. I made a choice. It was a good time. I didn’t expect anything more than that.”
After Julie left, she realized the conversation never led to where she wanted it to go – to a much deeper level of confession. What she hadn’t told Maria was that the one night stand had resulted in a pregnancy. Unlike her friend, she did what thousands of others had done when facing the same situation – she terminated the pregnancy.
On the way home she stopped by the store to pick up some groceries. Walking down the aisle searching for her favorite chocolate, she bumped into a woman carrying an infant in a Snugli carrier. The jolt of the impact made the baby start to cry.
“Oh, I’m so sorry Ms. I should have been looking where I was going. What a beautiful baby,” she said glancing down at the infant’s piercing blue eyes.
Immediately, Julie recalled the day she went in for the initial counseling session with Donna, the middle aged office worker from the Choices Women’s Health Center. Donna told her how the procedure was very simple and she would be in and out of the clinic in a short time. It was like a splinter being removed. Donna told her about the numbing medication that she would receive to prepare her body. She said nothing about the pain of regret. Donna described the gentle sucking sound that would be heard during the procedure, but nothing about sucking of the life right out of your body and spirit.
As she brought her items up to the check out line, she saw a tabloid magazine with a celebrity holding up her newborn with the headline: “All Smiles for First Time Mother.”
Julie was in a trance, staring off into space when she was tapped on the shoulder by the customer in line behind her.
“I think you have too many items to be in the express lane.”
“And you need to mind your own f-ing business! Don’t you have anything better to do than count the exact number of groceries I’m trying to buy?”
Stunned by the anger in Julie’s voice, the guy took his cart to another line.
Her nerves were shot. The person Julie was becoming wasn’t the cool, powerful, soon to be attorney that she had envisioned. The abortion had changed her in ways she had never anticipated.
That night she couldn’t sleep. She replayed that fateful day in her mind exactly as it happened.
It was a late spring day with overcast skies as she took the bus across town to the Choices clinic. The sign outside the door said, “Choices Women’s Health: Where Women are in Control.” Julie thought about what a lonely day it was. She told no one about what she had done.
The abortion took a little more than an hour to complete. It felt like the longest of her life. Afterwards, as she slowly walked out the door, a light rain began to fall. A drop hit her cheek and mixed in with a tear that she couldn’t hold back.
As the taxi pulled up to the corner, she told the driver her address. The guy was new and took a wrong turn. It led them down a road where Julie saw a billboard with a baby in utero with the caption: “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart.”
She then exploded on the driver: “You freaking idiot, you missed my turn! Are you taking me on a long way home to jack up the fare? Is that what they teach you to do in your lame cabbie school training. Listen asshole, just get me back to 34th and Turner and no more wrong turns!”
Finally she drifted off to a light sleep and began to dream. She had a baby in her arms that suddenly wrested himself free and started to walk towards a nearby river. Julie wanted to stop the baby from getting to the water but she was paralyzed. Unable to move, she screamed at the baby to stop. It was no use. The baby slowly disappeared into the water. One last time she screamed, “No God!, save him please!” Suddenly she woke up in a cold sweat with her heart pounding.
“What have I done,” she thought. After getting a glass of water and coming back to bed she continued to stare off aimlessly into space for quite some time. The gravity of her decision was like a weight pressing in harder and harder.
It was at this moment that she prayed earnestly for the first time ever to a God she had always questioned even existed. “God, if you are for real, help me.” Then out of nowhere she half-mumbled, “Jesus, forgive me.” There wasn’t any grand vision that accompanied her prayer, only a sudden sense of calm that allowed her to fall back to sleep if only for another few hours.
In the coming weeks, she would share everything with her two best friends, who were both sympathetic and encouraging. Julie even found herself sometimes visiting a church with Faith.
The clinic counselor Donna had said that she would feel mostly relief after having the abortion. That was the biggest lie of all. For Julie, there was no relief, but she now had a new direction in life. As a staunch former atheist, it took years to get to the point where she could forgive herself. Her faith would ebb and flow – from weak to strong, back and forth.
A decade after Julie had obtained her dream of a law degree, she found the legal profession wanting. She felt called to make a difference in other peoples’s lives, so she opened a shelter for battered women. Many of the women who came through the doors had similar abortion experiences. She could offer support and encouragement as someone who had walked that same path.
As the shelter expanded, Julie needed more assistance in running the operation. Help was only two phone calls away.
© 2011 John Sikes