WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS THEMES THAT SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT MAY FIND TRIGGERING. READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
LAUREN RAE TYLER, 18 GOING ON 19 (CONTINUED)
Today has me contemplating adoption vs. parenthood again. With Drew T by my side it would be hard; we would live paycheck to paycheck for who knows how long, but I wouldn’t be alone. As a little girl, I pictured my life way differently than it is right now. The pieces came together slowly. First, I wanted motherhood and I had a doll named Kaylie. She was the perfect baby girl. She had long blonde locks and wore a pretty lavender dress from the late 19th century. Her given name wasn’t Kaylie, I forgot what it was, or maybe I never bothered to learn it. Most six year olds could not be trusted with a fragile collector’s item such as Kaylie was. If I dropped her she would have cracked, but I never did. I treated her like a real baby. I got her from the old, creepy lady across the hall. My mom was cleaning her apartment for her, like she often did. The old lady had collector dolls all over the place that she had spent years collecting.
My mom always cleaned her place for free, she never asked for a cent. The old lady always tried to give her a twenty when she finished, but mom would shake her head and say no. Instead, the old woman gave her things, like secret family recipes, or food she knew she wouldn’t eat by the expiration date. Everyday stuff. She once gave mom a package of toilet paper.
The day the old lady gave me Kaylie she was pretty sick. She could hardly get around the house. She had a deep throaty cough. The kind of cough where mucus gurgled in her throat and she had to hack it out. I was afraid to go near her. Mom stayed after she was done cleaning and made her homemade chicken soup. We stayed and ate a bowl with the old woman in the living room.
There Kaylie was… She was on a shelf above the TV. Her hazel eyes were staring straight at me. She reminded me of myself for some reason. Right there, I thought, she could be my daughter. What kind of thought is that for a six year old? Towards the end of dinner the old woman caught me staring at Kaylie.
She started talking about where she got her, what her name was, and how she’ll be worth a lot of money one day because she was one of a kind made by a very prestigious doll maker. It was the last one he designed before he died. He made her with all the strength he had left, and because Kaylie was his last creation, the company that made his dolls in a limited bulk selection decided not to make more. They were going to sell the doll to the highest bidder, but they couldn’t. In his will he left the doll to his daughter. They were going to sue, claiming they owned the image of the doll and they could do as they pleased with it. Technically, they did own the image of Kaylie. If they did sue, they would have won. But the doll maker’s daughter gave her shares of her father’s creations to the company. They would make more money off those shares than one doll. Some of his best creations hadn’t been on the market yet. Kaylie’s maker’s daughter got to keep her.
The old woman asked me, “Lauren, do you like that doll in the lavender dress?”
I didn’t even have the courage of heart to say yes, I could only nod my head.
“If she was yours, would you let anything bad happen to her? Like a fall or mistreatment?”
Silently, I shook my head no. Smiling, then coughing violently for a moment, and then smiling again she said coarsely, “Then she’s yours. You can take her home tonight.”
I was so excited. I literally jumped for joy. I know my mother didn’t want to take it, but then again she had a hard time saying no to me before dad came along. In the beginning, I was very attentive to Kaylie. Kaylie was the first name that popped into my head. I cleared a drawer out in my dresser where I could keep her for safe keeping. I made her a fluffy bed out of thick towels and covered her with a blanket that came with the doll I had before Kaylie. Before school I would check on her, and after school I would play mommy with Kaylie as my baby.
Granted, I couldn’t grasp the full picture of parenthood. Kaylie could be forgotten about for days and still be healthy, lying peacefully in the bottom left drawer, when I felt like playing house again. A real child can’t be forgotten about, and a real child isn’t always going to be healthy. I can’t use monopoly money and live off plastic food in a house made out of kitchen chairs, blankets, sheets, and pillows. I have to become a real doctor, not a doctor that specializes in stuffed-animal-care-ology.
When I was 9 I got my first crush, Caleb Cosby. Mom told me boys and girls can only be together when they’re adults and married. That stopped me from ever telling him I liked him. But it never stopped me from gawking at him. By the way he looked back; I think he liked me too. That’s when I started wedding planning.
Neither fairytales nor the normal concept of weddings touched my dream wedding. I was also drunk on the Holy Spirit. Instead of a wedding in church, I wanted a wedding in heaven directly before God. I only had groomsmen, because only angels were in the wedding party. Okay, my wedding idea was a little twisted. There’s no marriage in heaven, but I was 9. I didn’t know that. I was bright about a lot of things, especially worldly things, but there were a few tweaks of my imagination that worldliness could not touch. Jesus was the minister that pronounced Caleb and I married. When I was 12, I saw a re-run of ER and realized that I wanted to be a doctor, so I traded in my heavenly wedding for an earthly one. Okay, six months after my salvation, the heaven wedding idea was put to rest. And I grew less attached to Kaylie. I put her in her drawer bed and checked on her from time to time to brush the dust off and to make sure she didn’t crack.
The touch of the sun’s rays makes my skin simmer, but it feels good to be outside. The media’s the same; they have us surrounded like wild dogs dying to sink their teeth into the juicy detail of the case−me. Police officers clear out the media for us so we can make it to our vehicles. We actually ride in the back of squad cars to take us to the garage our cars are parked in. Drew T’s been driving me around in my car. He never asks my dad or me for gas money. He fills the tank up himself.
After the cops drop us off, we stand in a huddle debating where to grab dinner. Mom wants Mexican, dad wants seafood, and Drew T wants a hamburger and a shake. They look at me, as if I’m the final decision maker. I want none of those foods… I actually don’t want to eat out. I want a home cooked meal, but there’s no food in the house. I don’t care where we eat really, just as long as we eat. No seafood though… gross… and I think the doctor said to watch the fish. Omega 3 is good for me and the baby, but mercury isn’t. That’s what the prenatal vitamins are for, to give the baby nutrients I can’t provide.
Mom gets frustrated with my answer. “What do you mean you don’t care? You’re pregnant; you’re not hankering for anything?”
I shake my head.
Drew T snaps his fingers, “I could go for some good chicken. Like wings or something.”
Wingstop! Or Wings and Rice… that does sound good. The baby does some sort of movement. I can’t quite tell what he’s doing, but wings must sound good to him too. I don’t think he can hear yet. No, I think he can. I’m two weeks into the seventh month. It took two weeks to select a jury. Another week and half to set an official court date. Mr. Michaels stalled for time according to Alexandria. Normally, cases don’t move that fast, but this isn’t a normal case, according to her. Alexandria thinks after closing arguments, the jury will make a verdict within a couple of hours. If it takes longer, she’s going to investigate to see if Mr. Michaels likes to jury-tamper.
Mom doesn’t want chicken unless it’s in a tortilla. Dad takes mom’s taste bud side. He figures he can get anything with shrimp or fish at a Mexican restaurant. Drew T is more in sync with my mind; he’s made it clear he wants wings.
“How about we divide and conquer our appetites separately?” I say, making it clear I’m taking Drew T’s side.
Dad clears his throat and gives us an unmistakable look. Just with his eyes I can tell he’s saying, ‘Over my dead body.’ Dad’s okay with us courting. He thinks highly of Drew T, but he doesn’t want us to marry anytime soon. In Daddy’s timeframe, we won’t even officially be engaged until I’m an intern. I think dad worries the more time I spend alone with Drew T, the more likely I’ll ditch the adoption plan and keep Joshua.
“We’re eating dinner as a family,” Dad says, laying down the law.
“I have a hankering for wings.” I smile as best I can.
My dad’s attitude is rubbing me the wrong way! I just want to take my hands and choke him to death! Yes, it’s terrible to think like that about my own father but so help me God, I’m only human. Then again he’s not really my father.
That’s foolish thinking Lauren! My mind shouts. Okay, my mind is right. He’s the only earthly father I have. He looks out for me, he loves me, and he treats me as best as he knows how. I guess I’m just angry with him because I know he didn’t pray about my situation. He just told me what I was going to do. Sure, for a while he let me think I could make the decision about Joshua’s future myself. During my second week of school he flies out with mom, and when I pick them up from the airport I find out we have an appointment with an adoption agency in town that’s Christian based. I don’t know why the plan changed, but he wants me to place the child for adoption in Tucson.
I interviewed 13 couples, and John and Mary St. James were the 13th. Mary didn’t sport a cross around her neck like the 12 other women pleading to be the mother of my child. Mary isn’t a toothpick like the other women. She’s healthy, not overweight. She believes in eating right and working out. She wears her hair up, with dangling earrings and a matching necklace and bracelet. Simple blouses and capri pants are the focus of her fashion sense. The day I met her for the first time, she was wearing a lavender blouse and khaki capri pants. She wore a set of beaded earrings, a necklace, and a bracelet of a cool green-ish blue. She has a faint olive tone to her skin, and the colors of her wardrobe made her look stunningly beautiful. Her light brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail. And there’s something about Mary’s eyes that remind me of someone. Someone I trust and love… I just can’t figure out who. John is endearing. He doesn’t stand out, but I imagine in his younger days he was sort of handsome. He’s clean shaven and his black hair is severely receding. He wore a polo shirt and jeans that day of the interview.
Actually, I didn’t bother to read their file. I was tired of making up my mind about people before I physically met them. I picked their file because they had biblical names and a cool sounding last name. St. James… Joshua St. James. That’s very James Bond!
They didn’t have to tell me they followed Christ, how faithful they were to church, and how committed they were to doing good deeds. I could see the love of Christ in their eyes. I felt like He was staring right at me. I didn’t ask them where they went to church. I didn’t ask about their theological views. We didn’t really have much of an interview. I was tired of asking questions or watching women fake smile at me trying to convince me they’re something they’re not. Mary was very natural and every smile she gave me that day was genuine. I told them one thing. I get to name the child. John said that was fine, Mary agreed with him. I told them congratulations because they’re expecting the child within me. I got up and left.
A few days later, the agency called me and said Mary and John wanted to meet for lunch. We met at a quiet pizzeria called Mama’s Pizza. They asked me why I chose them, before we even stepped foot inside the restaurant. They followed that question by asking what it was about their file that I liked. They admitted they were nervous because I didn’t really interview them. I just chose them. I wanted to be a smart-aleck and say, “Did God interview the prophets before he chose them to do his will?” But I didn’t say that, and I could almost feel the mighty smiting of the Lord for even putting myself in the same category as God. I told them the truth. They were stunned. They weren’t sure what to say. Their next question almost made me laugh.
“And the father is okay with this… the adoption?” John asked.
I answered that honestly too, “I don’t know, but he’s nowhere to be found.”
They didn’t ask any more questions about the father. It wasn’t until I made the front page news that they knew Joshua’s father was a rapist. They weren’t upset that I didn’t tell them. Mary wept for me and John got all teary-eyed. I hadn’t seen compassion like that in a long time. But since we’ve met, we meet once a week− sometimes twice− and talk. I usually let them do all the talking. I don’t have much of anything to say to them. They always invite me to their church or Tuesday nights to their house for Bible Study. They want me to get a sense of their life so I’ll trust that Joshua is in good hands. If I go for an open adoption, they expect me to become a part of their life to some extent.
Oh my Gosh! Today is Tuesday and I said I would go tonight, if I got out of court at a decent time. They want to tell all their friends they’re adopting. I almost forgot. I have a few hours until seven… Plenty of time to show up.
Drew T insists on holding my hand while he drives. It used to bug me. When I drive I’m a stickler for keeping two hands on the wheel. Overconfidence must be a man thing. Drew T knows he’s a great driver and takes a sense of pride in his bad habits. I like the hand-holding. I can’t picture not doing it now when he drives.
Mom didn’t like the sound of having rice with a delicious ginger dressing on top with her chicken wings. I agreed to Wingstop. My hankering could be fulfilled another day. We follow directly behind the Prius my parents are renting.
I’m not even old enough to rent a car, and neither is Drew T. Getting married now would be foolish. But it doesn’t matter what I keep telling myself. I wake up every morning and stare at the ring on my finger and I want to be married. I don’t want to wait five to six more years from now.
Then again I feel like I’m stuck in a paradox. The only reason I want to be married is because I’m pregnant. People see the ring on my finger and assume I’m married or engaged anyhow. Once the truth comes out of my mouth, that I’m not married and they see I sport a cross around my neck, and that I’m carrying a baby in my womb, I look like such a hypocrite! And people just give me that look… The look that screams I’m a liar who can’t believe in my own faith. More people need to read the news or watch it. If they did, they’d see I wasn’t some hypocritical Christian girl acting a fool while fornicating with my boyfriend… The pressure of society is the main reason I want to get married now. Then there’s the minor reason that can quickly become major, Joshua… The actual pregnancy makes me outrageously emotional. The idea of marriage makes me bubbly. The bubbliness Joshua induces is the minor reason, and it will stay minor as long as he becomes a St. James baby after he’s born, not a baby of mine.
Dad gets ahead of us. He made a yellow light, we didn’t. Mom calls and says they’ll grab a table. She really called to know what we want so they could order for us, but I told her we didn’t know. It irked her a little bit and that shamefully plastered a smile on my face. I don’t know where my nagging state of agitation with my parents comes from lately, but I seek little ways to piss them off.
Drew T cuts the silence in the car with a question, “Why did you tell your mom we didn’t know what we wanted?” Switching lanes, he releases my hand to use it for extra safe driving, and adds, “We always get the same thing there.”
“I don’t want to go…” I sigh. “Let’s go somewhere else.”
Drew T titters. He can’t believe I want to stand my parents up. “Who is this Miss Rebellion next to me in the car?” He questions with a playful banter in his voice.
He has a point. I am being rebellious. I’ve rebelled a lot since my parents have been in town for the trial. They said Drew T couldn’t be in my room for any reason, but he’s been in my room several times when they’ve stepped out. They came home unexpectedly and caught Drew T walking out of my room. Dad lectured us for thirty minutes how disrespectful that was, and that we should be grateful he’s allowing Drew T to stay at the house. We shouldn’t think for a moment that he wouldn’t kick Drew T out and make him stay in a hotel. What I said under my breath after his lecture almost made him kick Drew T out. I said, “I’m already pregnant, slim chance it’ll happen again now.”
I didn’t bury my comment deep enough under my breath. He heard it and his face flushed a rosy pink-red. He probably nearly had a heart attack. He just stared at me though. Drew T confessed we didn’t do anything, he explained we didn’t even kiss, which was true. It was really just a matter that Drew T wanted to hang out with me and I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. He sat on the floor or on a chair a good distance away from the bed like a perfect gentleman.
Mom would ask me to do the dishes and I wouldn’t. Dad would say he’d say grace for dinner and I would jump to say grace before him. Little disrespectful things like that, which I haven’t done since I was 9. Instead of growing up lately, I’ve been growing down. I’m just tired of my parents dictating my life. For once, I want to decide my own future. God and me− not them and me with God pushed to the background− God and me need to set the stones my feet will journey in life.
“I’ll text mom we’re not coming.” I say as I text the message.
“Where are we going?” Drew T asks.
“Wings and Rice,” I say as I press send.
We take dinner to go and eat back at the house. Mom and dad had the same thought. They showed up shortly after us with a bag from Wingstop. Nobody said anything while we ate quietly at dinner. I did the dishes, without being asked. My back killed me the whole time, but I’m still alive so it wasn’t that bad… And my back only hurt towards the end, when I loaded the plates into the dishwasher. Drew T helped, therefore it didn’t take long. We were done in ten minutes or less.
At six o’clock, I decide to take off. As I gather my keys and purse in the foyer, Drew T takes his red cap off the coat rack as if he’s coming with me. As he puts his hat on, I ask him what he’s doing. He gives the answer I expected. He says he’s going with me.
Not thinking before I spoke, I ask, “Are you always going to be like this?”
I bring up how he has to be around me all the time. Every meal of the day, day and night, every time I step out of the house he’s by my side. I feel suffocated. I need space. “If you’re going to be like this for the rest of your life, I won’t marry you.”
Drew T dejectedly takes off his cap. He holds his cap by the visor. Looking at his hat he says, “You know… I’m leaving after the trial,” He sighs.
I say, “I know.”
“I just wanted to be with you as much as I could.” He looks up at me, “I can’t get enough of you.” He puts his cap back on the coat rack, “See you later I guess…if I’m not in bed.”
Mood swings… ugh… why Lord? I kiss him goodbye on the cheek. He says he loves me but I don’t say it back. I do what I only have the strength to do. I smile at him. He opens the door for me. I can tell he’d like to walk me to the car, but he’s afraid to try in case I snap at him for being gentlemanly. Once I hear the click from the door being closed, I feel a sense of freedom. I smile as I take in the air and the musky scent of mesquite tree hits my nose. Not fond of the smell, but I may have to grow a fondness for it; it’s the first aroma of freedom.
Keep Joshua, screams from the resistant folds of my mind. Keep Joshua howls within me again. The thought doesn’t conjure up angst or outright fear. The thought brings serenity to my soul. Yet, I’m not sure if the thought is mine or the Holy Spirit guiding me.
The ambience of traveling in the car is soothing. I try not to think. I just drive.
John answers the door. He’s delighted to see me. His eyes smile brighter than any normal smile could shine. As I walk inside he rests his hand on my back and escorts me to the family room, where they are holding bible study. I’ve been to their house before. They wanted to show me Joshua’s room. Mary hadn’t decorated it yet. I assume she has now. It’s only two months away and he needs a room.
The bible study group fills the entire family room. It’s a good thing the room can fit 15-20 people. That’s the perk of living on the north side of Tucson. Big fancy houses are typical. I don’t have to worry about Joshua being too spoiled; John and Mary will spoil him but not rottenly.
John goes to introduce me, “Everybody, this is−,” but my name didn’t get a chance to leave his lips.
A voice I love to hear says my name instead, “Lauren…”
I turn around and Matthew’s eyes reel me in as they always do. I haven’t seen him in a long time. Since I told him Drew T and I are courting, he said it was best we spent less time together. The only time we should be in company of one another is in a group setting like church. He claims he would never cross a line with me, and he doesn’t think I would cross the line, but he doesn’t want people to talk. People like to jump to conclusions and those drawn conclusions can muck things up.
I gently impose a hug on him. His strong arms embrace me and a shockwave of a loving spiritual warmth ripples through my body. Of all the people I know, Matthew hugs in a way no other person can match. His gift is the grace of his embrace. Ugh… I don’t want this hug to end. Suddenly, the anger I have towards my parents is dissolving. Thank God for Matthew LaHaye and his huggability!
Matthew clears his throat. I take that as a signal to let go of him. I give him a firm, tender squeeze and then let go as I step back.
As Mary walks in with a tray of granola bars, I presume homemade, John says, “Lauren is the LAUREN Mattie talks about all the time.”
Mary gasps happily. The room begins to fill the atmosphere with gentle murmuring. An old plump woman, with a very round quality laughs loud enough for the chatter to lower. Laughing still the woman says, “Mattie, honey, when are you going to ask this beautiful lady to marry you?”
A dainty, platinum white haired old lady adds her input, “You’ll be a great father. Twenty-five is a good age to have kids. When I was that age I already had three.”
The plump woman interjects, “Two were twins though.”
“You try raising twin boys. It’s like wrestling the devil!” Platinum hair lady snaps, defending her motherhood.
A crackling, raspy voice of a man behind Matthew says, “Look at her left hand. That must be the big news tonight. Mattie and Lauren are engaged!”
Everyone begins clapping and congratulating us. I actually absorb the warm feeling this attention gives my soul. I love the sound of Lauren LaHaye. I grin because I have no idea what to say. I look at Matthew trying not to laugh.
Matthew blushes from embarrassment. He nervously chuckles. I wait for him to set the record straight, but he lowers his head while scratching the hook of it. Mary sets the tray of granola bars on the coffee table. She tells everyone to help themselves. She walks over to Matthew and me and takes us by the hand and leads us away to the kitchen. John appears right behind us.
Wow, all of us are allowing the bible study group to believe Matthew and I are engaged. It’s also interesting to learn there are people that call him Mattie. He never lets me call him that. The few times I have he gave a quick, short lecture that his name is Matthew, not Matt or Mattie, but Matthew. I decided to respect his wishes about his name after the third time I made the mistake.
“Is there the slightest chance you want to keep the baby?” Mary asks with tears swelled in her eyes.
Where did that question come from? Is that why she didn’t clear the confusion in the family room? I open my mouth to tell her no, but I only exhale. Instead the urge to build a defense erupts from my lips, “What kind of question is that? I’m here aren’t I? I− You−,” pointing towards the family room, “You’re letting everyone in there think Matthew and I are engaged. And how− how do you even know Matthew?”
Mary’s tears fall and she flees the kitchen crying. John races after her. Matthew sighs, crossing his arms. He partially sits on the marble top island in the middle of the kitchen.
Matthew immediately explains Mary’s reaction. I’m the fourth young woman to promise my unborn child to Mary and John. The young women would change their minds either right before the child or after the child was born.
I ask why they don’t adopt from a foreign country or adopt an older kid. Why do they want to adopt a baby? Matthew clears his throat again. He looks me directly in the eyes, “Mary’s my birth mother.”