WARNING: Survivors of domestic violence abuse and sexual assault may find content triggering. Reader’s discretion advised.
LAUREN RAE TYLER, 18
Air still circulates in my lungs. I’ve survived being home for one week and two days. A courage deficiency has plagued my spirit. I haven’t told my parents what happened. Plus, it doesn’t help I’m freaking out!
For the past two days I’ve been cramping, experiencing bloating, and my boobs are hurting. I’m used to that, when I’m expecting my period, but I always get my period on the 23rd of every month, and my cycle lasts five days. That’s the way my menstrual cycle has been since 8th grade when I first got it. Last month I just spotted, and it lasted like a few hours. Stress can make a period go MIA, and I’ve been so stressed my shoulders are knotted into rocks! But I can’t help but wonder if God has decided to make my life a living hell hole!
What woman gets pregnant her first time anyhow? The last thing I want to do is go to church. I’m too angry at God!
Last night, after Melissa’s and J.P.’s engagement party, I acted like I went to bed, but instead stayed up until two in the morning researching online, via smartphone, how can I tell whether or not I’m pregnant. Everything says its test time. They, whoever ‘they’ are, say some women just know after conception. All agree every woman is different. The only way to know for sure is a test. Mayo Clinic says home pregnancy tests are pretty accurate, if women wait at least a week after their first missed period. If this one doesn’t come, it will be my second.
I use my tampons just in case I end up being late. Today is also Christmas. I don’t want to ruin my evergreen velvet dress.
I stare at myself in my full body mirror hanging on the inseam of my closet door. My bra feels a little tight. My boobs look more womanly than usual.
A knock on my door makes me jump.
“I’m almost ready!” I yell.
“It’s mom!” She says excitedly. “We’re both women.”
I hurry to put my dress on, but I can only zip it up halfway. Hopefully, my boobs aren’t too full for this dress. My impatient mother lets herself in without my granted permission. Automatically, she finishes zipping me into my dress. It fits, but tightly around the chest.
Walking in a circle around me, she makes sure I’m picture perfect, picking off any lint she finds and straightening any slight wrinkle she spots. She stops behind me and cuddles me in her arms. Together we look at the woman I’ve become in the mirror.
Tears swelling in her eyes, she says, “I remember when you were just a little girl.”
If she cries, I’m going to cry. Everything makes me cry… the beautiful sunset, the horses galloping along the fence, and reading certain scriptures… O Dear LORD… I sound preggers… Did I just say preggers? Who uses that anymore? I titter to prevent myself from crying.
Mom asks me why I laughed, ending our embrace. I shrug my shoulders. I don’t know what to say to her.
“I told the Lord I wasn’t going to ask, but what happened to your nose last month?”
I get smart and say, “I broke it.”
Agitation begins to pick at me in the back of mind. Now she asks me? On Christmas Day? This woman sure knows when to pick the time.
She asks me how I broke my nose.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I tell her. I add, if I wanted to talk about it I would have told her.
My hands need something to cling to in order to fight the nervousness stirring in me. I pick up Grizwalt, my scraggily, sandy haired teddy bear I’ve had nearly my whole life. He has the most fluff in his pot belly. Grizwalt’s body shape is a little Winnie-the-Pooh-ish and his eyes remind me of Drew T’s. I toggle Grizwalt in my hands, gently tossing him hand to hand.
“Who is Matthew?” Mom asks.
I haven’t told her about Matthew. I haven’t told anyone here about Matthew. How does she know about him?
“Matthew is−,” I stop myself. Why do I have to explain who he is to her? “Matthew is none of your business.”
“The other day I was cleaning your bathroom, and I noticed your tampon box wasn’t open and− ,” I cut her off. Why is she snooping in my business?
“It’s open now! Go look for yourself,” I snap at her.
“Don’t raise your voice to me. I’m just concerned.”
Here she goes again.
“Your birth father was…” I tune her out.
I get it. He knocked her around. When she told him she was pregnant, he beat her so badly she almost lost me. He apologized and said everything was going to be alright. He proposed to her in the hospital while she was recovering from the brute of his beating. She accepted. He was verbally abusive mainly until I was born. She said after I was born, the Spirit of the Lord came upon her, and told her to flee to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The day we left the hospital we went where the Lord led. He didn’t even come looking for her and me. He left us be, so my mother says.
She thinks I would pick up with an abusive man? Does she know me at all? Clearly she doesn’t.
When I tune back in, I find myself staring out my bedroom window. I can see J.P.’s truck by the stables. I can see two dots of men. I figure they are J.P. and Drew T doing some ranch chores before today’s service.
“I didn’t want to believe what Makayla’s been saying. To think you broke your purity vow to God is heartbreaking.”
I chortle. It figures Makayla would say something like that. She must have seen the few statuses on Facebook when I mentioned Matthew. My mother would believe the words of a gossip over her own daughter? Then again, her daughter hasn’t told her anything.
Mom goes on and on how I can’t repeat her worldly mistake. I ignore her again by watching the boys out the window. They finally climb in the truck and drive towards the house. They probably had breakfast at home, but want something extra to eat.
Maybe if I’m as honest as I can be with my mom she’ll lay off me. I don’t want to ruin her Christmas… Well, what I’m about to say won’t hurt her as much as the full truth.
“Matthew is a good Christian man. He didn’t break my nose. In fact, Matthew reminds me a lot of dad,” I say.
He is like dad. A man of few words but a plethora of scripture. Minus the whole rancher-cowboy-thing, he’s Glenn Tyler. I think that’s why I haven’t told him I was raped and that the Lord told me not to take the morning-after-pill. I think I’m afraid he’d ask me to marry him. Not that I wouldn’t mind being married to him. Lord knows I’ve had a crush on him since I met him in church. He has magnetizing green eyes with flecks of blue and golden brown. Every time our eyes meet I feel my heart gush, drowning in the butterflies of my stomach caused by my school girl crush. His walnut, slightly wavy hair looks plush, and my fingers itch to comb his hair like it was made for my fingers to explore. I could do school with one kid, but with two or more, school would be way harder. Matthew is older than me, and I know the desire he has for a big family. He wants all his kids at most two years apart from one to the next. And if I am pregnant, single mother or wife, I’m finishing school. I will be a doctor by the time I’m 27, probably sooner.
“You would talk to me if something was going on in your life right?” Mom asks.
No, I wouldn’t mother. You overreact to everything! My thought reminds me: now I know why I haven’t told her about my rape. But right now, I don’t even know if I am pregnant. So right now, nothing is going on. I can’t even speak to her. I nod my head yes to answer her question. Just after my nod I feel a stab of guilt pierce my spiritual gut. For the first time since my salvation, I blatantly lied.
What a way to start my Christmas Day… Merry Christmas Mom
,. I laugh at my thought. Why am I so stressed? If I’m pregnant, it’s the Lord’s will, and if I’m not, it’s still the Lord’s will. I can’t change what happened.
Exiting my door, mother says, “Breakfast is almost ready. I just have to throw the pancakes on the griddle.” She closes the door behind her.
The deepest ache forms around my chest. The ache is more spiritual than physical. Like warm syrup, the ache drips to the pit of my gut. I hug Grizwalt tight as I lean my head on his. I don’t know why he’s my favorite. Grizwalt’s fur is scraggly and scratchy, and his stuffing makes him firm. He doesn’t have that pillow quality most teddy bears do. Feeling weak in the legs, I lean against my waist high bed.
Moisture drips from my nose and silent tears slip from the inner corners of my eyes. Every breath I make is only surface deep. Blood rushes to my head as I try to end my tears.
Another knock on the door triggers something inside of me. Alertness best describes that something. I hurry to wipe my tears and to make sure I appear normal. Still holding Grizwalt dearly like a six year-old girl I open the door placing a smile on my face.
Glenn Jr. is ready for the church this Christmas. He has on black slacks, an evergreen, long-sleeve dress shirt, and a Santa suit red tie. He looks up at me with his wide, happy eyes.
“Good morning!” He blurts as he runs off. Seconds later he comes back and sputters, “MerryChristmas!Wegettoopenonegiftbeforechurch…” he takes a breath from his fast talking and then continues, “Andtherestafterwards!”
Like he’s in a race for his life he runs off again. Downstairs in the kitchen, J.P. and Drew T are at the table, sharing mom’s first batch of pancakes. They also had their own glasses of OJ and a side of bacon. They apparently declined mom’s scrambled eggs with spinach specialty. They are covered in dust from head to toe and smell like horse manure. Cleaning the stables will do that to men− turn them to dung.
Mom sets my plate next to Drew T. Normally, I can take the smell, but my stomach is really flopping from the whiff of horse droppings. I can buck it up. I can do this. Trying not to breathe through my nose, I sit next to him. With my eyes fixed on my plate, I pick up my fork. Oh no! I can feel a little barf making its way up. If I get up now and slowly walk to the bathroom I can make it. Gently, I put my fork down. Even slower I rise to my feet. Mom asks me what I’m doing. I’m afraid if I open my mouth, I’ll puke all over her. As funny as that would be, the interrogation afterwards would not even be close to funny.
An uncontrolled burp slips out. Saliva pools at the corner of my lips. Oh no, that’s a sure sign I’m going to throw up in seconds. I start looking for the trashcan. I can’t believe I can’t remember where we keep it. Seeing it by the fridge, I dart for it as puke begins to flush up my throat. My aim isn’t bad. I hit the mark in the heart of the trash, which is pretty full. Some of my vomit splatters in my face. I think I got some on my dress. That will be really hard to get out. Why does puking have to feel painstakingly vile? I feel like my guts are being turned inside out.
Mom is patting my back, asking if I feel feverish. Oh, I wish I did. After my puking session ends, she sends me to my room to change. She tells me to put on some pajamas. I’m not going to church after all… This could be good… or really, really bad.
It didn’t take me long to get settled into bed. Mom is checking my temperature with a mouth thermometer. She’s standing over me like I’m a little girl all over again. When the thermometer beeps she says my temperature is off by two degrees. That shocks me. Maybe I really am sick or something? That would be a big relief!
Glenn Jr. walks into my room holding a book size present. The wrapping looks like it was wrapped by a child his age. It has a cartoonish, reindeer design. I know who that gift is from. As he hands it over to me, he thanks me for the remote control red race car he opened downstairs in the family room. Since he opened one from me, he thought I should open one from him.
He got me a new Bible with a gorgeous lavender leather cover. It has gold-edged pages and my name engraved in the bottom right corner. He had help picking out this gift. I try to hug him, but he backs away from me quickly.
“I don’t want to get sick,” He explains.
If only he knew how germs work. If I am sick, just by touching my door knob he has the germs. His immune system is pretty strong from helping dad and the guys on the ranch. If he does get sick, he’ll recover quickly.
Mom wanted to stay home with me, but I convinced her to go to church. Today we celebrate baby Jesus’s birthday. I know Christmas services are always her favorite. She thanks me for being so understanding.
I don’t think I’m being “very understanding”. I’m confused! Before breakfast, she was about to accuse me of being pregnant and now she thinks I’m sick? I showed a clear sign of pregnancy. She must have peeked in my bathroom on her way down to the kitchen and noticed I finally opened my box of tampons. She can be irritatingly nosey.
Before my family leaves for church, a clean Drew T enters my room. Under the supervision of my mother of course, who patiently stands in my doorway. Drew takes a seat on my bed by my feet. The way he looks at me, I think I’m on my death bed. I ask him if I look that bad and he says I look as tired as an old heifer. Ranch terminology should not be used for human analogies. We laugh together at his comment anyhow.
Drew T looks really good cleaned up. He isn’t wearing a baseball cap today! His hair is spiked with the help of a little hair gel. His goatee is fuller than when I first arrived. Wearing a white long sleeve shirt, dark purple tie, and tan, nearly khaki-colored dress slacks, he’s well put together. His black dress shoes have a great shine to them. I imagine he’s better dressed than his brother.
From the left pocket of his slacks, he pulls out a small, green velvet jewelry box. He reaches the box out to me, waiting for me to take it. In a subtle state of shock and awe, I stare at the little green velvet box. I don’t even want to guess what it is. I’m not even sure I want to accept it.
“I’ll give you a hint. I’m not proposing,” Drew T says in a playful tone in order to break the awkwardness.
Feeling a little better, I take the box. While I open Drew T’s gift, he wishes me a Merry Christmas. Inside is a small, no bigger than a nickel, golden pendant of an angel.
“I saw it at a jewelry store in the mall in Albuquerque. Made me think of you…”
This gift is the sweetest I’ve ever received and the first I’ve received from a boy who is not my little brother or my dad. I feel bad I didn’t get him anything for his birthday or Christmas. Those darn tears build in my eyes. Drew T’s being amazing. Allowing the rush of joy I feel to lead me, I kiss him on the cheek and then give him the tightest squeeze I can muster. His comforting arms are exactly what I need right now.
“Happy Birthday,” I tell him, still hugging him. I don’t want to let him go. His hug brings me warmth, inside and out.
Chuckling he says, “Happy Birthday Jesus…”
Mom clears her throat, “We should be getting to church if we don’t want to be late.”
That’s her way of telling us to stop embracing. Drew T leans out of the hug to respect my mother. I can’t let him leave though. I have to return the gesture of the gift.
As Drew T stands I tell him, “When I get better, we’ll have to spend the day together or something.”
He looks at me unsure what to say. I can see gladness rising in his eyes like the morning sun. I can only imagine how long he’s been waiting for me to say something like that.
Gulping from nerves and possibly from a dry mouth, he nods his head. He keeps his gaze on me as he walks for my door. As he crosses the threshold he says, “I’ll let you know when I’m free.”
I can feel myself with a new schoolyard crush. I told myself not to fall for him, but now that he’s 18, I can’t resist this feeling. It is stronger! What is wrong with me?
Only moments after leaving my room, he races back, without my mother. He clearly has something on his mind. Kneeling with both knees at my bedside, he asks
, “Will you be my date to my brother’s wedding?”
How can the best man have a date? I’m the maid of honor; can I even have a date? I mention that and that sets him back in thought.
Then smiling, flashing his cute cheek dimples, he says
, “I guess we’re destined to be there together then.”
J.P. yells for Drew T to hurry up from downstairs. He nearly jumps onto his feet, responding to his brother’s call. As he leaves, he looks back at me like he has one more thing to say, but must have changed his mind because he left without saying anything.
Melissa stops by to see me as I’m about to go to bed. I just want Christmas to be over. I spent my entire day in bed researching online. I really need to take a home pregnancy test. But I don’t want to. I wish I can just ignore the whole ordeal, but for obvious reasons I can’t. That’s not reality.
Well, I didn’t spend all day in bed. While everyone was at church and enjoying Christmas dinner afterwards, I was eating breakfast leftovers like crazy! None of it came back up, thank God! It was just the smell that made me sick. Then right before my family came home, I ate a whole gallon of mint-chocolate chip ice cream. That did come back up. No one should have that much sugar, pregnant or not.
I patiently wait for Melissa to speak. She’s sitting at the foot of my bed clutching her Bible in her hands as if her life depends on not dropping it. She must be getting cold feet about getting married.
When I’m about to tell her everything’s going to be okay, she beats me to the punch and speaks first.
“I know everything’s going to be okay… Why can’t I do it?”
“Getting married is−,” she doesn’t let me finish my sentence.
“Not that… well sort of− technically…” she sighs, fumbling over her words. She opens her Bible to a bookmark keeping a place in Isaiah 41. She hands her worn out Bible to me and tells me to read verse ten.
“Don’t be afraid, because I am with you. Don’t be intimidated, I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will support you with my victorious right hand,” I read.
She explains she read that in her devotions this morning. I’m shocked she had time for devotions this morning. I was busy getting ready for church. Besides, I never have devotions on Sunday. I get plenty of Jesus at church.
Then she describes the DREAM. She’s talking so fast all I pick up is something about Africa, speaking French, and spreading the Gospel. I ask her what the DREAM has to do with marrying J.P. She says every time she has this dream she sees more and more, and J.P. isn’t anywhere in it. She starts rambling about how God speaks to us through our dreams. She thinks God is telling her to be a missionary… A single missionary. Who am I to tell God’s not speaking to her? I think she would be a fool not to marry J.P., but it’s her life, not mine.
“What should I do?” She asks.
I desperately want to shrug my shoulders. I have no clue. Then the Spirit asks me to tell her, “Ask if he would go with you.” That’s the last thing I would tell her to do. To me she’s already got her answer from the Lord, but I’m just the messenger, not the news maker. I add, “The Spirit told me to tell you that.”
“You don’t think I should ask?”
I’m going to save myself here. I say, “Do what the Lord tells you to do.”
She takes my hands and immediately begins to pray. She prays for guidance. She asks the Lord to open the gates of heaven and shine a sign her way. A dream is pretty epic. A sign can’t shine brighter than your own dream. The tone of her prayer shifts. She begins praying for me. That the Lord would lift the burden I carry now from my shoulders. That I would open my heart and receive his love in the fullest for the future I’m about to face. Then it gets stupendously weird when she says, “Name him Joshua.” The Spirit rushes over me and I know the Lord’s talking to me. Stupidly I question, name who Joshua? Melissa breaks out praying in the Spirit. In other words, she begins speaking in tongues. Her prayer language is different than mine. I can never−
Don’t jump the gun. I hear the Spirit say. What gun is there for me to jump?
Confess the truth and proclaim… Proclaim what Lord!
Name him Joshua. I already heard that!
Forgive and let go. Always Lord…
“Forgive and let go…” Melissa says, she’s back to her first language, “Help us− all of us… J.P., my dad, the congregation, Lauren, help us all to forgive and let go. Especially J.P., because I love him, Lord. I want him to remain my friend. Be with me as I break off the engagement. In your son’s name: Jesus Christ, Amen.”
“Amen,” I add.
“I know what to do now. Thank you for praying with me
. ,” Melissa says as she hugs me. She kisses me on the cheek and starts to leave. She stops in front of my door. Looking over her shoulder, she says, “Take a pregnancy test already.” Then she leaves with exuberance. I don’t know why she’s happy about ending her relationship with J.P.
Melissa isn’t the bad gossip Makayla is, but I’m sure Melissa will say something to Janie. Who will say something to Craig, and he will tell Deacon over the phone. Deacon will tell Jack Clover. Jack will tell his wife Rosie, who will tell Becky, my mom’s best friend. Becky will try not to say anything, but led by the Spirit she’ll tell my mom out of concern. That will take less than 24 hours.
I race out of bed and catch Melissa going down the stairs. Just by looking at her, she can tell I’m begging her not to say anything. She gives me a quick hug and whispers in my ear, “I won’t tell a soul.” A huge wave of relief ripples through my body. I go back upstairs to bed and I immediately drift off to sleep.
*Edited by Aly Fry