On Independence Day, one of the Lost Girls woke up to find that her partner had abandoned her, taking her last fifty dollars and the X box. She was left with several children, no transportation and no job. By evening she found out that he’d moved in with her best friend.
The day after, when government buildings opened up again, I drove her downtown to get his name officially kicked off the lease and the Job and Family Services case. We talked on the way. Yes, he had been abusive, and not just emotionally. Yes, he’d skimmed off their monthly budget for his pill habit while she did all the housework and cleaned other people’s houses for money. She was relieved he was gone, but she was also devastated. She’d slept on the sofa because she couldn’t stand the thought of her bedroom.
The social workers who helped her were excellent: they cheered for her for getting out from under his thumb. They helped her fill out forms for child support and for the children’s school clothing voucher as well. She had been living with him since she had to drop out of high school to raise their first baby– they all said they thought she’d never leave.
On the way back, I gave her that pep talk that friends have been giving each other for as long as there have been women: you’re smarter than he is, you’re better than he is, you’re still very young and attractive, you can take some time to take care of yourself and this terrible feeling will fade. You’ll realize soon that this was the best thing that could have happened to you. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. That kind of thing.
I also reminded her about her high GED practice test scores and how close she was to a much better situation. She was going to go to nursing school. She was going to learn to help people, pay it forward and get her kids out of town. She was almost there, she just had to get over this speed bump. I have perfect faith in her.
When I got home, I found that her ex had messaged me, trying to get me to believe lies about the Lost Girl. He had been harassing several people she knew to make things hard for her. He was threatening to try to get custody of their children. He still had a key to the apartment; we were afraid of what he might do. I didn’t know where to turn, but I found a domestic violence hotline, and pretty soon she was talking to a lawyer.
A few days later, we went downtown again to get an STD test, just in case, since we didn’t know how long he’d been seeing the former best friend. We didn’t go to the crisis pregnancy center a few blocks away, because the crisis pregnancy center doesn’t give STD tests. It only has a poster in the bathroom, warning young women that condoms are not effective. We went to the women’s health center down near the river.
Her appointment was a short one. She came out with an official-looking piece of paper that she set down in front of me.
I blinked at it for a full minute.
“I’m pregnant,” she said finally.
My heart shot into my throat.
“I wondered why I was so sick.”
“Oh,” I stammered, feeling like I was the one who was going to vomit. “Well… ah… how do you feel about it?”
She wasn’t sure just yet.
‘How far along are you?’
Not very far. She’d only missed her period recently. She thought it was stress.
“Do… do you want me to take you to the crisis pregnancy center?” I don’t know why I offered that. It was the only place I knew of in town that helped with pregnancies.
“I don’t like that place,” she said flatly, and I agreed with her.
She decided to keep this a secret until further along, just in case it didn’t last, and I agreed with that too.
The next few weeks went far better than I had any reason to expect. I don’t like living in the Ohio Valley. I don’t like how cold and harsh people tend to be here. But I love it when people’s fierce Appalachian loyalty is awakened and they all rally to take care of someone who’s been hurt. People watched the children and got them to their pediatrician’s appointments. I took them out for ice cream, where they were perfectly behaved. Someone took the Lost Girl out to get her nails done for a treat. Someone else came to sit with her while she threw out her ex’s things, so she could go back to sleeping in her room. Someone even got them a hotel room for a few days when she was too afraid to stay in the apartment in case her abuser came back. When she finally told people she was pregnant, I didn’t see anybody react badly to the news.
Tonight, I came back from the garden late; I saw her on social media asking for a ride to the hospital.
I felt the same cold feeling I had felt weeks ago, when her abuser messaged me, and again when she’d gotten out of the women’s health center.
I texted to make sure she was okay. I panicked for an eternity until she wrote back. She had begun to bleed and another friend rushed her to the emergency room. An ultrasound showed a perfectly healthy baby with a strong heartbeat: not ten weeks as I’d been counting, but thirteen weeks. She was out of the first trimester. Blood tests and everything were clear. Nothing at all seemed to be wrong.
“Take it day by day,” said the doctor.
And that’s what we’re going to do.
Image via pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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