I went to live with my stepmother in Texas for the six months it took to get from the blue stick to the birth. My parents were irate and disbelieving when I refused to get an abortion, as though I was staging a rebellion for the sake of extra attention.
‘What do you want, Brooke?’ My mother threw her shoes across the room – yet I was the one being accused of throwing tantrums. ‘Whatever you’re trying to prove, it’ll backfire. This will ruin your life. Ruin it.’ A beat of silence followed, the dots connected with little effort.
I didn’t say Like I ruined yours? Too easy. I’d long since learned not to offer up my vulnerabilities like a senseless sacrifice.
‘I don’t want to keep it,’ I sneered. ‘I’m not stupid.’
Her eyes narrowed. She was as proficient at reading the antipathy threaded through our words as I was. ‘Where are you planning to live as a single, pregnant teenager? Because you’re not living here in my house.’
She’d intended to deliver a jarring dose of reality, and I felt it, along with the sting of threatened consequences. I was more scared than I let on, but that was nothing new.
Lifting my chin, I said, ‘I’m staying with Kathryn.’
I hadn’t talked to Kathryn yet, hadn’t thought my mother would go this far.
Nothing drained the colour from my mother’s face faster than a reminder of my relationship with my stepmother, the woman my father ditched when my mother got herself pregnant with me. She’d begged him to leave his wife and two daughters, and he had.
He fulfilled his visitation duties to Kelley and Kylie – but elsewhere. His other daughters never came to our house, so my father’s previous family skated on my peripheral awareness for the first few years of my life, not quite real. I was too young to comprehend that my mother was a home-wrecking twat until kindergarten.
Kelley, then eleven or twelve, won a statewide writing award, and Kathryn insisted that her father – my father – attend the ceremony to show how proud he was of her. My parents fought bitterly over this atypical plea from his ex. Moving from room to room, my mother proclaimed her rights as his current wife while his guilt – heavy and sticky as only overdue remorse can be – compelled him to dismiss her demands.
In the end, all three of us attended a programme that had nothing to do with my mother or me. Mom took me to her salon that morning and we had our hair and nails done, as though we were attending a gala event. At the mall, she chose coordinating outfits for the two of us, giggling into the dressing-room mirror that we’d look like sisters instead of mother and daughter.
My father and his ex-wife sat next to each other, more congenial than my parents were with each other. We sat in a tense row, a phoney testament to post-divorce cooperation: me, Mom, Dad, Kathryn and Kylie, who leaned up to give me dirty looks until her mother leaned down and said something that made her face go scarlet.
The final straw, I think, was my father’s exuberance when Kelley’s name was called and she crossed the stage. Sticking his fingers in the sides of his mouth, he whistled as he did on the soccer field when I hijacked the ball from an opponent or kicked a goal. I hadn’t known he could feel that way about anyone but me.
‘Kenneth,’ Mom hissed, yanking his arm down.
They began to argue, first in softly spat words and heated scowls, and then louder until my father gripped her by the elbow and steered her into the aisle and out of the auditorium. Kylie’s wide eyes told me that she wasn’t used to witnessing the sorts of outbursts that were commonplace to me. Kathryn worried her lip, glancing back towards the exit three times as the programme came to a close and my parents had not returned.
Kelley appeared at the end of the row with a wooden plaque in her hands, her name and accomplishment carved into the brass plate affixed to the front. ‘Look, Mama, they spelled my name right! Where’s Daddy? Can we get milkshakes now?’
Kathryn glanced at me, the two empty seats between us, and the aisle where neither of my parents was visible. ‘I’m not sure where your father is … but we can’t leave Brooke here alone …’
Kelley and Kylie stared at me and I stared back. Their clear blue eyes were the same colour as mine. The same as my father’s eyes. Our father’s eyes. For the first time, I realized I had sisters. Kylie glared, out of her mother’s sight.
I had sisters, and they hated me.
‘Let’s just bring her!’ Kelley said, shrugging.
Thus began my odd relationship with my father’s former family.
Eleven years later, it was Kathryn I begged for help. It was Kathryn who took me in, hired an attorney to oversee the adoption, and helped me leaf through scrapbooks made by prospective adoptive parents – all white teeth, spotless homes and financial portfolios, and promises of a future full of love for some lucky infant.
I chose wrong, didn’t I? I couldn’t have chosen more wrong.
Refusing to read up on post-pregnancy, I didn’t know what to expect after he was born. Kathryn tried to warn me about the possible physical and psychological side effects, but I ignored her warnings, insisting that my personal trainer and I would deal with the physical issues, and as for the so-called mental distress – I wouldn’t miss a baby I didn’t want, because that would be crazy.
After I signed the forms the next day, my attorney and the social worker left with the baby. I lay in the birth-centre bed, my hands kneading my sore, once-flat stomach like bread dough, feigning indifference to what that new emptiness signified. I hadn’t wanted to see or hold him, but I’d grown accustomed to him moving around inside me. Only a week before, I’d seen the shape of a foot pressing out just under my ribcage, plain as day. Fascinated and horrified, I’d poked at it with my finger and it had pressed back.