By Rosemary Van Deuren
I was nineteen when my girlfriend Claire got pregnant. I demanded to know who the father was, since it clearly was not me. Nothing she said at that point would’ve surprised me, although the man in question did turn out to be the one most likely. And ironically, I had been concerned that my girlfriend was cheating on me – with that man’s female friend.
Claire had done an impeccable job of convincing me that she was a lesbian. Not that it mattered to me – I didn’t care if she was gay, or bi, or just ‘special.’ And after we broke up, I used to wonder why she went so far out of her way to convince me of her rampant lesbianism, and why she outright lied about her past male lovers. I have since realized that she wasn’t trying to convince me she was gay, she was trying to convince herself. And at ten years her junior, I was little and green, and ripe to be duped in almost every way. For I was the only girlfriend Claire had ever had, and my youth was the chief allure I held for her.
At nineteen, I had no interest in having a child. But I would’ve stayed with Claire if she’d asked me to; something that fortunately never came to pass. Our May-December relationship had been a train-wreck of misery, and its tumultuous end mirrored this in both messiness and drama. I lost ten pounds in ten days, and my empathetic gem of a bookstore manager put me to work stocking the back room so I could sob all the way through my shifts. Claire came raging into the bookstore and tried to attack me, but only once, because at that point mall security banned her from my workplace.
I correctly predicted the inevitable separation of Claire and her baby’s father, who split before the child was even two. I also correctly predicted that this was inconsequential to Claire. She had gotten what she wanted, and the means by which this came to be just didn’t mean much. Claire had been planning this unplanned affair, a secret kept not only from me, but also from her soon-to-be baby daddy. He no doubt noticed that she had shaved her armpits in preparation for their ‘spontaneous’ interlude. But what he didn’t know was that six weeks prior, she had also stopped taking the birth control pills she used to regulate her endometriosis.
But years before that, many years before I entered her life at all, Claire had been briefly, and unhappily, married to her high school sweetheart. This man had strong-armed her into an abortion when she was nineteen, just the age I was then, and it was decision she’d always regretted. This time she became pregnant at twenty-nine, an age where a woman’s susceptibility to childbearing hormones is especially high; although I wouldn’t learn that until I became twenty-nine myself.
In the months after we broke up, I’d see Claire haughtily pass by my bookstore window, not looking over but knowing that I was watching her. Amidst my sadness and anger, there was a wave of relief, and not only for myself. As badly as she’d treated me, and as much as she had preyed on and manipulated my youth and inexperience, I remembered how sad she had been when she spoke of the teenage abortion she’d never wanted to have. Had been forced to have. So as I watched Claire walk by, day after day, and her hair growing longer and her body becoming – pregnanter – I thought, “She’ll have the baby she always wanted. Good for her.”
Before giving up my key to Claire’s apartment, I tearfully rifled through the photo boxes we’d filled, lamenting all the trips and memories chronicled there, and stealing some of my favorite pictures of her, including some of the nudes she’d never let me see because she thought they were ‘unflattering.’ By this time, the framed boudoir nudes of me that she used to keep next to her bed were turned facedown and shoved in drawers, and I wondered what would become of them once she entered motherhood. Would she bury them in a keepsake box, on a bed of my old love letters? Or would she just throw them away? Would this child of hers ever go snooping through his mother’s things, and discover that she’d had a teenage lover – who did try to love her – at the time he was conceived? Or would he go through his life thinking his mother was straight?
As is typical of nineteen year olds, I overestimated my importance in a love triangle that left me negated once it had created a human life. Which was exactly as it should’ve been. For this child – Claire’s child – was at the mercy of all three of us, and it was his needs that were most important. But my desire then to leave some sort of permanence in Claire’s iconology was understandable too; she had been a much more singular, detrimental force in my development than I had ever been in hers. And as a grown woman now, considering children myself, I no longer think about or even want any sort of presence in Claire’s life. When I think of her now, I think of the son she is raising, who turns eleven this month. And more than anything else, I hope she is a good mother to the child she always wanted.
Rosemary lives in Michigan, and has worked as a freelance illustrator, sculptor and painter. She is currently pursuing a career in writing, and has just finished her first novel and her first poetry collection. More on her accomplishments can be found on her website: www.rosemaryvan-deuren.com.