When I was 20 I got pregnant.
I took the pregnancy test in the bathroom of a sandwich shop because I didn’t want my sister to find the used test in the trash. I was expecting it to be negative.
It was positive.
I remember the adrenaline rush and feeling lightheaded as I stared, not quite believing my eyes. Positive.
The first thing I did was grab my cousin who worked at the shop and together we went outside to smoke a cigarette. From the look on my face she knew what I was going to say before I said it.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“What are you going to do?”
“Keep it,” I said, “and I guess quit smoking.”
Quit smoking. Get a better job. Go to college. Learn how to be an adult. What did that even mean?
I told the father. His only response was “ok.” The father and I weren’t right for each other but I hoped we could make things work for the baby. A boy. Our son.
I ended up alone with a 5-month-old baby and a job that paid $9/hour. I had been evicted once from an apartment, the one where I had lovingly put together a little nursery for my pending arrival. He only got to see it once—when I went to retrieve as many of my belongings as I could before they got thrown out. The next day the rest would be strewn upon the sidewalk outside, I had seen it happen to others before. After the eviction my son and I moved in with my grandfather who sadly passed away two weeks later. We moved again.
I think about those days now, and how I worked nights and took online classes in the hopes of creating a better life for my son. I think about the people who helped me along the way, and the mistakes I continued to make out of desperation.
I think about my second marriage, as disastrous as the first. A rushed attempt to give my son a father, not believing that I was enough as a mother. The four years of abuse and being told I was worthless. My third child, as unexpected as the first, delaying my getaway by another 2 years.
Still all this time I kept working and I stayed in school. I got my bachelors and then my masters degree. I got a better job. I left my husband.
My oldest son is 8-years-old now. In the midst of this quarantine, I am choosing to celebrate the fact that he and I are spending more time together than we ever have before. He and his two brothers are finally getting to experience the mommy I always wished I could have been for them.
But I also think about past me, and what I would have done if all of this happened before the year 2020. What would I have done if I was suddenly non-essential back in the $9/hour days? How would I have fed my son? I think about my grandfather who passed away, and wonder how I would have felt if coronavirus had taken his life. Would I be angry with people for not staying home? I think about my second husband and shudder to imagine how being quarantined with him would have ended.
The fact is, there is no right answer in these situations. We are in uncharted territory and no one can be expected to have all the answers. Like most things in life, there is a trade off—in this case it involves life, death and livelihoods. Of course people are afraid and upset. Nothing but compassion for another person’s point of view will help us get through this.
And no, I don’t have a solution. I wish I did. But since I don’t, all I can do is show love for others and express gratitude for what I still have.
After all, sometimes in life the things we expect to be negative end up inexplicably positive.
(C) 2021 Barbara Gray – no content may be used or reproduced without permission of the author