It’s been 15 years since I’ve last seen her. She’s fat, her hair is gray, yet she looks good: healthy, happy. And her little one’s a doll.
Clare and I were the best of friends at 12 years old. We hung out all the time smoking and running our mouths like we were all that and then some. Her older brother Matthew was cute, and I hoped he’d notice me at some point. It took him a while, but he finally came around after they moved away and I lost contact with Clare. Of course by then I already had Jake, but Matthew remained a constant and was good to both Jake and me even though Jake wasn’t his.
Next thing I knew, Jake was three, Matthew and I were getting married, and I found myself pregnant again.
Just before Annie was born, Clare started hanging out with us a lot and about two years later, I finally broke down and told her about Ray. About the rape. About the abortion. We were out partying one night while Matthew and my Momma were home taking care of Jake and Annie. Clare was talking about how lucky I was to have two cute kids and a husband at 23, and I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“If I tell you somethin’, you promise not to tell anyone? ‘Specially Matt?”“Yeah, a-course.” A small, yellow-orange flame brightened the dark car as she lit a cigarette.
I told her how, just before we met when we were kids, I had an abortion after being raped by my cousin Ray. How Momma never called the police or anything when she found out what happened; she just made an appointment for an abortion and drove me to and from the clinic, and we stopped talking with her cousin Ruth, momma to Ray. How when I was pregnant a couple years later with Jake, Momma wanted me to get another abortion but I refused.
“I understood why she wanted me to get the first abortion and I didn’t want to be a momma at 15, but there’s no way I coulda done it again; ‘specially since Jake was cuz of my boyfriend.”
I told Clare how Momma and I got into a huge fight, how she ripped some hair out as she tried dragging me off my bed and to the clinic to get an abortion. How she collapsed onto the floor with strands of my blonde hair sticking out from her two fists. How we both screamed and cried till we fell asleep. How she then shipped me off to Florida to stay with an aunt until the baby was born. How I was then supposed to give that baby up for adoption but couldn’t.
“Jake shouldn’t be mine,” I exhaled smoke from the cigarette and immediately took another drag. Gripping the steering wheel so tight I thought my knuckles might explode out of my skin, I told her that if it were up to my Momma- who’d do anything for him and Annie today- Jake wouldn’t be mine.
I looked at Clare and her eyes glowed from the oncoming headlights.
“My god, Janine; I’m so fuckin’ sorry.”
“It’s OK,” I exhaled. “Just please don’t tell Matt. I mean he knows about the adoption thing but not about… the other.”
And apparently she never did tell her brother- or anyone else. Even after I cheated on Matthew and left him a couple years later, she never told anyone my secret. Instead, she was there for Matt, Jake, and Annie when I left them. She was there when they needed me most. And now here she was again, 15 years later with her own little one helping Jake celebrate my grandbaby’s first birthday.