(Part Five) Coming To Terms
I couldn’t hide it anymore. I was that girl and everyone on campus was whispering about me. I was numero uno front page news. Walking into a room I could sense the change immediately. Eyes would dart sideways in my direction but never directly at me – just the space around me and my pregnant belly. It’s not like they’d be looking at my face either. No, that would be too rude! Instead, they would simply stare at my protruding stomach and snicker in hushed tones. The boldest would point; unaware of the hurt and shame each finger caused me.
Some of the boys on campus could be especially cruel. Just walking from class to class became a symbolic walk of shame as they yelled at me.
“Look at that fat cow!”
“Guess someone forgot to close her knees.”
“Hey, it’s called a condom, ever hear of it?”
I could see the sympathy in the eyes of each passerby but no one spoke up for me and this would just encourage the behavior even more. Pulling my headphones from my backpack I would blast loud music to drown out the taunts. With my head ducked and cheeks red with embarrassment I would trip and waddle my way to class as quickly as possible.
Now every shirt I wore would be stretched out by the day’s end and stained with bits of pizza, bagels, and chocolate smudges from the snicker bars I kept on me at all times. I couldn’t button my jeans anymore. Trendy pairs of washed denim and ripped knees I had begged my mother to buy me at the start of the year would be hidden under extra-large sweaters and t-shirts. On the days that I didn’t feel like spending ten minutes squeezing my sausage thick thighs into them I would opt for my elastic pajama pants with the rainbow stripes or an old pair of sweats Jacob had left at my dorm room. I refused to even consider maternity clothes. If I did, then any brief moments of pretend I had been able to scrap together would be gone forever and I would have to face my situation head on.
I can’t believe I’m pregnant.
“Hey Tammy!” Glancing up from my scribbled notebook I see Claire waving at me from across the room. A few people look up from their books or stop mid conversation to look at her as she pushes through a group of gossiping girls before finding her way to my row and plopping down in one of the many empty seats. My cheeks burn and I try to slouch further into my seat.
“Hi Claire,” I mumble in return.
She is a sweet girl, shy at first, but once you get to know her a fierce friend. She also couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds. Looking her over I immediately envy her for her slim figure and perky breasts. Mine start to ache and I wrap my arms around my chest tightly to dull the pain.
“Wow your stomach is getting so big!” she exclaims. Her hand rests on top and starts to rub my belly, searching for a faint sign of kicking. After a few moments her forehead wrinkles as she removes her hand “Is it sleeping?”
“Guess so.” The group of girls stares at the two of us. Claire doesn’t even notice or care. She pulls out her notebook and flips to a blank page before doodling a small flower in the top right corner. I silently thank her for her disinterestedness.
We had become friends the first day in our Introduction to American Lit course. Reserved and quiet, neither one of us jockeyed for the first few rows and instead opted for two of the side seats towards the back. I had forgotten to bring a pen to take notes and was frantically searching the bare bottom of my backpack when a small voice said, “here take one of mine.”
“Thanks,” I whispered. Reddish brown hair fell over her face. When she pushed it back I saw pale eyes that sparkled back at me. I instantly felt comfortable around Claire.
“I’m Tammy,” I said, reaching out to shake her extended hand.
We both smiled at each other before turning towards the professor. Afterwards she asked me if I wanted to grab a cup of coffee with her and from that day on we always met up after class for coffee and a discussion over our notes from the day’s lecture. Even after everyone found out I was pregnant she continued to ask me to join her for coffee, refusing to shun me like so many others. For Claire, my pregnancy didn’t automatically mean I was some kind of bad girl. Just one who had gotten pregnant by mistake.
Shifting in my seat I try to get comfortable and ignore the pain in my lower back. The top of my jeans digs into my hips, cutting of circulation, and I curse aloud for wearing them.
“Damnit, these fucking jeans.” My hands slip as I pull at the waistline. The pressure makes me feel like I need to pee, which is ridiculous since I just went not even five minutes ago. Claire notices my grunts.
“You really need to buy some maternity clothes, Tammy. Your clothes don’t fit anymore.”
“No, I’m not going to go spend money on clothes that I won’t even need in a few more months. It’s ridiculous.”
What’s ridiculous is you in those jeans,” she sighs. “I can see that the buttons are undone and the zipper is barely halfway up. And if I can, so can others.”
Giving up I turn towards Claire exasperated and on the verge of crying. “I don’t want to go buy maternity clothes, Claire. I can just picture the looks I’ll get walking in there. They’ll be thinking, ‘Look at that poor girl, pregnant and still a teenager. Her life is over.'”
“Who fucking cares?” asks Claire.
“Why? You don’t know them and it’s not like you’ll see them again.” She grabs my hand and gives me a long, hard look. “It’s nobody’s business but yours Tammy. Fuck ’em.”
“Claire, people are starting to stare.” A couple boys nearby look at Claire with a mixed look of anger, disgust, and judgment.
She gives them another hard look before turning back to me, and in a louder voice says, “I stand by what I said. Fuck the whole, nosey bunch.”
I’m shocked. Supportive since the start, Claire was still the shy girl to me. This was a new Claire, a brazen Claire. For the first time I felt that someone really did have my back. Sure Jess has been there, helping me out when I needed it. Lending me that shoulder to cry on. But she had stopped inviting me to join her at her sorority’s parties and I no longer was included in her girl brunches on Sunday. I started to notice that as my belly got more pronounce Jess had become less available to me. I pretended to not notice or care but secretly the rejection hurt. If Jess, of all people, couldn’t accept and support me than who would?
Looking over at Claire I realized she was still holding my hand. I didn’t want to let go.
“Hey, Claire,” I whisper. “Will you go with me after class to look at some clothes?”
Smiling for the first time in a long time, I extricate my hand and start to pay attention to the lecture. A small sense of relief washes over me and I let out a small sigh.
Maybe it won’t be so bad. The clothes might actually be cute.