BY BRIDGETTE TOPAZ
I was only six months into my freshman year in high school when I got knocked up. I should have been worrying about normal teenage girl shit like drama club or going to the mall to shoplift push‐up bras that didn’t fit. Instead, I was suddenly wondering how I was going to afford diapers, since I wasn’t even old enough to get a job at McDonalds. I quickly learned that my family was not normal and I had to grow up fast if I was going to survive. We were poor Irish catholics and this was not the first teen pregnancy scandal in the family, my aunt had my cousin Siobhan when she was sixteen. I thought if she can make it work, so could I.
We had been living on Cape Cod since I started middle school. My mother finally got an emergency Section 8 housing voucher after my younger brother’s dad was released from prison. The three of us were hiding from him in a domestic violence homeless shelter. We needed to get out of Boston fast, but we weren't allowed to leave Massachusetts due to the stipulations of the court and housing authority. My mother chose Hyannis, because that’s where the Kennedy family was from.
We were nothing like the presidential family, our family unit more closely resembled the Bundy’s minus Al. The Kennedy home was only a few miles down the road in a private gated community yet seemed like another planet entirely compared to the saltbox shacks we lived in just off the main tourists routes. Life in this sleepy beach town was drastically different from the bustling city life I was accustomed to. I had only ever lived in apartments and would ride the train to school. With the faint smell of Labor day BBQ’s lingering in the air, people packed up their summer houses to head back to office jobs and private schools in the city. Leaving behind a ghost town haunted by seasonal workers, drinking away unemployment checks.
I found myself wandering around deserted beaches, swiping bottles of booze from anchored boats and smoking weed out of soda cans in the cemetery. Sometime between getting my period in 7th grade and Bill Clinton denying he had "sexual relations" with that woman, I began letting sweaty preteen boys feel me up after class. I was bored, but it was more than that, I felt a stirring deep inside me, I had an unstoppable urge to self destruct. I was a feral child with no rules but also no one to protect me from myself as I pushed every boundary I could find.
I was fourteen when I got my first boyfriend. Matt’s nickname was Phatboy and he looked like a chubbier Fred Durst. He was almost eighteen and had already dropped out. We met one afternoon while he was hanging around the parking lot of the school selling drugs. My friend Kasey introduced us and he offered to smoke us up if we went for a ride with him. Never one to turn down free drugs, I called shotgun in his Dodge neon and felt like one of the tough older girls who smoked in the bathroom, leaving tiny burn marks on all the toilet seats. We drove around with no other destination but to get fucked up.
When pot and adderall didn’t do the trick we resorted to huffing the stuff people use to clean dust off computers. I would skip school to get high and drink 40s with him in the woods behind the mall. I was horny and bored enough to let him take my virginity in his parents' basement.
I was in a hurry to not be a virgin anymore, and he certainly didn’t waste any time getting in my pants. I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but he was actually a very gentle lover, whispering things like "you're so beautiful" and “"I need you" in my ear. I felt seen. I didn’t love him, but I wanted him to love me. Later, in front of his friends he tried to deny that he had been my first, ignoring the blood stained sheets from my freshly torn hymen.
Before I even started having sex, I already had a reputation as a slut. I had covered all the bases and was known for making out with girls at parties (it’s not gay if boys are watching, right?). I’ve always loved the feeling of being desired. My mother, having quite the reputation of her own, was too wasted most of the time to notice if I didn’t come home. No one was surprised when I got knocked up.
At first, I tried to hide it and thought, if I ignore it, maybe the problem would somehow magically disappear. My mom was finally forced to pay attention when she caught me throwing up my breakfast one morning. She took me to the sliding scale clinic to pee in a cup, but we both already knew what the results would be.
A week earlier, I got Matt to steal me a pregnancy test from Rite Aid and when the strip read positive, he generously offered to kick me in the stomach as hard as he could. I declined this tempting offer in hopes for a miracle. I prayed that I could simply will myself into having a miscarriage. Sort of like the opposite of immaculate conception. When my prayers were not answered, I scheduled an appointment to get an abortion the following week.
I sat there in my paper gown on the cold clinic table ignoring whatever my mom was bitching about as she rifled through the drawers and cabinets, stuffing her purse full of bandages and disposable thermometers, what did she expect to magically find a bottle of oxycontin? My mind began to wander in circles. How many other girls were in my exact position at that exact moment? I hated feeling like a statistic. Was I just a number? Someone everyone expected to fail? Would my mom take me to burger king after this? Should Matt and I get married? My head was spinning. I felt nauseous.
I wish I could say I had some profound change of heart or spiritual experience that made me change my mind, but the truth is, I just didn’t show up for my appointment. Maybe it was Catholic guilt? My mom said I could keep living at home if I wanted to keep the baby, since that meant a bigger welfare check. She even promised to kick her boyfriend out and get sober for a while, so she could take me to appointments and shopping for secondhand baby clothes together. So there I was, fourteen years old, pregnant and terrified. We were barely scraping by and I was already taking care of my little brother, so maybe I was ready?
I was going to raise this baby on my own, since the dad was no longer interested. My petite adolescent body was rapidly expanding into the shape of an adult woman, covered in deep purple stretch marks. Pregnancy hormones mixed with teen angst was a dangerous combination causing me to have explosive and uncontrollable outbursts. After getting into a fistfight in the bathroom with my baby daddy’s new girlfriend, I stopped going to school altogether. I spent my days on the couch eating fried bologna and feeling bad for myself while watching talk shows about other girls who got themselves in my unique position.
Occasionally feeling a kinship with these girls, but mostly, I was depressed that I wasn’t the one on TV, getting a makeover from Ricki Lake.
I remember sitting on the weird plastic chairs in the waiting room of my OBGYN trying to avoid questioning looks from appropriately-aged parents. I kept my eyes down and read my Cosmopolitan but could feel them trying to figure out how old I was, wondering where the dad was? I first spotted the Little Angel adoptions agency in the back of the magazine among advertisements for libido enhancers and diet pills. I was already in my third trimester and had chosen a name, Cornelius--after my grandfather. It was a time in my life when I felt the closest to my mother, the way only becoming a mother yourself makes you understand. Her vow of sobriety didn’t last long, and she soon had a new deadbeat boyfriend lingering around, drinking beer on our couch and eating all my snacks. When I saw that ad, something clicked in my brain: I suddenly had a way out of what was beginning to feel like a hopeless situation.
Adoption hadn’t even crossed my mind as an option before that. Lots of girls in my high school got pregnant and dropped out to raise their babies, no one ever talked about adoption. I assumed it was like some kind of Lifetime movie special--adoption was for girls whose families had a reputation to uphold, girls who had a bright future ahead of them so they get sent off somewhere secret for nine months only to return home, childless, like nothing had ever happened.
I was surprised at how many of my peers got mad at me, because of the decision I made--they called me selfish behind my back and accused me of trying to act like I was better than they were. I wasn't aware of it then, but I was escaping fate and breaking a cycle designed to keep girls like me oppressed.
The adoption agency sent me pamphlets put together by families looking to adopt healthy white babies. So there I was, flipping through laminated pages decorated in cheesy clip art teddy bears and roses. I chose a couple in their 40s from Santa Barbara because I liked the photos of them smiling on far away beaches and hiking in South America. I liked the idea of traveling and wanted my baby to have the opportunity to see the world. Plus, It didn’t hurt that they looked rich.
They flew my mother and I out to California to stay with them in their beautiful suburban home for a week. I should have noticed my mother silently sizing them up, calculating how much they were worth, but I was too busy being swept off my feet. This charming couple won me over with expensive dinners and shopping trips to boutique maternity stores. I was ready for them to adopt me, too.
I don’t feel like I was coerced into giving my baby up. It was my decision, and my mother simply saw an opportunity to capitalize on it. She successfully persuaded the adoptive couple into sending her over $15,000 for therapy and private school. I never received any services and I didn’t even find out about the money until much later.
It’s a difficult thing to try and explain, how a child never stops loving her mother no matter what she does. Friends have asked me how I could still love her? Let alone talk to her after the things she put me through. Of course, I was angry, but I can’t shake my loyalty. This kind of thing is not uncommon, I know that I am not the only child of an addict that has had bills in their name since before they learned how to spell. Some call it hustling, others call it survival, and that’s all she knew. I want to believe in my heart that despite her addictions, she did love me and had my best interest at heart. In the end, everyone got what they wanted, she got her money, my son and I got a second chance, and that rich couple in California got to have the suburban family they always dreamed of.
Labor was a blur, as it all happened so fast and I was heavily doped up. When I woke up, I got to spend three days in the hospital with my newborn son before I was sent home with a prescription for Vicodin and an ever present emptiness inside. My swollen breasts ached with the absence of a tiny creature around to drain them of milk. As soon as I healed, I packed my bags and moved in with my grandparents back in Boston in an attempt to go back to school without anyone knowing my story.
I was so far behind, I just gave up and sat out front smoking cigarettes with the goth girls, putting myself on a strict diet of vodka and cocaine to lose the baby weight occasionally stripping to support myself. I spent the remainder of my teenage years trying to fill that emptiness with drugs and reckless punk boys. I didn’t get my GED until I was in my early 20s, quit hard drugs and traded the pole for a whip. I’m proud of my career as a Pro‐Domme, I have been able to travel the world and put myself through two yoga teacher trainings and herb school. It’s hard to imagine how drastically different my life would be if I had kept my baby.
Periodically, I receive photos and letters from the adoptive parents. He seems like a stranger, this human being that I created. I stare at Christmas cards of him in his khaki pants and wonder, who are you? They tell me he plays soccer and is a straight-A student, but does he have my rebellious nature? When he’s eighteen, my son will be given my information so he can find me. I wonder what he will be like--will he think I’m a total weirdo? I’m covered in tattoos and practice witchcraft. I hope to have another child by then, maybe he’ll think I’m a "cool" mom? Will I tell him I’m a sex‐worker? Should I come out to him as queer? Will he love me no matter what I’ve done, the way a child unconditionally loves his mother?
Fifteen years have passed, and sometimes, I still feel that stirring to self destruct. I even slip into old patterns from time to time. When faced with a difficult situation, I call upon the strength and wisdom my teenage self was somehow able to find. Nothing, no heartbreak or setback that life throws at me can compare to what I have already been through. Somehow, that terrified and lost little girl grew up to be a reasonably well adjusted adult. So I tell myself, if I can survive that, I can live through this.
Bridgette Topaz is a queer femme witch making magic in Seattle, Wa with her twin cats Doc & Fluff. For more info visit www.topazhealingarts.com.