Illustrations by Cristina Peral
I didn’t mean to make a baby with Scott in the closet, on ecstasy, the floor pulsing to the bass of the house music, strobe lights flickering through the crack under the door. Back rubs with agendas were happening everywhere. It was another death experiment.
I was an opportunist. Scott never fucked unless he was high or drunk. He never initiated sex at all.
I was on top.
Maybe I did mean to kindle life out of a pile of bodies.
His torso is the barrel of a horse’s chest. I breathed in time with him. It made me dizzy. The pounding of his great, big bloody heart inside of all that air made me crazy.
It felt good, like death. It felt like Prozac a million, million times over. We were everyone in the house, and whatever we were was going to bust out of the walls. I clawed the peeling plaster. The house was crumbling. He was gone behind his arm.
When I first met Scott, he had beautiful long hair and wore his mother’s skirts and nail polish. He wore my lipstick. When I presented myself, he balked. He said love was too strong a word.
I loved watching him melt.
He was shuddering. I fell down on him. I whispered. “Oh my God, I want to die.”
When I got pregnant, the whole goddamned thing collapsed. I asked Scott to buy me a pregnancy test. He bought beer instead. I sat on the floor and drank beer. I told them all. Scott and Chuck and everyone who slept at the Mad Hatter. When I told them, it sobered everyone but Scott, and they all moved out except him.
One night Scott came home with his eyes looking in different directions. He picked me up and threw me on the couch and then he passed out on the stairs. I slapped him until he sobered up enough to let me pull him up the stairs and into his room. When I moved out, nobody fed the cat. Nobody cleaned anything. The garbage piled up.
I tried to forget about Chuck. Scott thought of hanging himself, but he could not find a sturdy rafter.
I moved back to my parents’ house. I didn’t tell them right away that I was back for good. It could have been like the other times I came home and scratched at the window to be let in, passed out on the couch, stole food out of the freezer and then was gone again. Or, at least, I was making plans to be gone, anyway.
At these times, when I fuck up and bring shame on myself, the shame travels a predestined course out from me, and the shame is amplified.
I told my mum and she cried and swore. Then I backed off and took a shower, got some things together, picked up my keys and waited for the reverberation.
I was walking toward the front door, past the room where they sit and watch television and drink wine in the evenings, when my dad called my name.
He sat alone on the love seat, staring at something on the wall across the room directly in front of him as he picked his fingernails. My mum, sunk in her own big overstuffed chair, looked at me wide-eyed, the way she does when she is about to say some horrible thing.
“You’re not really going to have this baby, are you?” she asked. The question was mostly breath when it came out.
She said the same thing the last time I got pregnant, when I was 14. Then, the solution was Prozac. This time, my dad made me call and schedule another abortion, while he listened on another phone. After I made my appointment, there was a mandatory informational recording about abortion, and we both listened to it, him in his desk chair, me standing beside him. After we hung up our phones, he told me, “Make sure this never happens again.” He let me go back to my room.
Later I thought to ask her why she wanted to kill all of my babies. How did I live, raised by a woman who kills babies like she’s scooping maggots out of a sink?
“I am going to have this baby,” I said. I said it really quiet. I started to leave.
“Look at you. You can’t take care of a baby. Do you think I’m going to raise this baby for you? I work. I have a life.” She gestured broadly with a glass of Chardonnay.
“How the hell do you know what I can and can’t do?” I felt powerful. Being pregnant is like that – it makes you feel yourself strong.
“I know you’re on drugs. Your sister told me. With all the birth defects in the family, and God knows what drugs. Oh, Jamie.” Then her voice got really soft and sad.
“Jamie, what will you do if the baby is retarded?”
The first time I had an abortion, so that I would not feel the baby, I practiced not feeling anything at all. My mum drove me to the clinic. Then she drove me home. They sent me to vocational school, and we didn’t talk about it anymore.
“Honey, we’ll pay for it. Then you can go back to college. It will be OK.” That’s what my mum said the second time. But it wasn’t any different from my teenage memories.
I told her no, I wouldn’t do it again. I opened the door. As I was leaving I heard my dad say, “I just don’t understand how you turned into such a whore.”
When I came back later, they let me stay, because we’re strapped together. We own one another. Tighter than ever, the baby bound me to them.
“What are you having?” a kid asked and passed me the bowl.
“Kittens,” I said. I hit the bowl, passed it.
The boys in the circle laughed.
The cat snuggled against my swollen belly.
Scott was only home between construction trips. He had to pay for the baby; he had to work. He lived in the house of a satanist who had fucked his own sister years before in the lavender-painted room. The satanist’s brother once stayed up all night drinking 40s and carving a skin tag out of his neck with a kitchen knife, which he then set on fire. The empty bottles and burned skin were on the kitchen table the whole time Scott lived there.
Flies hummed in the air around us.
One night I waited with the satanist in the living room of that house for Scott to come home from a party, because he didn’t have a phone and I needed to tell him something about the baby. The satanist told me that he’d dreamed that I would have a baby girl, that her name would begin with an A. In his dream, I tried to hide the baby in the closet, but it kept crawling out.
The satanist was waiting for a woman he met on the internet to come over. The woman showed up and she was older and unwashed. The three of us talked, and then the two of them went upstairs. I sat in the empty room until Scott came home. Then I told him whatever thing I had to tell him.
The hospital staff wouldn’t give the baby to me at first, although I begged for her.
A woman in scrubs wheeled in a clear plastic bassinet on casters. I wanted to pick the baby up, but I didn’t know how. Scott knew how, but he said he thought she needed a new diaper, and he didn’t know if he knew how to do that. I opened the diaper. A black tarry substance coated her skin. We looked at each other. She was quiet. I took wipes from under the bassinet and cleaned her, put the dirty things in the trash. I washed my hands. Scott put her diaper on. Then he put one hand under her head and the other under her body and lifted her. Then he gave her to me and showed me how to hold her like that.
A different nurse came in. She taught me how to breastfeed, but the baby didn’t want to. I stopped trying.
Scott had gotten dressed up in a button-down shirt to witness the delivery of his daughter. He wore the same clothes for days as he rode with me to the hospital, stood watching the spectacle white-faced, cut the cord, slept in the chair in the room, propped me up as I walked out limping to the smoking area in the parking garage. He rode home in the backseat with the baby. I drove. At home, he slept on the floor in a sleeping bag beside the crib.
In the following weeks and months, I dreamed of Chuck. I forgot that I had a baby. Then one day, I woke up and was afraid to look in the crib. She made sounds that were painful to me. I slept in my bed holding my private parts protectively because they’d been cut and torn and sewn up.
When I took a shower I could feel all of it; I could see some of the black stitches that wound through the pink and purple flesh around the long, white scar tissue. No one told me what to do about it. I decided I would not go back to the doctor I had begged not to cut me, even as she made the incision. Not even to get the stitches taken out.
My room and the baby’s room were the same room. It was in the basement of my parents’ house. I didn’t know a lot about babies, but I was pretty sure they weren’t supposed to live underground. It was cold and dark. Maybe that’s what was wrong with her. Her huge blue eyes looked at me as I rocked her to sleep down there. I buried my nose in her hair. I memorised that smell.
When I touched her, I believed she felt my despair.
My baby, Scott’s baby.
When I cried at night, I thought I did so silently, but she always woke up, and then I cried and rocked and sang and cried and rocked and sang.
I gave her to my mum and got out of there. My arms felt empty.
I thought about driving off the road into the cold river, but instead I went out drinking with Chuck.
It was dawn already when we went to his place. There was a couch, but we both lay down on the air mattress. I was turned away from him, on my side. I said the thing he was waiting for. He turned over and put an arm around me, his body against my back. He kissed the back of my neck. I felt teeth. I turned around and kissed him on the mouth. He was authoritative, yet tender in a way I hadn’t expected. He was a sensualist. Something about his fingertips. I have nothing very important to tell about it, except that.
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