The day I turned 16 was the day I stopped going to church. “You’ll go to hell for sure,” Mrs. Marmalade said, her orange hair gleaming in the sunlight. Yeah right.
The day I turned 16 I had ‘the talk’ with my Father. “Don’t disappoint your old man, Hel. It’s important to have God in your life.” My father lit his cigarette, inhaled and then coughed up enough sputum to choke a whale. Not that I know if whales can choke, but it sounds good. I said to him…“You told me when I turned sixteen, I could decide. So I’ve decided. I’m not going to church anymore. Here’s a Kleenex Dad.”
The day I turned 16 I dyed my hair pink. My mother was settling in to watch Coronation Street. She didn’t have to go to church because she was brought up Presbyterian, and there wasn’t a Presbyterian Church in town. She looked up to see me sneaking out the door, and then brayed over my father’s continued coughing fit. “O, fer heaven’s sake, Heloise, you look like a piece of cotton candy. What the hell will your grandmother think? If you wanna know what I think…” I laughed as I walked out the door. I didn’t give a flying !@#X?! what my mother thought.
Beer tasted good on that day. Beer with pink hair made not going to church particularly slammin’. Sex with Jimmy made it even better. Afterwards we went to the Venus Restaurant and pigged out…foot long hotdogs, fries with gravy and malted milkshakes. Yum. I kept my eye on the door in case Mrs. Worthington came in. Ballet teachers frown on pig-outs.
Three months to the day after I turned 16, I had a rude awakening. My boobs were getting big. They were hard and firm. And I hadn’t needed a feminine protection product for a few months. I hitchhiked to Woodstock to see a doctor my family didn’t know. My parents thought I was at ballet class. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what he told me. “Here are your options. You can have the baby and keep it. You can have the baby and give it away. Or, you can pray to God for a miscarriage, though at your age that’s highly unlikely. ” I cringed. These were options? “What about an abortion?“ Only if your health is at risk, which it isn’t.” Closing my new file he said, “You should tell the father.”
Later that day, I found out that Jimmy was not the stand up guy I thought he was. “Geez, Hel. I got football tryouts this year. Can’t you just get rid of it or somethin’?”
Three months and two days after I turned 16, I discovered that Jimmy wasn’t the only coward in this story. I chose an option the doctor hadn’t offered. It’s called the ostrich with its head in the sand option, which I did gracefully with perfectly pointed toes.
Six months to the day after I turned 16, I got a letter in the mail. I’d been accepted to Ballet School! I should have been ecstatic. Ballet was my future, my fortune. The psychic in Thamesford had told me so. I had been plieing, tonduing and pirouetting since I was knee high to a grasshopper. But how the hell could I go to Ballet School in September when I was gonna have a baby in May?
That afternoon, I ran into my mother in the kitchen making herself a cheese sandwich. “Whatcha got under that long sweater you’re wearing all the time, Hel? Mrs. Worthington says you wear it in ballet class? I don’t know how the hell you pirouette in that heavy thing. You getting fat? Too many fries? Where’s Jimmy these days?” Bitch. I knew she knew. A cigarette in her mouth, she flopped down in front of the T.V. set with a beer and flipped on ‘The Price is Right’.
My Dad cornered me in the hall. “Sweetheart,’ he said taking a long drag on his cigarette, ‘talk to me. You’ve been wearing that old sweater pretty much all the time for the last month. You know you can tell your old Dad anything.” I swallowed hard. “Nothing Dad. Just school and stuff.” I looked up at him. He wasn’t buying it. “Heloise, I was the only boy in a family of five girls. I know a thing or two about female things.” I sighed and put my hand on my belly. Suddenly I tuned in to the fact that I had a real live human being growing inside me. I wiped my nose and took my head out of the sand.
Twelve months to the day that I turned 16, I turned 17. Having a baby is like passing a football. That’s what my Mom told me. Except that no football could be as beautiful as the baby girl that popped out of me. I wonder if she’ll ever try to find me. I hope so. My boobs are permanently bigger now. My hips too. For the last two months I have been taking three dance classes a week to get back into shape for Ballet School. Mrs. Worthington almost withdrew her recommendation to the School when she found out about the baby. But my Mom had a talk with her. They had some kind of female bonding session over how utterly horrible and fantastically wonderful I am, and Mrs. W. agreed to keep her mouth shut as long as I agreed to keep my legs shut – her words, not mine.
I’m all packed to go. Better not forget my pink hair dye. Mom is driving me to Ballet School. She seems to have some kind of new found respect for me, so spending three hours in the car with her doesn’t seem half bad. Dad’s resting – too much smoking, too much coughing, too much crying. Dad really wanted to keep the baby, and now he’s losing me. I’m glad Mrs. Marmalade is coming over to keep him company. She told me to dance as pretty as I sing. I might almost like her. After all, she’s had it hard in her own way. Can you imagine going through life with a name that reminds people of jam? Now that hat would be hell.
Elizabeth Copeland an award-winning author, theatre artist and arts educator. Her short stories, personal essays and poems have been published in The Furious Gazelle, Circa – A Journal of Historical Fiction, Forge Journal, Quick Brown Fox and Bread ‘n Molasses, among others. She won the 2014 Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick Y.A. Fiction award for Traeh Gnul – Miranda’s Journey from the Great Forest. Her novella JAZZ – a coming of age story of a transgendered youth – won the 2014 Ken Klonsky Novella Prize, and is currently available on Amazon.
“My Choice” was first published Jan. 2010 on the blog – Quick Brown Fox. It was also performed as a monologue at the Sarasvati Productions International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues.