Authors: Han Nolan
Copyright Â© 2011 by Han Nolan
All rights reserved. For information about permission to
reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions,
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
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Harcourt is an imprint of
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Text set in 12.5-point Fournier MT
Design by Christine Kettner
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Pregnant pause / Han Nolan.
Summary: Married, pregnant, and living at a "fat camp" in Maine,
sixteen-year-old Eleanor has many questions about her future, especially
whether the marriage will last and if she should keep the baby.
[1. PregnancyâFiction. 2. MarriageâFiction. 3. CampsâFiction. 4.
Overweight personsâFiction. 5. Family lifeâMaineâFiction. 6.
MaineâFiction.] I. Title. PZ7.N6783Pre 2011
Manufactured in the United States of America
DOC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For my husband, Brian,
and my sister, Lee Walker Doty,
OKAY, I'M PREGNANT, and so here's what I'm scared about. What if my kid turns out to be a mass murderer? You know, one of those kids who shoots half the school, then shoots himself? Or maybe a drug dealer, or really, justâjust what if my kid lies to me, or sneaks out a window to go see her boyfriend, or gets pregnant at sixteen like me? I'd hate to have me for a kid.
I waited until I was five months pregnant to tell my parents. guess I had sort of hoped the whole thing would go away. At first I thought maybe I wasn't pregnant, and I just tried to ignore the signs, like painful boobs and feeling sick all the time and, oh, yeah, a missing period or two. But then once I figured out that yes, I am pregnant, I thought that I would probably miscarry, because in those first weeks I had been drinking V-O's (vodka and OJ) and smoking my Camels, which, okay, I realize now was a bad idea. But like I said, I didn't know for sure I was pregnant, and I figured the baby wouldn't live, because my mother miscarried three times before she had my older sister and twice before she had me. My sister has already miscarried twice, and she's been trying to get pregnant with her husband for four years. It figures: my baby is alive and kicking.
I hate doctors. The whole reason I didn't have an abortion, besides the fact that I didn't believe I needed one because I figured I'd miscarry, is because I hate, hate, hate doctors. And, okay, my parents would more likely kill me if I had had an abortion than if I were just pregnant, because that's very against their religion. So now I've got to somehow get this baby out of me, and from what I've seen in health class and in the movies, I'm in for a night or two of complete and utter torture!
When I told my dad that I was pregnant, he stormed through the house yelling at me loud enough for the whole state of Maine and part of Canada to hear. Then when he finally calmed down enough to talk to me in one place, the cozy farmhouse kitchen of our cozy, most favorite house in the world, he stood in front of me with his fists on his hips, his graying hair standing up on end from raking his fingers through it while he ragedâmaybe pulling it some, tooâand he smiled at me. It wasn't this friendly, "I love you, anyway," kind of smile. It was this victorious, self-satisfied smile, like he'd just pulled a fast one on me.
"Well, well, well," he said, still smiling. "I guess it's pay back time. All the times you snuck out of this house and ran away with Lam and worried your mother and meâpayback. All the times you lied to us, came home drunk and way past curfewâpayback. You like staying up all hours of the night? You're in luck. Your baby will keep you up whether you like it or not. And all the griping and complaining you did in Africa, making everyone miserable, the rude and nasty things you've said to usâ"
"I know, I know," I said. "Payback. I get it, I get it." And I do, which is why I'm so scared about this baby. I don't want me for a kid. I really, really don't. Worse, I don't want my boyfriend for a kid. Hell, I'm not sure I really even want him for a husband, but my parents and his parents kind of pushed me into it, so what can I do?
I tried to get a little sympathy. "I know I messed up again, Daddy, but can't you at least say something nice? Are you just going to lay curses on me every day for the rest of my life? Won't you feel sorry if you've cursed this baby?"
"Hah!" Dad threw back his head and grabbed at his hair again. He looked a little wildâcrazy wild. "Eleanor, you've cursed your own baby by getting pregnant. You're only sixteen! What kind of life can it possibly have? You've got a C average at best in school, so what kind of job do you think you'll get? And that punk-o boyfriend of yours isn't any better." Then back to that ugly smile of his. "But you've made your bed, and you're going to lie in it. We've always done right by you and your sister. She turned out beautifully, and she got everything you got, and you were treated exactly the same, so I don't blame myself for any of this."
"Well, neither do I, Dad, if that's what's got you so steamed. I was just born wrong, I guess." I felt tears stinging my eyes. "I'm a total loser." I rubbed my belly. "And this baby's going to be a total loser, too, because it's going to have such losers for parents. But thanks for all your love and caring sympathy, Dad. I knew I could count on you." I ran out of the kitchen, hoping my dad would call me back, hug me, say everything's going to be all right, he'd take care of everything, save me from my fool self, but he didn't.
My mom's reaction wasn't much better. I know, I know; I should have told them both at the same time, but I was afraid of the way they would gang up on meâtwo voices shouting and ranting, the two of them feeding off of each other's anger. To tell the truth, there is no good way to tell your parents that you got knocked up.
Mom's big deal was to find out who did this to me. That's what she said right off the bat. "Who did this to you?" As if he'd splattered mud on my shirt or something. She was setting the table in the dining room, not even looking at me, not even pausing to digest what I'd told her. She just set the plates down one by one, carefully, gently, as if the plates were my baby, its fragile skull cradled in her hands. My mom's calm reaction hurt as much as my father's rage, maybe even more. I knew she had grown used to my terrible surprises, maybe even bored with them. Two times in juvie for stupid stuff like breaking and enteringâmy boyfriend's houseâand stealing a car, my parents' car. All the drinking and drugs, sneaking out, and running awayâit's been too much for her, so now she's just bored. She's so bored she doesn't even care anymore. I think she's so done with worrying about me, she's just cut me loose. She couldn't even bother to look at me. Not once. And she didn't once say anything about this being a sin. It used to be I got the sin word slapped in my face every time I did something wrong, but come on, when you live in a sin-free family with sin-free parents and a sin-free sister, well, you can't help but sin a little extra on their behalf.
Mom just kept setting the tableâknife and spoon on the right, fork on the left, carefully folded napkins, those tidy triangles of hers, placed under the fork. "Who did this to you?" she asked, and I told her.
"Thanks a lot, Mom!" I said. "Who do you think? Lam Lothrop, who else? I mean, come on, Mom, what do you take me for?"
Lam's real name is Lamont, which is why he goes by Lam. Mom didn't even raise an eyebrow or indicate in any way that she'd heard his name. She poured ice water in the glasses from a 1950s pitcher she found in the cabinet under the sink one day and had used every day since. She loved that pitcher, with its bands of orange and yellow painted on it, more than me. That's what I thought, watching her:
She loves it more than she's ever loved me.
Mom and Dad didn't say a word during dinner. The only sound was the clink and scrape of our forks and knives, the heavy swallowing of our food and ice water with lemon. I couldn't eat much. After a while I asked to be excused, and my mom nodded, still not looking at me. I grabbed my plate, knife, fork, spoon, napkin, and glass and headed for the kitchen. On the way I knocked into the side table behind my chair and elbowed that pitcher my mom loved so much. It fell off the table, hit the wooden floor, and broke into two thick pieces. I froze. Mom jumped up from her seat, looked right at me, and exploded. She cried and she yelled at the top of her lungs so that all of Maine and half of Canada could hear her. She screamed at me to go to my room and stay there. I nodded and left, taking my plate and stuff up there with me, forgetting that I had them in my hands.
For two months my parents barely spoke to me, and when they did, it was to argue about what to do with the baby. The more they wanted me to give it to my perfectly prim, older sister, Sarahâjust hand it over like a sack of potatoesâthe more firmly I said that I was keeping it. "It's my body and my baby, and I want to keep it," I said. I mean, what the hell was I saying? I was just mad at my parents. I didn't really plan to keep the baby, but I couldn't shut up. I couldn't save myself. I was just too furious with them.
They're missionariesâeducators. We've been in the States three glorious years, but they're heading back to Kenya tomorrow for three, maybe four years! Along with their teaching and all their good works, like fundraising for AIDS, and running a soup kitchen, and being leaders in their church, they've been raising money so they could to go back to Kenya. It's their big dream to return to work with the AIDS babies in the orphanages there.
At first, they expected me to go with them. Just give birth, hand my baby over to my sister, and go back to Kenya with them and forget about everything else. They assumed I'd go back there, when I've got my whole life here in Maine. They act like I got pregnant on purpose just so I could stay here. Well, if I had thought of it I might have done that, but it didn't occur to me. So anyway, they said that I knew their life's work was in Kenya, and that hundreds of people were counting on them, and that my grandmother, who also does good works in Kenya with my grandfather, is quite ill and dying of cancer, so they can't exactly change
plans. Okay, I'm sorry about Grandma Lottie having cancerâI am, even though I never liked that self-righteous do-gooder and the way she was always tsk-tsking and shaking her finger at me and then smothering Sarah with kisses and praise. The last time I saw Grandma Lottie, she told me I was going straight to hell, her favorite topic, and I told her if heaven meant living for all eternity with her looking down her long, pious nose at me, then hell sounded like a much better deal. All right, so that was mean, and I'm sorry for what I said, now that she's dying and all, but I still didn't want to go to Kenya and watch over her sickbed. So I told my parents one day when we were arguing in the kitchen that if they thought I was ever going to leave Lam, the love of my life, and go back to Africa with them to be chased by hyenas and get dysentery again and live without electricity and a real toilet, or worse, go to that horrible boarding school they sent me to there, then they had another thing coming.
"And if you think you're going to stay here in Maine all by yourself, then
got another thing coming!" my mother fired back at me. "Honestly, I'm just so fed up with you. I'm at my wits' end."
Since my mother was always telling me she was at her wits' end, I'm surprised she had any wits left.
"You have two choices," she said. "Pick one. Either you go with us to Kenya, or you go stay with Sarah and Robby in California."