“Yeah,” I said grabbing it and taking a sip. I coughed. “The one. And only.”
“Only guy as in only jackfuck who fucked you over, only love or only guy you slept with?”
“Anyway…I was careless. I was on the pill too but it was during a time my stomach was acting up…I was throwing up sometimes because of this and that and you know. I guess one day it didn’t stick in time.”
I felt weird to talk about it because to talk about it was to remember it. I told him about the day I found out. This was before I found out Mason was cheating on me, as if that made a difference in the long run. I had missed my period, which was abnormal since I was on the pill, and it came as regularly as a clock. To the hour even. Naturally, my first thought was to freak out. I didn’t tell Mason, even after I took three at–home pregnancy tests, different brands. I hid the used sticks with their stupid plus signs deep in the toilet paper rolls in the wastebasket so no one would know. I didn’t want to tell him in case he thought I planned it or blamed me somehow.
It was just too big of an issue for my life to handle. Already I could barely handle going to class, I could barely handle living in a dorm, away from home, even with my roommate Gemma. I had dreams, the same dreams I still had. To have a baby would fuck everything up. I had plans. And deep down inside, as much as I knew I was in love with Mason, part of me knew that we weren’t going to be together forever. It’s like I already knew he was going to cheat on me. I wasn’t going to be like one of those girls who has a baby just to keep the guy. I knew enough of those girls in high school.
I guess that was one reason to find Jenn’s decision commendable. She was going to go through with it no matter what Dex said or felt.
I told Dex about booking the appointment by myself and being so scared to death about it. I mean, so scared. I didn’t for a moment doubt my decision, as drastic as it was. I didn’t think that what I was doing was wrong. I knew where my morals were. That wasn’t the problem. I just didn’t want to go through such a scary, painful procedure alone. The fact that I was alone said so much. Even though I could have brought a number of people to come with me, I needed to keep this to myself. I was too afraid of what others might think.
It was horrible, to say the least. I’ve blocked out most of it, or maybe time has gotten rid of the feeling. It’s like when you break your arm or something. You know you were in pain and you remember the feeling of being in pain but that actual feeling is gone. This was the same kind of thing. I know it was painful beyond words and kept me doubled up in the bathroom for a week straight after. Gemma just thought it was my stomach, so she didn’t suspect anything. If she had asked, I was pretty sure I would have caved in and told her, just to get it off my chest. But she didn’t and then it became a thing of the past. Another ghost to be locked away, along with the drugs, and the accident and the family psychologist.
And then the dreams would come. I dreamed about the baby, what it would have and could have been. About maybe finding some essence of happiness in my life, about having something there to love unconditionally, something that may have validated myself. I wondered what he or she would have looked like and what they would have done with their life.
There was a lot of guilt. Sometimes it would sneak up on me. I didn’t feel like God was judging me but that I was judging myself without even realizing it. That my subconscious, my soul, was tallying this act up for some future retribution. Maybe I’d fail a test, maybe I’d get cheated on, maybe I’d feel alone for the rest of my life all because deep down inside, I thought I should be punished.
I babbled on to Dex about this for who knows how long. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t light another cigarette or touch the Jack Daniels. He just stared at me. Not intrusively, just…involved.
When I was done, he said asked, “Do you regret it?”
I shook my head. “No. I don’t. Because I think everything happens for a reason and I think we need to go through shit sometimes to strengthen ourselves for whatever happens down the line. I think it made me stronger. It at least made me realize a lot of things.”
“Like…it’s OK to depend on people. That I don’t have to go alone through everything. That keeping people at a distance and hiding everything can hurt more than letting them in.”
The words hung in the air like the tiny bugs that flitted above the lantern’s glow. Dex could have been wincing; the way his brow had come together looked furtive and uncomfortable.
“Are you glad you told me?” he asked, his voice lower, gruffer. His eyes darted the expanse of mine in rapid twitches.
“Yes,” I said strongly. Honestly. “Are you glad you told me?”
He seemed to think about that. “Yeah. I am.”
That warmed my chest more than the Jack Daniels ever could. This heat radiated from my heart.
“So, what are you going to do?”
“What the fuck can I do?”
“Are you going to marry her?” I asked softly. I had only a second of pure, blissful ignorance before he answered. Was I ready for the truth?
He locked his eyes on mine. “I don’t know. I will if I have to.”
A wave of relief. It was better than a yes. But still…
“Do you want to?”
He rubbed his chin scruff with his hand, more of a nervous gesture than one to signify he was thinking deeply about it.
“I’d rather not.”
I almost laughed at that, at the glib way he said it, as if he would rather not have sushi for dinner instead of pizza.
“Why are you with her then? Do you even love her?”
This would have been another question for truth or dare had the bigger one not preyed on my thoughts in the last past 24 hours. I thought I had dug at it earlier with the “I Have Never” game but we both skirted the issue on that. From day one, from the moment I heard Dex talk about Jenn, I always picked up on something. Something that was off about their relationship. I know it’s wrong to speculate on something you have no business in. How can we really know what goes on behind closed doors? It reminded me of a line in Rear Window, “That’s a secret private world you’re looking into there.” People do a lot of things in private that they couldn’t possibly explain in public.
But, I just didn’t get their relationship, at least not from the end I was looking in from. He never really seemed to care that much about her and it didn’t seem she cared that much about him. I had never met Jenn, but other than being a hot babe (Robo Babe, Baberaham Lincoln, etc) there just didn’t seem to be enough to keep someone as complex and neurotic as Dex interested. And therefore, I had to ask. It had been picking at me for too long.
He looked put off by the question. I didn’t blame him. I was almost being rude by asking that. But I had to know. I didn’t care if he thought it was none of my business.
He took his time. Making me wait while he scratched slowly at his sideburns and let his eyes roam the dark forest in a wayward manner, as if he thought he might find an answer lying out there, or at least something to distract him from one.
“I think we should probably turn in,” he finally said in his most simple tone.
I just stared at him in response, coaxing him with my eyes. He was avoiding them still. If I could just look into him, I would know. Even if he hid it all, I would know. I was looking that hard.
“I don’t get it,” I said, feeling a bit defeated despite the revelations at hand. All of this thanks to a spooky island forest and a bottle of whisky.
“Neither do I. But some things in life are safe, kiddo. And sometimes, when you’ve had a life in the falling rock zone, you just want something that’s out of harm’s way.”
I sighed, out of understanding, not annoyance (I was trying to shove that way below) and gave him a quick smile and nod. I got up out of my seat, steadying myself on the table so I didn’t keel over and picked up the books and flashlight. It was late and from the way his eyes were glazing over, I knew that storytime was over and the book cover was slowly closing shut.
I walked over to the tent, grateful that it was only a few feet away, and stopped as I unzipped the flap. I looked behind me at Dex, whose shoulders were moving lightly back and forth. The music had been turned off a while ago. He was swaying to some imaginary beat, as he often did, his outline black against the glow. I could see his fingers wrapped around the bottle, holding it like it was a lifeline.
“Looks like you’re going to have to find something else safe,” I said. He stopped moving but didn’t say anything.
I put my books inside and was about to go in myself but the realization that I hadn’t peed in half a bottle of Jack Daniels made the urge overpowering.
The outhouse was up the path a bit and in the open, just beyond the hill. It was probably the least scary place to have an outdoor toilet, and having used it earlier, I can vouch that there’s nothing remotely terrifying or even all that gross about it. That was in the daylight though. The thought of using it at night was starting to make my heart race.
I grabbed the flashlight and straightened up.
“I’m going to use to the toilet. If I’m not back in five minutes, send help. And by send help, I mean, come and get me.”
I walked past the table and glanced behind me to see if he’d heard me. He looked up from his daze.
“Do you want me to come with you?”
He had somehow gotten drunker in the last five minutes and was slurring. Maybe the conversation finally did his head in.
I actually did want him to come with me, but having him wait outside the bathroom would only make things worse for me. Performance anxiety or something like that.
“I’m good. Just…remember where I’ve gone.”
He smiled. “To the shitter. Don’t fall down the hole!”
That would be the least of my problems.
I aimed the flashlight at the ground and quickly picked my way over the path and across the rocky headland where the outhouse stood. Once I was out of the forest, the wind was cutting a sharp path through the air and reaching into my many layers. The waves roared and crashed onto the surrounding rocks but all I could see was blackness beyond the grainy flashlight. The sky was heavy with clouds that had suddenly rolled in, though in some patches there were faint twinkles from the heavens. It was unfortunate that it wasn’t clear because I bet this place would be a gorgeous example of a fathomless, star–studded night sky. The nearest lights were emanating from the Victoria area, and though they caused the clouds above them to glow a sickly orange color, they weren’t powerful enough to intrude celestially over here.
The thought of stars and the infinite universe put everything into perspective. At least it was enough for me to temporarily forget the horrors of the island and the potency of what Dex and I had been discussing. Even if Jenn was pregnant, even if I had an abortion, even if they ended up getting married, even if lepers had died here, none of that meant anything to a universe that treated our existence like a blink of an eye. In the grand scheme of things, our problems meant nothing.