So I’m 35 today, which is OLD. Not really, obviously. But somehow, 20 years have gone by without me noticing. 20 years ago today, my school found out I was pregnant.
As per birthday tradition,here’s an extract from The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No, where I spill my guts on Happy 15.
So, I’d thought turning fifteen was a big deal. Of course, that was before.Pregnancy changed all that. September 6thstarted like any other day in many a first trimester: random gagging, followed by an intimate conversation with the loo and topped off with a small, redundant ginger biscuit for nausea. Which doesn’t work, by the way, in case you wondered. Still, a cookie’s a cookie and not to be sniffed at.
My family gave me presents that morning, as they’d always done, but it wasn’t the same. There was none of the excitement and goofy aw-shucks-ness that came with previous birthdays. It was all a bit of a let-down, even though I got the Revlon make-up I’d asked for ages ago. I suppose it was my first adult birthday – the one where you realise you’re not so important after all and the world doesn’t actually give a rat’s ass about your cake. No more Special Treatment for the Birthday Girl when you’re a grown-up. No gold star, no silver tiara. Just another day of scrubbing the toilet and taking out the rubbish. Or telling your teacher you’re pregnant. As the case may be.
Besides the whole issue of Being-Pregnant-At-Fourteen-Slash-Fifteen – rather a big issue, in anyone’s book – I was also dealing with rampaging pregnancy hormones. I was prone to sudden, irrational crying jags that could last for hours and send friends, family and little dogs diving for cover. I was impatient and sometimes cruel. I hated everybody and everything, and all I wanted to do was sleep, puke and eat cookies. A textbook case, in other words.
They say knowing you’re normal makes you feel better – I say PUH! Until you’re at least four months pregnant, normal doesn’t exist. You know you’re crazy and you know that no-one else in the history of baby-making has ever felt as crap as you do right now. And you really don’t care to be told that everything you’re feeling is perfectly natural and will pass soon enough. Of course you’re going to be a retching, oozing blimp for the rest of your life.
It was in this unstable frame of mind that I set off for school, even though the thought of smelly science labs made my head hurt. I gritted my teeth and tried to swallow the fits of rage that kept popping up whenever anyone said “happy birthday”.
I sat glowering and muttering grumpily to myself at the group table in class. The first period of the day was S.U.R.E. – Silent Uninterrupted Reading for Enjoyment, that is. Otherwise known as Sundry Unfulfilled Randiness for Everybody, depending on the time of the month and the table at which you were sitting. Busy, busy pheromones; no rest for the horny. Except for me, obviously. I couldn’t get within ten metres of a pheromone without feeling queasy.
Ms H was the most feared person in the school (except for the janitor, a mean, Jelly Tot-shaped man who wore nasty, grubby white lab coats over teeny little shorts, and Joey, the ghost in the Home Ec corridor). She had terrorised generations of unruly teenagers, her luridly dyed, reddish-purple hair and yellow suits the stuff of legend. Do not tangle with Ms H when she’s wearing yellow. It was a chicken or the egg thing, I don’t know which came first – the migraine-inducing outfit or the vicious mood. Either way, it was one of those things everybody knew. I want to say she was wearing yellow that day, but I can’t be sure.
I don’t know who it was, but somebody set her off. She must have thought someone at our table was chatting, that cardinal sin of the schoolroom, a transgression far worse than talking. Maybe someone had been, but it wasn’t us. We were reading innocently. Which is why I was so astonished when she lost it. Maybe she was contending with hormonal issues of her own. Whatever the reason, she descended on us like a purple-haired Aztec monster goddess. Eyes bulging, neck veins popping, bosoms swinging wildly from side to side. Ms H was furious.
“I don’t know what to do with you lot! There’s just no respect! You think you can do as you please! If you want to chat, you’d better get out and do it somewhere else!” she shouted. She ranted and raved for at least five minutes, arms waving and spit flying. It was totally unfair. We were hardly the “problem kids”; we were all reasonably well-behaved and could be relied upon not to start any fires or smoke dope in class.
Under normal circumstances, I’d probably have sat there blushing and trying not to cry, waiting for the floor to open up and swallow me. But normal
circumstances these were not. My blood began to boil. There’s really no better way to describe it. As I was getting angrier and angrier, holding my breath and biting my tongue, my bum involuntarily clenching the seat, it felt as if my blood was progressively heating up to a gentle simmer, then to a brisk boil until it became an aggressive, red-hot throb under my skin, my head pounding apace, as I fumed at the crazy injustice of it all. I’d never been so damn mad in all my life. I wanted to jump up and tell her to stop being such a loony. I wanted to punch her on the nose. I didn’t for a minute imagine myself doing it, though. Of course not. Good Girls Do Not Shout At People In Authority. But, wooh boy, was I wrong. They do. Sometimes they do worse. And when Good Girls Disobey, you had better bloody well get out of the way.
I was having a really crap day – it was my birthday, I was pregnant, nauseous, scared and angry. And here comes a mad woman accusing me of something I hadn’t done. I’d had enough. If this were a cartoon, my face would’ve been bright red and steam would have been billowing out of my ears.
Suddenly my clenched bum gave up its valiant struggle – it could keep me on my seat no longer. I shot to my feet, stumbling away a few paces. Ms H stopped in mid-harangue, stunned into silence. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. The whole class sat enthralled: this was good stuff. The mousy little girl nobody ever noticed was about to get herself into some deep shit and they were fascinated.
I stood at the table, shocked that I’d even gone this far. Oooh crap, what the hell now? I couldn’t very well sit down again. That would look stupid. Besides, I was still angry. Wild-eyed, I was running on adrenaline now and not thinking straight at all. Sensible Tracy was cowering in a corner somewhere, gibbering and terrified. She was no help.
“And where do you think you’re going?” Ms H asked. She had recovered enough composure to rustle up some face-saving sarcasm. She truly thought I’d surrender, but we were both horrified to discover that this was not going to happen.
“I’m … I’m … I’m going out! I’m leaving!” I declared, all overblown bluster and pretend confidence. The high-noon moment ticked away as we stood staring each other down, eyes narrowed and fingers twitching. The class sat breathless: who would fold first? As the adrenaline and anger drained away, it left only dismay and terminal embarrassment. I had to get out of there before I burst into tears. I started towards the door.
“You’re not going anywhere, young lady! Get back here this instant!” yelled Ms H, nostrils flaring and panic rising. Clearly, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I ignored her this time – if I’d tried to talk, I would’ve cracked. I swept out of the class in what I hoped was dramatic fashion, tripping over a small wastepaper basket and nearly breaking an ankle. As I slammed the door behind me, the nausea and flashy lights started. I almost passed out then, but I staggered into the library and sat down to catch my breath. I skulked in the teen fiction section for two hours before anybody found me.
Ms H didn’t drag me to the principal demanding a public hanging for gross insubordination. Oh no, it was far worse than that. She sat me down in her office (a grand name for the printing room, a dusty cavern with ancient printing machines lurking threateningly in the corner) and flicked the Concerned Mentor switch.
“Tell me, Tracy. There must be something going on. This isn’t like you…” She was actually being kind, or at least trying. I was silent, sullen, miserable. I wouldn’t tell her, I wouldn’t. If I blabbed now, it would spoil everything. It would all be over. They’d send me away and our Plan would be ruined.
I tried to hold onto my anger, hoping it would keep my mouth shut. I thought she was trying to trick me, acting concerned so I’d spill my guts all over her yellow shoes (they were yellow! I remember now! So she must have been wearing her yellow suit that day, after all! I knewit!)
She started guessing.
“Is everything All Right At Home? Are your parents getting divorced?” I shook my head. Good grief.
“Are you eating properly? You haven’t been starving yourself have you? You know, you girls and your diets, I just don’t understand it.”
Jay-zus woman! Do I look like a freaking anorexic to you? I nearly laughed at that one, but just shook my head again. It was the Spanish Inquisition without the instruments of torture, although I was beginning to wonder about those printing machines.
She ran down the list of Society’s Ills, trying to get me to admit to something. Abusive parents, drugs, depression, bulimia – everything except pregnancy. I don’t know why she didn’t think of it. Perhaps, like everyone else, she couldn’t quite believe that Dreary Virginal Tracy had ever been within spitting distance of a boy.
I was starting to lose it. Somewhere around, “Are You Trapped In A Polygamous Religious Cult?”, my strained self-control snapped and shot across the room like a cheap elastic band.Twang! I’d tried so hard to keep quiet, but she was like a Jack Russell with a bone and I was no match for her.
“No! No! It’s nothing like that! I’m pregnant!” I barked. Shock. Horror. Damn.
She opened and closed her mouth a few times, looking just like a goldfish. A yellow goldfish with purple hair. Sputter, gasp, dribble. “Are you sure? At your age, your menstrual cycle hasn’t settled down yet, you know. And these terrible crash diets can disrupt your periods too. Yes, yes, that must be it.”
Jeez, she wasn’t letting go of this anorexia thing. I hadn’t been skinny to start with and at nine weeks I wasn’t huge, but nobody would be confusing me with Kate Moss any time soon. She was clutching at straws, a little frantic, trying to convince herself it was all a big mistake. I really did not have time for this. I spoke patiently and calmly, though I still felt like punching her in the nose.
“No ma’am, I’m sure. I’ve been to the doctor already. It’s been confirmed; I’m about nine weeks now.”
Panic gave way to haughty indignation. When all else fails, bully someone…
“What about your parents?” she snapped. “Where are they in all this? Did they not love you enough that you had to look for love with this… this … boy?”
“No! My parents love me! It’s not their fault. They didn’t do anything wrong!” I heard that childish shrillness in my voice again, but I couldn’t help it, she was beginning to annoy me. She could think what she liked about me, but I wasn’t having any interfering old bag disparage my parents, who had always done their best for us and were at no stage to blame for my misdemeanours.
Ms H was having none of it. Her middle-school psychology seminars were quite clear on the matter. It was all down to not enough love, not enough discipline, not enough boundaries, not enough green, leafy vegetables.
The cross-examination continued while I wondered where my next cookie was coming from. I felt sorry for her, eventually. She seemed bewildered, desperately scrabbling for some shred of sanity in a world gone mad. She’d never expected this of me, she told me. I had so much potential, she told me. I could have done so much better. She wanted to know where it had all gone wrong. Surely there must have been one traumatic, defining moment that had plunged me into this harrowing, downward spiral of degradation and self-destruction (big on psychology, even bigger on big words, Ms H). Repressed childhood abuse, perhaps? Unresolved weaning issues? Absent father, domineering mother? Surely there must have been something?
I tried to tell her it wasn’t that complicated, but she wouldn’t hear me. I didn’t dare mention my Destiny and Providence theory. Nor the other popular hypothesis, the one where Shit Happens. I don’t think either would have gone down well. She leaped from one wild conclusion to the next, and I waited until she was ready to listen. I fantasised about ginger biscuits and calculated the distance to the nearest toilet. Recent experience had taught me that it’s best not to say too much at times like these. Best just to nod sagely with a suitably contrite expression, and let her get things off her chest. Rational thinking would return in a while, but for now it was all bluster and reproach. That was okay. I was familiar with the procedure.
She eventually ran out of steam, as I’d known she would, and then I told her about The Plan. I told her I was planning to keep the baby, finish my schooling by correspondence and be a good mother. I told her that my parents were supporting me and we were going to be okay. It sounded real when I said it, it sounded like it could really work. It was a good plan. She seemed impressed that we’d managed to get this far without her.
Then I broached the subject I’d been dreading.
“Ma’am,” I began. “I … um … are you going to tell the principal? I know I’ll have to leave then. Please, please, if you could just let me finish this year, I promise I won’t be a problem. I really have to finish. Please don’t tell him.”
Then I cried again. I was exhausted. Stress, hormones and the strain of acting as if everything was normal had wiped me out completely. My body was tired, my mind was tired. I just wanted to go back to bed and sleep until April. Now, on top of everything else, it looked as if I might have to quit school – all because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut for three lousy months. What jolly good fun.