Once there was a girl. Smart, reasonably pretty, athletic, and naive about how dating really worked because her big brothers helped keep her away from teen males for her own good. In her freshman year of high school she met a boy. He was two years ahead of her and had a job at a local hospital as a janitor in the maternity ward. Something about him drew her, his self assured charm perhaps.
For their first date, he took her to her favorite lighthouse and let her spend hours just photographing the sea and the sunset. He bought her film for her old Pentax 35mm as her first month anniversary present, and sent roses to her at school on her fourteenth birthday. He swept her off her feet and her brothers put away the shotguns when he came to the door for her first high school formal.
One week later a friend noticed the bruise on her left leg while she was changing after their dance class. She explained that she’d had a hard fall from her horse and it was just going to take a while to fade. This was nothing new, she’d been out of dance the year before with a broken ankle after a fall in a jumping competition. But it just seemed strange, not like her to fear somebody seeing marks after so many years of them knowing where the skinned knuckles and bruised knees came from.
Time ticked on and in November the same friend was sad to hear that school and riding was taking up too much time and she’d have to drop dance… but the girl did look over-tired and a little worn. She’d lost weight, unhealthy in somebody battling her way back from bulimia and self-doubt; and she was wearing colored tights to class to hide the bruises from her horse, who must have gone insane and begun throwing her at walls for fun.
December came and her brothers left on their last big trip as “the boys” before the oldest moved overseas and another finally married. They kissed their little sister goodbye and reminded her not to do anything they would do. She gave them that same sheepish grin and said she knew better. Then she went off to her doctor’s appointment – she’d insisted on going alone again – and they finished packing to leave.
Christmas came and went, and the girl cried herself to sleep after her break up with by the first boyfriend she’d ever had. Her brothers offered to come home, but she insisted it was fine. No need to make threats on his life… he had his reasons to leave her.
School started again and the girl looked a little pudgy in her new clothes. For somebody normally terrified of gaining weight, it looked like she was eating a bit less healthy these days. After days in and out of the nurse's office her friend heard at lunch that the girl had been sent home after getting ill in the hall on her way to the nurse, rumors flew that she had been sent to the hospital and it was serious.
She failed to show up for class the next day, and the day after. Calls to her cell phone went unanswered and her brothers said only that she was going to be home for a bit until she felt better. They seemed unhappy, genuinely avoiding the topic when asked. The following Monday arrived and still no sign of her at the start of their first period mid-term. It was seven hours later when her best friend came by to drop off missed work and found the front door wide open. She was there; skin still warm and blood beginning to pool around her from the wounds to her belly. Police and ambulance arrived and swept her off to the hospital, investigators questioned everyone and made notes while shaking their heads and seeming to accuse everybody of something while knowing nothing. Word came from the hospital, this was both an attempted murder, and a homicide… there were two victims with blood on that floor.
Somewhere along the way she had lost control of the situation. Perhaps it was when she let him start choosing her clothes, or how she did her make-up. It might have been when he punched her in the ribs for saying she couldn’t go out that weekend because she had a paper due Monday and a horseshow Saturday. But she had forgiven him those things, believing when he said it was just that he was scared she was cheating on him because his last girlfriend had. She forgave him and he promised not to be jealous.
It might have been when he pinned her to the kitchen table and forced her to choose sucking his cock or letting him take her virginity bareback. Not that what she said mattered, he did both and then complemented her for looking hot when her mascara was running and her thighs were stained with blood. Perhaps that was the point where her hold on any reasonable relationship was lost. When she let him walk out the door while she cleaned herself up and hid the evidence because her father’s reaction would be to beat her and her brothers’ reactions would be to beat him. Either way, by then, nothing mattered but surviving.
So when she sat trembling in the confessional of her mother's curch, being told that doing anything about stopping the baby growing inside her was nothing short of murder. She believed it. After all, the cleric pointed out that she hadsaid he could fuck her as long as her promised not to break her nose or leave marks on her face or neck. She let her body be used, what else could she expect? She made up her mind that as long as he promised not to hit her stomach or choke her until she blacked out, he could keep doing what he wanted and she would do what she could to hide what he’d done.
Then the day came when he picked her up and took her to the clinic again. Because they thought she was 16 they never asked about why her parents weren’t there, after all… she was paying in cash and her boyfriend was always there smiling and talking about his future son. So when the ultrasound tech said, “congrats Mommy, you’ll be shopping for a whole lot of pink in the next few months”, the only thing she felt was fear and pain as he slowly crushed the bones in her hand.
He told her she was on her own. Swore she had lied to him and he’d had enough. She must have been cheating and he’d never let her trap him with a weak little girl. He peeled out of the driveway seeing red, and for the first time since September, she wasn’t terrified to breathe too deeply anymore. But who do you tell when you’ve hidden it knowing your drunk of a Dad will beat you just as much? But when you're vomiting every morning, when you're gaining weight and going from a size 4 to a size 8 in just over a month... somebody is bound to ask questions eventually.
That was what she explained to the investigator and social worker in the ICU before they wheeled her back off for another surgery. She’d carry the guilt for the rest of her life, the guilt that she had decided to know so they could pick a name and instead he picked out her grave.
She carried that guilt each time they showed her a heartbeat on the ultrasound. She carried it as they asked “do you want to know what you’re having” while Husband held her hand. She carried it into the delivery room, prepared that He would walk out and leave them both as she labored for hours with his first born. And she could only cry a silent thank-you when they announced “You have a son”.
Someday she will cross to the next world, and hold a little girl so tightly in her arms that time stops. Someday, she’ll be able to say how sorry she is for letting him hurt that little girl. But until that day, she will tell other girls that the choice to let a child go when they cannot provide a safe and happy life is not and never will be murder. Until that day, she will stand as an escort for the women and girls who enter those clinics for any question or worry. Until that day comes when all girls can make their choices without fear of beatings or abuse, or death.
Murder comes at the point of a knife or barrel of a gun out of vengeance for a perceived wrong. But putting a baby through hell because of the judgements of others, that is just as cruel even if it results in a “life”.