I was fifteen and so was she. I won't sit here and lie. I won't say we were best friends or that I wasn't curious. The point is, my friend had a baby. We were close enough, she told me why she dropped out of school. I knew the whole story, how she'd gotten messed up on drugs. She'd met some thirty-year-old at Liberty Park and gotten pregnant in the back of his cheap car. The whole thing made me sick--how romantic she tried making it sound, like it was destiny--but despite everything, I have to admit that after she had the baby I was very curious.
I kept saying I was sorry. I couldn't imagine losing a parent.
My friend just bawled and said life isn't meant to be fun. It's hard and that's what makes some people so bad. She said sometimes she worried she'd be bad too, if she let the sadness come in.
I've always been filled with rainbows and sunshine. I told her all she needed was God and a good attitude to get her through, but apparently I didn't know squat, or she never listened because less than a year later she was completely wasted on drugs.
So, in ninth grade, I went to see her and the baby. I rang her grandparents' doorbell. They lived in a nice part of town and I felt strange just being there. Her grandma answered the door. "You're Elisa?" she asked. "I've heard so many nice things about you."
I walked into their house. It smelled like apples and cinnamon. I knew her grandma was made of gold, but that couldn't make up for anything, not after I saw my friend. She rested on the couch. Her skin pulled tightly over her gaunt features and she looked frail from more than having a baby. I gasped when I saw her graying face and puffy eyes. "Are you okay?" I asked.
"Me, man. Hell yeah. You know I'm doing great."
"So . . .," I wanted to leave. She was higher than her mom the day she overdosed. "Maybe I should . . . " then I remembered why I'd come. "Maybe I should see the baby. Did you have a boy or a girl?"
"Don't know. Don't care."
"What? You don't know?" I couldn't imagine her not caring. She'd changed so much.
She pointed toward a laundry basket at the side of the room. It was filled with towels and for the first time I noticed, the towels were moving. I walked over, tears flooding my eyes; I was so worried about what I'd see. I paused after I got there and wanted to scream. "You put your baby in a laundry basket? You . . . why would you do that?" The baby mewed like a kitten. It kicked off a towel and only wore a diaper.
"It's not my damn baby. The family's coming up for it later. Why waste money on a crib? Why put it somewhere nice when it ain't even mine?"
But a towel--she couldn't even give the baby a blanket? "I wasn't trying to accuse you. . . .," I said. "It's not an open adoption is it?"
"Hell no. I refuse to be like my mom. She stayed in my life and look what I've turned into. I won't do that to a kid." She rolled to her side, that friend of mine who looked worse than death. She pulled a cigarette out of her pajama pocket and started smoking it, right there on her grandmother's Victorian couch.
I wished I wouldn't have gone there; the whole thing shocked me. I couldn't fathom having a baby at fifteen. I couldn't think about being on drugs. I couldn't imagine losing my mom and my virginity. The whole situation hurt, especially because I knew how far my friend had fallen.
I gazed at her again, then stepped back. It was like seeing a ghost. She'd been so beautiful in seventh grade, but after having that baby, she looked old and haggard--just like her mom before she died.
I left as her grandmother yelled and took the smokes away. I'd been traumatized, by a girl who wouldn't look at her baby, by a grandma who was more concerned with baking than holding her own great-grandchild. I couldn't get over the baby in the basket, or my friend who turned into her own druggie mother.
I walked back to my house. I didn't want to see something like that ever again. But the fact remained, I couldn't erase the memory.
I never found out what sex the baby was. I never held the baby, or gave the love it deserved. I couldn't comprehend why the grandmother didn't hold her great-grandchild, I guess I didn't understand until I had Zeke. . . .