That summer was twenty-nine years ago and still I think about it all the time, like a big elephant that is always in the room.
The four of us girls had been friends forever, most of our parents were friends, and even some of our grandparents. We were anchored in a church community, which we had by then outgrown, and seemed to care little about.
Gina and I still see each other about once a year. We never talk about that summer. But the elephant is always there, and we dance around his huge presense, trying to pretend his bulk and large footprints don't exist. But he's so huge it is almost impossible to ignore him, even if only in our individual minds.
He was there when she had her first child. He was there when I had my first miscarriage. Everything between us seemed to change after that, though we are bonded by this experience.
Gina and I lay in our swimming garb on the raft hanging on as the other two girls skied behind a fast gold boat. The twenty-something guys pulling them were driving the boat too close to shore, too close to the raft, and laughing their beer-addled heads off about it. The Lake Patrol was nowhere to be seen -- there was no way to chase down every newly legal 21-year-old drinking cheap beer on a boat. The raft bobbed up and down and Gina looked like she was going to throw up any second.
Gina was gorgeous. She was tanned and tall and looked like Goldie Hawn, the Goldie Hawn of Laugh In. She used baby oil with a little iodine to get her skin that perfect golden color, while I wore a huge floppy hat and a terrycloth robe to cover my pale white skin. I had already been burned badly several times, and I had to be careful.
We always had such a great time at the lake. While I played Midge to the three others as Barbie, I met a lot of guys who hovered around the raft twenty yards off shore and near Marie's parents cottage.
"Ellie," Gina said, "I need to tell you something while the other are out on the boat."
She blurted out, "I'm pregnant."
As the raft continued to bob, those words seemed to hang in the air, stagnant and still, even with the continued motion of the water.
"Well, aren't you going to say anything," she said. "I said I am pregnant."
I didn't know what to say. Gina was my roommate in a condo in the city for the last two years. Her boyfriend, who was only twenty, just left for basic training for the Army. His name was Mark and I thought he was a dick. I was glad to see him go.
"What are you going to do?" I said, giving her little sympathy and lots of incredublity.
"What do you think I'm going to do?" She answered my question with a question and we didn't talk about it too much more.
She went to the doctor the following Monday to make sure the urine stick that said pregnant was correct. She was right at twelve weeks pregnant. If she was going to have the procedure in the doctor's office, she needed to do it this week.
Mark had been gone for four weeks, and was unreachable at his base in South Carolina.
She scheduled her procedure for Wednesday and asked me to go with her. I said, of course I would go. I went to my boss, who had a sympathetic ear, and she gave me two days off. In the word of work, this was eons ago, when one could reasonably take off work without the world falling to pieces. This boss also told me her own story of an unplanned pregnancy. She got pregnant in her forties and had it terminated; at the same time her teenager daughter carried a pregnancy to full-term and gave the baby up for adoption. Wow!
Tuesday we went to the ob/gyn office. It was the same office where my mother and most of her friends went. I really didn't want to run into any of them. The last thing my friend wanted was to see one of the ladies from church waiting for her annual Pap smear.
My friend had to have some kind of preparation, involving the dialation of her cervix. She didn't tell me exactly what it was, but she was uncomfortable for the next day.
It was a very long evening. She couldn't even talk to Mark in basic training unless the Red Cross intervened. She wasn't planning on marrying him or having the baby, so she felt backed against a wall. She barely supportered herself with no college degree and a job in fast food. There was no way she could support a baby. And her parents! Oh, my God, her parents who were almost fundamentalists, would have a cow. An absolute cow. No, this couldn't stand.
When we got home, my boyfriend Rich was there. I didn't tell anyone what was going on, but I had to tell Rich. He was pissed because he felt like Gina needing me was interrupting on his time with me. He lived 100 miles away and we saw each other only once or twice a month.
We had a huge argument. He went to sleep in my bed. I roamed the apartment and went outside for awhile, gazing at the stars while Gina slept under a haze induced by her doctor's prescrption. Rich snored away in my room, unconcerned.
The next day Rich hardly spoke to me before Gina and I left early for the doctor's office. I drove my old Chevelle and neither of us said a word, but Gina was crying softly. I asked her if she wanted me to go into the procedure with her. I was really glad when she said she didn't.
She came out -- after a very long time -- pale and shaking. I drove the car under the lobby awning and helped her get into the car. She was crying and I was crying, for what was never to be, for what she had lost, for her battered sense of right and wrong.
When we got home she asked me to sit with her in her room. I made us each a cup of tea and went into her room and shut the door. We sat on her bed and I held her in my arms for what seemed like hours.
Rich banged on her door at dinner and said he wanted to talk to me. I went downstairs and he said he didn't understand why she needed me to hold her. He implied that it was something sexual, and I was never so mad at anyone in my entire life. While our relationship had been moving forward before this episode, I knew it was now over. By the end of the summer, I dumped him because I knew I deserved better. Gina's issues weren't about me -- but his reaction to them showed me his true character.
Gina married two years later and got pregnant immediately after the wedding. We are still friends, but we never talk about that summer. I have no idea where Rich lives. The other two girls never knew what happened.
By the next weekend, the four of us were back at the lake, laughing, telling tales, drinking cheap beer, and oogling the good-looking guys who buzzed our raft with their ski boats. Life moved on.