When I was 16 years old, I met a 19 year old man child that my mother would never approve of. Although my parents divorced when I was 11 years old, I spent weekends with my mother at her chic condo in an exclusive neighborhood. She had married me off in her mind to the scrawny pimply son of one of her Buppie girlfriends, the ex-wife of a dentist who was also comfortably ensconced in her own condo (this boy later became a Pro-football player....but I am still glad we did not date). I had already been fitted for my debutante dress, and she envisioned a life for me that would take me off to exotic chi-chi places, or at least to an Ivy League school. She lamented that she never got to travel or stay in a dorm room because she had met my father during her last year of a college located only miles from her mother’s house, and was “forced” to get married when she discovered she was pregnant. She knew I would not be stuck. I would date “prince charming”, get a degree, travel the world, and then maybe marry and have children. When I showed up with a “date” during her second marriage ceremony, she barely noticed. This boy from a poor family that lived with a single mother on the wrong side of town was merely a trifle. There was no WAY that any daughter of hers was serious about someone like him. I was only 16 and a 16 year old girl was fickle at best, completely confused at the worst. No, this new boy was nothing to worry about. He would disappear like the few that appeared on her doorstep before him.
When I introduced my new boyfriend to my father two weeks later, my father had four questions. Who were his people? Was he in college? Did he work? Were we having protected sex? My answers were truthful. Miss ____ is his mother and she says that she has been to your office many times. He was about to begin his first semester at a community college. Yes, he was a landscaper and made fast food on the weekends. NO! We are not even doing that! What do you mean?!? (Complete embarrassment from his daughter, with whom he had never broached the subject before, and had not even explained the use of a tampon to). My father clasped hands with my “boyfriend” and showed him politely to the door. My heart fluttered, “What do you think, Dad?” I asked, eager for my father’s approval as always. “If you like it, I love it. I think you need some birth control.” I explained to my father that he was really embarrassing me and that I was not doing THAT. My father then told me that I was at the age where THAT was a normal urge and he would rather be safe than sorry. He told me that there was no way for him to embarrass me, because he had brought me into the world (He literally had. He caught me and cut my umbilical cord while he was the first Black resident at the hospital where I was born) I told him that I was not expecting to do THAT, because this same boy had asked politely to kiss me and had tried nothing but hand holding (which is why I decided to bring him home in the first place). However, I did what Daddy said (as I do to this day) and I left the familiar world of my pediatrician’s office in order to get birth control pills from a gynecologist. I was actually pissed off when I learned that someone was going to have to examine me with a cold speculum and slimy jelly; just so that I could get a few pills. But, I told myself that I was still not going to do THAT.
A year passed, and much to my mother’s dismay, I was still hanging onto Mr. “All wrong for you.” He would pick me up after track practice in whatever piece of shit beater he could borrow to bring me home in. Sometimes we would stop for an ice cream cone. Sometimes we would go to the park and he would push me on the swings. There were a million reasons why I loved him (and still do) and I knew at once that I did. We spoke on the phone each night; sometimes I fell asleep while listening to his voice. We spoke about things that were important to each other. I told him my dreams; at least the ones that were important to a 17 year old me. One of them involved Drake Relays.
I had been running track for years, and had even attended a junior Olympics. I knew that my father had been a record holding sprinter in his heyday, and I used to never tire of him telling the story about his great showdown in the 100m dash against his nemesis during the Drake Relays. My father beat his rival, and broke a record that year. I wanted to run in the relays. I didn’t know if I was good enough to break any records, but qualifying and running on the same track that my father had before me was enough. Every year from the time I was a tiny girl, my father would buy tickets to the Relays, and every year on the way there, he would repeat his story. When we had found our seats, I would watch with pride as my father stood when the announcer would ask all former participants of the relays to stand for a round of applause. I told myself that one day I would come and do the same while my own children watched me.
I lived on a track during the winter months. I began preparing to qualify by running indoor track during the season. When the snow began to thaw in March, I worked like a dog with my team mates. If I did not qualify for an individual event, I would make sure to anchor my sprint relay team to a qualifying time. I was going for it. I knew that this was the year, and that a track scholarship was in the wings. By the middle of March, my 4x100 team had qualified to go to Drake. My dream was coming true!
The first week of April, I ran in the All City meet, and was once again victorious. However, I became ill and was placed on heavy antibiotics in order to kill the bacteria that had invaded my body. I was a bit panicked that I would not recover in time to run at Drake within three weeks time, but my doctor assured me that I would.
The third week of April, I began to vomit. I purged until the room would spin and I could not rise from the bathroom floor. I was clinging to the bowl when the doorbell rang. My boyfriend let himself in when I didn’t answer because he knew that I had been extremely ill. He phoned my doctor, but my doctor did not have an appointment open. I was scared to death of the emergency room, and did not want to go there. We decided that we had no choice but to go and see my father. I did not want to do so because I knew that he did not like to treat family members, and I had moved out of his house two weeks before (his girlfriend had spoken horribly about my mother during a drunken fit on a trip to New Orleans. I felt that my Father had not done enough to protect me and I decided that I would not enter his home again as long as she was around). However, I gave in because by that time I was so weak that I needed help getting myself together. My boyfriend carried me to his rusted out old beater, and we made the trip to my father’s office unannounced, while I held a plastic shopping bag to my mouth and vomited furiously, until I heaved nothing but frothy yellow stomach lining.
I entered into the office through the front like any regular patient, because I somehow felt that I was no longer welcome through the back, where the staff and family would always enter when they arrived. The secretary, Judy, was surprised to see me, but knew right away that I needed help. She let me bypass the lobby full of people who had been patiently waiting to see my father. I was placed in one of the sparsely furnished exam rooms and told to put on a gown. I did as I was told (I did a lot of that back then. Boy, have I changed.)
My father came in and exclaimed “Pooh, what are you doing here? What’s going on with you?” concern in his eyes like we had never argued and I had never left my comfy room in his home for the one that my mother kept for me on weekends. “I” Gag “am” Gag “SIIIIIIICK!” I managed to sputter as my boyfriend rubbed my back. My father called for his nurse Rita, whom we all affectionately called Mama Rita, because she was old enough to be his mother, and looked much like the pictures I had seen of Mrs. Clause. Mama Rita came into the room, gave me a wink, and then proceeded to draw blood from me upon my father’s instruction.
I was told to get dressed, and then shown to my father’s private study, located in the back corner of the practice. I sat miserably with the door closed, the medical books lining the walls seemed to pulsate and swim. I was soaked in sweat. I wanted to go lay down.
I heard loud whispering on the other side of the door. Judy opened it, peeked in, and then shut it just as quickly. I heard more whispering, and then what sounded like soft crying. Rita opened the door, and peered in at me just as Judy had, but her eyes were watery and bloodshot, when they had not been only twenty minutes prior. She too quickly shut the door, and I heard more whispering. I began to panic. I turned to my boyfriend and began to cry. Why was everyone acting so strange? I was dying! I had some horrible ailment that was going to preclude me from running at Drake and then ultimately take my life! My strong and devoted father did not have the strength to come in and tell me himself. He was somewhere on the other side of the door trying to summon the courage to tell me that I would not live for much longer! I wept, and gagged.
Finally, the door opened, and my father stepped through it. I wanted to be swallowed up by the floor before he could give me the horrendous news. He looked at me and asked “when was your last period?” I looked at him blankly “huh?” How could he be concerned with periods at a time like this?!?! I was on my way to the local Funeral Home in short order and he was asking me about “girl time”?!?!
Dad handed me a piece of paper with the word POSITIVE on it. He looked at me and stated “You aren’t the first, you won’t be the last. Keep going. You’ll make it.” As I stopped weeping about the loss of my life and started weeping about the beginning of another, my father walked out of the room and closed the door behind him. He had patients to see.