A Stone Skipped V4: God Speaks Through Fortune Cookies

Lorraine moved in as planned. Only seven days separated our upcoming birthdays, so we planned a bash of epic proportions. Because we were both turning 20, we recruited an older friend to purchase nearly 100 dollars in liquor, and invited everyone we knew with the promise of an open bar. Nearly 70 people showed up over the course of the evening to celebrate with the two of us. Neither of us knew some of the attendees because they were friends of friends, but it didn’t matter and there was an open invitation to everyone to crash anywhere they could find space rather than driving home intoxicated. I spent the evening making friends with everyone I came in contact with, truly enjoying my party. I drank heavily, and for the third time in my entire life, smoked pot.

I recall things becoming blurry in the dark of that warm July evening. I can only conjure up fragments of memories. I talked to some random guy, and he told me we had met once before, but I didn’t remember him. I needed to sit down. Walked to a nearby tree, hugged it as I heaved, then sat in the spoils of my partying. The random guy picked me up and helped me into the house. I insisted that a shower was needed. I fell hard, pulling the curtain into the shower with me. The random guy carried me, naked, from the bathroom and put me in bed. I pulled the random guy into bed with me, devoured him with carnal greed, then fell asleep satisfied.

The next morning, I emerged from my room with a hangover that matched the magnitude of the party the night before. The festivities had died; the bright morning light cascaded in on numerous sleeping people scattered throughout the living room and kitchen. I nudged anyone I didn’t know and told them it was time to get out. One by one, people gathered themselves and left. The commotion stirred most everyone from their sleep, and once only real friends remained it was decided that the party needed to just pick up where it left off and last the entire weekend.  

It didn’t end with the weekend, however.  For the next two months, our house was party central. Interrupted only by our work schedules, the core group of friends spent their every waking moments rolling joints, taking shots, and participating in all sorts of fuckery. I stole booze and smokes from the gas station I worked at; Lorraine provided sustenance from the pizza joint she worked at. The others acquired the pot and blow, both very new habits for me. We barely slept. I had my pick of partners to keep my insatiable sex drive occupied, sometimes sharing pleasure with several people at a time. We rode high on the thrills of life, but our demeanors slowly changed and things fell apart as the money for food, utilities and rent was used instead to feed addictions. When the electricity was shut off, we rented a generator to fuel a lamp and the stereo as we sat around the last keg we could manage to scrape money together for.  

When the landlord came knocking on the door for his rent money, my friends and I snuck out the back door and hid in the woods behind the house until he left. It was decided then, that the best thing they could do was gather some things and go camp out for a few days on the private river access Lorraine’s parents owned. We thought surely we’d figure something out while we sobered up. But we didn’t figure anything out.  Arguments ensued as tension grew between us, and one by one, we went our separate ways.

I was greeted with an eviction notice when I returned to the house a week later. The only thing more accosting to me than the eviction notice was the smell and appearance of the house as I stepped inside. Empty beer cans and spilled bottles of liquor littered the living room floor. The refrigerator, still full of food weeks after the power had been shut off, reeked of rot and had a multitude of maggots squirming in it. My television and microwave had been stolen and both bedrooms looked like they had been tossed by the mafia. Not knowing what else to do, I called my parents and asked if they would help me move back home.

The disdain my parents held for the way I had been living was voiced repeatedly by my mother as we worked to clean up the mess. Knowing fully I had been a disappointment, I quickly grew tired of hearing her complain but didn’t feel justified to tell her to just shut the fuck up about it. Instead, I swallowed my pride and took the verbal beating. It wore on me though, and when my mother proceeded to tell me that I would be handing over every paycheck to her, and how I was only going to receive a small portion to spend on myself, I contacted the guys I had recently spent her summer of debauchery with and had them pick me up. As I was leaving, Mom told me not to bother coming back. I was no longer her daughter, and I would not be allowed to corrupt my siblings with my lifestyle choices.

Staying with the fellas was not a solution, just a different kind of chaos. The partying had not ended at my house. It had just moved to a new location. Tension once again grew quickly among all the housemates, and I was feeling helpless as homelessness became a new and urgent worry. I called a friend I hadn’t spoken to since my split with Shawn, but found myself unable to tell Beth anything significant and abruptly ended the conversation as despair grew inside my mind. Sensing something wasn’t right, Beth drove to see me. As she pulled into the parking lot she saw me climbing onto the roof of the apartment building through an open window. The thought of killing myself had seeped into my mind, but the fact that Beth had cared enough to detect a problem and come to the rescue was enough to bring me in from the roof. Beth sympathized with me, and suggested maybe I just needed a little help. We gathered my things, then drove to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

I was admitted under a seventy-two-hour suicide watch and slept between visits from various hospital staff. My desire to get help drove me to tell the doctors how I had been living for months. But rather than suggest some form of therapy or medication, they told me I was an alcoholic and once the hold was up they released me with very little in the way of help or resources other than a flyer about Alcoholics Anonymous. Beth’s aunt Jess and uncle Ben were also sympathetic to my situation and had graciously invited me to stay in their basement while I got back on my feet.

Grateful for the concern and opportunity to get straight, I found a job and cleaned up my act. I quit drinking and doing drugs, and spent my free time helping Jess around the house, or hanging out with Beth. One night, as Beth and I were cruising around town, we stopped in at a gas station for a couple of sodas. I thought the guy behind the counter was cute. His blue eyes sparkled as he smiled at me, and as we got back into the car I giggled about it. Beth dared me to go back in and kiss him. Not being one to turn down a dare, I went in and asked him for his assistance in the back of the store. When he got close, I pulled him to me by his shirt and kissed him firmly on the lips. As I stepped back, I asked, “What’s your name?”

His name was Jeff, and within a matter of minutes, he had my phone number and a date planned for the next night. Jeff picked me up and took me to dinner,then the rest of the evening was spent driving dirt roads as we talked about all sorts of things. I felt an instant connection and a level of comfort with him I hadn’t felt with anyone in a while, so when he dropped me off and asked to see me again the next day I agreed. From that point forward, we were inseparable. Jeff began staying the nights with me when neither of us were working. One morning we woke to Jess arguing with her mother, and once it was over, she came downstairs and told me I was going to have to leave.

“I’m sorry, but we rent this house from mom,” Jess said. “She knows Jeff has been staying here, and she doesn’t like it. She also recently found out you have a history of drug use and is concerned that someone may come here looking for you.  She says if you don’t go, we all have to.”

I was floored and didn’t know what to do. I immediately began packing my things, not knowing where I was going to go next. Jeff stopped me, sat me down and said, “Look, I’ve been staying with my parents, but I’m tired of being there, and you need a place to stay. I love being with you and we seem to get along well, so why don’t we just find an apartment together?”  

Without hesitation, I wrapped my arms around his neck, happy to have his plan to fall into. We found an apartment that same day, and spent the next day moving in. Our romance was swift and enjoyable. He took me to meet his parents, grandparents, and friends in his home town. There was very little time spent apart and for a while we were happy. But something changed with Jeff, and soon I found him becoming more distant and less satisfied with spending time with me. His desire to take a trip back home without me sparked worry in the back of my mind. I couldn’t comprehend why all of a sudden he was telling me he needed space. I stood in the kitchen, tears rolling down my face as I watched him back out of the driveway.  

Three days later, he returned home, but was no longer the same person I had known and loved. This would have worried me more under normal circumstances, but I was more preoccupied by the fact my period was several days late. Jeff had to return to work the same night he returned from his trip, so after he left I purchased a home pregnancy test. I sat in the living room for a long time just looking at the box. I thought about what was going to happen if I was pregnant. Thought about how many changes I was going to have to make in my life, and wondered how Jeff was going to feel about it. It occurred to me that I could possibly be worried about nothing, and found enough courage in that thought to pick up the box and take it to the bathroom. The next three minutes seemed like an eternity; I didn’t move from where I stood as I set the used test on the sink, and stared waiting for a little pink symbol to appear and reveal my fate.  Negative. It was negative. I picked it up and stared closely at it, waiting for another line to appear but it never did. With a sigh of relief, I tossed it all into the trash and went to bed. I woke when Jeff came home and made him something to eat. As we sat at the table, he asked me about what he had seen in the bathroom waste basket.

“I’m late. I didn’t want to bother you with it until I knew what was going on,” I said, then quickly added, “But it was negative, so we’re okay.”

“Good,” he replied. “I’m not ready for that. Not ready to be a dad. I would have told you to take care of the problem.”  

“The problem?” I asked. “Take care of it? How?” When I had thought about how it would affect Jeff, this response was not in the list of options that played through my head.

“You don’t have to keep it, you know,” he responded smugly. “It would be our best option right now, really.” Silence grew thick and heavy in the moments that followed. We both pushed our food around on our plates as if the placement of the eggs was the real problem. Jeff broke the silence saying, “I have to go back to Springfield, I need to make a car payment.”

“You can’t mail it?” I asked.

“No, it will be late if I mail it. I can’t afford the late charges. It will be cheaper for me to take it down there myself. I’ll go tomorrow morning after I get off work. You’ll need to find another way to work tomorrow afternoon.”

“I could see if someone can switch shifts with me and go with you,” I said. But I knew he didn’t want me to go. So when he once again said he wanted space, I silently cleared the table and went outside to clear my head. I sat in the chill of the early November day, my mind reeling with the knowledge of the impending doom our relationship was facing. I struggled with my options; stick it out and hope it gets better or move on? The more I thought about it, the latter of the two seemed to have the most pros. I wasn’t entirely sure what to do or where I would go, but anything and anywhere had to be better than sitting alone in the cold with my heart breaking. Once Jeff left for work, I went back inside still uncertain of how to go about leaving when I had no one else I could depend on. Then the phone rang.

The woman on the other end asked for Jeff. I told her he was at work and asked who I was speaking to. Rudely, the woman asked me who I was. When I replied his girlfriend, the woman snorted, “Oh great!  Another one!” She told me Jeff was supposed to come see her the next morning. She had been under the impression she was the only one Jeff had been seeing, but was calling to tell him not to bother coming down when she discovered he had other girls on the side. The woman promised she would make his life hell when he showed up just before there was a click in my ear.  

Without another thought, I dialed my parent’s number. It took a moment to realize I had received an automated voice. I hung up, dialed again, and got the same result. “We’re sorry, but the number you have dialed is no longer a working number. The new number is…”  I fumbled with a pen as I wrote the number down. The area code was for the city. I was confused, but dialed the number anyway. My mother answered, and after a few moments of conversation, I discovered my entire family had moved an hour away a few months prior without my knowledge. I told my mother nearly everything that had happened in the months since I left their house, that I missed my family and wanted to come home. Somehow, all the tension from the past was lost in that moment and my mother sent my siblings to collect me. As we loaded the car, Lorraine happened to stop to find out what was going on. “Well, it’s probably for the best anyway,” Lorraine responded to my explanation. “He owes a few guys quite a bit of money in a X deal gone bad and they’re looking for him. You don’t wanna be around when they find him.”

There was barely enough space in my parents’ two bedroom apartment to accommodate my parents, brother and sister, so arrangements had been made for me to stay with my aunt and uncle until I could find a job and an apartment to share with my brother. This allowed the rocky relationship between me and my mother to slowly mend with the space we both needed. I once again threw myself into work, and attended services at the church my family went to. Things were going well, I had even found new resolve to quit cigarettes when my first puff of a new pack made me sick. The next morning, I was forced to call in sick by terrible stomach pains. I woke still in pain the following day, called work to tell them I couldn’t come in again then made a doctor’s appointment.

The doctor examined me and asked all the normal questions. She was leaning towards a stomach flu diagnosis, but wanted to get an x-ray to make sure there wasn’t a more serious problem. She asked me if I was or thought I might be pregnant, so I told her about the negative test I had taken just a few weeks prior. The doctor sent me for lab work to check just as a precaution before sending me to radiology. As I wrote my name on the sign-in list in the lab, my hands began to shake. When I sat in the dimly lit and empty waiting room, tears began to well in my eyes. I couldn’t comprehend why I had this overwhelming feeling all of a sudden, and wiped at the tears as fast as they rolled down my face. I managed to reestablish my composure just before the lab tech called me in and drew my blood. When the tech finished, I wandered over to the radiology department and checked in. Again, in the quiet of the waiting room, my eyes began to tear up. My stomach was in knots; hands shaking. The receptionist at the check in desk called my name, and my body became heavy as concrete with every step I took toward the desk. The receptionist told me I was going to need to go back up to the doctor’s office before further testing could be done. It was then I knew I was pregnant. I didn’t need the doctor to tell me, I just knew.  But I went back to the physician’s office and allowed for the formalities.  

“Based upon your hCG levels, we estimate you are 5-6 weeks pregnant,” the doctor said.  “It is quite common for a woman to experience pain in the first few weeks as her body adjust to having a little one growing inside, but we want to make sure everything is okay so we’re going to do an ultrasound.”

“What am I going to do?” I asked timidly as I stared at the floor. “My mother is going to be so mad when I tell her. She’s going to kill me.”  

“I’m sure she won’t,” the doctor replied.  “I know it’s scary, but everything will be fine. You might even be surprised at how your family reacts. Just know there is help out there; resources. So even if you’re right about your mother being angry, you don’t have to go through this alone.” I went for the ultrasound, then not knowing what else to do, I drove the 15 minutes to the school my mother worked at.

Standing in the hallway outside my mother’s classroom, I trembled and fought the urge to cry as I told mother the news. After a brief silence that seemed like an eternity, my mother spoke.

“It’s going to be okay.”

These were not the words I had expected to hear.  A sudden reaction of tears lurched in response to what I had expected to hear before I could process what had actually been said. I told her how Jeff had reacted when I had thought I was pregnant before. She hugged me and reassured me again that everything was going to be okay. It was going to be fine. We would get through this together and this child was a blessing, even if things now seemed dire.  

“Are you feeling alright?” my mother asked.  “Have you eaten yet today?”

I had not eaten anything yet and was suddenly ravenous. My mother gave me some money and sent me for lunch. I drove around aimlessly for awhile, not really capable of deciding what I wanted to eat because my mind was rather preoccupied. Finally, I turned into a chinese buffet parking lot and went inside. I ate, then out of habit cracked open the fortune cookie that came with my bill. The words on the little slip of paper simply said:

You are going to be a good parent.

As though this generic message was a message from a higher power, I tucked it into my wallet for reassurance. By the time I had a baby book to put it in, it had become worn, wrinkled, and barely visible from all the times I held it out of worry.

cherylvollmar

Cheryl Vollmar is a red-headed hot mess, specializing in bad decisions since 1979. She has held well over fifty job titles in twenty years, and decided on a whim to choose Writer during the 2013 National Novel Writing Month. She is the proud mother of a kind-hearted fifteen year old boy and a precocious five-year-old Yorkie, and resides in southwest Missouri. As a homebody, she loves to cook and bake, and, much like her job experience, has too many projects crammed in her crafting closet thanks to her addiction to Pinterest. Born into a musical family, she also sings, plays piano and drums, and likes to think she has an eclectic taste in music. But her favorite past-time by far, is riding behind her ole man on their Harley Fatboy, where she swears the wind sings harmony to whatever tune she has playing in her head.

She believes with enough coffee, anything is possible.

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