The Color of Hope
By Julianne MacLean
Have you ever done something you wish you could undo?
What am I saying? Of course you have. Everyone has regrets. Some are just more life changing than others, and some go beyond a single moment of carelessness. Some regrets are born out over a period of months, or even years of misbehavior, because you didn’t have enough self-awareness or life experience to recognize the error you were making at the time.
For me, the greatest mistake of my life resulted in a shock one autumn morning when I was twenty-seven years old and couldn’t hold down my breakfast.
“Are you all right in there?” Rick asked, pounding hard on the bathroom door. “I need to get in. I’m going to be late for work.”
I moved to the sink to splash water on my face and swig some Scope, which I swished around in my mouth from cheek to cheek. “I’m almost done,” I replied, wiping my mouth with a tissue I’d pulled from the gleaming – and no doubt expensive – silver-plated dispenser. “I’ll be right out.”
I paused to take a breath and calm the sickening sensation of panic that rose from my belly to my chest.
Or was it really panic? Maybe it was nervous excitement. If this wasn’t a flu bug or food poisoning, and I was actually pregnant – pregnant – what would it mean for my future?
By the time I collected myself and emerged from the bathroom, Rick had moved on. He was no longer pounding on the door.
I padded softly across the polished hardwood floor to the kitchen, where I found him with his back to me at the cappuccino maker.
“The bathroom’s free,” I mentioned as I slid onto one of the high stools at the kitchen bar.
“Thanks.” He picked up his coffee cup and disappeared down the hall.
I heard the sound of the bathroom door closing and the water running.
By the time he finished showering, I was dressed and heading out the door to work. “See you tonight,” I called out, and went straight to the pharmacy to buy a pregnancy test.
That night, I picked up some groceries to cook dinner for Rick. Not that I had much of an appetite. I’d felt queasy all day, which wasn’t easy to cope with because I worked as a receptionist in a law firm in downtown LA, and my face was the first thing clients saw when they walked through the door. The pay wasn’t great, but at least I wasn’t cleaning toilets.
It was half past seven before Rick finally walked through the door. I turned on the stove and slid the wok – fully prepped with freshly chopped vegetables – onto the burner.
He entered the kitchen but didn’t look up from his iPhone. “I’m here,” he said. “What did you want to talk about?”
I faced him and wished he wasn’t so impossibly handsome. With that athletic build and thick, dark hair, he always looked like a dream come true in his tailored black business suits. He wore suits to work every day, which always turned me into an idiotic puddle of infatuation, despite my sincere efforts to keep my head.
How could one man be so difficult to resist? There was no point questioning now. It was too late, because I’d already lost every shred of integrity I possessed when I dove head first into this terrible disaster of a relationship five months ago.
Now here we were, facing each other in his kitchen, dealing with the fallout while I feared karma was about to bite me in the ass.
“Go take off your tie and pour yourself a drink.” I turned back to the stove and stirred the vegetables. “Then I’ll tell you all about it.”
* * *
I deserved what was about to come my way, I told myself as I spooned the stir fry onto two plates and carried them to the table. I knew, before I sat down, exactly how this was going to play out. Rick might be every woman’s romantic fantasy – because he was a drop-dead-gorgeous professional who earned millions, and when he looked at you, he made you feel like the most beautiful woman alive – but that’s where the dream ended. He had made it clear on countless occasions that he wasn’t the marrying kind. He wasn’t looking for a lifetime commitment. It’s part of the reason why we ended up together. He enjoyed the fact that I had plucked him out of a suffocating relationship, even though I had destroyed my own happiness in the process.
‘Thank God for you,’ he whispered in my ear one night on an elevator. ‘You’re the escape hatch I need.’
I am ashamed by how those words seduced me, and how happy I was to be anything at all to him.
After setting both plates down on the candlelit table, I poured myself a glass of sparkling water.
“You’re not having wine?” Rick asked as he stood up from the computer chair to join me.
“Not in the mood,” I replied, formulating how I was going to explain why.
I decided to eat first. I’d let him finish that glass of wine.
Then I would drop the bomb.
“I beg your pardon?” Rick’s eyebrows lifted. He set his glass down, wiped his mouth with a napkin, and leaned back in his chair.
An ambulance siren wailed in the street below his luxury high rise condo, but I was not disconcerted by it, or by the fact that he was clearly shocked and displeased. There was a time I might have crumbled and wept over the loss of a man’s attentions and begged for a second chance – but after what I had done to reach this juncture in my life, I was astoundingly calm and firmly braced for the oncoming rejection. I expected it. Perhaps I even wanted it – because I needed to believe there was some justice in the world.
“I’m pregnant,” I said. I gave him a few seconds to digest my words before I continued. “I threw up this morning, in case you didn’t notice. So I took a test on my lunch hour.”
He stared at me with those spellbinding blue eyes. “I thought you were on the pill.”
“I was,” I explained. “I don’t know what happened. I didn’t forget to take any.”
He frowned at me. “You must have. You were careless and forgot. Or you’re lying. Maybe you wanted this.”
“No,” I argued, dropping my fork with a noisy clank onto my plate. “I didn’t do this on purpose. Our relationship has enough bad blood in it to begin with. I wouldn’t dare add any more poison.”
His eyes narrowed. “How am I supposed to trust you? You?”
Rage, hot and brisk, flooded my bloodstream. How dare he suggest that I was the one who caused all the hurt, as if I were a wicked siren who seduced and lured him into this wreckage. I wiped my mouth with the linen napkin and threw it onto the table. “That’s the pot calling the kettle black, don’t you think?”
“Is it?” He shoved his chair back and rose to his feet. “I feel like a damned trout that was flipped around in a frying pan and tossed into the fire. And you know what I’m talking about.”
I picked up my plate and carried it to the sink. My chest was heaving, as if I’d just climbed ten flights of stairs.
I hate you. I wanted to say that and more as I ran the water and rinsed my plate, because I blamed him for everything – for the inconceivable magnitude of my disgrace. For the destruction and collapse of this new world that could have been so good for me. Five months ago, I’d been blessed with a miracle, but I threw it all away for the dream of being with a sophisticated man with money.
Was I that shallow? That much in need of security? That weak to temptation? That self-destructive? And if so, was it really my fault that I had turned out this way? How much bad luck could one woman take before losing touch with her soul?
Or maybe I was just shifting the blame. Maybe I had to accept the fact that I’d screwed up a lot of things recently, and this was my comeuppance.
“It doesn’t matter if I forgot to take the pill,” I said. “But I didn’t. All we can do is move on. We have to decide how we’re going to handle this.” I shut off the faucet, set my plate in the dishwasher, and made my way back to the table.
Rick sank back into his chair. “You’re sure?” he said. “Maybe you should go to the doctor to get it confirmed.”
I shook my head. “A positive test result is over ninety-five percent accurate. I’m pregnant, Rick. It’s a fact. I know it wasn’t something either of us planned, but this is where we are. So what are we going to do?”
It’s rather unfortunate, don’t you think, that some people are dealt a bad hand in life?
At the same time, I don’t want to suggest that we have no control over the road we choose to take, or that we shouldn’t accept full responsibility for our attitudes and actions. I will be the first person to stand up and say that our past does not have to dictate our future. It’s what we do now, in this moment, moving forward that counts.
So if I’m going to take you forward – or backward as the case may be – and seek your understanding, I should at least share with you the events that wrestled me into this situation in the first place. That way, when you hear the other side of this story, maybe you’ll be able to forgive me for what I did, and the choices I made.
* * *
The first card of misfortune dealt to me was the untimely death of my birth mother, who suffered a stroke during delivery. My biological father was married to another woman at the time, so I was promptly shuffled off to an adoption agency.
My second bad luck card came a week later when I was diagnosed with a septal defect, more commonly referred to as a hole in the heart. It usually resolves itself naturally, but in 1983, the state of New York required adoption agencies to reveal an adoptee’s medical records to prospective parents. My chances of finding a family with open arms were therefore diminished, because no one wanted a kid with the possibility of a giant medical bill attached to her future.
I spent months in the hospital, and was then placed in foster care while the agency waited for my heart to heal.
I have no memory of my first few years, but I shudder to think about how distressing it must have been for me to be pulled from the loving warmth of my mother’s womb and not understand, intellectually, the concept of her death. Did I grieve for the loss of her on that day and in the coming months? Did anyone pick me up, hold me, talk to me, or make me feel loved? Or did I lay alone, untouched, in a sterile white crib?
I don’t know the answers to those questions and probably never will. But based on my behavior as an adult woman and how I dealt with relationships, I suspect that I missed out on the sort of bonding experience that shapes most children whose mothers don’t die in childbirth.
I was four years old when someone finally adopted me, and for better or worse, I became part of a new family.
* * *
My mother worked as a maid in a Washington DC hotel that catered to visiting civil servants and politicians. My father was a bricklayer with a drinking problem.
Their divorce was finalized when I was nine, which was probably for the best, because I spent far too much time hiding under my bed when they argued. The sound of my mother’s shrieking voice filled me with dread because she never backed down from a fight and always called my father out when he blew the entire week’s grocery budget at the tavern on payday.
My father wasn’t talkative. He responded to her complaints with the back of his hand. To this day, I still jump at the sound of breaking glass or a lamp being knocked over in another room.
After my father left, Mom and I lived in our tiny apartment for a few years, until Dad stopped paying child support. That’s when everything began to spin out of control.
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