This is an excerpt from No Guarantees
“Do you ever regret your abortion?”
I stared into Tonya’s dark eyes as I sought answers. We had been friends for long enough so I could usually read emotion and sometimes even thoughts through the window of her expressive eyes. We hadn’t covered this particular subject in such a context before because I had been afraid of offending her- hurting her more than she had already been hurt. I didn’t want to cause her pain, and we weren’t surrounded by the support of the playgroup, but today my need-to-know trumped all else. Her eyes, darker even than usual, weren’t giving anything away.
At first I thought she wasn’t going to answer me, and I opened my mouth to take it back. I thought that she was a close enough friend that we could talk about this honestly, but navigating new waters always runs the risk of rejection.
One lone tear slowly made passage down her carefully made up cheek. Because she ducked her head before answering, I almost missed her whispered response.
Seeming to gain confidence after a minute, she grabbed both of my hands, looked through me to I don’t know what and said it again.
“I regret it every day. When I make my morning smoothie, I wonder if that baby would have someday liked protein-enhanced smoothies as much as I do. When I go to get Charlotte up after a long night of sleep, I wonder if that baby would have smiled at me as sweetly as Charlotte does to be up and playing. When I dress Charlotte in her cute little clothes, I wonder if that other little girl would have loved pretty things as much as Charlotte and I do. When I watch Charlotte play with her toys with such happiness and glee, I wonder if that other baby would have been just as happy to play with toys. Every day I think about what maybe that baby would be like now. I google pictures of children with Down syndrome, and I lean in close to those almond shaped eyes and see life and joy. I wonder if I could have had some of that joy in my life, but I missed my chance. I regret eliminating it simply because of a defect and because I was scared. I wanted a baby more than anything. I just didn’t want one with a diagnosis. But now, every day I agonizingly wonder- what she would have been like, what she would be doing, could I have loved her?”
“Do you- do you think you could have?” I asked, desperately needing to hear her answer.
“At first I was convinced that it would be impossible, but the more time separates me from the grief, I think maybe yes. I drown in guilt because I didn’t even giving that baby a chance. I love Charlotte despite her deepest flaws because she’s mine- and she’s so much like me. I wonder if the other baby would have been like me at all?”
She paused, took a deliberate sip of her coffee, and appeared to be holding something back. When we tried poker for entertainment one playgroup not so long ago, Tonya gave away every hand with the tilt of her eyebrow and the “I have a secret” smirk of her lips. Today was no exception.
Like so many other times, we were sitting on pristine furniture, holding large cups of coffee, and speaking fervently to each other about our concerns and the current chapter of our life drama. But unlike so many other times, I felt like a different person than the one that used to sit and argue about vacations and which bag really fit all the baby essentials in it and whether or not that haircut was a good look for Jennifer Aniston.
I looked down at the mug that my hands were wrapped around. When we first sat down with our coffee, steam was slowly rising from the cup. The slight wisps disappeared into room air shortly after leaving the confines of the pottery-like mug, and I wondered for the first time of my coffee-drinking career where exactly they went. Is that what it looks like when happiness departs from your life? You barely see the tiny trails of white mist and then it all disappears before you can really even try? Before long, you’re standing there holding a cup of stone cold coffee wondering what happened to the warm brew that you were counting on soothing your raw throat. Is happiness that fleeting? Was the coffee sending the steam into room air, or was the room air stealing the steam from the coffee? And in life does happiness leave you or is it stolen from you?
Startled, I tore my eyes away from my cup of coffee. I almost forgot that Tonya was still here.
“This is going to sound strange. Please don’t hate me, but I need to say it.”
My head bobbed in a tight nod of its own accord. I was afraid what my friend might confess. Is she going to say how sorry she feels for me? Is her next sentence going to refer to herself as “lucky” because she had a way out? Bracing myself, I felt as I did when people say “No offense but…” clearly meaning offense. Her next words surprised me.
“I think you will love him. I wish every day that I could go back and change my decision, but you’re getting a chance to make it right in a sense. I know you’re going to think this is weird especially after I told how I just couldn’t do it, but I think it’s all going to be ok.”
I looked back down at the coffee. The almost-cold coffee with all of its steam clearly stolen by the room air and thought about how easy it was for her to say that. That’s one of those statements that very easily rolls off the tongue even when there’s no experience or proof to make it believable. But before I could form that into a response, she finished her thought.