Darlene from up the street became pregnant from kissing a man who was married.
She became Buddha-shaped, waiting for someone to help her. The baby was stuck in her, since she wasn’t married.
We agreed that Darlene wasn’t pretty the way that our Barbies were pretty. Our Barbies could never have babies, and so, for a baby, I pulled off the Jesus from Bubba’s old statue of Mary. It was plastic and hollow and had a white scab of hard glue on its back. And it left a big mark on the blue breast of Mary.
We never connected Darlene’s case with Mary’s.
I’d lie in my bed some nights trying to figure out how Darlene’s baby would get released. Darlene’s father was dead, so he couldn’t release it. Darlene had two brothers, though. Maybe they could.
I imagined one might, like a broomstick, go up there and poke until something that squished like an orange and smelled like the styrofoam under raw meat understood and gave in and permitted the baby to enter the world. The whole process, however, I thought would be dry as an eggshell: no cries, no blood-curdling screaming, no hips or bones grinding like gears in the oil of midnight.
The kiss that began it was skyscraper-high and away from the scene where the baby arrived.
Darlene kissed the man that she worked with at Kmart, and since he was married, God made her as wide as her house’s front door. God did this as if to say what? I’d watch her as she issued forth from the door like a statue that could move itself.
The police could be called. Could police be the ones who showed up to release Darlene’s baby? Mr. Redcheck? Would he do the job? Mr. Redcheck was mean, I could not see him doing this. And my dad used bad words regarding Darlene, so I didn’t think he would help her either.
But he also used bad words regarding my mother. And here we all were.
As Darlene grew wider, my mother grew thinner. She didn’t seem to eat when we ate anymore. When my little brother Wayne would run up to hug her legs, I was afraid that he was gonna knock her over.
We had an upstairs phone and a downstairs phone. One day, when I was home because my stomach hurt, I picked up the upstairs phone while my mother was talking with her sister. Sometimes my mom talked to her sister forever. I picked up the phone because I wanted some more Jell-0 but I knew my mom was on the phone with Aunt Colleen. I picked up super quiet, in the middle of my aunt saying, “Why don’t you confront him about the affair?” I didn’t know what any of this meant, but I do remember that, later that night, my father used some of the worst words he ever used to my mother. They were the kinds of words you’d write with a rock on the sidewalk on a dare.
My dad had blond hair. He looked like the younger cop on Adam-12. All of this happened a few years before I learned the meaning of the expression, “had to get married.” My mom and dad had to get married.
It would be years after that before I started really knowing that I was the reason they had to get married. It would hit me one night hanging out with the Wendy’s night crew. We liked to close as fast as possible, then head over to the assistant manager’s apartment and party. We had a whole summer like this.
I told them the story about how confused I was over Darlene and her baby. In the middle of the winter, the sky rang like tin with the snow that we kids craved: tons of snow like laundry detergent covering the basement floor; we craved more and more snow to bury the city, close down the streets so that even the busiest roads became pillows of playground, no school. But the snow was not falling the day Mrs. Redcheck told Glynna Green’s mom that Darlene had delivered her baby. A girl. Delivered like furniture, clothes from the Alden’s catalogue. Delivery from the wide body that had kissed a married man, a dad: where? In a backseat? A break room? My mother said this man was older, much older, and that the baby was illegitimate.
By this time my mom had lost so much weight that she never wore her wedding ring, or any rings at all. One time I took it from her dresser and tried to make it be things for my Barbie dolls. A super-big bangle bracelet was the only normal thing it could be. For a second, I put the ring up on the head of the torn-off baby, and it looked like a Christmas card halo. But this made it hard for me to think of the baby as anything but Jesus, and I vowed to glue the baby back the next time we visited my grandmother.
When I told this story to my Wendy’s friends, of course we howled. But then it hit me, for the first time really, that I was the main reason that my parents got married. It hit me so hard that I started crying. These nights when we partied, someone always started crying. It was my turn, I guess. Everyone was really sweet and tried to comfort me. Timmy O’Hanlon, the assistant manager, was especially sweet. I had had a crush on him for weeks.
But here is what I want you to remember: I told him—your father—a thousand times or more that he didn’t have to marry me. And I meant it. He didn’t.
Photo by Montse PB