By Jay Brackenrich | WestVirginiaVille.com | july 1, 2022
When Salena was born her mother wrapped her in a filthy blanket, more disgusting because it had not escaped defilement by the messy birthing process. She was ignored by the near comatose woman and the drunk who stumbled in, later, hardly conscious himself. No one said, “Mrs. so and so, you have a bouncing baby girl.” It is hardly accurate to say she thrived, but she survived.
Salena sat in the counselor’s office, head down, hands clasped, tightly. “I don’t know,” was the answer to the question.
“You don’t know how you got into this situation? How old are you, Salena? Do you have a boyfriend?” The counsellor didn’t think so. The age question was rhetorical. They both knew she was 15.
“No,” she answered.
“Did someone force you?” She really feared this, had seen it before. Poor girls from broken homes, or homes that should have been broken years ago. You can only do so much. Later that evening the counsellor would tell her own teenage daughter to leave Salena alone. “She don’t come from much,” she said and proceeded to neglect Salena and those like her whose “situation” defies simple-minded remedies.
Salena knew how she got into this situation. She didn’t know when she was seven, nor eight, nor nine. She could not put a finger on exactly when she knew. At first she was just frightened. He only fondled her at first. She tried to wiggle away. Over the years, though, she was steeled to it and then she actually preferred it to the seemingly endless beating of her mother. And then, herself. When they heard his slurred words coming through the door, they flinched. It was as if the beating had already started.
She stopped going to school, but she had to leave the apartment so she went to a bench in the park. A nun came and sat beside her and offered her one of her sandwiches. She devoured it and muttered “Thank you.”
“I can see your condition,” she said. The nun was about the age of her mother, but looked years younger. “Where are you going to have your baby?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied, nearly choking from trying to swallow the nun’s lunch and talk at the same time.
“Are you under the care of a doctor?”
“No, no doctor.”
“There’s a clinic a block down, it’s associated with the church. We would like to help you.”
“No,” she said. Fear gripped her. She knew very well she needed help, needed to know what to do, needed to know what was going to happen. But she feared help more than anything. Several people had tried to help. Help makes everything worse.
FIRST/PERSON: A few highly personal words on choice: July 1, 2022: “Three pregnancies. No choice in any of them. I have never chosen to get pregnant. I was foolish, I was sucker-punched, I was surprised. I was naïve, I was savvy. I wasn’t ready, I was ready. Such a basic right that everyone deserves. CHOICE.”
She gravitated back to the bench now. The nun brought more sandwiches, a pint of milk. She agreed to try the clinic, but it was worse than she imagined. Everyone, everything was clean. They were so confident, and she observed young nurses greeting each other and exchanging words. They didn’t have a care in the world. How could they ever consider her more than a bug.
Her mother told her to go to the clinic. “It will be worse for you,” Salena argued.
“He’s not so bad anymore. I can handle it. You go. Go on now.”
When the doctor said, “You have a bouncing baby girl,” she thought she would die. She was sure it would be a boy. God just couldn’t do this. She was so beautiful, little hands. Little perfect hands. Salena had never had anything beautiful, certainly never anything perfect. The nuns wrapped her in perfect clean blankets. She had a little cotton shirt, perfect. They asked for the name of the father. She said, “I don’t know.” They entered ‘Unknown’ into the blank box.
And then, they sent her home. She survived, as she had for years. And, by the grace of God, her baby survived and they sent her home.
He took little notice while her baby suckled, cried, crawled. When she toddled, he took her on his knee and said, “Daddy’s little girl.”
Salena’s heart dropped. No, no she said. Not while I breathe she said. She started just retrieving her, creating distance. Then, she started defying him. Tentative disagreement. Then, shouting matches. This has got to stop, she said. At the clinic they talked about Legal Aid. It’s where you go when you can’t afford a lawyer. “They’ll fix you up, dear. They could get you child support, then it will be OK.” So sure that would fix her up!
The shouting matches were constant now. “Keep your hands off her,” she demanded.
“Who’s gonna’ stop me,” he slurred.
“I’ll go to Legal Aid. I have rights.”
“You don’t know nothin’ ‘bout the law. “I’m that kid’s pappy and I have my rights, too. You don’t know nothin’ ‘bout the law.”
That was true, just what they told her. They sure wanted to know who the pappy was, but as long as she kept that away from them, she was safe. Her baby, her perfect baby, was safe. “What if the doctor ever needs to know for medical reasons,” they asked.
No, she said. Not while I breathe. The community, the counsellors, the nice people all said she could have slipped away. There were alternatives, paths she could pursue, help she could have gotten. Of course, she would have to give up the name. She stayed in the battered woman’s shelter for a while, and the nice people, so clean, helped her find a job and child care. She never had a moments peace with the baby in child care but her little girl seemed to thrive. The place was so clean, she learned something there every day. She would not grow up ignorant like her mommy.
The piece of paper came. In the mail. From the court. Addressed to her. She could hardly read it and make sense. She had to submit the child for a paternity test. What? That can’t be right. Her baby had no father. Unknown, don’t you get it? The paper had her father’s name. He was the Plaintiff. She could hardly live until morning. She missed work and rushed down to Legal Aid. They remembered her. The receptionist looked so odd. She filled out a form and waited to talk to a lawyer. The receptionist said she would have to wait until the lawyers had reviewed her application, but she assured them this couldn’t wait. She came out, the head lawyer. All dressed up in a black suit with a pink blouse, very lawyer looking. “There’s a problem, Salena.”
Her leaden heart sunk again. Every day she expected better. Tomorrow will be better. When she had her baby she thought, better. But then the leaden heart sank, bouncing baby girl, you know. She thought she might faint. The lawyer explained. Something about conflict of interest. Her father had come to them for custody rights of his child being denied him. He was indigent, you know, and they had to take his child custody case because that was in their by-laws and since they represented him, they could not represent her. That would be a conflict of interest, you know. “What will you do?”
“I don’t know,” said Salena.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jay Brackenrich was born in Quinwood, WV. She now lives in Ohio but returns to her husband’s old home place to bike the Greenbrier River Trail and (before Covid upset everything) play golf. She has an MBA from the University of Akron and had a career in marketing, writing advertising/business related material. She has written a civil war novel ,”Greenbrier,” and a children’s book ,”The Sassy Princess and Tale of a Dragon” available on Amazon. Of her writing these days, she says: “Currently working on a sequel to “Greenbrier — much darker — and a sequel to “Sassy Princess,” and other projects. Type A personality, tend to multi-task.“
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