I was just two weeks into motherhood when I took a job at the Dairy Queen on 28th drive and Cactus in Phoenix, Arizona and made the first of many bad parenting choices. A few days past my seventeenth birthday, I was still fresh from prom nights, backseats and football games, not quite ready for the impromptu marriage and screaming baby I’d locked myself in to. But locked in, I was.
Just two months before I’d been home in Alaska, safely ensconced in my parent’s basement, watching as my teen body engorge into a woman. Brian left state long before I was showing and headed off to college while I stayed home and wailed to my parents about undying love. Finally, eight months, in they acquiesced to my request to marry. I wondered, even then for brief seconds, of the future. But reason is rarely in the forefront when love and immaturity are involved.
I flew to Phoenix and stepped from the plane into the stifling night air where Brian didn’t run from my swollen belly and hopeful eyes. He took me home to a house he’d rented with four other college boys in a neighborhood better known for traffic in the obscurity of night than for lawn ornaments and pool parties. We rented a back bedroom with no air conditioning or fans. The unfamiliar heat clutched my pregnant body, suffocating my already tilting will. The incessant late night traffic stops in front of the house; the coffee table engulfed in melted candle wax and zigzags; and the early sixty’s corvette tarped in the back yard should have been an indicator that more was going on in the house than studying but I kept to my bedroom, splayed out on the bed sparsely dressed, and tried to remember why I’d ever wanted to leave my parents basement. It was a lonely time.
Brian worked nights for the United Parcel Service, throwing boxes late into the night in a sweaty warehouse, and then studying afterward for his classes the next day. A Business Management major fast tracking through a B.A. in under three years, Brian had his goals set, his life before him and dreams coming true. Until he’d knocked up his teenage girlfriend.
Eventually we found our own apartment and my parents sent us the money to move. My father had not talked to me since I’d left home, unable to utter a word to the daughter who lived in sin. Or perhaps he just couldn’t swallow the fear in his throat long enough to speak. Either way, we’d promised to marry and so we did and then my father sent some money. It was a fair trade.
We found home in a brown stucco complex, a one bedroom apartment on the bottom floor with swirled orange countertops and supersized cockroaches. We owned a striped corduroy couch given to us by an elderly lady and carried three buildings over, a cinder block book shelf, a small dresser and a wind-up baby swing I’d traded a twenty dollar bill for in a time when minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. And then we had a baby and Heather slept in a dilapidated dresser drawer on the dingy floor.
I took a job at the Dairy Queen two weeks after giving birth, where breast milk dampened my uniform shirt front and tired feet barely held me to the tiled floor. By night I kept alive a living creature, so delicate and dependent.
I was to be at work by noon, yet Brian had class and would not arrive home until quarter past. I needed that job badly. I was young. I was painfully shy. I was selfish. I was a child. And so each day at five till noon I’d swath my immobile infant tightly in a blanket, prop her into the swing and strap her snuggly around the middle. I turned the knob quietly, soothing her as I did, helping her to find her tiny thumb and push it far into her mouth, suckling until she slept. The swing pushed her gently back and forth, no different really than a mothers pulsing sway, I told myself. And then I walked out the door.
I’d run across the complex in the heat, my heavy, milk-filled breasts aching as my heart. Fifteen minutes, I reconciled. Only fifteen minutes would she be alone and she was fine, wrapped so snug. Brian would be home and he would call me when he arrived in just fifteen minutes. Fifteen very long minutes. And Brian would push the pedal on that old Gallaxy, always arriving home just in time. And so it went for weeks. Until one day my schedule changed and we no longer had to do it.
I was young, I could tell you. I was naïve. Sometimes all you have to give just isn’t enough. I was just a child myself…and I’d like to say I didn’t know. But I knew what I was doing. I knew. And after the first couple of times, it wasn’t even really that hard…