Let’s Pretend it Never Happened
I know that I got pregnant in February, 1965. I recall the Knight of Nights dance—our high school prom. I wore a long home-made dress made of burgundy velvet, in the empire style. A pink ribbon encircled my body below the bodice, and a wrist corsage of red and pink carnations completed the ensemble. David wore a rented tuxedo.
We attended Robinson High School in Tampa, Florida, and our mascot was The Knights of the Realm. Before the dance ended we snuck out to David’s car, a Nash Rambler with front seats that folded down flat. We had started dating at the beginning of our senior year, and had sex several times to satisfy our raging hormones. David always insisted on not wearing a condom; he called it a prophylactic and said it didn’t feel good. He promised to withdraw so there wouldn’t be a problem. I trusted him. Today I can’t believe we never discussed the risks of pregnancy or its consequences.
Two months later, by the end of April, Mother suspected I was pregnant. We went to the doctor and had our fears confirmed. Distraught, my mother talked with the doctor and they decided without speaking to me that I would go to the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers in St. Petersburg, Florida. I never saw my mother cry, but noticed the trash can in her bathroom full of used Kleenex. My father, in his usual non-communicative way, didn’t talk to me.
Soon we told David’s parents and his father asked if I would consider an abortion. My stomach churned and I instantly said, “No.” In 1965 the procedure was illegal, and the horror stories of botched abortions filled my mind with images of dirty backrooms and metal coat hangers used by someone who may or may not be a doctor.
The one time David visited me at home he was greeted by my father, who threatened to pound David into the ground. We continued to see each other only at school, which added pressure. I felt a lead weight on my head. Luckily for me, the dress style of the time was the bag, and since my mother made my clothes, she made them extra loose. Maybe I could finish high school and no one would notice. Our friends never suspected. I was even voted most sincere in our senior class.
I knew my parents would never accept my baby. I believed that David and I were too young, uneducated, and ill-prepared for parenting to even think about rearing a child. Instinct also told me that I couldn’t handle David’s parents rearing my child. I had an uneasy feeling about his father. Or perhaps, it wasn’t him but the possibility that I might see my baby regularly and have to confront my feelings.
I believed that giving up my baby for adoption would be best for him or her. I wanted my child to have a loving Christian family. I hadn’t given any thought to how this would affect my life. I shut down my feelings about the decision I was about to make .
Two weeks after high school graduation, Mother drove me to St. Petersburg, across the Gandy Bridge to my new Home. I saw a beautiful three-story house with white shutters. It was older, made of brick, and in a neighborhood that was well established. It reminded me of my grandparents’ home and the love I experienced there. The first floor contained the offices, kitchen, dining room, reception rooms for visitors, a bathroom, and a living room. The second floor consisted of three bathrooms and two dormitory-style bedrooms with six beds in each. The attic had been converted into one bedroom with two single beds and a bathroom.
As the newest occupant with the most distant due date, I was given the attic. Talking about my situation with the other girls didn’t seem important at the time. I told myself that the three flights of stairs would be good exercise. The sleeping arrangements involved gradually moving girls downstairs from the attic as beds became available. I wasn’t able to move downstairs until about three weeks before my due date.
I didn’t mind being alone. Sleeping in the attic by myself all that time, and working the breakfast job alone, prevented me from forming friends and talking about my feelings.
We had chores to do, and I did breakfast duty that had me rising before everyone except the kitchen staff. Stored in the large, ornately carved antique buffet in the enormous high-ceilinged dining room were placemats, napkins, utensils and salt and pepper shakers used to set the table. The room had beautiful but well-worn wooden floors with tables, each seating four.
After about a month, I was moved to another chore. The girl who replaced me said it was too much work for her, so two girls were assigned breakfast duty. I never complained because preparing the dining room never felt like hard work. That had been one of my chores at home. After breakfast, I’d trudge back up three flights of stairs to the attic for a much-needed nap. Between lunch and dinner, I usually walked around the perimeter of the large asphalt parking lot behind the Home. It was enclosed by tall untrimmed oleander bushes, offering the privacy we needed when outside. The rest of the day I spent doing needlepoint or reading books mother brought. Ceramic classes were the only organized activity available. There was no library.
During the day, the Home had staffed administration offices that included a general counselor and representatives from two adoption agencies. One was Catholic Charities. I chose the other one, but don’t remember their name. The Home employed two or three women, grand-motherly and traditional in appearance(in 1965 terms), who took turns spending the night as Home Supervisors. Even though I didn’t know how to play bridge, I enjoyed watching as one of them regularly played with three of the residents. It allowed me to have a bit of vicarious companionship.
The haze, my feelings of numbness, and my lapses of memory are likely a result of my unwillingness to discuss this trauma for about 30 years. I do remember that my mother dutifully came to visit once per week and stayed the allotted thirty minutes. We talked about the weather and what she was doing. She never asked if I needed anything. I once asked if she would take me out. She replied, “No. I don’t want anyone I know to see me.”
I’ll never know whether she felt shame for thinking she failed as a mother, or blamed me for bringing shame on her. My father never visited. At the time, I didn’t think it unusual because he only visited me twice when I was in the hospital for two months with a broken leg. I was thirteen. No one else from my family visited, but I don’t remember it bothering me at the time.
When I was about forty-five years old, I asked my brother and sister why they didn’t visit me when I was pregnant. They both said that they didn’t remember because it was so long ago. I still wonder whether my mother ever told them why I wasn’t at home that summer.
David’s parents and two older sisters, Kathy and Judy, visited several times and once took me out to a restaurant for ice cream. Judy asked, “Aren’t you concerned people will see that you aren’t married?” I responded by holding up my left hand, smiling, and showing the silver ring. She looked embarrassed and her reaction amused me.
Mother told no one in her family, not even her beloved younger sister. The only person she told about my pregnancy was Mrs. Morelock, our neighbor across the street. Thirty years later, I visited Mrs. Morelock, and she recalled that mother told everyone else that Sally was visiting family in Pennsylvania for the summer. My grandparents always came over for Christmas, and mother was afraid that Mrs. Morelock might say something about how nice it must have been to have Sally stay with them for the summer.
Like most pregnant women in the 1960s, I was told that a pregnant woman shouldn’t gain more than two pounds per month. I worked hard and succeeded in gaining only eighteen pounds. To this day, I don’t like going to bed hungry. Apart from using the stairs many times a day, walking the perimeter of the parking lot behind the home was the only opportunity to exercise that I had. I looked forward to the periodic walk of a few blocks to the hospital for regular physical exams. I always wondered what people thought when they saw so many pregnant girls together.
The exams are a blur now except for one. I was on the exam table and the young handsome doctor said something that suggested I was naïve and gullible. I believed he was trying to be friendly and light-hearted. I’ve blocked out exactly what he said, but I do remember looking down at my big belly and saying, “Yea, I’ve been told that.” He looked embarrassed.
October 4 was the big day. I assume that I was taken to the hospital in a car as I don’t remember an ambulance. Previously, the doctor had asked if I wanted to see and hold my baby, and I said that I didn’t. He and the nurses had strange expressions on their faces when they looked at me, and I guessed that my answer was most unusual. I believe now that I feared I would bond with the baby and that my emotional detachment would be breached. When I awoke they told me that I had a girl. They never asked again whether I wanted to see my daughter.
Many years later, my mother called and said, “Your past is catching up with you.” She had never changed her phone number, so the adoption agency made one phone call to reach her. My daughter wanted to meet me and I was ready to meet her.
Sally Krusing calls herself a budding author and is pleased and grateful to be included in this Anthology. She published a poem, I Am From and Have Become, in Oasis Journal 2017; Stories, Poems, Essays by Writers over Fifty.
After growing up in Florida, Sally lived in Alaska, Minnesota, Georgia, Greece and Germany. She retired from IBM and lives in Tucson, Arizona, spending her time cycling, reading, writing, traveling and supporting a local theatre. Despite several traumas as a child she has a zest for living.