Colleen went back to work, and I finished up my adoption stuff. I tried to find a parent for a two-week-old born in a hospital prison in Utah. I checked on the status of an eight-year-old HIV-positive black girl I had been trying to place for months, with no success. Difficult things, all of them. The afternoon was bright in a Crayola kind of way, simple blue sky, yellow circle of sun outside my window. But I couldn't see any of it. My mind, for some strange reason, was wandering back to the tale Colleen had told me, the tiny child carrying a child, like one of those Russian nesting dolls, babushkas you open up to find something inside, a child within a child. A mother and a daughter. My mind would not leave what it had only heard.
A mother and a daughter.
One day, before she got sick, my mother gave me my "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret" talk. I sat in stunned silence as she spoke of the wonders of being a woman. She showed me where her maxi pads were keptin the top right-hand dresser drawer, under the fake Ming vase. She told me three times, because I was ten and not listening. I was in shock. I cried as she told me the details of tampons, cramping, and clots. I refused to believe my body would bleed monthly. Being a girl was horrible and gross. It was the end of the world as I knew it. First I found a lone strand of hair under my arm, and now this. I prayed it was all some sick joke mothers were forced to tell their daughters. Since she never brought it up again, I decided to forget the whole thing. Then she died.
I got my period when I was in eighth grade, during basketball practice. I went into the bathroom and saw my stained underwear, disbelieving. I was sure I had cancer, hepatitis, or diarrhea at least. I didn't know what to do or who to tell. I shoved some toilet paper into my shorts and finished the game. When I got home I took a very hot shower, scalded my skin, and wished my mother alive.
With no other choice, I snuck into my mother's room, which was now only my father's room. If anyone saw me, I was going to say I needed change for the ice-cream man. My dad had a pile of pocket coins on his dresser; I frequently helped myself to them. Once inside his room, I put a chair by the door so no one could get in. No one tried to. I saw myself in the mirror, above her dresser, a face full of want and need. I closed my eyes, so as not to see my own disappointment, and slowly pulled at the top right-hand drawer, under the fake Ming vase. My eyes opened to a blur of blue. There they were, a full box of Kotex Maxi Pads, right where she said they would be.
She must have known she was dying, that she would not be around when I needed her most. She orchestrated this comfort and care from beyond the beyond, before she left. I was fourteen the day I first needed a maxi pad. Fourteen, like Stacie.
Why this one girl, Stacie? Why did this tragedy, among all others, sit so stubbornly in my head? I'm not a naive woman. I've seen soul-smashing stuff before. Right from the start, though, Stacie stood out.
Why? Why this one kid, this particular story? I had spoken to pregnant teenage girls before. I had spoken to women who were raped. But never a child, raped, and pregnant, all at once. It was too horrible to imagine, too sickening to forget. And the tragic twist, the inedible icing on the corrupt cakethe rapist was a minister. A minister, a man society tells you is trustworthy, a man you are supposed to love and be led by. A man who should have been safe, a savior even. He was the virtuous villain. It was all too much for me. From the moment I heard the tale, I was hooked.
Copyright © 2002 by Rosie O'Donnell
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