Perfection (Part 2)
By Angie Perkins
I’m waiting. Waiting for my life to fall apart. Holding back tears, running my hands through my hair, looking at myself in the mirror. I need this to be ok. I need to be ok.
I check again, the time isn’t up, but I have to know. I’m hiding here, in a school bathroom, waiting for confirmation that my life is over. Knowing what it will be if the worst is true. Knowing what will lie ahead, almost hyperventilating as my last moments of blissful ignorance float away.
Maybe I can just destroy it, never know. Deny it to myself. My family. Until I can’t anymore. Until all the barriers break and everyone finds out, in one horrible moment that destroys me. But it wouldn’t be today. Not a regular sunny morning when I should be in class, acing a quiz to make my mother proud. Not a day where I have to lead a practice later. I shouldn’t have to worry about this. I’m so stupid. I can’t believe that this is even a fear, even a possibility. What have I done to deserve this? A timer goes off. Ringing metallically, bouncing off the tiled walls. My time is up. My ignorance, gone. The truth has appeared. I can’t bring myself to look at it. To find out. If I am, then I am so totally screwed.
I steel myself. I won’t be. I’m only a few days late, right? I’m going to look down and instantly feel relief.
My world crashes down around me. I can’t be.
My hands are shaking. I fumble for my phone. I have to tell him. He has to know. We have to figure this out. We’re in this together. I text him. “Call me” And then again. And again.
And again until a message returns to me. “What?”
“Call me now. I have to talk to you”
“Can’t I’m with the guys. Jesus.”
“We need to talk now.” I can’t believe him. He’s screwing around with his friends while I’m hyperventilating in a bathroom.
“What? Jesus, I’ll call.”
I pick up first ring. It’s noisy and he’s yelling something to a friend. “Yeah? What is it?” He sounds weird.
“There’s something really important I have to tell you.”
He’s laughing now. The laugh he uses to hint that I’m too serious. Too uptight. “Oh come on, it can’t be that bad.” He’s slurring his words now.
“Are you drunk right now?”
“Jesus, calm down, such a buzzkill. What’s so important that you had to call me?”
I almost can’t bring myself to say it. The words stick in my throat. “I’m pregnant”
He laughs, “Very funny. Now seriously what is it? Did you get a 98 on a paper and are scared what Mommy and Daddy will say?”
“Why are you acting like an ass?” I’m close to tears, my voice is wavering, I won’t cry.
“I’m not going to loosen up.” I’m screaming now. “You need to stop screwing around and listen to me. I. Am. Pregnant.”
“Shit for real?” He pauses, I hear the noise of his friends fade a little. “You’re really pregnant.” His voice is a whisper, nearly inaudible.
“Yes for real. God, can you please act like an adult for one second. I am so screwed. We both are. Jesus. ”
There’s a pause. “I don’t think I can do this right now.”
“What do you mean? This isn’t a choice dammit.”
“I really can’t.” And he hangs up. I stare at the screen. My mind is blank. This cannot be happening. He can’t have done that. I can’t believe he’s leave me alone. To deal with this. I sink to the floor, like a rag doll. Abandoned.
As I go to shut off my phone, I’m crying, really sobbing now. But it vibrates. And it’s my mother reminding me of some dumb college thing I have to do. Have to perfect. And it vibrates again and the message reads “we’re counting on you to make us proud.” The sadness gives way to anger. All of my frustration at her. At her and my father’s constant lessons of how to act perfect. At her apathy for anything happening in my life that won’t make me a better trophy. That won’t ignite envy. And I can hardly breath, I want to scream, but it gets caught in my throat. Snuffed out by the seething fury. She wants me to make her proud?
Well aren’t you so proud of your perfect girl now, Mom? Dad? I really hope this doesn’t mess with your plans to parade my excellence around to all your friends. To show off the perfect girl you’ve made. The perfect girl you’ve trained me to be. At the expense of my happiness. My sanity.
Aren’t you just so proud of your accomplishments. Your little girl. All knocked up and broken down in a school bathroom. But I mean as long as I get into that Ivy you like, does a baby bump really matter? As long as you can brag about me, do my feelings or problems matter at all?
No, because you’ve taught me that all that matters is what people see. And you sure as hell have made sure no one sees my panic attacks after a bad grade. Made sure no one sees me when I’m emotional, if the emotion is anything other than happy. Made sure that I look perfect. That I am a robot who excels, and excels, and excels, and never thinks for herself. Never acts against instructions. Never embarrasses her maker.
Well, you really screwed up this time, didn’t you? You can’t just threaten a teacher or send me to a therapist to prescribe me the pills that’ll make me perfect again. I am broken much further than you ever anticipated. I am truly screwed.
And just as you’ve trained me all I can think about now is my reputation. About yours. What it’ll do to the family. What social circles we’ll fall out of. The looks you’ll get at the supermarket, so different from the looks of envy and awe you are accustomed to.
But it’s not even about that. It’s that I really have screwed up, in a way that I can’t undo. Can’t hide. That this will affect and shape my entire life. But I know that all you’ll see is the local shock. The response here. You won’t even care about the real problems. All you’ll want to do is send me away. To keep the scandal from leaking out.
I’ll be sent to hide out at some distant relative with a convincing and awe-inspiring cover story. I can see my mother smiling at a nondescript fancy woman wearing pearls and sipping champagne at a dinner party, “My daughter, oh yes, she’s teaching underprivileged kids English, in Haiti no less. we’re so proud.” “When’s she coming back, well I’m not really sure, she has fallen in love with the culture down there.” And then a little false laugh, and a subject change, to something much less shameful.
Exile is their only option. My only future. My future flashes through my mind. Husbandless, parentless, collegeless. I am doomed. I have no future. And the fury finally subsides enough to let out dry heaving sobs. Moans of pain. Of fury. At myself. At my parents. At my stupid boyfriend. I can’t stop them.
I’m just about to pray that no one hears me, when the door opens. I stop crying. I scramble to the pregnancy test, clutching it in my hand.
Some sophomore in tattered jeans and tee shirt. Staring at me openly. Not even doing me the courtesy of looking away. Staring transfixed at the broken girl on the floor.
She says something. I don’t hear her. Her words mean nothing.
Her lips more again. Probably mocking me.
“I said get out.” I’m furious now. That someone has seen me. Walked in on this moment. Some random girl has seen what lies inside. Has seen me cry.
She says something else. I hear one word this time. “…help.” She wants to give me help. I don’t need help. Those who ask for help are weak. They can’t handle anything.
“No, I don’t need help. I’m…” I begin to repeat the line I’ve been taught to say when upset, that I’m fine. But the realization of how un-fine I am doesn’t let the word escape my lips. As I try and speak it my voice cracks. And I’m crying again. Harder than before. In front of her.
And suddenly she’s next to me. Holding onto me, and I let her. I sob into her shoulder. I breathe her in, she smells familiar, like a perfume I used to wear. She’s soft, not bony like my mother, nor tense like my father when I ask for affection from either of them. She is warm, and is not laughing at me, glad to see me fail. Not telling me to pull myself together. Not saying that I’m asking for attention by crying. Just letting me sob into her. But this moment can’t last. I have to face the reality. Have to ask her for her silence.
I pull away at last, still sniffling, “P-p-please don’t t-t-tell anyone you saw me here.” I’m embarrassed to hear myself stutter, but I can’t help it.
She smiles at me, sweetly, then looks down. I rush to hide the pregnancy test, but don’t in time. I see realization dawn on her face. I grab her arm, desperate to regain her attention.
“Please” My voice wavers. I feel as if I have lost all the power and authority in my voice.
“Are you-“ She lets the question hang there. I can’t tell her. Not this random stranger.
“Please” I ask again.
She nods and says my least favorite words. “It’s OK…” I cut her off, it’s as if these words trigger my earlier anger. I’m yelling again. Drowning out her next words.
“It’s ok? It’s ok?! It is so far from ok! My parents will kick me out! Is that OK? My boyfriend, I just told him,” I gesture toward my phone lying on the floor, “is going to leave me! Is that OK!?! I can’t play sports! I can’t do anything! No college will want me! Everyone is going to see me and know. They will look at me with triumph and think to themselves good, she deserved it. My life is over. Is that OK!?” I can’t yell anymore. I can barely speak. But I let out a whisper. “I can’t have a baby, I’m only 17”
She looks at me with such pity. She I’m sure was one of the girls who idolized me. Who thought I was flawless. A girl who my mother has trained me to fool. I can see myself losing all of the untouchable grace in her eyes. But she promises. And in her voice I hear the pity, and it sets me off again. I’m sobbing and she’s still looking at me with that look that exhumes pity. I can’t bear it. I have to turn away, to shut my eyes. I don’t even hear her leave. But soon I am alone again. Broken on the bathroom floor.