I found myself sitting on a public bench, breathing hard and struggling not to cry in public. Graffiti decorated the wood of the bench, and several people had carved their names into the material. My eyes fell on a little heart etched into the seat next to mine, a pair of initials in the center. I wondered if the couple who’d left their mark here were still together, if they’d found their happily ever after. Daydreaming about a couple I’d never met, probably would never encounter, was a lot easier than dealing with my own reality. I couldn’t rely on Chris or my parents to take care of me. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to forgive them for what they did. Within the span of just a few minutes, I was all alone again.
My phone was vibrating violently in my pocket, notifying me of several dozen text messages from my brother and a handful of voicemails left by my parents. I ignored them all. Rather selfishly, I wanted them to worry. I wanted them to feel as hurt and scared as I did. I knew it was juvenile, foolish. But I was so angry and embarrassed and afraid that I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t know who to turn to, had nobody in my corner.
I sat on that bench for what felt like hours. Time was no longer a concept that I understood. Seconds bled into one another, dripping into minutes that I couldn’t keep count of. I wanted nothing more than to go home, to crawl into a tight ball beneath the comfortable warmth of my bed sheets. But what if everybody was still there? My family, my friends. Joe. What if they were all still there, laughing at me for my naiveté? I couldn’t stomach the thought of going back. Not yet, at least. I told myself I just needed to cool down, to come to my senses.
I looked up, startling a bit when I saw Joe rounding the corner. He looked out of breath, like he’d been running. A quick glimpse down at his hands filled me with instant concern. His knuckles were bruised purple and red, crusted blood covering his skin. Joe approached cautiously, taking a seat next to me on the bench.
“Are you okay?” he whispered.
“Am I okay?” I repeated, words coming out with a nervous laughter. “Do I look okay? Everything’s falling apart, Joe. I can’t–” I inhaled sharply, so overwhelmed that my teeth felt like they were vibrating. “Why is this happening to me? Was it selfish of me to want to keep the baby? What am I going to do now? I just– I can’t–”
Joe reached out and gingerly cupped my face with his hands. He leaned forward and pressed our foreheads together. “Breathe,” he hushed. “Breathe.”
“I’m scared,” I admitted. “I’m terrified. I don’t know if I can do this. What if I’m a terrible mother?”
He offered me a sweet smile. “You’re not going to be a terrible mother.”
“But how do you know?”
I started to sob in earnest, heavy breaths shaking my body. I’d been holding everything back for so long that my head was seconds away from exploding from the pressure. My nose was completely stuffed up, my eyes were straining, my lips were cracked, and the corners of my vision were all blurry because of the sting of tears. I wanted nothing more than to disappear, to magically snap my fingers so that I could start to feel okay again. But there was no magic solution, no answers for my questions and uncertainties. It was just me and Joe and a sat little bench out in the middle of this unforgiving city.
“Because you’re sweet. You’re kind. And your have a great deal more patience than most people. You try to see the good in everything and everyone. That’s why, deep down, you chose to keep the kid. You don’t see the baby as a burden, you see it as an opportunity for endless happiness.”
I sniffled, wiping my eyes with the back of my hands. I managed a shaky giggle. Something about Joe’s words rang true, cut through the veil of uncertainty that had been plaguing me for so long. That was what I liked about Joe. He was a comfort without trying to be, he was an anchor amid stormy seas. He had a way of making me feel whole and safe through little more than a small embrace and kind sentences.
“Terri,” he started carefully, like he was testing the waters, “I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. I don’t want you to make any decisions right away, so just listen.”
“Okay,” I exhaled through the nose.
“Even though I know you’re more than capable, I don’t want you to do this alone. If you want, I’d very much like to… Well, I’d be more than happy to step up and help you raise the baby.”