It was my favorite book. A book of notes and verses. Not rhyming poetry; short poems and thoughts mainly – words of wisdom written by mother. Mom had always liked to write, and a large number of poems had collected in and on her desk until Pa had decided to have them bound and published. He had some copies made for the family and friends, and had handed them out as a Christmas gift. One of them had been for me. I was then twelve and have cherished the book ever since. I never left home without it. I used to carry it with me on holidays or school trips. It sits now – battered by use and with company – on the shelf above the fireplace at my house. Mom had written a dedication on the first page. It read:
“To my one and only daughter – May the sun always shine and Life be kind to you.”
The sun was shining all right, but I doubted life was being kind to me! For the first time since running away I felt all the weight of my decision, together with its implications. And I felt utterly alone.
“Behold the stillness of the storm
And the clamor of respite.
So that when your heart leaps,
Your mind will harness it.”
Mostly, I felt I could not keep the secret much longer. It weighted on me since the middle of May. I had not told anyone, not even Trisha. Not even Paul. We’d been going steady for almost a year before we decided it was time to strengthen our relationship. Well, strengthen it we did! Our recklessness would become evident quite soon; until then I had resolved not to think about it. I wanted to be my old self for a while longer – to remain the cheerful girl I’d always been. I would have enough time later to sober up and take care of… well – whatever was coming, I guess.
So this was the real reason. Of course my parents’ decision to leave would have upset me at any moment, but now it was even worse; I had a boyfriend and we had something together. The feeling hit me like a real blow. I missed him so much – had not even said goodbye to him.
We were not in the same class; he was a year older than I, and high school would be over for him in a few days. He hadn’t decided yet what to do afterwards, which meant that he would probably remain on the land – to help with the running of the farm – as one of his brothers had done before him. Being the daughter of a landowner myself, I liked the idea of being the girlfriend of a farmer. He was tall, lightly built but not lanky. His eyes were dark deep pools: you would do anything for those eyes.
Even get pregnant at sixteen. There – I had finally said it. I had not said those words yet, not even to myself. What would I do? What could I possibly do that would not change my life altogether, and the one of those around me? So I had kept my mouth shut, and the secret had gone unchallenged. He had not noticed anything, of course – how could he? He was so taken by me, by life in general – by the simple fact of being seventeen and having the world at his feet. At that age you feel you can do anything, or chose to do nothing special and still be someone because of it.
We had met at a school party more than a year ago. I had blushed when he had asked me to dance, and was relieved when I noticed that he, too, was a poor dancer. But he was holding me as if he would never let me go, and so we had danced until the party was over. After that he had asked me out on a date from time to time, more frequently as the days passed. Sometimes he would come up the road to our farm before school, and we would walk there together. Lately, though, because of the final exams, I had not seen him in the mornings. I had hoped to see him the day I’d run away. Maybe we could have worked something out together.
About four months ago we had celebrated our first anniversary. That’s when I had gone to the wood without my parents’ permission. We had taken some fruit and a bottle of apple juice with us, and we had made a toast with it. And he had told me that he was ready for more; he had made it clear that it was not just a question of sex. He loved me truly and deeply, and that’s why he wanted to make love to me. I had been afraid at first. You hear so many things – how you should wait for Mr. Right; how boys won’t look at you in the same way when they find out you’ve done it already; the ever present danger of getting pregnant. In his defense I must say it did not take him long to convince me, and so one night he stole away from his house and came to me. We met in the barn, I having climbed down the pipe from my window. He was tender and caring, and cradled me in his arms before and after.
We’d met in this way every week since. As a game, it was never on the same night, so that I would never know in advance when he would come. When he did come, he would walk under my bedroom window as soon as he was sure there was no danger, and would throw a small stone or make some light noise. I was always waiting for him. I knew that, if he didn’t come before a certain hour at night, then he would not come at all and I could go to sleep. And of course we’d meet at school and otherwise during the day – at some friend’s house or in town. The town was somewhat distant, and we didn’t go there frequently; but the school was close to it, and a lot of friends lived there, too.
The last time I had seen him was five days ago. Since this was his last year in high school, classes were over for him, and he did not have to go to school until next week for his final exams. That’s why I hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye. He had come to me on Tuesday, and we had made love in the barn as always. It was hard for us not to be able to see each other more frequently, but this increased our passion – and we were happy for that.
Of course I would have to tell him about the baby soon. I kept telling myself that it was the fruit of our love, and that – although the situation was not the proper one – we would manage. I thought he would be happy to become a father – although it was very early; one of his brothers had gotten married two years ago and at the end of last year they had had a baby girl. He was very fond of his niece and kept speaking about her. But sometimes I was afraid that he didn’t want to manage. What if he didn’t want to have anything to do with it? He might get scared – like I was – and decide not to take responsibility. And I did not want to press him. Of course everybody in school knew we were steady; our families knew that, too. It would be clear that the baby was his. But I did not want a forced marriage. I wanted him to be free to make his decision as I had made mine the day we had made love the first time.
“Enjoy every single day
And delight in your happiness
But do not shun sorrow:
It’ll stalk you forever”
A child is reason for joy, not sorrow. And if fate had decided to give me one now, then who was I to question destiny? I would raise my baby – possibly with the man I loved – and be happy for it.
As the last rays of the sun disappeared, I squinted at the book in my hands:
“Don’t cry over broken toys or fret about your misbehavior.
Remember that Mom and Dad will always be there for you.”
This had clearly been written for me; there had been a number of situations that could have inspired such lines. I closed the book and ate a second apple. Then I rose, put on some additional clothing, wrapped myself in the jacket, and sat in the hollow, teddy bear on my lap.
I would have liked very much to be able to go to my parents and tell them everything; sometimes I thought I would burst if I did not tell them. But I was so uncertain! What if they did not want me to keep the baby? I was too young to think about abortion, but I certainly knew about adoption – a friend in school had been adopted – and I did not want that! And they might get very upset with me. I was afraid they would feel I had shamed them with my behavior. What if they did not want to have anything to do with me anymore?
So time had passed and I had kept silent, until the day in which I was told we had to leave and change our life completely. Well – I was not ready to change it that way! It was going to be changed already by what I had done; let it be at least in my environment, with the people and things I loved.
I fell asleep almost immediately – I had been very tired after all – and slept good part of the night. When I awoke – stiff and cold as always – I was caught by a sudden restlessness to get going. It was too dark outside, though, to be able to do anything, so I just waited. When the sun finally rose, I stumbled out of the tree and proceeded to collect my belongings. Not that I had many right now! I packed everything in my backpack, took the bottle and the last apple, and went to the stream. The fish smelled, so I threw them away and resolved to catch some more as soon as I arrived at the tree where I had to turn left towards the cave. I washed as well as I could and then drank and refilled my water bottle. Then I started walking on the left side of the stream, nibbling at the apple as I went.
The rising sun warmed me, and – as the stiffness went slowly away – I made my way faster downstream. I had been walking for almost the hour it should have taken me to reach the tree, when I heard somebody call. I ran to the left and hid among the trees. The sound was far away, coming from the west. My heart began racing. Was that it? Had they finally found me? My flight hadn’t lasted long then! I tried to hide as well as I could, at the same time keeping an ear out for the sound of voices.
The call was repeated over and over and – as it drew nearer – I realized it was my name being called. It was a male voice, and there seemed to be only one – if there were more pursuers, they were keeping silent. All at once a figure materialized on the other side of the stream. My heart missed a beat then, and I barely kept myself from coming out of hiding.
It was Paul. He stood there, in the light of the sun, squinting in my direction and calling my name. He repeated the name dozens of times; it looked as though a hunch or something was keeping him there. He wavered for a while, unwilling to go on. There really seemed to be nobody with him. He must have stood there for at least five minutes – I would had seen the others by now had there been any.
So I stood out of the shelter of the trees and walked into the light. I don’t know what made me do it – maybe the memory of those eyes. It took some time for him to realize somebody was standing on the other side of the stream; I think the sun was blinding him. He ran towards me, crossing the stream as well as he could, splashing water all around and getting wet in the process. He stopped a few feet away to face me. I must have looked like a scarecrow to him – the result of three days’ hiding in the wood. He had an astonished and at same time stricken look on his face.
“Is it really you? Honey, I…”
He did not finish the sentence. We ran into each other’s arms. The force of the impact almost threw us on the ground, and we gladly surrendered to it. We rolled for a while, kissing and hugging each other. All my worries – my darkest fears – had melted away that very minute. Then he finally released me. We sat on the turf, speechless.
“Are you alone? Is somebody else coming?”
I must have looked really worried, because he hastened to reassure me that he was alone. People were looking for me, but were far away to the north. Nobody had probably thought I could be this far out. Mother and Father had guessed the reason I had run away and had decided to give me some time to work things out. They were sure I would go back by myself. After the second night, though, they had started to really worry, and on the third day they had begun looking for me with the help of friends. They had gone to his house the previous night – to see if he knew anything about it. And today he had decided to come looking for me. It had been hard for him to leave the house without anybody noticing, and would have to go back soon, lest they discover him. But why was I here? Why had I run away?
And so I told him everything. How I had come home and had heard the news of our leaving; how I had planned everything during the night and had told only Trisha because he wasn’t at school. I told him about how much I had missed him and how I was afraid of losing him. I buried my head in his chest and started sobbing. He stroked my hair lightly, murmuring endearments. So I raised my head to look him in the eyes and told him.
“I will have a baby. Our baby.”
He was silent then – a look of bewilderment on his handsome face. I could see worry and uncertainty, pride and … happiness? Mastering his emotions at last, he rose to his feet, pulling me up with him. He stepped back a pace, and – holding me at arm’s length – he looked at me deep in the eyes. What I saw was determination.
“I will stand by you. Always. Because I love you”.
My head was spinning then; I must have looked rather faint, because he picked me up in his arms and carried me closer to the water, with which he sprinkled my face. He took a small package out of his pockets; there was some cheese in it, and I ate it gratefully. I hadn’t realized how hungry I really was. I had gone without food for a day, with the exception of three apples and some fish, and my stomach was rumbling softly.
While I was eating he told me of a place in the wood. It was a cabin some relatives of his had built long ago. Nobody used it now except on occasions – when his father went hunting and had to spend a night out, for instance. That’s why there was always some food there. He suggested he accompany me there, and then go back home. He would come to me in the night, and we would decide then what to do.
And so we got up and started walking. The cabin lay to the north, away from the main road – which ran northwest – but on a path. We would have to be careful and keep our eyes open. We retraced my steps to the hollow tree, and I told him how I had found it and used it these past nights. I told him also about the pond and the cave, and how I was planning to live there. As we walked farther north, we were careful of sounds and proceeded with caution. We found the path towards midday. It was disused but still visible, and large enough that a car could be driven along it. We turned west then and walked for not more than a quarter of an hour.
He opened the door; went in to control nobody was there, and then left me – with the promise to come back as soon as possible. He told me to shut the door and remain inside. And then he was gone down the path.