The beer can was nearly empty. She drained the last drops, feeling the stress burn away with the fire chasing down her throat. It was good to relax. Over six months of fighting with her parents and dealing with the tension in the home. She deserved this chance.
“Alright, gimme it,” she slurred to the man next to her.
He held up the needle. “This?”
Her brain wasn’t producing her usual rapid-fire comebacks. “Uh-huh.”
“You sure?” He teased, sweeping her semi-prostrate form with a leering grin.
One hand patted her rounded stomach. “No complaints yet. Besides, she doesn’t kick as much when I’m high.”
They laughed drunkenly as he readied the needle.
**19 years later**
“Drug and alcohol abuse during pregnancy most often leads to birth defects and brain damage in the unborn child.”
I nearly dropped the textbook. My friend looked up from her take home final.
“Yeah, that’s the chapter. Thanks for getting there.”
She took the book to double-check her answer. I pretended to go back to studying The Tempest, but my mind wouldn’t focus on the notes. There was a gnawing terror in my gut. I tried to avoid picturing the report, but I couldn’t.
I had always known I was adopted. When I was 12 and started asking questions, my parents willingly provided the report the adoption agency prepared. I drank in the information my biological mother had given, the self-description that disclosed I got my dark eyes and love of logic puzzles from her, the description of her parents that told me I got my height from my grandpa. I’d even come to terms with the lack of information under the “Father” heading, and the probable reason. But I’d never really addressed the three sentences under “Drug and Alcohol Use.”
“You okay?” my friend asked, setting aside her test.
I nodded, but she just raised an eyebrow. My mind whirred for a moment, thinking through options that didn’t have to include lying. Nothing.
I picked up her book and pointed to the page I had found. She re-read the sentence and looked up expectantly.
“My mom drank pretty heavily while she was pregnant with me. Some drugs, too,” I said matter-of-factly, focusing on the words, not the meaning. “Mostly during the third trimester.”
Her face crumpled with a compassionate wince. I didn’t even bother looking at her. I was still struggling to process what I’d read. It was just information, I told myself. It didn’t matter. Wasn’t like it affected me.
I love to think. My freshman roommate told me I was the only person she knew who could make thinking an Olympic sport. The idea that I might not have had that ability was staggering. I desperately ran through my academic achievements, clinging to the markers of my mental prowess. Early graduation from high school. A 30 on the ACT, putting me in the top 6% of the nation. Consistent A’s and one B so far in college. What did I care that I was supposed to be brain damaged? My brain forcefully overpowered my heart, ignoring the emotions.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
I shrugged, choking out a laugh. “Hey, if I’m brain damaged, just think how smart I was supposed to be.”
The joke fell horridly flat. My friend pursed her lips and shook her head.
I shoved the book toward her, anger tightening my chest. “What? What do you want me to say? ‘Hooray, by some freak accident, I managed to survive the fact that my mother is a selfish jerk and keep my brain mostly intact,’?”
She winced again. I forced the tears back, reaching for my Fine Arts notebook. It wasn’t worth dealing with – particularly not during finals week.
“No,” she answered belatedly. “It’s not a freak accident. It’s a miracle.”
I didn’t want to think about it. I flipped open the notebook, pretending not to hear. But as I started skimming my notes, the smallest sliver of comfort settled in my heart.
I’ve moved on from that moment in time. I’m not sure I’ve come to grips with everything that moment represents, but I’ve decided it will not define me. And when the memory occasionally surfaces, I’ve learned how to react. Rather than focus on what could have been, I simply pick a new topic and embark on my favorite activity. Thinking.
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