Categorized | Authors, Features

A Place For Authors: Amber Valentine

Posted on 02 December 2010 by Mylynda Guthrie

Indie College is pleased to present the next installment in our “A Place For Authors” feature with a piece  from  sister site Radio Free Chicago’s Editor in Chief Amber Valentine.

"Olivetti Green" pen and ink by Virginia Kraljevic

"Olivetti Green" pen and ink by Virginia Kraljevic

 There was always a trigger and that trigger was always a song. They had a tendency to come into her life late at night, during the hours between two and four, when it was just her and a bottle of liquor. She was certain there was a correlation to be drawn, that perhaps she shouldn’t drink so much or that she did the worst when she was left to her own devices, but she didn’t care enough to stop her habits, nor did she care enough to wake her sleeping boyfriend. He didn’t know, after all. No one in her new life did. She’d moved from the city to Iowa for a reason, after all. She liked the anonymity the cornfields and Quad Cities provided her with. Here, she could be someone else. Here, she could be someone new. And so it was, the songs would play and she would greet them with an expressionless face, silence, and a shot of whiskey. It was always the same.

Certain songs were worse than others–the ones that overtly told a tale eerily similar to the girl she’d left behind in Chicago. Cursive’s “Sierra” was an obvious one. Okkervil River’s “Another Radio Song” had a few lines that would sting like citric acid in an all too fresh wound.

 She was a smart girl; however, and knew what she couldn’t handle. She avoided the songs that ripped the scabs from her flesh, but it didn’t seem to matter how many melodies she avoided, it always seemed that there were new songs to take their place. Lately, it was the overall tone of melancholy she found in the saddest of folk songs, in lyrics that told of becoming something better, something so unlike herself, that were doing her in. She was twenty seven years old now. It seemed ridiculous to her that, had things turned out differently, she’d have a seven year old daughter. She could barely take care of herself, after all. The thought of the life she could have had made her laugh, partially out of disbelief, but mostly because it was just another way to cope.

Tonight, it was “The Blood” by Frontier Ruckus that changed her mood so drastically. It had been a good night. She’d gone out with her boyfriend and the evening ended in sweat soaked sheets, him whispering that he loved her as she returned the sentiments, uncertain if she was lying through her teeth or not. He’d fallen asleep holding her and she’d extracted her limbs from his embrace with all the grace and caution that a girl with fourteen years of ballet lessons should exhibit. She sat in her living room, alone, listening to music, not feeling bad but not feeling anything at all. That nothingness, she surmised, was better than most nights. Perhaps tonight wouldn’t end with her pale limbs crumpled on the floor of her bathroom, expelling the contents of her oft-stocked liquor cabinet. She was wrong, of course, in thinking that. She wasn’t sure what it was about “The Blood” that got to her but up until this night, she’d been certain Frontier Ruckus was a fairly safe band for her psyche to handle. She didn’t catch enough of the lyrics to understand how apt the songs refrain was to her life, whether that was the band’s intention or not, but it was the melodic dirge of the music, the inescapable mournful overtone of the vocals that forced her up from the hand-me-down love seat she was sitting in and over to the mantle, which was topped with everything from Grey Goose to Jameson to Framboise. It was the Jameson she chose tonight. It was always the whiskey that she went for on these kind of evenings.

It was funny, what stuck with her, all these years later. It wasn’t the actual trip to the abortion clinic, nor the orderlies calling her name. It wasn’t the nurse taking her blood sample, telling her she was abnormally high in iron and might want to keep an eye on that. It wasn’t even the needle that delivered anesthetic to her body, or the tingling feeling in her arms as it took affect, or the doctor’s voice, deep and steady, explaining to her what was going on as she drifted into a drugged stupor, backed by the lullaby whir of the murder machine that would suck the unwanted little girl out of her body and into the dumpster of the Aurora branch of Planned Parenthood. Instead, what she remembered was the look on the cashier’s face at Wal-Mart when she bought the pregnancy test. She remembered going to her friend’s house to piss on the stick and she remembered the way she had callously laughed when it came back positive. It hadn’t been a surprise. She’d known. There was something growing inside of her, of course she had known. Her friend had looked at her, a mingled look of shock and concern playing on her face.

“You’re taking this well.”

“Am I?” She asked, her voice completely devoid of emotion.

Her friend didn’t respond right away. Instead, she just turned her back on the twenty year old, still in the bathroom, holding the positive pregnancy test in her tightened grip.

“I’m going to go look up abortion clinics.”

She thought it was strange but fitting that her friend hadn’t even asked what she wanted to do. She just knew. It was probably obvious. No one wanted this child.

Twenty didn’t seem so young at the time but in retrospect, she realized how brim with naivety she’d been. At the time that she’d seen the pink plus sign appear on the white rectangle, twenty had seemed old. Sure, she hadn’t been able to go to a bar and drink but she felt the weariness of someone who had been through too much in too short of a time weigh heavy on her. Plus, in those days, she didn’t drink, having been scared straight at a young age from her stepfather’s years of drug and alcohol abuse. She’d never understood, of course, what had driven him to drink. Eight years after his death, she got it though. It was the memories that mount in your brain that you just can’t shake.

Those were the reasons she left Chicago. She’d tried, of course, to put things back together but after her abortion, she felt as if everyone knew. Even the people who didn’t know, she felt their eyes well alternately with pity and judgment when they stared at her. She was tainted. Marked. And who would love her this way? Who would consent to taking her home, knowing what she was capable of? It was her own guilt that made her think this way and she knew it but the moment a job offer came elsewhere in the country, she took it and she did so eagerly. Everything in the city, everyone she knew, was a constant reminder that she’d fucked up. It wasn’t her fault but the specifics didn’t matter. All that mattered was the outcome. The drive to Aurora had been hellishly silent. She’d followed all the instructions the nurse had told her on the phone – Wear loose fitting clothes, warm socks, bring a friend because you won’t be able to drive. She’d made sure to find that nurse at the clinic and thank her for cutting her a deal on the cost. It ends up if you don’t know who the father is or if it wasn’t consensual, you can get quite a steal on abortions. It had seemed cordial to her then but in retrospect, she found it laughably strange.

“Hey, thanks for that deadbeat dad discount so I could kill my fetus before the first trimester was up. I sure do appreciate it.”

Before they took her back, she had to fill out a questionnaire, a psych evaluation of sorts. The questions ranged from “Does the father of the fetus know of the pregnancy?” to “How do you feel about terminating the pregnancy? Circle all that apply: Relieved, Scared, Happy, Worried, Guilty.” With each honest answer, she hated herself a little more. It didn’t make her feel good to admit her pleasure in killing her daughter and she never admitted to anyone that she’d named her, just like she’d never tell anyone that she was never actually busy on December 3rd of every year but she was just mourning the fact that her baby would be another year older.

Iowa turned into a safe haven of sorts and she was happy, albeit it in a different way than most people would define happiness. To her, happiness was secrecy. Happiness was the impenetrable guard she kept at all times. She’d gotten alarmingly good at mystery. Why did she leave Chicago? The job, of course. It was the perfect cover. No one asked questions and she liked it that way. She made great friends and she met a boy who was the opposite of every guy she’d ever been with before. He was nice and smart and had witty anecdotes and he loved her. But she couldn’t let him in. Seven years after the fact and she still couldn’t talk about it. Seven years after the fact and she still wondered what had been killed inside of her that day because she was certain it was more than just the fetus. She didn’t regret her decision, not for a minute. There was no way she could have had her baby and she knew it. She would’ve resented it, seeing the face of the abusive son of a bitch she partnered up with far too young every time she looked at the girl and hating her a little for the life her daughter had robbed her of. She knew it would be that way because that’s how it had been with her own mother and she couldn’t condemn a child to that, not in good conscience. So she found out she was pregnant and she left the boy, with bruises on her face, and she killed the child. But she wasn’t cut out to deal with what she’d done, not even all these years later. Some nights were easy. In fact, the easy ones, since she’d moved, had far outweighed the hard ones. But that wasn’t much consolation, not as she watched her new friends couple up and get married and get pregnant, nor as she fended off her boyfriend’s pleas for commitment and questions about familial matters. She’d shy away and in those moments, she was certain he knew. In those moments, there was an inkling on his face and a crimson burn on hers and she was convinced the shame would bury her alive.

Instead of confessing her guilt, confessing her ghost, she’d pour herself a glass a whiskey over ice and she’d drink until she could forget, even if she only forgot for a few hours.

-Amber Valentine

Ed. note: Missed our first “A Place For Authors” contributions? Read them here, and please be sure to send us your fiction. We want to support independent artists like Amber, and like you!

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