1. Racing From Love Ch. 19-21byinspirixis1©
Emma wasn’t sure what to do. It had been so good to see Sam again, he made life so much easier, especially under the current shitty circumstances. Who else could make her laugh during a gynecological exam? When she hung out with Sam the anxiety could be kept at bay. But she owed her parents. They had saved her life, given her a chance to succeed, could she really throw that back in their faces?
If she was feeling conflicted about Sam it was nowhere near the confusion that she was feeling over the pregnancy. She didn’t want it. She wanted to run in her last year of college, to go to the national championships. She wanted to have a normal life, to go to law school and get married and settle down before having kids. But she felt so protective of it, she couldn’t help but rub her belly and curl around it at night and pray. She didn’t even believe in god, but she still prayed. She loved it, that’s what it came down to. She didn’t even know it yet and she loved it. How could that be possible?
She saw Linda the psychologist again but it seemed she’d provided the big insight on her first visit. The big point she had tried to make was that her mom was acting in her own best interests, but that was obvious to Emma anyway, since their mom had lied to Sam. She wasn’t much help.
It was Friday, their embryo was 22 days old. She needed to make a decision soon.
She had taken the afternoon off to take her Nanna into San Francisco to go to lunch and see the Christmas tree in Union Square. It was tradition. Nanna and Poppa had taken her and Sam to see the tree every year when they were kids. They’d walk around and look at the Christmas scenes in the windows of the big department stores, pointing out the elves and reindeer and squealing in delight when they came upon a window with a fake snow machine. It was always so magical.
Emma had kept the tradition up even after they had outgrown looking in the windows. Even after Poppa had died and even after Sam had left for college, she still took Nanna every year to look at the tree.
It was surprisingly warm for December in San Francisco, it was actually a glorious day. After lunch they sat on a bench in the square looking at the tree and watching children play around it. There were all sorts of kids around, from little babies in the arms of a parent to preadolescent teenagers, in every skin tone imaginable. It was San Francisco, after all.
Emma felt heavy, every movement, every word was a huge effort for her. It was the depression. She knew that she needed medication but she was putting it off until she decided what to do about the pregnancy. If she decided to terminate the pregnancy she could go back on the Paxil.
‘I remember when you and Sam were small and you two used to run around like those kids,’ Nanna said, nodding to a group of kids tearing around the square, chasing each other and shrieking in delight. ‘I was always so afraid of losing the two of you, you were so quick,’ she chuckled.
‘Back in those days people used to look at us strangely when we’d take the two of you out. An elderly white couple with one white kid and one black kid. We certainly got some funny looks, but we didn’t care, you kids brought us so much joy. I only wish that your mother’s parents could have realized that.’
Huh? What was Nanna going on about? Mom’s parents died a long time ago, before Sam and she were even born. This was all she needed, her own life was fucked up, and now Nanna was going senile.
‘Nanna, mom’s parents never even met us, they died before Sam and I were born,’ she said gently as she turned to her old grandmother.
Nanna was still watching the children playing around the tree. ‘Emma, you are an adult now, you deserve to know the truth.’
The truth? What truth? What was she going on about?
‘Your mother’s parents are still alive and well, as far as I know. They live in rural Ohio.’
‘What? Nanna you’re not making any sense, if mom’s parents were alive why haven’t we ever met them?’
Nanna turned and placed a hand over hers, her blue eyes were sprightly in her old wrinkled face. ‘Emma, I’m going to tell you the whole story, the true version. You’ll need to be strong my girl, because there are some parts that you are not going to like.’
Emma’s mouth was dry, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know whatever it was Nanna seemed intent on telling her. ‘Okay,’ she said in a small voice.
‘I remember the day that you were born Emma, so tumultuous, so sad. I got a phone call from John, he was close to panic, which is very unlike him.
‘He was leaving the hospital after Sam was born and he’d found a pregnant teenager wandering around outside, bleeding. She was out of it, having some sort of psychotic episode. She’d begged him not to take her inside; she thought that they would kill her in there.
‘Of course he had no choice, he picked her up and took her inside, kicking, screaming, biting. She kept on telling him, ‘They’re going to kill me,’ he tried to calm her down but what could he say? The girl was nuts, totally psychotic.
‘She died in the emergency room, the coroner found a lethal cocktail of drugs in her blood. You were cut out of her womb the minute she was pronounced dead.’
Nanna paused a moment and squeezed Emma’s shoulder. She felt numb.
‘Nobody knew who this woman was, she didn’t have any ID, she didn’t have any dental records, she never told anyone her name, she was a complete mystery.
‘You were very sick, you were premature and you had drugs in your system. You were in the intensive care unit for a long time. John would go and visit you every day, he felt responsible for you, he was heartbroken that you were alone. When you were well enough to go to a foster family nobody wanted you. You see, there was something else...’
Emma was crying, she couldn’t help it, big fat streaks of tears ran down her face and dripped onto her sweater. Nanna took both her hands.
‘Your mother had HIV.’
Emma gasped as her chest contracted painfully. The woman that Nanna was describing and the picture that she was painting was so different from the story she’d been told all her life.
‘Back in those days it wasn’t clear how the virus was spread, there was so much fear. Even though your tests had come back negative, no foster family would take you.
‘John asked Judy if they could take you in, just until a good family could be found. It was a difficult time, Sam was still so young and vulnerable and being new parents they were afraid of every little bump or scratch.
‘They read everything they could find on the virus and talked to doctors who were researching it. Finally they decided to take the chance on you.
‘Well, once you were inside the house everything changed. They fell in love with you, Sam fell in love with you. He was a changed baby, whilst before he would cry and scream, now he would giggle and coo.
Nanna smiled, lost in thought. ‘You were the most beautiful baby Emma, Poppa and I were tickled pink. Judy always said that she would only have one child, she was a career woman and she couldn’t afford the extra time off, but now it seemed that we might have two grandchildren after all. The talk of adoption started, but there was a problem.
‘Judy’s parents would not hear of it. They were fundamentalists you see, they didn’t believe in interracial families, they thought the blacks belonged with the blacks and not in their daughter’s home. They threatened to excommunicate her.
‘It was a terrible strain on your poor mother. She is a good woman, you must know that, but when one’s parents have such a strong will on an issue it can tend to cloud one’s judgment.’
Nanna paused. She was still holding Emma’s hands and she squeezed them lightly, was she imagining it or was Nanna trying to emphasize that last comment?
‘Judy decided to give you up. John was devastated. This time a foster family was found and you were sent away to them.’
Emma thought she could feel hear heart breaking, the pain in her chest was searing.
‘Three months you were gone. It was the longest three months of any of our lives. John was practically stalking your new foster family, trying to make sure you were safe. Sam was hysterical; he wouldn’t stop screaming. He spent every single waking moment screaming, and he hardly slept. Judy took him to all sorts of doctors, specialists for every conceivable problem. There was nothing physically wrong with him, he just wouldn’t stop screaming. Judy was a mess, she loved you Emma, don’t doubt that, but she was dutiful to her parents. The conflict within her was tremendous.
‘Those were hard times,’ Nanna said, shaking her head. She took her hands away and rooted around in her handbag for a moment before pulling out a big lacy handkerchief, the kind that only grandmas carry these days. She took Emma’s face in her hands and wiped away her tears. It was such a kind gesture. She handed Emma the ridiculous handkerchief.
‘It all came to a head when you were admitted to the hospital.’
Emma didn’t know how much more of this she could take. She didn’t want to know why she would have been back in the hospital, the possibilities were too horrible to contemplate.
‘The foster family’s son had pushed you off the changing table while the mother wasn’t looking, and you’d hit your head hard. You weren’t in any real danger, the doctors did CT scans and had you under observation for a few days, but it was too much for your poor mother, she asked to take you back.
‘Her parents were furious. They were racist, they didn’t think you belonged and you were such a risk in their eyes. Nobody knew what you’d been through in your mother’s womb, what sorts of drugs or alcohol you’d been exposed to when you were just developing, and now you had a traumatic head injury to add to that. They were sure that you could only bring heartache to their only child.
‘But your mother and father were firm, in their eyes you belonged in their home and nowhere else. There was a nasty scuffle and Judy’s parents haven’t spoken to her since.’
Emma was crying hard, Nanna put her arm around her and squeezed her.
Poor mom. Emma had never realized how much hardship she had brought on her mother. The way her parents had told the story was always so simple and happy, she had never thought to question the validity of it.
Nanna let Emma weep for a long time, rubbing her back and squeezing her shoulders without saying anything. When she finally calmed down she looked up to see the children still playing around the Christmas tree. They were still pointing and screaming, and running and chasing each other. The world hadn’t changed, but Emma had.
‘We all agreed that it would be best to keep this from you until you were old enough to handle it like an adult. Your mother and father came up with the story, Poppa and I went along with it. It has been a great betrayal of trust Emma, but we needed to do it, to give you the confidence you needed grow into the wonderful woman you are today.’
Emma just nodded, she didn’t blame them.
Her sinuses were swamped with snot, her eyes sore from tears. She was exhausted.
‘It’s okay Nanna, I understand,’ she said.
Nanna squeezed her again. ‘You may understand the story Emma, but I’m not sure you understand my point.’
Emma looked at her, Nanna’s bright blue eyes sparkled in her soft wrinkled face, they were the same blue as Sam’s eyes.
‘You have brought so much joy to your parents Emma, they’ve loved you as if you were their own child, in many ways you are their own child. Your mother made the right decision when she broke with her parents.’
‘My point is that sometimes parents don’t know what is best for their children. If your mother listened to her parents Sam would have grown up alone, and I don’t doubt that her relationship with your father would have been in tatters.
‘Once our children become adults it is an honor to be part of their lives, not a right… Once children become adults they have to make decisions for themselves, for their own futures, not for the sake of their parents.’
Emma was stumped, she didn’t know what to say. Did Nanna know what was going on? How could she? Dad had specifically told them not to mention anything to her, he said she was too old, too fragile to handle that sort of shock.
Nanna smiled, ‘Emma, I may be old but I’m still spry, I know there’s something going on between you and Sam.’
Emma felt very small. ‘How?’ She asked.
Nanna chuckled. ‘Oh darling, that boy has been in love with you for years, it was only a matter of time,’ she said with a wave of her hand.
Emma couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
‘Emma, your mother may never forgive you, but that is her choice, not yours.’
Nanna patted her on the knee. ‘Now, we should be getting going, I don’t want to miss my exercise class.’
After Emma dropped Nanna off she went straight to the house. It was only 3:30 and nobody was home. She got out the family photo albums and started searching through them.
She found her parents’ wedding photos. They were so ridiculously young and happy, her mom in a flowy white dress and an orchid in her hair, her dad with a beard. She turned through the pages until she found the family photos. There were photos with Nanna and Poppa, their fresh faces beaming with pride, and then there they were, her mom’s parents. They looked normal. She was wearing a purple woven dress and he was wearing a suit.
She flipped forward through the numbered volumes, her mom must have indexed these, she was so organized like that. She pulled out Sam’s baby photos. He was so sweet, like a little pink cherub, her heart felt warm looking at him, her hand went to her belly where his baby was growing inside her.
She knew that their baby would be darker and have her brown eyes, but maybe it would be like Sam in other ways, maybe it would have his laugh, maybe it would have his perfect smile.
At that moment she knew she wanted to keep the baby. She didn’t know how they would do it, everything was so complicated, but there was no turning back. She loved Sam and she loved their baby, they would have to find a way.
She’d seen these photos before but she’d never really examined them. She slowly turned through the pages, looking at each face in each photo. She found them. There were a couple of photos of baby Sam with her mom’s parents. They looked happy, proud, nothing amiss. But that was the end of them, there weren’t any more photos of them.
As she paged forward she saw the first photos of her, it must have been four or five weeks after they were born. There was a photo of her sleeping in the crib with Sam beside her, her dark wispy curls mingled with his soft blonde hair. She was so small compared to him. Emma had always assumed that she was just a small baby, but now that she looked at the photo she realized that she must have been born very premature, although technically she guessed she wasn’t born, she was extracted.
She continued paging through the photos, there were a few pages with her in them as a small baby. There was a beautiful photo of her mother kissing her on the forehead. She started crying again, her eyes were so sore but she couldn’t help the tears from rolling out. Her mom looked so loving, so protective.
In the next photos she and Sam were bigger. She was no expert on babies but it was clear that quite some time had passed, they were bigger, chubbier. Three months Nanna had told her, three months she was with another family. Looking at the photos she knew it was true. She went back to the photo of her mom kissing her and held it in her lap and cried for a long time.
When she finally ran out of tears she put the baby photos away and continued looking through the later photos, their childhood and teenage years. Page after page of happy faces smiled, glowed up at her.
Through them all her mother seemed happy, there was a photo of her carrying a birthday cake in the shape of a ballerina, she was smiling widely. The subsequent photos were of Emma blowing out the candles, it was her 5th birthday. In another one they were all at the beach, her dad had his arm around her mom, cuddling her to him while Emma and Sam sat proudly beside an enormous sand castle. Her parents were so happy, you could see it in their eyes.
There was never another photo of her mother’s parents, not one.
She continued looking idly through the remaining volumes of photos. She and Sam got bigger and bigger. There they were on their first day of school. Sam had cried. She didn’t remember it but her dad used to remind Sam of it whenever he called Emma a sissy.
There were school year group photos too. She took out the third grade photo and examined it, the faces familiar yet foreign at the same time. Then she saw her. Melinda Richie, her archenemy. Melinda had gotten it in for Emma early on and had never let it go, through eight years of school she’d had to put up with Melinda always plotting against her.
Emma had always been a fast runner and it got on Melinda’s nerves. Every year there was a school athletics carnival and Emma always won every single running event, Melinda always came second. When they’d been sixth grade it had come to a head.
They’d been at the athletics carnival, it was Emma’s turn to do the long jump and Melinda had volunteered to rake the sand pit. Right when Emma had made it to the end of the run up Melinda stuck the rake out in front of her. Of course she had tripped and fell. She was covered in sand and had a huge egg shaped lump on her shin where she’d hit the rake.
Melinda had laughed and called her a useless nigger. It was then that Emma had seen Sam, it made her smile to think of it. Sam had seen the whole thing and had picked up a 5 gallon cooler half full of Gatorade. He walked up behind Melina and hovered behind her for just a second, long enough to make eye contact with Emma and smile wickedly at her. He dumped the whole thing over Melinda, the yellow-green sticky drink completely drenching her, she was sent home crying. Sam had taken Emma up to the nurse and they’d gotten to go home early too.
She pulled out her phone and called him.
‘Hey, what’s up?’ He answered.
‘Melinda Richie,’ she blurted out.
He burst out laughing. ‘What are you doing thinking about that bitch?’ He asked.
‘I’m looking at old photos. I hadn’t thought about her in years.’
‘Yeah, me neither.’ He paused. ‘Shouldn’t you be studying?’
It was exam week next week, Emma had a tonne of work to do. She sighed, ‘Yeah, probably. Is that what you’re doing?’
‘Uh-huh. Math. I have an exam on Monday and I have to go to this stupid swim meet tomorrow in Fresno.’
‘Fresno?’ She wanted to tell him about keeping the baby but if he was going to be in Fresno tomorrow maybe she would drive down and tell him in person. She’d been to the swim complex down there before, she knew where it was.
‘Yeah, it’s so stupid, I don’t know why they make us go, they know we have exams next week.’
‘Well I guess I had better let you get back to it then. I just called to remember Melinda with you.’
‘Okay,’ he said.
‘Hey Em?’ He added softly.
‘Is everything okay? You know, with the ba… with the embryo?’ He sounded so shy.
She smiled, ‘Yeah, everything’s fine Sam.’ She shouldn’t torture him like this but she wanted to be with him when she told him.
‘Okay, good. I’ve got to finish these math problems, I’m going to be gone all day tomorrow.’
‘What time do you leave?’ She asked.
‘Five thirty, can you believe it? I’m so pissed about it.’
She smiled, he wasn’t going to be pissed about it tomorrow. ‘Yeah, that’s lousy Sam. Good luck tomorrow.’
‘Thanks, talk to you again soon.’
‘Bye.’ She hung up and started putting the photo albums away, she should go do some work.