note from cherie:
i know some might interpret this as anti-choice but it's not, not at all. it's a story abt a woman finally accepting something, about difficult decisions, about maturity. i'm totally pro-choice, and amarita and her daughter both are. amarita was forced into her situation, and finally, has decided to make the best of it. remember: acceptance.
Her daughter was approaching that age where if she didn’t like her mother’s rules, she was going to sneak out. Amarita pictured dancing with older men at clubs, drinking in friends’ basements, perhaps going all the way with boys.
Amarita looked at her daughter, the telltale smears on her face where mascara, eye shadow, and lip liner were earlier. The dinner table was quiet. Amarita was just too damn tired to say anything, and her daughter, well, Vi was a teenager.
Vi was pushing around her food, like Amarita did years ago. “Stop playing and start eating,” she said automatically.
Vi looked up. “I hate your cooking. Everything’s healthy. Why can’t you make french fries, or put butter on vegetables?” This was something she must have gotten from her best friend’s house. Vi had never complained before.
“I never wanted to have you,” Amarita wanted to say. Sixteen years earlier, she was on her way to get an abortion when her mother confronted her about the pregnancy test kit Amarita had thought she buried well in her older sister’s garbage pail. Amarita left the house anyway, determined to take care of it. She remembered running down 6th Street, her backpack bumping against her back, the labored breath, hating that thing inside her, wanting so badly to get it out.
Her mother yanked her off the bus as she was boarding, and took her home. The next seven months were the most miserable of Amarita’s life; her mother made her pray all day, and her pregnancy was not easy. Amarita left her mother’s house as soon as she found a job—conveniently located three states over. She had put little Vivian in the carseat, and drove for the next ten hours to the melodies of Vivian’s screams. She worked days at a law office as a secretary with an old friend (now a paralegal), and at nights, while Vivian had slept, Amarita worked phone sex hotlines. While raising her daughter alone, she put herself through school, and was working nine-to-five comfortably. Amarita was a teenager, with only her GED, and she remembered thinking, whenever Vivian wailed, “God, I wish Mami hadn’t pulled me off the bus.” Today, she thought she was past thinking this sort of thing, or so she thought.
“Vi, we’re eating healthy. You don’t want to have a heart attack when you’re old. And butter and deep frying makes you fat!” Vivian was underweight, if anything, yet still stared in the mirror for hours, pinching bits of imaginary fat, with her best friend Lea, who was pretty fat. Amarita knew the fat part would make her shut up and eat it.
They said nothing the entire dinner. Vi stopped playing with her food, and ate it uncomplainingly. She added a bit too much salt for what Amarita would have liked, but Amarita kept her mouth shut. After dinner, Vi loaded the dishwasher and Amarita scrubbed the pots. The phone rang as Amarita was rinsing suds off the steamer. She shut off the water. Vi and Amarita looked at the caller id to see who it was.
“We don’t want to talk to her,” Vi told her mother. She knew that Amarita was not on good terms with her mother. Amarita rarely saw her mother, and Vi hated going there so much—the force feedings (“Doesn’t your mother feed you? Eat, Vivian!”), the constant nagging, the overbearing nature of her mother being too much for Vi—that Amarita didn’t force her daughter to go there, although she knew she should.
Amarita turned on the water, and rinsed the steamer. She put it in the dish drain, and dried her hands on the towel.
Vivian stood there, dumbly. Amarita noticed all of the color had drained from her daughter’s face. “What is it?”
“Mom, I haven’t got my period.”
Wasn’t she too young for this? True, Amarita had also been fifteen, but she was so stupid. She had taught her daughter about condoms and birth control and pregnancy prevention years ago (too early, some might say).
“Is there something you want to tell me?” Amarita guided her daughter by the elbows, and had both of them sitting down. Amarita had a date tonight, something she was altogether too tired to go on, but it was for tea at the small café at the end of their block. Amarita chose it for dates when she was too tired for anything formal, or wanted to watch over Vi—Vi would sit in the window seat and drink cocoa and work on her homework. Tonight Amarita was figuring she could leave Vi home, and she would just drink some mint tea with Jesse.
“Mom…Mom, I took these diet pills Kerry gave me. I think they stopped my period. I feel sick all the time…she tried to show me how to throw up. I just don’t want to be fat. Mom, I won’t take them again, I promise. I’m sorry.” Vi was crying, and Amarita was so shocked that her daughter wasn’t pregnant. Why had her daughter wanted butter if she was so obsessed with thinness?
“Is that all, sweetie?”
Vi looked up, puffy eyes. “What, should I have shot someone too?” Vi had inherited her mother’s sarcasm.
The doorbell rang, and Vi got up, started moving towards her room.
“No,” Amarita told her. “I’ll tell Jesse we’re off.”
“No, Mom. I’m fine.”
“No, this is something we need to talk about. I’m not mad at you. Go tell Jesse I’m not feeling well. Then come up here and we’ll talk.”
As her daughter went to the front door to tell a lie to the man Amarita was convinced she loved, she leaned out the window. She could hear Vi lying for her, something about a horrible stomach virus, embellishing a bit too much. She remembered those years ago, hating her mother as she felt her mother’s grip on her arms, “GET OFF THAT BUS.” She doesn’t think about what she could have done—a private college, a better career, vacationing in the Egyptian pyramids. Instead she realizes how lucky she is: a paralegal job, and Vi is such a good kid, really. Things are great.
When Vi comes back into the living room, Amarita is crying, something that she could never explain to her daughter, never.