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My story begins with two skinny pink lines on a white stick.
Standing in my dormitory bathroom, I held the stick up close to my eyes and squinted hard.
I double and triple-checked the instructions, and read them to myself, “If only one color band appears on the control region, this indicates you are not pregnant.” Ok…that must be the control line. I continued reading. “Presence of a secondary line on the test region indicates that you are pregnant.” A faint pink line ran along the test region. Squinting hard, I wondered if a faint line counted as an actual line. It was barely visible. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the stick once more. That can’t be right.
The instructions continued. “The color intensity of the test bands may vary. A positive test line will appear directly below the control line in the ‘result window’ area.” I looked again at the result window. I no longer doubted. There was indeed a solid pink line. Tiny beads of sweat collected on my forehead. It just can’t be true. I’m only one week late. I wondered if the box had been tampered with somehow.
I opened the window and let the cold ocean breeze dry the sweat from my forehead. Peeling the pregnancy stick from my clammy hand, I leaned against my bedroom wall and closed my eyes. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. I stood still and listened to the sound of crashing waves outside my college dormitory. The waves pounding against the rocky cliffside were unforgiving and relentless; roaring with a mighty force. The towering swells reminded me of my worst fears of an unplanned pregnancy—to be smothered over and over again by ruthless rumors and unforgiving talk. I thought I could hear the waves scream, “How could you?” “I thought you were a Christian,” “No one will want you now,” and “You are nothing but a whore.”
I peeked again at the white pregnancy stick. The two pink lines hadn’t budged. I silently prayed, Please no. I’m not one of those girls.
I stared at my reflection in the mirror. My hair was a mess. I dropped the stick on the floor and pulled my naturally curly hair into a high pony-tail, tucking any flyaway pieces behind my ears. “That’s better,” I said. Showcasing my thick naturally curly hair in long beautiful layers had been my redeeming quality. More often than not, I felt if my hair looked presentable, than others would see me as composed and unruffled in my demeanor.
I reminded the girl in the mirror that she was a Resident Assistant, for crying out loud. At a Christian college. From a Christian home. In addition, was appointed the opinion editor for the campus newspaper, editor-in-chief of the school magazine, and a straight-A student. I gazed at my reflection in the mirror and became nauseous at the realization that my pregnancy would not only destroy my wholesome image, but bring disappointment to everyone I loved. Disgusted by my reflection, I sunk onto the floor and rested my head against my trembling knees.
Then, panic struck. I yanked several strips of toilet paper from the roll and wrapped them up and down, and around the pregnancy stick until it resembled a snowball. Carefully, I wedged the ball behind the toilet base. Since every R.A. had a private bedroom and bathroom, the snowball was unlikely to be discovered, but I felt better hiding it, anyway. Grabbing my leather wallet and car keys, I headed out the door to obtain further proof of my pregnancy. I tiptoed down the hallway, hoping to remain alone and unseen. I knew it was quite ridiculous to try sneaking to my car, especially in the middle of the afternoon when students lingered around the lobby. No one would have to know that I was about to venture to the local pharmacy and buy several more pregnancy tests. Always under scrutiny as an R.A., I was consumed by fear.
I was told it was an honor to be selected as an R.A. With the allure of free room and board, and the chance to be recognized as a school leader, one year earlier I’d grabbed a pen and completed an application. I wrote about my family life: My loving relationship with my mom and dad in Colorado. My fluctuating relationship with my younger sister, a junior in high school. Becoming a Christian at age seven during a backyard bible club and being baptized soon afterward. Participating in youth mission trips in high school. Deciding to attend a Christian college. Then, described my strengths in leadership as well as my weakness as a people-pleaser. I answered personal questions about my character. Did I smoke? No. Did I drink? No. Did I gamble? No. Did I believe in abstinence before marriage? Yes, absolutely. I just wasn’t very good at it.
Inside the college student handbook were guidelines for students to abstain from sexual intimacy outside of marriage. An R.A. was expected to adhere to this rule, along with drinking, smoking, dancing, listening to music laced with profanity and watching questionable movies, in accordance with school guidelines. At the time, there was no written offering of grace or support if a single student was found pregnant. Standards towered. When I signed the application to become an R.A., I convinced myself that I could excel as a rule-follower, and soar above the rest.
To my delight, I was chosen to interview with the married resident counselors, Ben and Anita, for the only co-ed dorm on campus and within steps of the ocean. It was the number one housing choice for incoming freshman and transfer students.
Advancing to the final part of my interview, I sat down for a one-on-one interview with Anita. Fidgeting with my dress, I sat and placed my hands in my lap, hoping to appear professional.
“Why do you want to be an resident assistant?” she asked.
I told Anita I thought it was a great opportunity to be in a leadership role on campus. When she didn’t look impressed, I tried harder. “I want to be a good influence on others and encourage them in their faith.”
“Hmmm.” She scribbled something down on her yellow note pad. “I’m curious as to why you chose an out-of-state school?”
“Adventure,” I said, which was the truth. With a hankering to break free from the small-town where I lived in Colorado, I packed my suitcase, kissed my high-school sweetheart goodbye, and headed for San Diego. Other than a brief stay at the campus during a high school mission trip, I didn’t know much about the college other than its beautiful location. I was a Baptist in Nazarene territory, and didn’t know if there was a difference between the two denominations but I was willing to find out. I craved adventure.
After the interview with Anita, I was exhausted. I’d spent over an hour convincing Anita that I was unblemished, a positive influence, and a good enough Christian to qualify for an R.A. I didn’t want her, or anyone, to know that I lugged daily a giant heap of imperfections and regrets. I needed to keep the failures and doubt that might hinder my faith hidden from observers. Thankfully, Anita didn’t notice, and I was hired for the job.
I felt like I hit the college lottery when I was given a private room with an ocean view. I pushed my twin-sized bed near the window and watched the surfers as they bobbed up and down in the early morning waters to catch their first wave of the day. At night, I laid my head on the pillow and let the sound of the ocean lull me to sleep. When I awoke in the morning to a light rapping on my door, I welcomed inside one girl after another to listen, provide advice and offer a hug. Before bed, I’d perform nightly curfew checks, using a yellow notepad and mini pencil to scribble down the names of those late to bed. There were other offenses I was required to jot names on my notepad: Getting caught with a boy in your room outside of designated hours, cooking with any device that posed as a fire hazard, cursing in the lobby or conduct unbecoming in general. On Sunday afternoon, I handed my list of names to Anita while she handed out consequences. Then, I tore off a fresh piece on blank paper and the process started again on Monday.
While I despised the part of my job where I turned in the names of those who broke rules, I loved connecting to my girls and offering advice whenever it was needed. Almost daily, someone would pop into my room for a chat. I fielded questions, some light-hearted like, “There’s a cute boy in my math class, how do I get his attention?” while others were more serious, “My boyfriend is pressuring me to sleep with him and I don’t know what to do.” Questions surrounding consensual sexual relationships were the hardest for me to offer answer, as I’d been intimate with my serious boyfriend back home in Colorado. I kept that part of our long-distance relationship a secret.
By Christmas break of my first year as an R.A., I arrived home to Colorado feeling like I was an above average R.A., a stellar student, and a proud leader in the Christian community. I walked into my boyfriend’s arms with confidence that I could resist any temptation. A few weeks after I returned to college after the break, I found myself hovering over the toilet with a positive pregnancy test in hand, wondering if I’d ever recover.
When I arrived back to my dorm room from the pharmacy, I ripped open three pregnancy kits and immediately peed on the white sticks. One-by-one, I set the sticks on my bathroom counter, closed my eyes and counted. One minute. Two minutes. Two-and-a-half minutes. Two-and-three quarter minutes. Three minutes. When time was up, I took a deep breath and opened my eyes.
Any possible doubt vanished from my mind. I was pregnant.
I wrapped the tests in mounds of toilet paper forming three separate snowballs, and placed them next to the first one behind the toilet base. Just what I was planning to do with the four pregnancy sticks, I hadn’t a clue. Surrendering to my fate, I sunk to the floor, drew my knees into my chest, and cried. I rocked myself back and forth and the cold bathroom floor. I felt desperate as I contemplated my circumstance, What if Ben and Anita find out? How am I going to tell my parents? What if my boyfriend leaves me?
The first call I made was to my boyfriend. My knees weak, I stumbled across the floor and dialed his number. His roommate answered. “Is Justin there?” I asked, my voice cracking. As I waited, I thought about how much I loved Justin, and had wanted to marry him ever since our paths crossed in high school.
“Hey babe, what’s up?” Justin asked, sounding rushed for time, “I thought I was supposed to call you later tonight.” Our long-distance relationship survived through snail-mail and scheduled phone calls during pre-determined evenings. At the time, cellular phones were still primitive, and texting, Twitter and Facebook had yet to be invented. If I had something urgent to say, I used a calling card to reach him.
“I need to tell you something now,” I said. I took a big gulp of air and spit out the words “I’m pregnant” on an exhale.
“Did you hear me? I said I’m preg—“
“I heard you,” he replied in a whisper. Neither of us spoke for a minute or two. I wanted to scream at him to say something, anything, when I heard his roommates cackling in the background and I knew Justin couldn’t talk. Then he asked, “What are you going to do?”
My heart sunk. I was crushed by his question and felt more alone than ever before.
“What do you mean, What am I going to do?” I said, getting angry. “I thought we’d figure this out together! After all, you’re the reason I’m pregnant.”
Secretly, I hoped the announcement of my pregnancy would turn into a romantic scene from the classic film, She’s Having a Baby, and Justin would re-affirm his love for me, propose marriage, and announce he’d take care of me forever. I wanted him to skip classes and jump on the next flight from Denver to San Diego, to swoop me up in his arms and then bend down on one knee. After all, I’d dreamed of marrying Justin soon after we met four years earlier in high school. Since both of us were twenty years of age and had been dating for several years, I didn’t think a marriage proposal was out of the question. For a brief moment, I imagined the two of us walking side-by-side through Balboa Park in San Diego, or Pearl Street in Boulder, pushing a stroller and smiling at our little one. But with his one question, it became apparent my dreams were only fantasy.
“Listen, I have to run to class.” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was more anxious about the pregnancy or the thought of missing class. He never missed class. “Let’s talk more about this later, ok?” Justin said, “We’ll figure it out together. I promise. I gotta go.” His voice trailed off.
“Please wait. Justin—“ I heard the phone click and he was gone.
With the phone still pressed to my ear, tears poured down my cheeks. I felt embarrassed and naive about the possibility of a marriage proposal. What did I really expect to happen?
I stared at the four pregnancy-stick snowballs wedged discreetly behind the toilet base and wondered how I’d dispose of them. Maybe I’d toss them into the sea, or throw them into some bonfire on the beach. Instead, I stuffed the four snowballs into my purse and drove off-campus to a distant IHOP, where I threw them one by one into a dumpster. As I threw away each ball, I wished I could squeeze myself into the dumpster along with the positive pregnancy sticks, and stay hidden. With the evidence gone, I drove back to campus, my face stained with tears.
In my room, I opened my window and let the salty air cool my face. I gazed at the ocean and gathered my thoughts. The continuous up and down movement of the waters brought a sense of peace and stillness to my harried mind. The prevailing direction of the ocean currents appeared as though God’s hand was skimming along the top of his bath waters, moving them according to His will. A single surfer bobbed among the waves, and I studied his movements. When he encountered a wave, he’d lay on his board and swim fast to meet the rising swell. Then he’d stand on his board and allow the wave to carry him all the way to shore. He trusted the wave to bring him to a place of rest. I touched my belly and thought that I could use a steady hand to lift and carry me to safety. I looked out to the sea once more and sighed. I had no idea where I was headed.