AN INSIGNIFICANT LIFE
Tiffany gripped the steering wheel of her Mazda Miata as though she were racing along the curves of the California coast, tires skidding near cliff edges, that dangled over surging ocean waves.
Only she was absolutely still.
Her Miata sat in a parking lot outside a Maryland clinic. The one she’d chosen to end her pregnancy. To remove the fetal tissue that threatened to ruin her life.
Her heart raced and shallow breaths shifted in and out so fast, her head swam.
What was wrong with her? It was only a blob of flesh. A nuisance at best. She’d already waited too many weeks. Her skirts too tight, she left them unfastened, and wore bulky sweaters to hide them.
Now, she couldn’t pry her fingers from the steering wheel and get it over with.
She sucked in one long, full breath and forced it into her diaphragm like her elementary school choir teacher taught her to do when she sang of butterflies and rainbows. Closing her eyes, she waited for the oxygen to pour strength into her limbs.
Her usually bronze skin reflected pale in the rear-view mirror, blue eyes dull, as she checked her reflection.
“I can do this,” she whispered into the vast emptiness of her sports car.
Her hands peeled off the steering wheel, ran through the tangles of her long, black, spiral curls, clutched her purse and opened the door. Her feet swung out and stepped onto the pavement. She carried her spiritless body into the building.
Finally in the office, Tiffany approached the front desk. Tears stung her eyes but didn’t dare escape their trappings. Clearing the clog in her throat, she struggled to sound in control. “Hi, I’m here for my appointment.”
The woman in the multi-colored medical top swiveled in her chair to greet her. Her eyes blinked as they met Tiffany’s. “Oh, honey.” Her voice coaxed and petted. “It’s just your hormones messin’ with you.”
Tiffany nodded like a little girl. She’d been told this by the receptionist on the phone the day before when she sobbed her request for the appointment.
The woman led her to a small room with an exam table, the smell of rubbing alcohol permeated the air. Tiffany was given a paper gown and told to change. She obeyed like a robot carrying out code.
The door swung open, revealing a stern-faced woman with a stethoscope around her neck, who seemed to cast her gaze at anything but Tiffany’s face. It didn’t lessen the feeling of exposure, wearing only paper that could rip at any moment and reveal the stupidity of that night—three months ago—when she gave in to Derrick’s desire, knowing her doctor had taken her off the pill temporarily, and neither had any means of birth control on them. What was she thinking?
She wasn’t thinking. Only responding to the warmth of his breath in her hair and his strong hands moving across her skin. He drew her in like water from a straw, but she was only liquid to him. Something that filled his empty places when he needed satiation.
Just like the others.
The gel was cold and slippery on her abdomen as the doctor slid the sonogram wand across her skin. The granite-faced woman peered into the monitor, which was turned away from Tiffany, as she continued to swipe through the gel.
“I want to see my bab—” Tiffany gasped at her own slip. She firmed her jaw. “I want to see it.”
The doctor’s gaze lifted from the screen and over her reading glasses, finally meeting Tiffany’s. “We don’t do that here.”
Tiffany propped herself onto her elbows and scowled. “That’s my, uh, fetal tissue, and I want to see it.”
The doctor glared as if to challenge her to blink first.
Tiffany didn’t waiver from her gaze.
The doctor swiveled the monitor revealing a black oval, that housed a figure which already had four appendages. A fore-limb reached up to the large bulb with two dark orbs, and connected with what looked like a mouth. In the center of the figure a light flickered … or beat.
Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump.
There was no sound, but Tiffany heard it just the same. Her breath caught at the reality of it.
It’s only fetal tissue!
She sucked in air, lay flat on the table and turned her head. Her lips grew tight as she formed the words. “Okay, go ahead.” They felt like lead in her mouth. She clamped her teeth together and forced new thoughts into her mind.
Thoughts of classes she had to take to complete her graduate study in College Student Personnel. Thoughts of the job she needed to keep as resident director of a dormitory at Maryland State University in order to pay for those classes and provide a place to live. Thoughts of the long career she’d planned in academia where she’d finally have significance other than being just a pretty face. Thoughts of …
… children running through the park.
Thoughts weren’t working. She tried emptiness instead.
The drive back to her dormitory apartment was silent. Inside and out. It was done. She was numb. And she wanted to get more numb. She couldn’t recall the number of times the nurse patted her on the shoulder and told her the hormones would eventually even out. Why would her body betray her like this? Tell her to care for a blob of flesh to the point of grief? It was crazy. Someone needed to invent a pill that would make it all go away.
When she reached the apartment she rummaged through her pantry for that single-serve bottle of wine, hoping it would take the edge off.
But it didn’t. And neither did the other three.
She’d have to try something more, and she knew just the place to do that.
Adam cringed as Jerry sloshed his beer in the air to toast him. He knew what was coming.
“Happy birthday,” Jerry slurred. “How’s it feel to be the only thirty-year-old virgin in the place?”
Adam plastered a fake smile on his face as his shoulders sagged. Why did Jerry always have to bring that up? Adam didn’t try to hide it, but boy, did it need to be broadcast to every patron of the Blue Lizard Sports Bar. At least his buddies didn’t hire a stripper this year. That birthday had been a debacle.
Adam tried to hide behind his Dr. Pepper, the taste of his Reuben sandwich growing sour on his tongue. A few people glanced his way and looked him over as if to decide which was most likely: Adam a virgin or Jerry, a drunk. Jerry’s slur probably supported the latter.
“Hey.” Eddie elbowed Jerry. “There’s that Tiffany chick, leavin’ with a new guy tonight.”
Jerry’s attention pivoted to the entrance of the restaurant. His smile told Adam where his thoughts were. “I wouldn’t mind takin’ her home sometime. She has that exotic, island-girl look.” His eyebrows jumped. “Can’t you see her in a teeny bikini under a waterfall, now? Golden-brown skin, gleaming in the sunlight. Long, dark hair wet and clinging to her bare shoulders.”
Adam’s mind drew up the image of her blue eyes sparkling whenever she asked about police procedure during Resident Life drug-enforcement training.
Eddie’s eyes lit up from the glaze that accumulated after five beers. “Mm-hm.” He nodded, then tilted his head. “’Except I don’t think she wants to go with this guy.”
Adam jerked his head around. Sure enough, some guy coaxed Tiffany to the door. She tried to resist, but seemed in no condition to do it well.
“What’re you gonna do?” Eddie called to Adam’s retreating body. “She’s not quite in your league, buddy.” Both guys guffawed.
Adam pivoted. “We’re cops, man. We should stop him.”
Eddie looked at Jerry, who took another swig of his beer, then back at Adam and shrugged. “We’re Campus Police. This isn’t our jurisdiction.”
Shaking his head, Adam tromped toward the door, maneuvering around tables and squeezing through a crush of people waiting to be seated. He needed to get close enough to be heard over the murmuring crowd. “Hey! Tiffany!”
Tiffany turned and blinked wearily.
The guy followed her gaze and scowled.
“Leave her alone. She obviously doesn’t want to go with you.” Adam felt the heat of eyes from the people around him. Why hadn’t anyone else noticed and done something?
The guy yanked Tiffany hard. She tripped. He grabbed her around the middle to keep her from falling, then continued through the door.
The cold January air stung Adam’s lungs as he raced out behind them. He circled around and stood in the guy’s way. “Hey.” He balled his fists, ready to do battle.
The man stared him down. “This isn’t your business.”
Adam dug his badge from his back jeans pocket and shoved it in his face. “She doesn’t want to go with you. Leave her alone.”
The jerk sneered as he dropped Tiffany to the pavement. “Not worth the cash I unloaded on all those drinks, anyway.”
She landed on all fours and wavered there. The guy scoffed and strode to his sports car.
Tiffany didn’t move but blinked like she was trying to see more clearly.
Adam held his hand in front of her eyes, and whispered, “Come with me.”
Lifting her head, she met his gaze. She blinked again, and placed her fingers in his palm. He pulled her to her feet.
She winced as she swayed to and fro, eyelids fluttering as if still not able to see the path in front of her.
He spoke quietly in her ear. “I’m taking you home.”
Yanking away, she almost fell over, then righted herself.
“Tiffany, it’s me, Adam Grant.”
Her brows narrowed as she scanned his face.
“Officer Adam Grant. The one with the drug-sniffing dog.” That was how the Resident Life community identified him.
Her features softened and her shoulders relaxed, her grip less resistant to him. She allowed him to guide her while she fished through her purse. “Where’re my car keys?” The slur seemed to get caught in her saliva.
Adam shook his head. “You’re in no condition to drive. I’m taking you home.”
“I’m not going home with you.” She teetered as she pulled away.
“I’m taking you to your apartment—in Howard Hall.” Could she trust him to do that?
She tilted her head, then stopped rummaging in her purse.
Adam led her to his pick-up, opened the passenger door and helped her in. She pulled the seat belt around her and tried to fit the tongue into the groove, but it was still eluding her when he plopped into the driver’s seat. Adam took the belt from her grasp and clicked it together before fastening his own.
They approached Howard Hall and Tiffany searched again for keys to open the door of the vacant dormitory building. They stepped into the hall. It was still three days before five-hundred co-eds moved into the high-rise after winter break. The building had an eerie quality—like The Shining. Their steps echoed to her apartment and she fumbled with the lock. Adam placed his fingers on hers and steadied her hand to insert the key. The door opened and Tiffany tripped over the threshold. She face-planted onto the floor, then curled into a fetal position.
“I killed my baby.” Her sobs rushed from her like a gathering wind.
Adam ran his hand through his hair. All his cop training told him he needed to hear more. He helped her up and led her to the couch, sat beside her, and used his gentlest voice. “What do you mean you killed your baby?”
She buried her face in her hands. The words muffled in her palms. “My baby’s in a trashcan. I killed it.”
The word it made his heart ache. He sat still, not sure what to say or do. Except pray.
“I had an abortion, today.”
The statement hit Adam like a gunshot. His first instinct was to be angry. He hated that some discarded life like unnecessary consumer packaging. But as he watched this woman convulse in her sorrow, he knew he didn’t need to add to it. His heart grieved with hers.
Tiffany peeked up from her fingers. “You probably think I’m silly.” She fell back into the couch cushions.
He shook his head, but couldn’t face her. “No, I don’t.”
Leaning into the arm rest, her eyelids closed.
He stood. Thoughts of what his mother had done so many years before poured into his mind. He shuddered as if just now escaping a threat. “You get some rest.”
She lifted her legs to the place he’d vacated. Adam tugged a blanket from the couch back and draped it across her body. Her breathing slowed as she stretched and nuzzled into the cushion.
She was already asleep.
He tip-toed out the door and shut it with a gentle click.
His nose tingled and the back of his throat burned as he said a prayer for the small, seemingly insignificant life that never had a chance to live.