The One With the Ultrasound

“One person’s trauma is another’s loss of innocence.”- Nineteen Minutes

I was 13 on the day I grew up. It was a weekday afternoon, and it was cold outside. I was glad to be home from school, glad to be where it was warm, wandering through the strangeness of the rooms in my father’s house.

After my parents divorced, I couldn’t have explained it, but I felt different than other kids my age. I was embarrassed when I didn’t have my homework because I’d accidentally left it at my dad’s house and I wouldn’t be going back until Thursday. I didn’t understand when other kids’ parents showed up to school events, smiling at each other, recording on their video cameras, holding hands, when mine were across the room from each other, two places to search for when I needed reassurance or affirmation. It was probably common by then to have divorced parents, but this was small-town America, where change happens slowly but gossip spreads like wildfire. Everyone knew things were a little different at our house(s).

My sister understood, though. She was older and felt things more deeply, I suspect. She was my rock, and I looked to her for guidance on everything life handed me. I watched her in school, waiting for her to come pick me up outside my classroom, watching the moms anxiously scanning for their children while I waited for her big brown eyes to find mine and her hand to find my grubby toddler fingers.

Later, I watched her with her friends, laughing and whispering about things I didn’t really care about yet, music and boys and makeup, but I loved them too because she loved them first. I walked with her around town, smoking candy cigarettes, her hoping the boys might notice her short skirt, me hoping she might notice what a good sister I was for covering for her when she snuck out later that night.

I found her in her room after our school gave us the puberty talk, begging her for answers to things I didn’t understand and was afraid might happen to me. She was growing up faster than me, but I was determined to find a way to keep up.

And then I was 13, and she was 15.

Wandering through my father’s house, I saw a letter from my step-mom to her insurance company with the simplest of requests:

“I’m hoping for some clarification on our children’s coverage. I’m wondering if there might be prenatal coverage, as we just found out our 15 year old daughter is pregnant.”

Somehow, the paper fluttered to the floor and I followed soon after, letting the stained carpet soak up my tears and drown out my sobs. I was upset that my sister had gotten pregnant at 15 years old, of course. I was devastated that she hadn’t told me.

I was 13 when I first told myself there was no one I could lean on. I was 13 when I discovered that betrayal and shame did not just come from parents. I was 13 the first time I felt like I was truly alone in the world.

I was almost 14, and she was barely 16 when I was swept from an airplane to a hospital room to meet my tiny stillborn niece. My sister had refused to let them take her away until I arrived to hold her, to let my tears stain her tiny forehead and watch my sister age 5 years in a single day.

It was not my trauma. It was not my cross to bear. But it was the moment I learned the harsh truth that your heroes are almost always human. I was never quite the same, quieter and more sensitive and infinitely more guarded, sprung into the adulthood I had desperately desired but now knowing my sister would always get there first. There would be no catching up this time, and there would be no more unspoken solidarity. This we could not share.

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