MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 9 – Billy's Surprise
© 2003 Diane Sanfilippo
Chapter 9 – Billy’s Surprise
Another long week followed the longest weekend of my life. Every night, in my heart and in my head, I fell asleep in Billy’s arms, dreaming of the moment when my pillow would be the real thing.
I knew he was studying hard to bring up his grades since they had been abysmal when I moved out of the dorm, so perhaps being apart was the best thing that could have happened so he could study. In spite of our sacrifice, he assured me that he spent more time thinking and dreaming about me than he did with his head in his books.
I knew that as soon as we could be together, in our own apartment, his grades would certainly improve. At least I hoped so. My friends all wrote that they never saw him in the canteen, or at all, anymore, so at least if he was having fun, or flirting with the girls, he did it in secret. I hated the new sense in me that he could not be trusted although I was almost over the hurt and humiliation I had felt to his reaction when I first told him I was indeed pregnant. Over, and over again he had proven how much he truly loved me, so for the moment, that thought was my only solace, and as each day passed, the hurt became more distant.
During the one short phone call we allowed ourselves each week, he told me he had a surprise for me. Begging him to give me at least a small hint, he teased, but told me that it would not be a surprise if he told me, and I would just have to wait. I had no idea that what Billy called a surprise would turn into a horror.
After a long week spent driving back and forth to Marietta and the boring ‘job’ my mother had found for me, when Friday afternoon finally arrived, I was packed and ready to go with my husband – anywhere. Billy must have been just as excited, and he pulled into the driveway promptly at 2:00 p.m. I had not had to work because it was Good Friday so I had packed my little bag the night before, anticipating a wonderful weekend in his arms. After a long overdue kiss, he told me he had made a reservation for the weekend at a motel on Peachtree Street, not far from the Brookwood Railroad Station. However, the usual excitement I had become used to hearing in his voice, and seeing in his eyes, was not there that day, rather a dull, ‘let’s get this over with’ look, much like he had the day we told his parents we were married.
His lack of enthusiasm struck me as odd since usually his eagerness for a weekend spent making love, or even an afternoon, lit up his face and turned his blue eyes into sparklers. However, my thoughts too were relatively pensive since I knew this motel was far nicer than those on Northside Drive, and a major expense we could not afford. I could not help but wonder where he had gotten the money for such a luxury. However, I did not ask knowing that he did make a little bit of money running the F Company store in the basement of his dorm, and he would have received his contract check from the Army. I also wondered why this particular motel, since mostly businessmen and families traveling through Atlanta were the usual ‘guests’, and I also wondered what had prompted him to make a reservation. Normally we just drove around until we found something inexpensive that looked clean, with the ‘vacancy’ sign lit, so I was a bit mystified about the change of routine. Regardless, with my bag in my hand, without hesitation, I happily climbed into the car with Billy and we were off for another, what I thought would be, another romantic liaison with my handsome husband.
Often I have wondered if I had known exactly what the weekend had in store, would I have so eagerly jumped into the car. Or would I have hesitated and refused to go with him at all? However, I had no way of knowing that our typical weekend filled with blissful, round after round of making love would not happen – not this time, as it rapidly turned into the worst nightmare of my entire life.
We checked into the large motel just a few minutes before 3:00 p.m. I realized that convenient to the downtown expressway, travelers were sure to be attracted to the clean whiteness of the stucco exterior lit by spotlights after dark to lure the tired to its soft beds and clean linens.
While the lobby was not particularly exciting, the room was, as I expected, large, spotlessly clean and decorated in a style with no name of its own, but pleasing to the weary. Certainly, it looked as expensive as I imagined it would be. Again, I questioned Billy about this sudden reversal to our usual $10 per night room, and asked how we could possibly afford it. His only answer was to repeat that he had a surprise for me, but this time he added if I loved him as much as I said that I did, I would not make a fuss. I could not imagine what kind of surprise he could possibly have that would make me fuss and I pondered his strange answer to my question.
Finally, after putting my travel bag on the luggage rack, he sat beside me on the large bed. Holding me close as if to keep me from running away, he told me someone would be coming soon to perform an abortion. His father had sent him the money for the room and the illegal operation.
Horrified I wanted to run and hide, even from Billy, especially from Billy! At that moment, he too was the ‘enemy’! I did not want to destroy this tiny life growing inside of me. I already loved our baby although I was weeks away from feeling the first quiver of life. I was married to, and until this moment, very much in love with his father. Most of all I felt we were about to commit murder in the eyes of God and the law.
Waves of nausea overwhelmed me. I rushed to the bathroom just in time to be violently ill, but not before I heard the timid knock on the door. I wish now I had locked myself inside and refused to come out. I wish now I had simply stood up for my child and for myself. Mostly I wish I had said ‘no’! I wanted to be anywhere other than where I was!
Debating on whether I could go through with this, as frightened and as ill as I felt, a bit of wisdom my grandmother often quoted when I wanted something unobtainable or too expensive came to mind.
"Diane, if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride."
She was right, wishes could not change what we had to do in order to be together, and frankly, I knew there truly was no other way. Often I wonder if events yet to come were a direct result of the choice we made that afternoon. On the other hand, I was not sure if this was really our decision, or one made for us in Griffin.
Although I have asked God for forgiveness, and I know He has forgiven me, I have been much harder on myself, and I will never forgive me, not until the day I die. There is still the inner voice that has yet to accept full blame for what happened, after all, I was only eighteen years old, and Billy was only twenty. We were both still kids, but we had played an adult game. Now it was time to pay for our impulsive, lust-filled afternoons of making love, by following another adult’s decision, certainly not made by us alone. I had let my guard down by falling in love, although at this moment I was not so sure that I was in love after all – but it was far too late to question my feelings.
When I finally came out of the bathroom, a tiny black woman was sitting on the edge of one of the chairs in the room as if she would bolt if she heard so much as a door squeak. I was as white as a sheet from being sick to my stomach and she cackled, or did I imagine that, as she commented I was the whitest white person she had ever seen! Maybe she was trying to make a joke to make me feel more at ease; maybe she was telling the truth, whichever, I found no humor in her remark.
It did not take her any time at all to get down to business. It was obvious she just wanted to do her job, collect her money, and leave as quickly as she could. In an amazingly professional voice she first asked how far along was my pregnancy, and I told her I knew the exact day I had become pregnant since that was the day I had first had sex with anyone. She sadly commented that some women were just not lucky, and this should be simple if I was no further along than I said.
She then requested I undress from the waist down and lie on the bed, which she had padded, with what looked like old, threadbare but spotlessly clean, white sheets. Once I settled down, from her very used looking black bag she then took a piece of long rubber tubing and a bottle of some clear liquid. She examined me more closely, and with a bit of concern in her voice and shaking her head from side to side she said it sure seemed like I was further along than I said, or else I was carrying a very large baby. I assured her the date had to be correct, and Billy agreed I could not have gotten pregnant before that fateful day in February.
Continuing to shake her head, she then had me lie with my legs propped up on the bed, my feet pulled up, and my knees spread open. She ordered, more than asked, Billy to sit beside me and hold onto my hand since I would need something to squeeze, and she thought he should be the one I squeezed since he was the one who got me pregnant. Another attempt at humor to break the tension we were both feeling, but I was far beyond reacting to any humor.
I suppose it took her maybe two minutes to insert the entire length of tubing into my uterus, and immediately I felt intense cramping, like none I had ever felt before. While I held tightly onto Billy’s hand to keep from crying out, she instructed him to give me the clear liquid when the pain became bad and to see that I took the harmless looking elixir throughout the next day and until it was gone.
"What if it doesn’t work?" Billy asked, but she assured him this method never failed and by evening, I would no longer be pregnant. She also counseled him and said he needed to think about using some kind of birth control since I obviously conceived very easily. Finally collecting her money, which she carefully counted bill by bill, she left so quickly it was as if she had never been there. Now all we could do was wait until it was over.
I cannot begin to describe the pain other than to say the tubing induced labor. Not nice, quiet, slow to crescendo labor, in a well equipped hospital, but an instantly hard and intense labor like at the very end, right before delivery. The lights in the room turned into rainbows as my tears blurred my vision, and with each pain, I would double my body into a fetal position as if to hold it all inside. I knew I could not take this much longer without screaming.
Billy softly whispered how much he loved me over, and over, as he held me close and bathed my face with a cool washcloth. He said he would never forget what I was doing for him this dreadful day, nor would he forget my pain, both physical and mental. However, he simply did not have a clue how this was affecting me emotionally, although I think he did by the time it was all over. I labored for maybe four hours, crying and trying not to scream aloud. I bit down on a rolled washcloth having seen frontier women do this in the movies, but this was no movie, this was for real. I finally had to hold the pillow against my face as I screamed out again and again.
Sometimes I held onto Billy’s hand so hard I thought I would break it but he did not seem to care or even to feel my crushing grip. Never having been in labor this was a new experience, and not one I was likely to forget anytime soon. This was not sitting on the tummy monthly cramps, rather a vise gripping me that squeezed tighter and tighter.
All at once, just as I thought I could bear the pain for another second, I felt an urge to push. I rushed into the bathroom where a tiny fetus fell out of me with the umbilical cord still attached. I could not look! I would not look, so weakly I called Billy to come and take care of it.
Totally exhausted and dripping with perspiration, I crept back to the bed and the blood soaked sheets while Billy cleaned up the bathroom, wrapping the tiny bundle in a motel towel, and cleaning up the blood and amniotic fluid with more towels. Leaving the bundle on the bathroom floor, he came back into the bedroom with tears running down his cheeks. After he poured a glass of ice water for me, he held out the medicine bottle so I could drink down a mouthful of the clear liquid. While he wiped the perspiration from my forehead, he told me to rest, that he hated to leave me, but he would be right back as soon as he had taken care of "our problem."
I wanted to say, "That is not a problem, it is our baby," but I was far too weak and tired to even reply. Choking back more tears, he whispered softly "I love you, little girl. I love you more than life itself and I always will."
He covered me with all the blankets he could find, and as he left the room taking the bloody sheets, towels and the tiny bundle, I asked him to please find a drugstore and buy some sanitary pads since I knew I would need them. I had begun bleeding profusely.
Billy must have been gone for over an hour, and when he returned, he had cokes, hamburgers, and a chocolate milkshake. He was also carrying an armful of clean towels and the sanitary pads, the first he had ever bought, but definitely not the last. He told me he had run into one of the motel maids in the corridor and explained that we were on our honeymoon and needed a lot more towels as he deposited the old ones into her basket concealing the blood. She had given him an armful of fresh towels, and by the time she reached the laundry, he hoped she would have no idea which room had produced the gory linen.
Softly he came over to the bed where I was half-asleep, and knelt down beside me. When I opened my eyes and saw him there, the dam burst, and he held me while we both cried, and cried, and cried. Neither of us would sleep well for days and nights to come, and I wondered if having a baby was that painful, although I had not changed my mind about giving birth to a houseful of McConnell boys.
As his sobs began to soften, with a quiver in his voice, he finally said, "I just buried my son."
He had not been able to resist looking for the sex of the fetus and he found it was indeed a boy. I had not been able to look at the tiny life we had so brutally ended, but I had just assumed it would be a boy - after all, he was a McConnell.
After my sobs turned to whimpers, I finally asked him where he had buried him, but he would not tell me and said he did not want me to know so that I would not think about him whenever we passed the impromptu graveyard. He worried I would relive this nightmare each time, and his knowledge of the grave would be hard enough without seeing me upset every time we were in the vicinity. However, there was not much doubt in my mind as to the only place convenient with concealment and soil, and I thought I knew where, but I never asked again and he never told me. He took this secret to his own grave.
There is a small park on the corner of Peachtree and West Peachtree called Pershing Point where there is a World War I Memorial. Behind the granite slab, there is bare ground where trees surround the back of the monument and in early April, they would already be green and filled with leaves. It was in this very park I played as a toddler under the watchful eyes of Georgia Mae Brown with her soft lap and enormous breasts, while my mother and grandmother were at work during WWII.
It was in this park I have always thought my baby rested, surrounded by the famous Peachtree Street dogwood trees. I know of nowhere else around the area that was not pavement, private lawn, or so open it would have been impossible not to attract attention night or day. Now, it is when the dogwoods bloom I think of that place, lonely yet in the middle of a great city, and I think of our baby, ripped from my womb and I wonder who he looked like and what he might have become.
That evening, after eating our hamburgers, we took a long shower together, although the blood still poured down my legs and turned the water around our feet pink. Once in bed, Billy held me more tenderly than he ever had as we both tried to sleep, without much success. We talked on and on into the early hours of Saturday morning about our future and about how I could get a job in Gainesville now and how we could find an apartment, and finally, we could live together.
When we ran out of things to talk about in our near future, we made plans for later and how we would have two children, surely sons, and how he would fulfill his goals of becoming an Airborne Ranger. We never even said the word, Vietnam, as we talked on and on until, with the sun now shining, arms around each other, we both finally fell into a restless sleep. If Billy’s parents had thought that with the baby no longer an issue, we would go our separate ways, they had been sadly mistaken. If anything, our ordeal had the opposite effect of only strengthening his love for me, and he was not about to let go of me now. We had come too far and been to the brink of hell together.
Later when we awoke and Billy climbed out of bed, he suddenly fell on his knees beside me. Once more sobbing, he promised he would never allow me to do this again, and now he was now worried that something could still go wrong. I sat up, held his head in my lap, and stroking his dark brown hair I assured him if I were going to have any complications, it would have happened by now, all the while telling myself I would never allow anyone to talk me into doing this again anyway, no matter the circumstances.
Finally he rose and taking my hand, he gently pulled me out of the bed, and said, "I promise you one other thing, little girl, this is the last time you will ever be in bed with me and not have sex!" Now he sounded more like my Billy again!
Billy needed to go to the library in Atlanta to do some research that Saturday afternoon, so we checked out of the motel around noon and drove downtown. My bleeding had lessened a little, although I felt completely drained, and I was still taking that awful clear liquid. Later I was to find out it was paregoric, which supposedly helped with the cramps and the bleeding. I must have been even paler than I had been the day before and Billy kept asking me if I was OK, or if I needed anything. Was I hungry, thirsty, tired? All I wanted was to be with him. I dreaded that I had to return to my parent’s house that evening since Billy needed to return to campus early so he could study and write his paper while the dorm was quiet and empty. He knew, and I knew, if he tried to write when we were together we would just wind up in bed, although the little black woman had cautioned us not to have intercourse for at least two weeks.
While Billy did his research, I copied some of his notes since his handwriting was so deplorable and unreadable that even he did not know what he had written. I teased that he would have made a perfect doctor since bad handwriting seems to be a requirement for that career, but he just grinned and said that was four more years and he was in too much of a hurry to begin his tour of duty, and for us to begin a real life together. The notes, taken in haste, while he was half-asleep, needed a lot of work. While I wrote, I used his textbooks for accuracy along with some of the other reference books accumulating on the long table. I was not having any more physical pain and I think on that day, I blocked the ordeal from my mind. I had to do so in order to love Billy in the same way I had always loved him.
I knew, now it was over, he was right, I could not have found a job while pregnant, and I could not move into an apartment with Billy unless I had a job. All I wanted, more than anything else in the entire world, was to be with my darling Billy. In just a few hours, he had gone from being my ‘enemy’ to ‘my darling’ again. Regretfully, I made a huge sacrifice for our future and he knew it very well and never doubted my love for him again. When he looked at me now, he was always tender and caring, and he held me as if I was a china doll for weeks afterwards, and I milked it for all it was worth! I might as well have something good come out of this tragedy! Fortunately, I had been healthy and seemed to suffer no ill affects of this harsh invasion of my body. Now we just had to wait until an apartment became available and we could be together every night, but that might not happen until the end of the quarter when the few married graduating seniors left for active duty.
We had been working in the library for about an hour when Billy told me to wait there for him, that he had an errand to run and would not be gone long. Quickly he rose to his feet before I could question him further. I continued working on the notes, and he was back almost as soon as he left, or so it seemed, and when he sat down, he pulled a nicely wrapped package out of his pocket and handed it to me.
"For you, because I love you," he said, and I was flattered he had left to buy a gift for me. I slowly opened the box to find his favorite perfume, not cologne but real perfume, and Billy said, "Only the best for my little wife."
Back in the car, he admitted he had gone to Rich’s Department Store just a short distance from the library, to see his old girlfriend from high school. Somehow, he had found out she worked in the perfume department there. As tears started to fill my eyes, he hastily continued his story, "I went there to see her and to tell her I was married to the most wonderful girl in the world and I just stopped by to say ‘good-bye’, forever. So not wanting to upset you, I bought the perfume because I wanted you to have it, and I needed an explanation for my disappearance."
Thinking that obviously he still thought about her, once again tears welled up in my eyes. He held me close and said, "Don’t cry, little girl, I was just closing a door, once and for all, just like you closed that door with Don. I think I just needed to see if I had any feelings left since our short romance had been really torrid until she got pregnant with someone else’s baby, but we never said ‘good-bye. I needed to do that for us. I needed to tell her it was truly over forever, and I needed to close that door for all time."
When I protested that I had not had the opportunity to close the door with Alex, he replied, "and you are not going to get the chance because soon I will be taking you back to Dahlonega with me, and I promise you, I will love you so much he will never cross your mind."
Not for a moment did I doubt him, and somewhat relieved, I concluded it was better he had the opportunity to confront her, and to ‘test’ his feelings. I was just pleased I had ‘won’. Now he was mine, I was his, and no one would ever come between us again, not ever!