Me: So, who is this?
Unknown Guy: You don’t know me.
Me: Um. Okay. Well, she’s not here.
Unknown Guy: A blue truck just drove past your house.
Me: (Seeing the truck outside the window.) How do you know that?
Unknown Guy: I’m watching you.
It was a random phone call from someone asking for my sister. I didn’t know him so, of course, I ended up talking to him for about an hour. It’s late 1990, I’m nineteen, living at home, unemployed and, unbeknownst to anyone except for myself, pregnant. What else do I have to do? Plus, it initially seemed harmless – I’m sure I’m not the only person who has ended up talking to a stranger on the phone. But as the conversation went on, Unknown Guy became increasingly nasty. He started saying things about my sister and when I defended her, he was pissed and said that he couldn’t believe I took her side over his. I finally hung up on him.
Later that afternoon I got a call from my friend Randy.
I found out who that was who called you.
Randy had mentioned Unknown Guy to a friend of his who happened to know all about my phone conversation because he knew Unknown Guy and had heard all about it. (John Cougar, your small town ain’t got shit on Fitzgerald.) Turns out, it was the kid who had just moved into a house behind ours. Randy knew of him from church and said the kid was just a punk.
Around 8:00 that night, Randy called back.
Unknown Guy overdosed. He’s in the hospital.
Twenty minutes later, Randy and I were standing at the foot of Unknown Guy’s bed in Dorminy Medical Center’s ICU.
Me: What happened?
Unknown Guy: It’s your fault. You made me do it.
Me: I just met you. I never knew you existed until YOU called ME today. How is this my fault?
Unknown Guy: Exactly. You didn’t even know I existed.
Me: All right. I’ve had it. Good luck, dude.
I walked out and waited for Randy in the car. I didn’t know this guy and there was no way I was going to take the blame for his trying to kill himself.
I felt so powerful when I walked out of there. The two years leading up to this incident had been really fucked up for me and I was emotionally drained. Not taking on the guilt of this latest fiasco was huge for me.
Since the end of my tenth grade year, over fifteen of my friends had committed suicide — I lost count along the way. I think the final number was eighteen, though that might include the few friends who died in car wrecks during the same time period.
Note: Forgetting how small Fitzgerald really is, I tried googling death certificates in my hometown for those couple of years. Nothing. I emailed the Herald-Leader newspaper office asking if I could purchase back issues. The editor wrote back to say that they only keep copies for the past five years. The rest of them — back to the 1800’s, I was told — are on microfilm in the library. I didn’t ask, but I am pretty sure he meant the Ben Hill County Library exclusively.
A couple of weeks before Unknown Guy came into my life, I had attended my ex-boyfriend’s funeral. He shot himself in the head after getting a bad grade on a test. The last conversation I had with him was a fight about his mother asking, “Is this Kim?” when I called him. He called me three times the week he shot himself and I wouldn’t talk to him. I wanted to, but the aforementioned pregnancy was an issue. I was about six months along and I was afraid that he’d ask to see me.
Three nights in a row he called and three nights in a row I refused to pick up the phone. The fourth morning was when he went to his parents’ garage with his rifle. When I saw his mom at the church service she came up to me. I was sobbing and trying to tell her how sorry I was.
He was talking about you right before. He was mad at me because I called you Kim. He said that I ruined your relationship.
And she walked away.
This funeral was about two weeks after (or before?) my best friend JW hung himself. He had been addicted to pain medication ever since the neighbor boy shot him with buckshot and put out one of his eyes. A couple of days before he killed himself, he borrowed my Dead Milkmen tape. I liked thinking that it had become one of “his things”.
I think I ended up talking to Unknown Guy that day because answering the phone had become treacherous for me and I was just relieved that I finally got a call that wasn’t about another death. When he tried to turn that into his own suicide show, I snapped. I had been in mourning for going on two years, I was about to have a baby that I still hadn’t acknowledged to my family – or to myself for that matter, and I had reached my limit.
Note for those of you wondering how I could live at home and hide a pregnancy from my family for six months: I didn’t get pregnant in that cute “beach ball under your shirt” way. I got pregnant everywhere so I just looked fat. Plus it was the late 80’s and huge bulky sweaters were in.
While I was standing over this idiot who had taken pills and tried to blame me, something clicked inside of me. All of a sudden it was all just so ridiculous. How was it possible? All the death, all the blame, all the guilt …. It was just too fucking much. So I shut it down and in an instant all of it was gone and I felt serene. I now know this is what the shrinks refer to as “repression.”
A few months later when I was in labor and telling the emergency room staff that I didn’t want to see my baby, I didn’t feel it. I had made my decision and I was sticking to it. Matter of fact. Period. As I was being rolled into the delivery room on the gurney I told the Ob-Gyn, “I’m giving it up for adoption. Please don’t show it to me.” The next day an attorney and his secretary came into my room with adoption papers and a Bic pen.
The undersigned consents to relinquish all parental rights to Baby Girl.
Baby Girl. Reading those two words fucked up my plans to not engage. For nine months I had managed to live as if it weren’t happening. Even my mom didn’t know until I woke her up that night and said that she needed to take me to the hospital. It was as if my mind and my body were completely separate so I had been able to distance myself from what was going on.
Then those words.
Baby Girl turns eighteen this December. When I signed the adoption papers, I decided that I would never search for her. I had my chance to be in her life, and I gave it up. Now it’s up to her. When we decided to say that I didn’t know who the father of the baby was so that I could make the decision to give her up on my own, I asked the doctor to keep my records open in case she ever wanted to find me.
Of course, she might not want to. She might hate me. She might feel that she is happy with the parents she has and not have a need to contact me. She may not even know that she’s adopted.
But just in case, I’m calling the doctor to make sure he knows where I am.