It was early in the morning as groups of students walked to school. The air was crisp and fresh dew was on everything on that March morning. The tule fog was hovering just a little below our ankles, something we had come to expect living in the San Joaquin Valley. On days where the tule fog was well over 100-feet tall, you would hear of people dying due to automobile accidents because the fog is too thick and people can’t see more than one foot in front of them. Kids would play hide-and-seek in fields when the fog was that tall.
Some kids were bunched up in groups talking about their latest crushes or the latest episode of “Dawson’s Creek” the night before. We walked down an unpaved sidewalk that was damp from the fog, so that the dust that would normally form was just cool hardened earth, packed under our feet. I decided to walk by myself that morning, allowing the morning noises to take up my consciousness.
There was still about half a mile to go before crossing the street to the middle school that was just a series of bungalows and cement squares. A make-shift school for a district that was over-populated with low-income and poverty-stricken families. Some worked on farms, others in factories, and others surviving off of welfare.
“Hey! Renee! Wait up!”
I turned around, caught off-guard as I was fully enveloped in the haze of the morning walk. I stopped and watched as a fellow classmate walked briskly to catch up to me. Her skin was riddled with acne on an otherwise smooth mocha completion, something that most 11-year-olds had just started getting. She was tall and already curvaceous but her long jacket covered up most of her body. She wore the standard white-collared t-shirt with khaki pants uniform and sneakers with her short hair permed flat and pulled up in a high ponytail.
“Hey Kayla, I haven’t seen you in a couple of weeks.”
“Yeah…” She looked down at the ground. I tried to kick a little pebble but it got stuck under my foot instead.
“You missed the big dance that our PE class had. Too bad you didn’t get to dance with Joseph. I know he was terrified of you stepping on his toes!” I chuckled, nervously as Kayla’s face was still stone, focused on something but nothing in particular. We walked silently for about five more feet.
“Eh… That group project for History class, was um… boring. I had to team up with David and he is just the most annoying person to work with, ugh!” The silence grew more awkward. Why would she want to walk with me if she didn’t want to talk about anything. “I just let him do most of the work, I mean, he’s some sort of braniac or whatever!” I threw my hands behind my head and leaned back a little.
“Okay…” I thought to myself, “Perhaps she just wants to walk with me?” I snuck a quick glance at her and then looked forward. I put my arms back down and then into my pockets. My ears were starting to get warm from a little bit of embarrassment even though the wind picked up a little bit.
“So, Kayla… Whatever happened to that one boy you were talking with? Darnell?”
“Oh, well, he met my daddy and hasn’t been back since. He got me pregnant and my mama freaked out, and told him to get the hell out of the house. We talked about wanting to keep the baby but my mama took me to the clinic. He tried to come by and was all upset and then my daddy came and told him if he ever showed his face again, he’d done.”
“Oh, wow! How far along were you?”
“Oh, maybe 5 weeks. Not much.”
“Did it hurt?”
“Only a liddle. They told me not to go into school for a couple of days, but then I just stayed home for a while.”
“Have you heard from Darnell since?”
“No. But I don’t care for that rat anyway. He was talking to some other girls at Roosevelt High–I know he a cheater. I never believed him when he said he care fo’ me, no never. What he gonna do wid a baby anyway? I mean, his sex is good, but I could get good dick anywhere. Him and his nasty-ass chapped skin can go do whatever hoe he wants.”
“Good Kayla. I’m glad that you decided you don’t need him.”
“Nope, I don’t need that broke-ass scrub.”
We walked most of the rest of the way to the school in silence, me still listen to the whooshing of the cars zooming by and the chatter and occasional bursts of laughter coming from other groups of kids walking the same way. We crossed the street to the school, the chain-link fenced guiding our way to the front of the campus. Many kids were already there, and we could hear the excited chatter and some playful screaming from the playground. The music room was lit-up and you could hear a horn ensemble practicing, trumpets muffled by the distance but still traveled through the air. You could hear the smacking of girls playing double-dutch near the entrance of the school. Singing some sort of jump-rope related song.
As we got to the front of the school, Kayla waved bye to me and put her backpack down and joined the other three girls in double-dutch. She gave each girl a high-five and giggled as any 11-year-old girl should. I looked at her as I walked passed. Entwined in the ropes, jumping, twirling and clapping her hands.
We never talked about her abortion again.
Two years later, as a Freshman in high school, she had a healthy, 9 pound baby boy with gorgeous brown curls and I never saw her in school ever again.
I think back to the last time that I saw her and how happy she was. I wish she could have stayed a happy 11-year-old playing double-dutch with her girlfriends.
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