In 1979 as we sit on the sofa together, she gazes out the picture window at the spellbound landscape and recalls one of the few images that has stayed with her. A yellow farmhouse in a knot of trees, uncharacteristically empty. Her parents and brother gone to town. My mother, who has always preferred solitude to companionship, extended her arms and muddy feet as if making snow angels. The textured gray carpet felt solid beneath her, the design swirling between her fingers. She stared up at the ceiling with its glitter flecks and reminded herself that she could be just as stubborn as her father.
She was lying on the floor of white, rural, Christian, soon-to-be-middle-class, pre-Roe v. Wade America. "And I had four options: illegal abortion, marriage, adoption, or death." She did not want a backstreet abortion and she did not want to marry my father.
She rolled on her side, feeling the scratch of the carpet against her cheek. Her voice is light. "That left two options: have the baby and give it up for adoption, or kill us both."
Adoption wouldn't solve the problem of being destitute and having to drop out of college. Besides, in some secret recess of her mind she wished she could somehow keep the baby.
"And I worried, who would adopt a mixed-race baby?"
That left suicide.
Even at sixteen I know that my mother is not the kind of woman who considers suicide. For sixteen years she has been fierce, loving, engaged, hugging tolerance into strangers' intolerant children, creating pastel-clad African queens to talk to me. Besides, there are simply too many books to read.
What nearly toppled my mother as she teetered on the edge of suicide was the fact that she wouldn't be able to finish college. College. The collective dream of her immigrant, just-leaving-working-class family—of her entire dusty town, really. Her escape from life on the farm, from the World's Record for Most Churches Per Capita, Small Town Division, from 360 days of sun. Her release from a country where fathers packed their daughters away for life or married them off to sweaty farm boys at the end of a shotgun or paid strangers to fish around inside them with a rusting coat hanger.