I’m writing this because I’m not sure how to say these things aloud – I never have before. I trust you in a way that I never have another person, and I’m sorry that I kept all of this to myself for so long. Or maybe I should be sorry I’m saying anything at all. I’m sorry that I got sick and didn’t have enough time to give all of myself to you. This is the best I can do and I’m sorry for that as well.
One morning, I was sitting on the toilet, pants on the floor, elbows on my knees. He sat on the bathtub rim and put his hand on my back. He had always put his hand on my back, I remember the very first time. We met at a dive bar and got far drunker than we had planned to be. I was in my first year post-grad at my first big girl job and he was in grad school. He was objectively cute and undeniably funny. All of my friends thought so too, but he came up to me. We went home together the first night, and rather than getting to any of the things we had whispered about in the bar, I spent the night puking with him rubbing my back. Honestly, I didn’t want anyone rubbing my back while I vomited, but a cute guy wasn’t the worst option.
He had been dating me for three years when I found out I was pregnant. For two of those years, I had been dating him too. He was a bad boyfriend, and I think I was a worse girlfriend for not leaving. The pregnancy test lay on the counter, with a faint second line. I was 25 and pregnant. I knew what was running through his head: Will we keep it? Will we decide to have an abortion? How will we afford this? We.
But the thing is, my first thought wasn’t about whether or not I would get rid of it. Calling you ‘it’ doesn’t feel quite right, but that’s how it felt at the moment. The truth was that you weren’t real, you were a decision I had yet to make. My first thought was whether or not I would get rid of him. I wasn’t crying because my life was over; having a baby wasn’t the end all be all for me. I was 25, it wasn’t outside the realm of a normal life. I cried because I was mad at myself. I questioned if I could love this baby if I didn’t love its father. All the while he kept rubbing my back, with no clue that he was the part of this I was most scared of.
My negative thoughts of him became so consistent and organized that they were easy to recall in that moment. I didn’t like how he never held the door for me. I didn’t like how we had to take turns driving. I didn’t like that he always picked the movie because I chose what we were doing. It was all so give and take that it felt contractual. And that’s mostly because I never knew that I cared. I wanted someone that knew what I wanted, even when I didn’t. Everybody around me loved him, so when no one tried to talk me out of being with him, I convinced myself to stay.
I grew up with an emotionally closed-off father. He didn’t want me to cry in front of him, or talk about boys. Feelings weren’t something we discussed, but we were allowed to have them. He never mentioned my period, but always had tampons in the house. I didn’t like that my boyfriend would make jokes about me PMSing and ask me if I wanted dessert. I liked that my father didn’t say a word, and later showed up with milkshakes. He always found a way to show up. At that moment, all I could think was that I would rather raise my kid alone than have her watch me open my own doors. Is that pathetic? Did I buy you enough milkshakes?
I was crying because, if I left him, I wouldn’t be rid of him. I would have to share my kid every other week, maybe just the weekends – I still wasn’t sure of the kind of man I slept with. How much would he love this baby?
If I aborted this kid, it wasn’t going to be because I couldn’t do it, but because I didn’t want to do it with him. How was that fair? How was any of this fair? How had I been so smart, and done something so dumb? How was I pregnant when I didn’t plan to be?
For the past year, I had done a good job at keeping track of the things I brought into the house and the things he did. I noted what he paid for, and what I paid for. Crying on the toilet, I felt so stupid. Rather than breaking up with him, and giving myself more time, I had been meticulous. I had cared more about materials than my mortality.
My mind raced as his hand went up and down my back. I used to love it when he touched me, and then I hated it, and then it was dull, and now I was finally in a place where I could enjoy it again. I imagined that he was someone I desired. Or that it was simply just a hand on my back. Just a kiss. Just sex. Just something that felt good, with no person attached to it. Certainly not the person who embarrassed me in front of my parents or split the bill.
I feel that you expect me to know all of the answers. I don’t blame you, I expected the same from my mother. We all expect our mothers to be able to make miracles happen. When I got a bad grade, my mother would throw a fit, because her daughter was smart. She didn’t understand a world where her daughter should get a bad grade. But the truth is, I got the answer right. It wasn’t a miracle, it was the result of a mom who had pride in her daughter, a lack of filter and restraint, a student who had put in the work, and a lazy teacher. A teacher who had graded my quiz wrongly.
To answer your question, I don’t know. I can’t tell you what to do, I can’t tell you if he is right for you. All I can do is tell you the mistakes I believe I made. To be completely honest, I’m not sure if having you was the best decision I could have made. Looking back, I see all the things I could have had, intermixed with all of the beautiful memories we had growing up together. I’ve never believed in hindsight, it doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t detach reality from the person I used to be. Those circumstances mattered, and speculating on what could have happened does neither harm nor good, it does nothing. Becoming pregnant with you brought a lot of negativity into my life, I couldn’t see the good for a while. I started to hate myself, my ignorance, selfishness, and my family. My body, my past, my future, my job. I was depressed and it was all my fault. But right now I have you. Perhaps in hindsight, I would have had you sooner. So futile to speculate.
I want to apologize for a lot of things; that’s not fair to you. All I should say is that I’m sorry if you wanted a better father, I wanted that for you too. I’m sorry if you wanted us to stay together, but I’m glad you didn’t see why we couldn’t. I’m sorry that I wasn’t confident and sure of myself. I’m sorry that I never became the woman I wanted to be.
But the truth is, your father deserves more credit than I give him. He wasn’t what I needed, but he did the best he could–sometimes, better than me. He showed up to school events I didn’t. He remarried a sweet woman who can do your hair better than I ever could. He loves you unconditionally. He deserves my respect, and for some reason, I can’t stop withholding it. I hope you love him, I hope you see in him what I once saw, because I know that it’s still there– it just became indistinguishable to me.
I think Alex is handsome. I love the way he holds the door for you and is strong enough to carry you. I love that I know he will protect you, and always pay for your meals. I'm proud of the way he loves you so clearly. I love the life I can only imagine the both of you living. But what I think doesn’t matter at all. Often I care about things so deeply that I forget they don’t matter to other people. I’ve spent my life convinced there’s one way of thinking.
Do you love him? Does he make you embarrassed? Does he resemble the man you would dream of as you tried to fall asleep as a little girl? Does his chivalry cover up the fact that he doesn’t make you laugh? Is giving him up worth the risk of losing time, and never finding what you think you need?
I’m 57, and I still don’t know the answers. I know that I had a good life. I traveled to places your father would have never dreamed of going. I spent one of the best years of my life with him, having the most intimate and blissful moments I’ve ever experienced. As I look back at my life, I can see the happiness I lived, and it was abundant. I can’t say what was and wasn’t worth it, whether having you was a good or bad decision, whether leaving him was the right or wrong thing to do. But these were the choices I made, and that is all there is to it. I can confidently say that when I look at you, I see something I did right. Perhaps if I hadn't had you I would have gone to grad school, or married a gentleman. Maybe if I stayed with your father I wouldn’t be writing this letter alone, maybe we’d all be together. Maybe if I’d drank less diet pop, or used less hair spray, maybe then I wouldn’t have to say these things at all. But I really don’t mind. Good or bad, rash or educated, apprehensive or determined, I’ve made enough decisions for a lifetime.
I hope that when you look at me, you see a happy woman. A woman who tried her best, who achieved a third of the things she wanted and realized that was enough. I’ve run out of time and there is none left for regret. You have so much before you and it’s yours to do whatever you like with. And the only honest regret I have, that isn’t even mine to harbor, is that I won’t be here to see it all.
I’m scared that this letter will make you think differently of me, but the truth is this is who I have always been. It’s impossible for moms to be our entire selves, I think. The facade would disappear. If you truly knew who I was, you would never have believed I could make miracles happen. And what kind of child would I have raised had you not believed in Santa, Angels, or Moms? You are my greatest accomplishment. The thing I stuck by, dedicated the most time to, and what I am most proud of. No matter what you do, you could never make me resent you. Though you’ve never given me the chance, you held the door for me all the way to my last appointment.
I’m sorry for the times I made you feel like less than enough. For any time I was on a diet and commented on your serving size. For the time you started wearing makeup and felt so proud, and I told you through a laugh that it looked ridiculous. I’m sorry for the time you got a bad grade and I grounded you, I didn’t know what else to do.
I love you. I love that you look like me, because you’re so beautiful, and it finally made me see it in myself. You’re funny and bright and everyone clings to you. You are everything I thought I was as a kid, 10 times over. It makes no sense to me that your father and I, with all of our shortcomings, could make something so wonderful. You are a miracle, and you are perfect. You make me a mom, the only thing I’ve ever been sure enough of to call myself. I know that loving you will be the last feeling I ever have. Lauren, if there were enough time I’d ask you to promise me that you’d do whatever you want for as long as you can. But for now, all I can do is ask.
P.s. Only open the doors you want to.