Vanessa walked out of work and wrapped her arms as tightly as she could around her body. The wind stung her face and even with her heavy bubble coat and thick scarf, she shivered walking through the parking lot of the Spruce Shopping Center. She eyed the Joe-Betty bookstore. In there, she’d be able to warm up and there would be places to sit and relax; that would be her place of refuge. As she walked through the doors the warm air caused her glasses to fog up and the smell of coffee whirled around her head. She felt like she might be sick from the scent of the café but she wiped off her glasses with the hem of her cotton undershirt and ventured further into the store anyway. It was early in the day on a Tuesday so there wasn’t much traffic in the store. She wove in and out of the tight aisles and closely placed display tables until she saw a green and white polka dotted couch by a fireplace that seemed like the perfect place to sit.
“Need help finding something today?” A short and stout young lady in an apron that matched the couch asked Vanessa a few moments after she sat down.
“No, thank you.”
“Let us know if you need anything!” The overly attentive Joe-Betty employee chirped as she walked away on tip toes back toward the front of the store. Vanessa pulled out a bottle of water and as she drank, she started to wonder if the Joe-Betty employee’s parents had planned to have her. She wondered if they were married when they discovered they were pregnant and if they were proud of the young woman she was becoming. The coffee smell seemed to be getting stronger. Vanessa decided to try a new section of the store to see if there was somewhere the aroma of espresso didn’t completely stain the air.
She walked up a flight of stairs next to the children’s section. At the top of the stairs there were several wooden tables and the first book shelf that caught her eye was labeled “Self-Help”. Vanessa came from a big family, her parents had been married her entire life and had 6 children together. Helping one another was an unspoken rule in her household. Her parents had come from environments where more often times than not, they had to help themselves yet they still managed to raise their children to always lend a helping hand when they could. Vanessa grew up knowing that if she ever needed anything, she could look to her family. The past year though, they had been distant. If they invited her to things at all, it was always at the last minute because they said they figured she “wouldn’t want to come any way”. If she didn’t call them, she wouldn’t talk to any of them and if she asked why they’d say she’s “never free to talk anyway”. Her boyfriend Josh, who always wanted her to hang out with him alone and who requested she have her phone on silent when they were together, would tell her to just forget about them, that they weren’t as great as she used to think. Even though Vanessa didn’t want to, she was starting to believe him. She understood not all relationships stay the same but she thought her relationship with her family was one that would remain consistent. She felt more alone as the days went on and realized now more than ever that it was time she truly learned to help herself.
Vanessa chose a table off in the corner of the bookstore’s loft, as far from the café as possible. In front of her were books labeled “Parenting”. She watched a woman look through the publications being careful not to bend too low or reach too high, her belly was swollen with life and she looked exhausted yet angelic. Vanessa guessed that’s the glow they talk about pregnant women having, there’s something ethereal about carrying a baby and it pours out into one’s hair and skin and aura. The woman’s phone rang, she answered a FaceTime and a man’s deep voice called out “Hey baby”, her face lit up as she turned down the volume. Vanessa noticed a large, gorgeous diamond on her left ring finger with the complimenting wedding band. She wondered how long they had been married. It was probably their first child. “Baby” held up a few different books to the man on her phone screen and he asked questions about the words on the back of a few of them. Vanessa wondered if after dinner tonight the man with the wonderfully deep manly voice would rub his very pregnant wife’s feet while she read the parenting book to him. Vanessa hoped so. Baby’s husband sounded so excited; it was as though his enthusiasm gave his wife a boost of energy because she started to look less exhausted and more angelic. Vanessa wondered if she could be that beautiful and graceful while pregnant. The supportive husband with the soothing and wonderfully deep manly voice might be the harder part. Tears welled up in her eyes but before they fell, a pang of nausea waved over her. The coffee was getting strong again. She took off her coat and put it on the back of her chair before she pulled her water bottle out again. She drank the cool water and the nausea seemed to subside.
Vanessa decided to stop ease dropping on Baby and her man, slowly got up and headed toward the self-help section. She slid her hand along the bookshelf where the self-help titles began. There were all kinds of books on how to be a better person, how to be a go getter, how to be more confident, how to become wealthy and how to practice mindfulness. Vanessa was a bit of a self-help buff. She spent a lot of her time listening to motivational speakers and spiritual gurus, she would write lists of positive affirmations and was even in the market for her first ever counselor. One thing she discovered is that self-help is much easier when life is going well. A little boy ran through the aisle she was in and bumped into her legs. He looked like he was about 5-years-old. He stopped in his tracks when he got to the end of the book shelf and turned around toward Vanessa, “I’m sorry I hit you, Miss,” his voice was so tiny and genuine. Vanessa bent down to look at his adorable round face.
“Thank you so much for your apology, you have a great day.” The little boy smiled and ran away again to more than likely bump into another person in the snug rows of books. Vanessa closed her eyes and listened to the pitter patter of his Spiderman Sketchers on the carpet, they came to a halt and she heard a woman in a hushed and calm voice tell him that this was no place to run around and that after they found her book she was going to take him to the indoor playset around the corner. Vanessa let out a sigh and opened her eyes to the books in front of her once more.
She stopped at a book with a simple cover. There were red flowers growing off of long, swirling green stems. The title was formatted in an unusual way with only lower case letters that read “her choice to heal”. She picked it up and read the smaller print on the book’s cover “Finding Spiritual and Emotional Peace after Abortion”. Her stomach dropped and tightness began to take over her chest. She snatched the book from the self and held the title to her heart. Her head felt like it was filling with hot air and it made her cheeks and her eyes and her soul burn. She hastily decided to go into the restroom and chose a stall without caution to sit on the germy floor. She let the tears fall. Her body rocked with her sobs. The fetus that the volunteers at the pregnancy center told her would grow into a great person even if they didn’t have a dad rocked with her sobs. Her entire world rocked with her sobs.
She looked at the book again. Vanessa always thought her first time getting pregnant would be exciting and that she would be filled with joy. She thought her partner would spring into action and formulate a game plan with her about what they would do to prepare and when they’d make the announcement to their families. Josh’s response when she told him she thought she might be pregnant was “Oh, what are you going to do?” She read the title out loud, “her choice to heal”, her voice was shaky. It was her choice and everyone in her life made it abundantly clear that it was her choice alone. She prayed God would take the choice from her hands. She held the book tightly as she cried, her knuckles turned red and blended in with the bruises that ran up her arms. She felt like she already loved her fetus, what kind of woman would she be if she didn’t keep her baby?
As she wiped her face and gathered the strength to get up from the restroom floor her phone rang, it was a FaceTime from Josh.
She managed to push out a “Hey, I walked over to Joe-Betty”. She wanted to show him the book. She wanted him to be the type of guy to ask questions about the words on the back.
“I’m about to be outside, hurry up, we’re gonna be late.” Josh snapped without looking at her, he hadn’t even turned down the music he was playing a little too loudly in her car. Vanessa hung up the phone and let herself throw up.