A Broken Promise Under the Golden Arches

When I was a boy of 13 and a new student at a junior high school, I met a girl my age named Amy. She had the body of a woman, fully shaped and ripe with a juicy sexuality that flowed from her pores and her glinting, tawny, eyes — but she was still a girl in spirit and mind.

She was voluptuous, but didn’t yet know it. Amy told me I reminded her of her father — I wasn’t sure if that was an insult or a compliment. She was popular. Boys older than her hovered around her like flies seeking a sweet landing. She spoke to me infrequently, though I often admired her from afar with my first schoolyard crush.

Amy was good in math. At that time, in the red Republican Midwest, females were not encouraged by their families to seek non-traditional paths in school or out of school, so when a girl showed amazing analytical promise in math and the sciences, she was fast-tracked by the school system to deepen her interest and her ability to fully exploit all of her intellectual talents. Amy was leading the school in spirit, heart and mind.

Then she disappeared.

Amy’s friends acted as if they never knew her. If you asked about her you were answered with averted eyes. Young crushes fade and return set on different people, but my fondness for Amy never waned. She had too many gifts and too many talents to just disappear into the ether as if she never lived.

Three years later, after finishing a harrowing 24-hour weekend shift at a local radio station, I pulled up, half asleep, to the drive-thru window of a local McDonald’s. As the window opened and I held out my hand to take my Egg McMuffin, time stopped and flashed back to three years ago as I saw Amy through the crust of my bleary eyes — standing sideways there in the McDonald’s drive-thru window looking ancient and haggard and worn — offering me my meal in a bag in the beams of a bright morning sun. Our eyes locked. Our arms froze in mid-air for a moment.

She knew me. I knew her. She was eight months pregnant.

We pretended we didn’t know each other. As I took my food and she closed the window, I saw how she had to stand sideways to reach out the window because her bulging belly wouldn’t let her bend forward at the waist. I drove away sad and crushed. I could not help thinking Amy had given in to the wrong temptations of living and somehow broken the promise of her life at age 15.

She had, in the most real way possible, shattered the covenant of her intellect. I felt her lingering soreness and the suffering and the awareness of her loss looking back at me from within her through those caramel eyes I had so admired — eyes that still glinted back at me, blinking in the morning sun. It was then I understood the awkward silences and averted eyes when I asked about Amy back in junior high.

It was then I realized that girls who got pregnant back then disappeared to “visit an aunt” or to live in a different state for a while with extended family to have the baby, give it up for adoption, and then come back to try to resume a life left behind — to try to restore a living that could never be recaptured or retained after the loss of something so brutal and so precious. It was then I realized that had to be Amy’s second child.

I remembered hearing something about her and a baby a couple of years earlier. It was such a disappointment her bright intellect and mastery of math were being used to make change behind a drive-thru window. I have no idea what happened to Amy or what she is doing now. When you are publicly ostracized and shamed and forgotten as Amy was when she disappeared to have her first baby, you are forced to forget and to never rehash or to wish how things had been different.

You move on. You get the job done. You survive through perseverance and duty and by any means possible, but I’m sure you hope you don’t end up bending sideways out a window for minimum wage with a hungry baby in your belly.