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.


  1. Hi David,
    I wonder how Amy’s life turned out?
    I remember reading a profile about our county jail warden and her struggle to go from feeding a family of 5 on $10 per week to leading the jail and raising kids who went on to become doctors and other professionals.
    I hope Amy was able to use her talents and intellect to move ahead. While it is tough and most people would find it hard to move forward in those circumstances, stories like the jail warden’s and of immigrants coming America with little in their pockets making it big after years of hard work always give me hope.

  2. Hi Chris!
    My sense of talking to people after the McDonald’s episode is that she wasn’t able to resurrect her life as it was and she was having a hard time.
    Since then whenever I ask about old friends gone missing she is an unknown. That either means she left town — which I doubt — or she isn’t making much of stunning success. People that live up to their potential get known by the noise of their talent somehow or another.
    I, too, hope Amy one day gets her time in the sun.

  3. Hi David,
    There’s something about small town life that can sap the energy and spirit from people. While some thrive, it seems that others need the stimulation, challenges and opportunities found in larger cities.
    Sometimes going someplace where everyone doesn’t know your backstory makes all of the difference because you can move on from youthful mistakes.
    Since we don’t know the outcome, I’ll be optimistic and imagine she moved to the big city and has found the success that eluded her in the small town.

  4. Hi Chris!
    I agree small towns can smother people.
    Perhaps she got out — but it would make more economic sense to say small than to move and go big if you’re working at McDonald’s to pay for your babies.

  5. Hi Chris!
    I agree small towns can smother people.
    Perhaps she got out — but it would make more economic sense to say small than to move and go big if you’re working at McDonald’s to pay for your babies.

  6. Hi David,
    People usually take the path of least resistance, especially when there isn’t much money to finance a move. I bet she’s still in the small town.
    People usually don’t change too much — even with age. I went to my ten year high school reunion 8-years-ago and noticed many people ended up where everyone assumed they’d end up.
    When someone gets caught in the hamster wheel of trying to survive week-to-week because even taking the time to make escape plans can seem like a wasteful luxury.
    Of course, when you’re 13-years-old, the heat of the moment can trump any thoughts of what might happen for the next 30 years.

  7. Hi David,
    People usually take the path of least resistance, especially when there isn’t much money to finance a move. I bet she’s still in the small town.
    People usually don’t change too much — even with age. I went to my ten year high school reunion 8-years-ago and noticed many people ended up where everyone assumed they’d end up.
    When someone gets caught in the hamster wheel of trying to survive week-to-week because even taking the time to make escape plans can seem like a wasteful luxury.
    Of course, when you’re 13-years-old, the heat of the moment can trump any thoughts of what might happen for the next 30 years.

  8. Chris —
    Yes, it does seem there is a Midwestern expectation that you live and die in the same town. It’s a remarkable state of mind that seems to collapse any hope of a wild success beyond the state border.
    The lucky few who do escape are often condemned and ostracized by their families and friends for getting out! It’s a strange circle of non-existence and repression.
    Yes, the larger issue here is one of teen passion and pregnancy and putting all your self worth in the courting of another; it can light you up temporarily but that heat doesn’t glow as bright over a lifetime except in the afterglow of the children who result from the rubbing.

  9. Thought provoking post. Made me think about sex education and birth control. Also made me recall how easy it is to make disastrous choices at a time (adolescence) when we aren’t equipped, emotionally or intellectually, to make good ones, and how those bad moves can set the tone for our lives. There’s a lot of luck involved in getting to 21 relatively unscathed.
    Also made me ponder the whole social ostracism thing. Today it’s acceptable, perhaps even encouraged in some cultures, for teenagers (and anybody else) to get pregnant out of wedlock. Then, minus a remarkable support system, they are left to eek out an existence on society’s fringes. Any percieved progress with our social mores concerning teenage pregnancy is dubious at best.

  10. Right, Dave. Back then the “father” was never expected to really provide for half of the child’s welfare. It was 100% on the mother.
    I’m sure you’ll do well, Dave! Diabetes is an expensive disease, though. I have several good friends who deal with it daily — some even have to deal with it because their young children are affected. We need a real cure and soon!
    Too bad we don’t have some sort of national healthcare, eh? Where’s Hillary when you really need her?

  11. Hey J!
    Right! Sex is celebrated, but the expected end result in punished! Free condoms? Free birth control pills? Yes! But there are others who, for religious reasons, refuse to support that idea of controlling the population exploding from teens — claiming abstinence is the only 100% proven method for prevention because it never fails. But abstinence does, indeed, fail when the might is not right and bad decisions are made in the back seats of cars. It’s a vicious circle of punishing morality tales with no way out.
    I think it’s a good thing young girls are no longer “sent away” to deal with their pregnancies — but is that because we expect and tolerate the behavior now? Is it a good thing to celebrate a teen pregnancy when they are not even old enough to drive a car?
    Here’s my “Men and Abortion” article from a while ago:

  12. This reminds me of a comment you made yesterday whereby “people tend to behave as you expect them to behave”. If a woman is forever shamed because of one incident it is unlikely that she will be able to move past it. Young girls with reputations for putting out will likely be expected to do so in the next relationship. How, then, if the behavior is so expected (and pressured to be repeated) is the person supposed to outgrow it.

  13. A S!
    Right! Precisely! Exactly! Once you’re tarred, you’re tarred and the cycle of poverty and ostracism begins.
    The only way out is to move to another state — another city usually isn’t far enough away — and start all over from scratch and reinvent yourself.
    That’s impossible to do, however, if you don’t have any money, you have two kids, and you’re working a minimum wage job.

  14. Hi David,
    I’ve changed the avatar, but the first incarnation was a picture of the lighthouse in Michigan City, Indiana. A larger version is on my website.
    I switched it to a pic of the Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge’s barrier not too long afterward.

  15. I love those shots on your website, Chris!
    Your Avatars are great!
    The new Skyway one is fab!
    I have several Chicago header images on this blog just for you — they’re semiotic — so you may have to piece them together when you see them.

  16. “The only way out is to move to another state” I don’t think that would work even if you had sufficient funds to move yourself and kids out of state particularly if that state has a similar policy on what is “shameful”. The fact that you are a certain age and your children are a certain age will likely make a new start impossible. It would be necessary therefore to put ones offspring up for adopotion before the move or move to a city in another state were people are not as nosy / judgemental about ones personal affairs.

  17. You’re right A S. An unwed mother at 16 with two young children would have a difficult time starting a new life anywhere. That’s why they usually stay put. I know adoption is a difficult and hard choice for a brand new mother, but sometimes that choice is what’s best for the children, not the mother, and that is the most important thing to consider.

  18. Though there are few, I am amazed at the ability of some of these women. A couple of people I met a while ago had a baby sometime between highschool and the start of college (didn’t take a year off in between). Studied, maintained high GPA to keep scholarship, worked full-time and still took care of their kid(s).

  19. It’s a rough life being a single mother in a doubles world, A S. I was the product of one and the experience wasn’t pretty for either one of us. My mother was married for five years then divorced while pregnant with me. Her stigma was only barely better than that of an unwed teen.
    It’s interesting how unwed is a worse mark than “divorced” — but not by much, I’d wager; I guess it’s the stigma of the “bastard child” at play in the societal antiquity.

  20. I really don’t understand why there is such a disdain for the “b____ child”. It was not the child’s fault that he/she was born with parents who chose not to marry or not to remain married.
    I also don’t understand the concept of “staying together for the sake of the children”. Aren’t children more damaged by being subjected to a visibly unhappy and possibly hostile relationship than they would be if their parents were not together?

  21. Hi A S —
    Labeling and name-calling are Neolithic ways of advancing oneself up the evolutionary scale. Press them down and you have a step up on their back.
    I think if the parents are talented enough to be kind to each other — even if they are no longer in a passionate love state — then it makes great sense to stay married so the children don’t fall from a broken home.
    If there is abuse or rampant cheating, then divorce may be the only way out but the children always suffer.

  22. Chris!
    Just keep forcing a hard-load of the page: SHIFT+REFRESH/RELOAD and you should eventually recognize something.
    There are 180 images so it might take some time…

  23. I don’t know that mutual civility is enough to sustain a marriage. I’ve seen people stay together until their children leave for college but the suppressed resentment and bitterness they had towards one another seemed to be detrimental to their health. Perhaps it is because I grew up in an area were divorce was more common such that the burden of a broken home was not immediate ostracism that this seems of greater benefit.

  24. Hi A S —
    I say “mutual civility” requires no resentments or bitterness are repressed. I think it’s perfectly possible to get along to get along for the sake of the children. It’s important to try even if it means a certain marital and extramarital celibacy.
    A broken home breaks children no matter if there is social ostracism or not.

  25. I don’t have an interesting comment to make, however, I must say this post was extremely well written.
    Also, can I just say I haven’t stopped reading your blog: I’ve just stopped commenting 😛

  26. Joe is back in the house!
    I love knowing you’re still with us, Joe, and I really appreciate your comment. Thank you.
    I hope you’ll say something in the future just to say something — you never know when something you offer might take the conversation in a whole new and important direction!

  27. Hi David,
    I’ve probably added 25-50 hits to your counter looking for Chicago pictures.
    Here are the ones I’ve spotted so far: The Circle Interchange, The Smurfit-Stone Building, Harrison St. in Printer’s Row, and a picture of one of the L lines running in the middle of an expressway.
    Do you have a list of all of the photos that are in the set?

  28. Chris!
    I think after a couple of re-loads the IP gets memorized and WordPress.com forgets about counting you for awhile.
    Oh, wow! You’re hitting so many of them so fast! Excellent job! They’re all there for you, my friend, so enjoy them all!
    Yes, I have a list of the photos somewhere but they are called randomly. Have you seen BANG! yet? If not, you’re still winning!

  29. The *bastard* child is an interesting comment.
    My brother and I are both adopted – we are both bastard children. We were both adopted at a very early age ( under two months old).
    It took me until I was 10 to understand just what adoption was and the reason why I was put up for adoption. It has niggled at me occassionaly – when people use the *B* word and are disparraging about those who are born out of wedlock. I just think *if only you knew*.
    My brother however dealt with the same situation very differently and still carries “his stigma” around with him. He used it as an excuse from a very early age for any untoward behaviour. It may of course that he was bullied about it without my knowledge – or that he used it as a badge of honour. I remember one argument with my parents when he threw it back at them – ” I am just a bastard, what would I know?”
    I have done my stint at single parenthood after divorce – challenging in the extreme – I think I was far enough down the line ( in social history) not too suffer too much as a result.
    It might also be that most insults are like water off a ducks back here – you have a problem with me – deal with it !
    Today seems to be a day of childhood/teenage posts around the blogosphere – this is the third or fourth I have seen. It has been a fascinating insight into how other people have grown up – especially in America – made me appreciate what I have and the opportunities I have been given.

  30. Isn’t it strange that a teenager having sex that results in a pregnancy is view differently than a teenager having sex that does not result in a pregnancy?

  31. Nicola!
    Now THAT’S a comment!
    The brevity of your initial comment surprised me because I remember a bit about your personal history, but I didn’t want to press what you didn’t present.
    Yes, the “bastard” word — and we can spell it out loud here today because we’re using it in a traditional, informational sense and not as a curse word — carries a lot of weight still, especially in the Old West Midwest where you are your family and your claim the land is grounded in the familial roots your generations laid into the land as a staked claim during the great Westward surge.
    To say you’re a bastard is to call you landless, without a history, and insignificant in the shadow the deeded generations and to let you know that if it “comes down to it” and guns are drawn or fists are presented or necks are strangled, the community will ostracize the bastard and coddle the “legitimate” because that’s how a community protects itself from seedless outsiders.

  32. Hi David,
    I haven’t seen Bang yet while surfing, but I did see the image (BANG-770×140.jpg) by calling it up in another tab.

  33. Yes, A S, it is hypocritical that only the pregnancy is bad and that the act itself is fine — and encouraged by many dads as a sign of a conquering manhood — as long as the purpose of the procreation fails in its intention.
    That’s one of the few times in human history where failure is celebrated and relieving!

  34. Still learning you see – its seems the *B* word carries a whole lot more baggage in certain parts of the USA than it does over here.
    Today being a child of a single parent carries very little stigma from your peers – it does however mark you out in terms of academic and social achievement – the lowest achievers , the more troublesome elements tend to originate from that group of families.

  35. It’s interesting that “bastard” doesn’t have much weight in the UK today – isn’t the idea of an illegitimate heir claiming the throne is based in English royal lore?
    That’s the threat in the Midwest — the outsider, the half-blood, the dangerous misbegotten one showing up to claim an equal stake in the land without working it but getting a share because blood is thicker than dirt.
    It’s interesting how many in the USA use “bitch” to insult a woman and “bastard” to insult a man — while “bastard” can be used for both genders.
    “Bastard” is a much richer and deeper-wounding insult than “bitch” could ever hope to be!

  36. “It’s interesting how unwed is a worse mark than “divorced” — but not by much”
    What about a widow/widower with children? Is there any stigma with that where you grew up? Are they expected to remarry so that the children have a “mom” and a “dad”?

  37. Hi A S!
    The merry widow is a sufferer and becomes a child of the community as long as the loss of the other half was not suicide or drug-related. If the death was an honorable one, then the children as well are tended to by the community as “rugged survivors of a tragedy.”

  38. Every so often we get *pretenders to the throne* and to various titles.
    I suspect our land law is as different as our consititution is from yours.
    Bitch is a complement in some circles !
    Control of
    Which of course now got me thinking about what the worst insult you can hurl at someone in the UK is at the moment.
    I may have to refer to the audience on that one – I sense a blog post coming on !

  39. A S —
    Not all children are good children! The community decides the divinity of the child! A pecking order must be established so children know at an early age where they belong and where they must not aspire to rise.

  40. Leave tomorrow and return late Sunday night.
    I hope this future publishing works – it seemed to work OK on last nights test run – so I am hopeful.

  41. “Not all children are good children!” Look for the worst in people and you will find it.
    It seems incredibly hypocritical to “care” for one child but disregard the need of another due to circumstances beyond his/her control on random predjudices. If anything, the child with the suicidal parent, drug addict parent, or other wise single parent would seem to need greater care as they may have received less to begin with.

  42. Hey A S —
    We have to think about this evolutionarily. To help a child from an addicted parent is to risk you own well being by being dragged into that pit of addiction.
    To take as your own a child who tragically lost a parent is to win the halo of goodness that you care about a child taken from a parent and that act of goodness rubs off better for you in shining your reputation than taking in a drug addict’s kid.
    It’s cold but true and pretty clear to understand if you accept the concept of the selfish gene providing the means for survival.

  43. But if the child of the addict grows into an addict and a dealer to support that habit isn’t there a greater potential that addiction would spread? Short term selfishness may have greater long term disadvantages.

  44. Right, A S, but the evolutionist sees that growth into an addict a part of the winnowing process in the competition for sustenance and success. An addict has less of a chance of living a long life than a non-addict so it actually makes a sort of sense to encourage drug addiction and incarceration to remove that threat to prosperity.

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