She opened and closed her mouth a few times, looking just like a goldfish. A yellow goldfish with purple hair. Sputter, gasp, dribble. “Are you sure? At your age, your menstrual cycle hasn’t settled down yet, you know. And these terrible crash diets can disrupt your periods too. Yes, yes, that must be it.”
Jeez, she wasn’t letting go of this anorexia thing. I hadn’t been skinny to start with and at nine weeks I wasn’t huge, but nobody would be confusing me with Kate Moss any time soon. She was clutching at straws, a little frantic, trying to convince herself it was all a big mistake. I really did not have time for this. I spoke patiently and calmly, though I still felt like punching her in the nose.
“No ma’am, I’m sure. I’ve been to the doctor already. It’s been confirmed; I’m about nine weeks now.”
Panic gave way to haughty indignation. When all else fails, bully someone…
“What about your parents?” she snapped. “Where are they in all this? Did they not love you enough that you had to look for love with this… this … boy?”
“No! My parents love me! It’s not their fault. They didn’t do anything wrong!” I heard that childish shrillness in my voice again, but I couldn’t help it, she was beginning to annoy me. She could think what she liked about me, but I wasn’t having any interfering old bag disparage my parents, who had always done their best for us and were at no stage to blame for my misdemeanours.
Ms H was having none of it. Her middle-school psychology seminars were quite clear on the matter. It was all down to not enough love, not enough discipline, not enough boundaries, not enough green, leafy vegetables.
The cross-examination continued while I wondered where my next cookie was coming from. I felt sorry for her, eventually. She seemed bewildered, desperately scrabbling for some shred of sanity in a world gone mad. She’d never expected this of me, she told me. I had so much potential, she told me. I could have done so much better. She wanted to know where it had all gone wrong. Surely there must have been one traumatic, defining moment that had plunged me into this harrowing, downward spiral of degradation and self-destruction (big on psychology, even bigger on big words, Ms H). Repressed childhood abuse, perhaps? Unresolved weaning issues? Absent father, domineering mother? Surely there must have been something?
I tried to tell her it wasn’t that complicated, but she wouldn’t hear me. I didn’t dare mention my Destiny and Providence theory. Nor the other popular hypothesis, the one where Shit Happens. I don’t think either would have gone down well. She leaped from one wild conclusion to the next, and I waited until she was ready to listen. I fantasised about ginger biscuits and calculated the distance to the nearest toilet. Recent experience had taught me that it’s best not to say too much at times like these. Best just to nod sagely with a suitably contrite expression, and let her get things off her chest. Rational thinking would return in a while, but for now it was all bluster and reproach. That was okay. I was familiar with the procedure.
She eventually ran out of steam, as I’d known she would, and then I told her about The Plan. I told her I was planning to keep the baby, finish my schooling by correspondence and be a good mother. I told her that my parents were supporting me and we were going to be okay. It sounded real when I said it, it sounded like it could really work. It was a good plan. She seemed impressed that we’d managed to get this far without her.
Then I broached the subject I’d been dreading.
“Ma’am,” I began. “I … um … are you going to tell the principal? I know I’ll have to leave then. Please, please, if you could just let me finish this year, I promise I won’t be a problem. I really have to finish. Please don’t tell him.”
Then I cried again. I was exhausted. Stress, hormones and the strain of acting as if everything was normal had wiped me out completely. My body was tired, my mind was tired. I just wanted to go back to bed and sleep until April. Now, on top of everything else, it looked as if I might have to quit school – all because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut for three lousy months. What jolly good fun.
Then scary Ms H did the unexpected. She hugged me. I could hardly believe it. Ms H was human, after all.
“You know, you remind me so much of my daughter. She was just as stubborn as you,” she said vaguely as she wiped my eyes. This may or may not have been a compliment. I didn’t know how to take it.
“You know I have to tell the principal,” she continued. “But I’m sure he’ll be reasonable. I’m sure we can work something out for you. Don’t worry; it’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
Another hug, my head still reeling from the first. You learn something new every day. Imagine learning that Ms H was really quite sweet. Our relationship changed overnight – we weren’t just teacher and pupil anymore, we became something like equals. It was good to have someone to talk to, someone who was genuinely interested and not just for the gossip value. She became my friend.
Much to the disappointment of my class mates, who were hoping for more live-action cat fighting, I was allowed to go home after our talk. When I phoned my mom to fetch me, I had to admit the jig was up. She was not pleased. I didn’t know it was possible for her to be more pissed off with me than she already was, but she found a way.
My future – and my baby’s – was now in the hands of cranky bureaucratic fogies who didn’t know me, and whose main concern would be What People Would Say. Another sleepless night.