I'm not your average seventeen year old.
Well, at least, not to most people who know me. I guess in my eyes, I'm pretty normal. I like to hang out with my friends, and go to the mall and things like that. I even read books, and will occasionally attempt to do my homework. So yeah, like I said before, I think I'm pretty normal.
But there is the whole fact that I have a child. That, I guess, is what makes me seem not so normal. To other people, of course.
Her name is Elizabeth—she's the namesake of my best friend, who was one of the few people to really support me after I found out I was pregnant, nearly two years ago. She stayed with me through the tears, the late-night phone calls, and basically all the baggage that follows when you learn you're going to be a mother at the age of 15. I was scared and confused, but Elizabeth was my constant support. I was so grateful that I knew my baby would be named after her. It only seemed right.
We call her Ellie. My daughter, I mean. My grandmother, my legal guardian, decided upon first sight that Elizabeth was "much too grown up a name" for such a tiny person, so since then we've all just referred to her as Ellie. She's almost two now, and she has the softest curly brown hair I've ever seen in my life. She also has wonderful brown eyes, and smiles with two dimples, fully in check. She's so beautiful, and it's in those moments when she looks at me, reaching up and calling "Mumma," that I remember she looks exactly like her daddy. Staring at her has proven to be both the most exciting, and most frightening thing I've ever done.
"Uh oh." I heard her high and so utterly baby-like voice say to me. I glanced over at her, sitting in her high chair and peering over the edge of the seat. I looked too, and saw several multi-colored Fruit loops decorating the tile floor, along with a small plastic bowl. Ellie looked back at me, her mouth slightly agape. "Mumma!"
"Uh oh," I repeated. "Did you spill your cereal?"
When you become a parent, it's customary to ask the child questions even if the answers are right in front of you.
Ellie stared at me again, her brown eyes never failing to give me chills. They're so much like his, I thought. Shaking the thought from my head, I watched as she pointed one chubby arm down at the floor. "Cee-al"
I nodded. "That's right, 'cereal.' It's on the floor, so let me clean that up, okay?" I stood up and walked over to the counter. Grandma always kept an extra roll of paper towels out, for messes just like these. I grabbed one and headed back towards Ellie, who was now banging her spoon against the table. I handed her a sheet, and she immediately took it and swiped at the spilled milk, making even more of a mess.
Taking a few of the towels myself, I bent down and carefully cleaned the mess beneath me. After the area was officially clean, I picked up the bowl and headed to the sink to wash it. Grandma was a pretty lenient woman, but if there was anything she hated in this world, it was a dirty environment. I was used to emergency scrub-sessions.
"Mumma." Ellie spoke, holding her damp towel to me. Her pink bib that read Mama's Girl on it was scrunched around her neck, accentuating her very bulgy stomach. I was momentarily taken back to the conversation I had with my grandma a few weeks before, where I expressed my worry that Ellie would grow up to be obese. Grandma had laughed and quickly quenched my doubts, telling me that it was just baby fat; it would melt away over time. I chuckled at my worrying now, glad for the Ellie's extra padding. It made for awesome hugs.
I took her towel and threw it away, coming back to undo the seat belt holding her to the highchair. Lifting her up I pat her stomach, "Are you full, Ellie?"
She just looked at me and started touching my face. Laughing, I set her down on the floor, exiting the kitchen. She followed.
"Grandma? I finished feeding Ellie." I called up the stairs, located in the sitting room.
"Did you clean up?" She called back.
"Yeah. I think I'm going to go ahead and get ready for school. Kelsey's gonna be by to pick me up soon."
"Alright, just go ahead and put Ellie in the playpen. I'll be down in a minute."
I moved away from the stairs and saw Ellie toying with something on the floor. When I got closer, I could see she had found some week-old Goldfish crumbs, and was now about to deposit them into her mouth.
"Ellie!" I cried, pulling her hand away from her mouth. "Do not eat those! God, that's disgusting."
She heard me say "disgusting" and immediately made a face. "Yuck."
I nodded. "Yes, 'yuck.' Now," I picked her up, "come to the room, and let me get dressed for school."
I carried her down the hall until we reached my room on the right. Our house wasn't very large, and I moved into the only other available bedroom after Ellie was born. She stayed with me, in a wooden crib placed next to my bed. This way I could easily wake up and tend to her in case she wakes up in the middle of the night, and things like that.
Once we reached the bedroom, I walked over to my dresser and looked in the mirror. My long blond hair was a mess, my clothes were old and not too fresh, and I felt exhausted. But looking at myself from the outside, I could see that I still resembled a barely-seventeen-year old girl. I turned to Ellie, still in my arms, and wondered if she knew that her mother was too young to be a mother. Looking at me, Ellie made some kind of baby noise, and started pulling at my hair. If she knew, she certainly didn't seem to care. I kissed her fat cheeks, and set her down in her playpen.
Walking out and toward the bathroom, I could hear Ellie calling after me, not too happy at being left alone. But before I could turn and go back, I saw a flash of dark hair, alerting me to the fact that Grandma was on the way.
"I've got her." She said, rushing into my bedroom. "You go ahead and take your shower." I nodded and kept walking.
I quickly showered and headed back to the room, dressing as my Grandma played with Ellie.
"And what's this?" she asked, a finger on Ellie's nose. "Is that an eye?" They were now sitting on my bed, Ellie gazing intently at Grandma. "No! That's your nose. Can you say that for Grammy? Nose."
Ellie just continued to stare. "Look at her face," I chuckled. "It's like she thinks you're crazy."
Grandma nodded and cracked a smile. "I know. I play this game with her everyday, but she only tries when she wants to."
My daughter, the little diva. I watched them both for another moment, and then finished dressing. Checking myself in the mirror one more time, I brushed my hair and then went to kiss them goodbye.
"Bye-bye, Ellie." I said, picking her up and kissing her cheeks. She smiled at me, giggling.
She giggled again, and copied me. "Bye-bye." She said softly.
I wasn't sure she knew exactly what that signified, but just hearing her say it made my heart sink a little. I hated leaving her. Everyday it was the same thing, but it seriously never got any easier. I was only seventeen, but there was something I still had in common with every older, more experienced mother across the globe: that motherly love that prevents you from sincerely enjoying too much time away from your child. I knew that while I was at school, I would be thinking of Ellie with every passing second. That was how it always was.
I said my goodbyes to Grandma and went to the front door. Just as I opened it, I heard the traditional honking of Kelsey's horn. Right on time.
"Erin Miller!" Kelsey shouted, for no necessary reason. I was but a few feet away, and all she succeeded in doing was pissing off a few neighbors out to get their morning newspaper. "Get your white ass into this car, now!"
I closed the door behind me, just as Ellie's usual cries could be heard. She always did that when she realized I was actually leaving her. Crawling into the front seat of Kelsey's Honda, I cast her a faux-annoyed look.
"Do you always have to aim to burst the eardrums of kids in China at this hour?" I asked. Kelsey merely shrugged and put the car into gear.
"Not my fault if those smart asses have sensitive eardrums." She replied, cruising out of the neighborhood. She flicked her radio on and messed with the dial a bit.
"Kels, remind me to plan another trip to the Museum of Tolerance, okay?"
"Goddamnit. But okay, seriously, we've gotta talk. This Friday, Ashley Dean's house. You are going to dump my goddaughter onto your grandmother for one night— just one night—and come to the hottest party on this side of the globe—Chinese kids included. You are going to get drunk like a college frat boy at his first keg stand, you are going watch Luke and Devin fight—" she noticed the confused look on my face and added "some shit about Luke stole some of Devin's weed—and then you are going to dance with dozens of guys you don't even know, and who are probably just trying to get in your pants."
"College frat boy on drugs, huh?" I repeated, staring out the car window. "That sounds pretty tempting."
"Doesn't it?" Kelsey asked. Her dark blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and I could see she had her purple contacts in. Dressed comfortably in a sweat suit, it was mind-boggling to see how she could look so amazing in something so laid back.
"Yeah, it does." It didn't. "But I can't just ask my grandmother to watch Ellie, so I can go to some high school party and do everything I'm not supposed to be doing." We were right behind a large yellow school bus, a few minutes away from the school.
"And why not?" Kelsey demanded, glancing at me with a frown.
Why not? I had a child. Ellie was my daughter; I wasn't going to be some immature mom who could care less about taking proper care of her child. Not like some people I knew, at least. Memories of my own mother came to mind, but I quickly suppressed them.
"Ellie is my responsibility, not Grandma's." I reminded her.
"I know that." Kelsey rolled her eyes and reached into the dashboard with one hand. She grabbed a package of Orbitz and tossed it in my lap. "Gum?" I nodded and took a piece. "I'm just saying that it's okay for you to get out and have a little 'me' time every once in awhile. Really. Everyone is wondering if you died or something. You're never around anymore"
"I see them at school."
Another roll of the violet eyes. "Yeah, but that's school. Nobody pays attention to who's there. At the parties, the mall, everything is different. If you're not there, people eventually just forget you even exist."
"Okay, now you're just being overly dramatic."
"Maybe. But it's the truth. Come on, Erin. Just one, measly little party, and then—bam! There you are, back on the social radar for good."
Social radar? I opened my mouth to retort, and then closed it. There was no point. Kelsey had been hounding me to attend this event or that event for months now. I kept putting them off with different excuses, like "Oh Ellie has a doctor's appointment", or "I have to stay home with the baby tonight". It would only be so long before Kelsey decided to drop me forever, and then, where would I be with no Kelsey and no ride to school? Not a very happy place.
"Alright. I'll try and see if Grandma is free this weekend to watch Ellie, and maybe I'll drop by the party, okay? Happy?"
"Ecstatic. And it will do you some good. You've been acting like a mini forty-year old lately, and it's kind of weird."
"I resent that. I like to think of myself as a young, thirty-five."
"And," she continued, ignoring me. "You never know. Maybe you can find another guy to help you get over, You-Know-Who."
We pulled up into the school's parking lot, and Kelsey drove around to her assigned space. I let go of her comment, too caught up in the sight of him standing a few feet away from us in the courtyard, chatting and laughing it up with his friends. Everything inside of me turned, and I felt that familiar tinge of pain just looking at him, laced with a feeling of sadness. I hated him so much, but why did I keep remembering? From the feel of his breath against my neck, to the way he would kiss me, all the while caressing my arm with his thumb. And our conversations . . . I could remember each one vividly, every joke, every whisper, every promise.
God, it wasn't supposed to be like this.
Kelsey and I got out of the car and started walking towards the front door. I glanced back, involuntarily, and saw that he had seen me and was staring back. We locked eyes for a moment, before I got chills—the same kind I received when I looked at Ellie—and followed Kelsey inside.
There was a reason I didn't make any attempt to attend these parties and social "activities" like I used to. It was because I knew if I did, I would surely run into him there. And speaking to him, after almost a year of silence, was something I just couldn't handle. At least right now. Not while I still had the tiniest bit of feelings left for him.
Nathan was Ellie's father, and he was also the person I hated most. But he was also the only boy I had ever, really loved.