This story is by J.H. O’Rourke and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
That Sunday morning was far from the first time I woke up in a stranger’s bed, and I was willing to bet it wouldn’t be my last.
I didn’t bother looking at the man beside me. Just hearing the guttural, wet sounds of his snores was repulsive enough.
Experience told me that I wouldn’t recognize him from the night before anyway. I didn’t even bother trying to remember his name.
As I carefully slid from between his dirty sheets to a standing position, the seemingly constant stale odors of cheap liquor, sweat, and sex assaulted my nose and clung to my skin.
I found my pleather micro-skirt, skanky tube top, and thigh-high stiletto boots in a heap a few feet away and dressed as quickly and quietly as I could.
As long as whatever guy I had gone home with didn’t wake up before I made my morning departure, I could somehow tolerate the nauseating feeling of self-disgust.
I stumbled out the front door and tried to get my bearings. After peering down alleyways and squinting at street signs, I had a good idea of where I was. Just a few blocks from home. This meant that I could walk instead of using the emergency money I kept hidden in my tube top.
I no longer carried a purse during my Saturday evening outings. I had learned the hard way that my wallet didn’t always make it through the night with its contents intact. I can’t count the number of times I’d needed to renew my driver’s license or hitchhike home because my money had been stolen.
It hadn’t taken me long to realize that the faceless string of men I picked up in seedy bars every weekend were looking only to relieve me of my clothes as quickly as possible. They didn’t give a damn about anything but getting laid once my bare skin had been exposed.
I paused as I staggered up the steps of my apartment building to retrieve my key from a hidden pocket in my boot. The faint ringing of church bells announcing the morning service at the cathedral nearby clutched at my heart. The comforting sound reminded me of my previous life.
Once inside my tiny apartment, I headed straight for the bathroom and turned on the shower. As I waited for the water to reach a temperature above lukewarm, I stripped off my sleazy clothes and located a couple of ibuprofen in the cabinet above the sink, swallowing them dry. I avoided my reflection in the mirror. I couldn’t bear to look into the eyes of the abhorrent, disgusting slut I had become.
I continued my Sunday morning ritual by sobbing in the shower as I scrubbed away the remnants of the night before. The rest of my day was spent nursing my hangover and lying to myself about never going home with a random man again.
The therapist I had once visited had told me that my promiscuous behavior was a reaction to the years of sexual abuse that I had suffered at the hands of my stepfather, George. When I had asked her why I couldn’t stop she had told me that “these things take time”. I could tell she didn’t care about helping me find a way to end my self-destructive conduct. She didn’t even look at me during our session. Instead, her focus had been directed at her watch, as if counting the seconds before she could be rid of me. I hadn’t bothered going back.
The alarm clock went off at 6am on Monday, but I was already wide awake and puking into the toilet. The persistent, irritating beeping grated on my nerves.
When I was finally finished and able to stand, I stomped into the bedroom and threw the stupid contraption across the room. The annoying sound came to an abrupt halt the instant the clock hit the window, leaving an angry-looking crack in the glass.
During my short walk to the call center where I worked, I threw up three more times. I wanted to turn around and return home, but I was already on attendance management, thanks to some of my more vicious hangovers that had lingered on past the weekend.
One more strike and I was out.
As I weaved my way towards my cubicle, my idiotic supervisor, Tony, blocked my way.
“You’re late!” he barked. Several of my co-workers turned to look.
I opened my mouth to explain that I wasn’t feeling well and barfed all over his ugly brown penny loafers.
Show, don’t tell, I suddenly remembered my tenth-grade English teacher telling us during a creative writing class, and started to giggle and cry at the same time.
Tony stared at me in disgust as a flurry of activity took place behind him.
“Go home, Rachel. And don’t come back,” he growled.
As I turned to leave, I heard him shout out to the rest of the room.
“The show’s over. Get back to work!”
Tears of embarrassment and shame streamed down my cheeks as I ran home.
I woke up vomiting on Tuesday and again on Wednesday. On Thursday I decided to see a doctor. No hangover had ever lasted this long before, so I figured that I had caught a bug. I needed to get over it so I could start looking for a new job. At barely 18 years of age and without a high school diploma, my options were limited.
The doctor checked me out, then shocked me when she gave me my diagnosis.
“You’re pregnant,” she smiled, “about two months along, I’d say.”
“What? But that’s impossible. I’m on the pill.” I didn’t mention that contraception was likely not even necessary. The internal damage caused by George should have rendered me infertile.
The doctor handed me a pamphlet outlining my options and explained how to control morning sickness.
I walked home in a daze, considering my choices.
Keeping my baby would be a terrible mistake. I wasn’t even capable of properly taking care of myself.
Terminating my pregnancy went against my moral beliefs.
Giving my child up for adoption seemed to be the best choice for the baby’s sake, although it would destroy me emotionally.
For the first time in a long while, I ached for my mother.
I had run away from home three years earlier. At first, I phoned her regularly. She’d beg me to come home, but George was always there. I finally gave up and stopped calling.
But I needed her now, so I decided to risk it and dialed the number I knew by heart. I was prepared to hang up if he answered.
“Hello?” my mother asked.
“Mom. It’s me. I’m in trouble.”
The first thing I discovered was that George was gone. He had been caught sexually assaulting a neighborhood girl and was now rotting away in prison.
My mother pleaded with me to come home and this time I agreed.
As I stood on the doorstep of my building with a small suitcase in my hand, I agonized over what her reaction would be to my pregnancy and the loathsome way I have lived my life since leaving her.
When her car pulled up, she got out immediately and ran towards me. I met her half-way and we embraced, our tears intermingling.
During the drive home, I finally told her why I had run away. That George had been abusing me and that I hadn’t wanted to leave her. I explained that he had threatened to kill us both if I had told and that I had believed him.
By the time we arrived at the house I had been raised in, we had no secrets. I had confessed my sins to her and told her that I was expecting.
As soon as she put the car in park, she turned to me and took my hands in hers.
“We will get through this together, Rachel. The Lord will guide us.”
A year has passed since that pivotal day. My mother and I decided together that I would keep my baby. She offered both my child and me a safe haven.
When my daughter, Grace, came into the world, my mother held my hand and offered words of encouragement and love.
Since then, I’ve taken correspondence courses and earned my GED. I’m planning on starting college in the fall.
I’ve also been meeting regularly with the DA to go over my testimony against my stepfather. With any luck, he will never be free again.
Instead of waking up in strangers’ beds, I now spend my Sunday mornings in church. My shameful ways have been left in the past.
My heart fills with love and pride each time the choir sings my favorite song of worship, the hymn I named my daughter after.
Amazing Grace…how sweet the sound…that saved a wretch like me…I once was lost but now am found…was blind but now I see…