Joseph’s Lullaby

“Your girlfriend’s pregnant? Dude, why didn’t you tell me?”

 

I saw the text, but I had to rub my eyes and reread it. No. The words didn’t change. I texted Hoshea a reply, “Not funny.”

 

His return text came back almost immediately, “Don’t play coy. Levi was down by their house just this morning and heard her arguing with her dad.”

 

My response: “Well, he must have heard wrong.”

 

I stared at my phone for what seemed an eternity waiting for a reply. The three dots signaling typing in progress appeared and disappeared at least a half dozen times. Finally, a text appeared. “Listen, talk to Levi. Hit me up when you get to the bottom of this.”

 

I had just started to form a reply when another text came in from a different sender. It was from Levi.

 

“Jo! Is it true?!?!”

 

I furiously typed, “You need to shut your mouth!” Well, I typed something like that. I might have thrown in a word or two. Not my finest moment. Then I shut off the phone before he had any chance at a rejoinder. I stuck a “closed” sign on the front door of my shop and spent the next hour or so pacing back and forth. I was furious.

 

Finally, I could take it no longer and turned my phone back on. I had six missed calls and thirteen texts. Three of the calls and four of the texts were from her. All her texts said basically the same thing. “We need to talk.”

 

I picked up my phone. She answered before the first ring had finished.

 

“Hello?”

 

“So, I guess you hear the rumor too?”

 

There was a pause… a hesitation.

 

“Yes.”

 

“How did it start? What were you and your dad arguing about?”

 

Another silence went on for too long.

 

“Jo, not now. Not on the phone like this. Meet me at our spot in an hour?”

 

“I’ll be there.”

 

“Jo, I love you.”

 

“Love you too…”

 

Click.

 

There was silence on the phone. For a while, I continued to hold it to my ear. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move.

 

Finally, I did. Once I started moving, I couldn’t stop. I closed up shop and went upstairs. I was showered and changed as fast as I ever had in my life. No more than fifteen minutes after I had hung up the phone, I was out the door and on my way to the park.

 

Our spot is a certain picnic bench about halfway down the trail. It was where we first met this summer. I had sat down to rest after a jog, and she stopped to tie her shoe. I had seen her before. I knew who she was. Everybody knows everyone in a small town like ours. But she was younger enough that this encounter on the bench was the first time I really, truly saw her. I was smitten. I knew I couldn’t let the moment pass. I had to say something.

 

“Hot day today, huh?”

 

Yup. That was my brilliant pickup line. Sometimes I am not the best with words.

 

I had startled her. She was so focused on what she was doing that I don’t think she realized she was sharing the bench with someone else. That’s my Mary. She is always so intense and focused.

 

That horrible pickup line did end up turning into a thirty-minute conversation. The next day I was out again running laps. She was sitting on the same bench, reading a book. She was pretending not to notice me. Typically, I only run about 2 or three times a week. I went running, and we met at that bench afterward every single day for more than two weeks straight. By that point, my legs were about to fall off. I finally worked up the courage to ask her out on a real date.

 

No matter where we went, no matter what we did, every date started at that bench. A little over a month ago, I proposed. It happened right here at this bench. And now… Is it all going to end here as well?

 

I had arrived at the bench with a little over 30 minutes to spare. I sat. I couldn’t sit. I started pacing. Different scenarios of the coming conversation kept playing through my mind. Various theories of what she had to tell me kept popping up to be shot down.

 

As I paced, I rubbed my hands and blew on them to keep them warm. It was cold outside. It was freezing. I wasn’t dressed for this weather. But at this point, I didn’t have time to go back for a coat. The lights in the park started popping on. It was snowing. The big, thick flakes glittered in geometric rainbows as they dance their way past the park lights. At the far end of the park, a couple of kids were playing. I heard a boy sing out, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” A bald guy with hands in his pockets walked past. He had a grin on his face like he knew something the rest of the world did not.

 

I turned to start walking in the other direction. There she was. Mary was just standing there watching me. I hesitated a moment, just staring back. She is so beautiful. At the same moment, we both walked towards each other and into a hug. I took her hands as we pulled apart. For a second, we just looked at each other.

 

I tried to start, “If… I… well… um…”

 

Mary rescued my struggle, “Can we sit first?

 

I let go of one hand, and we walked together to our bench. When we sat, this time, she broke the silence.

 

“I’m so sorry. This is not the way I wanted you to find out…”

 

Oh no.

 

“Jo, first of all, you should know that I am still a virgin…”

 

I let out a breath I didn’t even realize I had been holding.

 

“…but I am pregnant.”

 

“Wait, what? I’m confused.”

I didn’t even realize that I had said that aloud. Mary smiled a nervous smile. Then she started to tell me her story. It was unbelievable. I mean, really, I couldn’t believe it. I was so stunned with what she was telling me that I didn’t even catch half of it the first time around. When she finished, I had her tell me again. This time I seriously tried to listen. It was clear that she really believed what she was telling me. All I could think was that she had snapped. She had gone insane. My poor girl. Something so awful had happened to her that she had lost touch with reality.

 

When she finished the second time, we sat together in silence. I was too stunned to even begin to formulate a response. Finally, I mumbled something about needing some time to think. She started to say something, but she stopped. She patted my shoulder, stood up, and started walking away… alone. It wasn’t until she was a few steps away that I looked up from my folded hands. I just watched her go. Part of me wanted to get up and run after her. But I couldn’t pull myself off the bench. The large snowflakes sparsely falling blurred Mary’s image as she slowly walked further away. She never once looked back.

 

I don’t know how long I stayed sitting on that bench. At some point, the snow stopped falling. It left no trace of its existence on the walkway and only a very light sprinkling of white on the grass. It was the pain of the cold on my face and hands that finally got me going again.

 

I love Mary. But could I spend the rest of my life with someone who had gone insane? Was she insane? I had read something recently about some girl who kept believing she was a high school teenager all the way into her thirties. She embraced the belief with such a genuine sincerity that for a long time she had everyone else fooled as well. It turns out she had been abused by her uncle. What if something like that was happening here? Could I live with someone deluded like that for the rest of my life? And if she is pregnant… could I raise a child that is not my own? Yes. But what if everyone, at first glance, could immediately see that the child is not my blood?

 

As I continued to walk through the park, I slowly came to a decision. The relationship would have to end. At least, it had to stop until she got better. In the meantime, I would do everything in my power to assist the family in getting her the help that she needs. This was my decision.

 

Then the light appeared…

 

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