When I was fifteen, a girl that I had a slight crush on became pregnant. The father, as far as I know, was never present. And it was because of these two factors that, for a few days, I decided that I wanted to be a father.
When you’re fifteen, it’s hard to distinguish one crush as more meaningful than another. Being short, skinny and introverted, I had, naturally, crushes on every girl that seemed to fit my criteria of “every girl alive.” Some of these girls never knew I existed, and not in a teen romance movie kind of way, where the dude helps the lady during science class, but since she doesn’t make the first move, he sighs wistfully and thinks She doesn’t even know I exist. Mine was the very literal definition of not knowing that someone exists. My interaction with them was often limited to nothing, unless you count interaction as catching a glimpse of them as I passed them in the hallway and imagining What if I was cool? I bet she’d like the cool.
As much as I was too bashful to talk to the girls I liked, it got even worse as the girls got older. And the crush that started in late ninth grade and would blossom into a short story worthy event in tenth grade was two years older than me. Her name was Cindy, and the first time we met, she was talking to a friend of mine in the cafeteria, and to make my presence known as the desired alpha male of the group, I walked up beside them and said nothing. Cut to a montage of the exact same thing, weekly, for two months.
Summer break came, during which I completely forgot about my slight crush on Cindy. But after that, in the beginning of tenth grade, in those tender, romantic late days of August, it came back. She had beautiful brown hair, and a tendency to wear shirts with slogans on them like “TOO HOT FOR YOU?”
She was also pregnant, and the idea that someone could get pregnant at seventeen baffled me. For years, I’d thought of pregnancy as something that only occurs when two people, in completely established, comfortable points of their lives, love each other enough to take off the condom. You have a kid when you get so bored with sex that you literally force another example of human biology into the world to distract yourself from it altogether. But now Cindy was pregnant, which threw a wrench in my plans. What were my plans for my escalating relationship with Cindy? I have no idea, but I certainly had to push some meetings around my schedule to fit this whole “pregnant girl” thing in.
It was when I discovered that she was pregnant that I finally did talk to her, and since my greatest success in social cues at this point in my life occurred when my fourth grade class was picking teams for basketball, and I, knowing that an exclamation of my skills would lead to me being included, shouted “I’m Air Bud!”, I immediately asked about the baby. She didn’t take offense to this, though I’m sure she was wondering who told Peregrin Took about it.
Against all odds, we became friends, and even exchanged phone numbers. She hesitated to use mine, probably because I never hesitated to use her’s. I had no clue as to what goes into preparing to have a baby, or how tired it would make you, but I would try to make her laugh, and I would also try to spit whatever wisdom I had about childcare out, wisdom that usually amounted to “When is it due again?”
It took me a long time to not fall in love with everyone who showed me the slightest bit of attention. I knew a lot of guys who were like that; guys who struggled to form meaningful connections with girls, and completely mistook common kindness for amorous longing. I was that guy, and girls had better beware that they even chuckle at my jokes. Because, at that age, once a girl started giggling, she was on the marriage train for sure.
And the marriage train doesn’t make any stops.
It took a long time to ask her about the baby’s father, a subject that she was never adamant about discussing. But remember, I’m Air Bud. So I pressed it, until she told me to quit. And then I decided that I would step in as the dad.
I don’t remember exactly when I made the plan to drop everything I was doing and care for the child of a girl who didn’t really like me that much, but it was very quick, and in the spring, after she’d had the baby. It came as a surprise to me when she dropped out of high school to care for it, and so I learned what her address was and I called her one day to announce that I was coming over to see the baby.
“Why?” she asked.
“I want to see the baby,” I said, not realizing that “I want to see the baby” is also the first sentence of dialogue in about a thousand The Exorcist sequel spec scripts. We talked a bit on the phone, mostly about how life had been since she’d left school. She wanted to go back eventually, and it was during that conversation that I began to realize just how little I knew about her. She was my friend at school, but that was it. Was I doing this just to be a good guy? Yes, I was a good guy, is what I reasoned, and doing this was best. It would be sacrificial and loving to a cartoonish extent, which, to a tenth-grade me, was extremely appealing.
It would be appealing for about seven more years.
I drove down to her house, excited to finally exit all the fun freedom of my teenage years, and settle into father-dom, full of responsibility and respect. I was going to be a fucking dad, just like that movie where that guy becomes a dad. I’d be like a ’96 to ’04 Adam Sandler dad, where I suck at everything, but my rogue charm and good intentions outweigh being unable to cook breakfast or help a kid pick out clothes. I’d be a cool dad. A sixteen-year-old. Cool. Dad.
I arrived at Cindy’s house, and she seemed entirely underwhelmed at my presence in her doorway. It was almost like she didn’t want me, a casual friend who had basically invited himself over on a Monday night, to be there. But when she saw me hold the baby, then she’d know. She’d know that we were right for each other. I made conversation simple and direct, like a dad would, and I asked to see the baby.
Like a dad, I responded with “Good,” and I walked out of the living room that we were standing in, and began to explore the house, looking for the baby like a drug dog who is awful at his job. I walked by what seemed to be the baby’s room, decorated with colorful wallpaper; toys and diapers in a corner, and a very tiny chandelier, not even a legitimate mobile, hung above the crib, which had smaller stuffed animals tied to it with string.
I don’t dislike babies. They’re alright. They’re like people that are built for you to throw and pick up. But at that point, when I stood in the doorway of the room, barely even able to see the tiny thing that napped in its crib, I hated babies. Every notion that I’d had of wanting to help this girl out completely dissipated. I wasn’t ready for this. I still had years to go. I couldn’t be a cool dad now. This wasn’t my baby.
I left the house as soon as I could. Cindy, still unsure of what I meant by coming to the house and marching toward the room where her only child slept, had stayed in the living room while I investigated the house for baby. I asked her what its name was, since, before then, I hadn’t known. I was nervous. Would she know that I didn’t want the baby? Would she think less of me now that I didn’t want to be the baby’s father?
She replied with “Travis,” and I responded in the best way that sixteen-year-old, completely-unprepared-to-be-a-father Daniel could.
“That seems like it would be good.”
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