It’s dusk. Illuminated by a street lamp, she leans against the side of a building on Main, dragging on a cigarette. I spot her kid first though—a tiny girl maybe two years old toddling off toward the curb. The mom, 19 or 20, wears a tank top and short shorts. Her blonde hair hangs in a messy ponytail. She calls the kid back and leans again, waiting for something or somebody.
We drive by, our six-year old in the back with me, sucking happily on a wildberry smoothie.
An ocean stretches between me and the other mom, the young one. I could make assumptions about her: she didn’t expect the kid, she works as a check-out clerk at Kmart or Wal-Mart or Target, she attends the Baptist church on the corner, she and her boyfriend watch Glen Beck religiously.
These assumptions could be wrong. Maybe it’s more like this: she was dreaming of college on the day the condom broke. Now she works at a winery and takes classes toward a degree in nursing at the local community college. She attends the Unitarian Church. Her boyfriend picks produce at an organic farm. They live on the mountain and refuse to buy a TV.
Or maybe it’s a mix of both. Or maybe neither.
Whatever the specifics of her life, she is a very young mother and there are many many like her here. Poppin’ em out while young seems to be a lynchpin of Shenandoah Valley culture. For some it’s unintentional and for others it’s very much part of the long-term plan.
Noting these sisters around town, I’m tempted to laugh—not at them but at myself. I’m the butt of the joke here, one hour west of D.C. in this breathtaking slice of rural America.
In the city, I’m just another forty-something career mom who worked her ass off to avoid pregnancy until the very last minute. In the city, six-year olds expect to see mommy dying her gray roots red or brown or blonde.
Here, I should have grandkids and 40 more years to watch them grow. The irony is killing me.
Growing up in a large, poor family, I swore like Scarlett O’Hara that I’d never breed until I was good and ready. It worked—I wasn’t “ready” until I hit 35. Now, I am riveted by these young mothers. I study them with an unsettling mix of envy and surprise, even though I know their lots are not perfect, even though some might jump to trade places with me.
It’s been six long years since we had our first child—we haven’t been able to conceive a second. What seems to come so easily for the Shenandoah girls—brand-spanking new life—eludes us, fading into the blue-green distance whenever we think we might reach our goal.
Tonight, though, I have an idea.
After we get home, I tell my husband I’m going for a walk, then amble down Main until I see one of them. This one’s not drinking or smoking, so I pounce. With promises of easy money and a genuine plea for help, I lure her into an alley to make the offer. I’ve got a good feeling about this—I’m gonna score.
She takes the bait: three and a half Gs for however many eggs she has on hand—fresh, young, fertile. She must have been waiting for a junkie like me.
She eyes me up and down, looks around carefully, then pulls out a clear pipette, holds it up for my inspection. It glints like a diamond in the lamplight.
I pull the cash from my pocket not bothering to count out the bills. Shifting from foot to foot, she grabs the stack from my left hand and plops the thin elegant tube in my right.
I gaze down at it, barely breathing.
The glass seems so fragile, so full of the future that I’m afraid it might break under its own weight or with the too-loud thumping of my heart.
“Just don’t waste them,” the girl whispers nervously and looks me in the eye before slipping away.
Watching her go, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve committed an unspeakably perverse crime but I don’t care. I’ve got my fix…
As we pull into the driveway, I come to my senses.
I won’t really walk downtown tonight to purchase human ova from an illegal dealer—that would be too easy. The legitimate route requires a reproductive endocrinologist and unending office visits.
What I really do is watch Hannah Montana with my daughter, trying to enjoy our short evening together.
We cuddle up, eat mint chocolate chip ice cream, plan the coming weekend, and make funny of Daddy.
Then, during a commercial, she says brightly, “Mom, I know how to make you look younger, like a teenager.”
“Do I need to?” I ask, knowing her answer. She wants me to look like the young moms of her friends at school.
For a moment, I imagine how wonderful it would be, what a relief, if pink body glitter and Hello Kitty lip gloss could turn back the clock—not just for my face—but for every delicate curving part of me, inside and out.