By Sophie Trist
Honorable Mention, Prose,, Create | Encounter 2020
Warning: Sexual Content
She stares at herself in the grimy mirror in the McDonald's bathroom. Dark hair dyed blond because that's how Kevin likes it. A bruise over one eye and another on her cheek, the makeup a flimsy shield. She's wearing the least sexy outfit she has: a pair of bright purple sweatpants and a baggy Tulane University t-shirt that's two sizes too big for her. Still, this insult to fashion couldn't deflect all the pitying looks from the women in the restaurant, or all the leers from the men.
Juliana looks older than seventeen, which is how she managed to pull off her fake ID and get a job in a Bourbon Street strip joint. And the guys who paid her an extra $20 or $50 to break the no-touching rule, even give the occasional handjob? They knew she wasn't eighteen, but they didn't give a flying shit. Neither did the strip club owner, as long as he got his cut. And in the past few days, Kevin has started to talk about how much more money they could make by doing some adult home videos. Except talk isn't really the right word, is it? No, Kevin has started insisting.
And the two lines that appeared on the pregnancy test her coworker Chandra helped her take covertly in the strip club’s grimy bathroom before work last night? They’re no obstacle. Juliana has passed by New Orleans’s only abortion clinic dozens of times: a dark, grim-looking building, a few old people usually clutching signs or rosaries on the sidewalk just outside.
Hurry up and do this if you're going to, Juliana thinks. Her cell phone is at the bottom of Lake Ponchartrain; Kevin made her leave it behind because he said her parents could use it to track her. The lady whose phone she borrowed will come looking for her soon. Worse, Kevin will come looking for her soon.
A wave of nausea rolls through her. Morning sickness or just anxiety? Juliana thinks it’s the latter. This is a stupid idea. Sure, she and Kevin have been going through a rough patch, but they'll make it through. Maybe if she works a little harder, maybe if she's a little more patient, Kevin will turn back into the guy she fell in love with back in Memphis. Would getting the abortion and doing the sex tapes really be that bad?
Juliana closes her eyes and tries to imagine what her baby (she can’t seem to think of it as a fetus no matter how hard she tries) might look like. Is it even visible to the naked eye? How much value can something the size of a pea really have? But when Juliana thinks of spreading her legs for some doctor with sterile-smelling white gloves to suck her womb clean, all she feels is horror. Juliana feels as though she has been sucked into the eye of a whirling black storm; she can’t imagine obliterating another human being like that. She can’t hurt another person as she has been hurt, even if that person doesn’t yet have a consciousness.
Even as she thinks this, Juliana is dialing a number she knows by heart. She's terribly afraid her mom won't answer. She's terribly afraid she will.
The phone rings once, and Juliana thinks of the countless nights she spent alone at home, her parents out fundraising for some progressive cause: maybe the enforcement of some environmental protection, or murderers on death row who claim they're innocent, or asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border. Her parents go through causes like normal people go through toilet paper. Sometimes she thinks Tristan and Laurie Caraway care more about social justice than their own daughter.
The phone rings again, and Juliana remembers her mother's distracted stare as she talked about school, about friends, about the music and books she liked. She tried to ask her mom's advice about college, about how to help her friend who developed a coke problem. But Laurie Caraway was always too busy passing out petitions and haranguing legislators, solving everyone else's problems. The one time Juliana dared to mention her desire to major in dance, her parents had scoffed that she was far too intelligent to waste her talents like that. Will she still be able to dance after she has the baby? Will her body still be hers? Juliana closes her eyes as the tornado of fear and doubt start to overwhelm her again.
The phone rings a third time, and she remembers the reason she finally decided to run away with Kevin. She sees herself onstage with the rest of the Green Park High dance team, the girls ready to crush the citywide competition. As her body moves with liquid grace, she scans the watching audience, seeing the two people who promised to be there but aren't.
And there was Kevin. Juliana had met him at a friend's party. She didn't really want to be at the party, but what the hell? She had nothing better to do. Kevin was nineteen: older, more handsome, and more sophisticated than all the high school kids who try too hard to be bad. He had told Juliana that she was beautiful. He had given her his undivided attention, taken her on long, romantic midnight drives, just like in all those cheesy country love ballads. He had told her everything she needed to hear, and then some. Juliana is hooked on him like heroin.
"Hello?" That's her mother's voice, cool and smooth as rain-slick glass.
Fear and resentment glue Juliana's tongue in place. She can hang up now. Her mom doesn't sound like she's been losing sleep, agonizing over her missing kid. But where will that leave her? Dancing for strangers, the art she loves reduced to a filthy, demeaning thing. Her child sucked out and disposed of as medical waste. Taking the brunt of Kevin's temper when the shitty apartment isn't clean enough or she doesn't bring enough money home.
"Hey, Mom," she croaks.
"Juliana! My God, we thought you were dead! Where have you been?"
Her mother is sobbing, something Juliana thought was beyond adults. Laurie Caraway's tears untie her anger and fear.
"I'm in New Orleans with my boyfriend Kevin. I guess he's my ex now. I’m pregnant, and I want to keep the baby, but he won’t let me. Mom, I... I think I need help." Juliana is crying now too, and for the first time in weeks, there's no humiliation in her tears, only release.
This piece is about a pregnant teenager trying to es- cape a toxic relationship that involves sexual exploitation. It deals with the Consistent Life Ethic themes of abortion and abuse. “Juliana’s Call” also touches on how we as activists can’t get so caught up in our causes that we ignore the needs of our own families.