Once upon a dreamy, smog-filled night in Los Angeles, I was in my car minding my own business amid the typical 1 mph traffic. Suddenly, the red and white glow of CVS sign shone into my peripheral vision, sparking a sudden moment of bravery. I’d been pushing the thought of a possible pregnancy to the back of my mind for long enough: I made an abrupt turn into the parking lot, and ran inside before I had time to change my mind.
I remember thinking, “If I change my mind I can at least buy some Twinkies. Wait… why am I craving Twinkies? Ohhhh… ffffff---!”
I scanned the shelves near aisles filled with diapers for the cheapest pregnancy test CVS had to offer. Quickly grabbing a two-pack, (in case I didn’t trust the outcome), I headed to the register.
After I paid, I bee-lined my way to the restroom, determined to get an answer right then and there. I’ve always been the impulsive type - quick in emergencies, a high-energy go- getter - but as I pulled the test out of my bag, I decided to have a “Willy Wonka bar” moment this time. I began slowly and carefully peeling back the corner of the plastic layer around the box like there was a golden ticket inside. As my suddenly shaky, clammy hands started to go numb, I finally ripped off the plastic and shoved it into my glittery pink jacket pocket. What was the point in pretending to be patient?
I stared at the box, my own breathing and heartbeat growing louder in the silence. The voices in my head sounded like an audience before a play begins, suddenly growing hushed as the room darkens and the curtains begin to rise. I exhaled with a shaky breath, and decided it was time for the show to begin. So… I peed on the stick.
I flushed the toilet and stared at the swirling water, waiting for the test result. Naïve thoughts of motherhood danced around me like flirtatious fireflies, exciting me and then fading away. I closed my eyes, trying my best to create a picture from one simple thought, but all I could see were lines and dots flashing by like a flipbook with no clear storyline.
I listened to the flapping of the pages instead. The sound created a vision of a baby bird, fluttering her wings as she strengthened them for her first flight. I watched a sudden gust of wind begin to challenge her but she braced herself and stood her ground. She squinted as the wind fluffed up the feathers on her cheeks and neck, maturing her look.
The air calmed and a rising sun broke through, turning her black feathers gold. Then, without warning, she leaped fearlessly into the sky. I felt her body whip through my hair as she flew upward and onward. Her wings grew bigger and then smaller as rays of light consumed her. My dreamy eyes then opened, afraid of getting lost in total bliss.
My eyes darted around looking for distractions. When they found some old chewed-up gum amid patches of mold, I felt the corners of my mouth curl up like a cartoon villain. I was satisfied with how easily I could destroy my dream world before it could destroy me. I was back to reality now.
I allowed my eyes to move to the pregnancy test, balancing on the scratched-up metal of a toilet paper holder. It was almost time for the results to be displayed. Abruptly, my inner child took my hands and covered my face with them. I wanted to fight her but instead, I found myself closing my eyes as if that was extra protection. I stood breathing heavily through the space between my hands, my own breath comforting my face with its warmth.
Behind my eyelids, light was sneaking in through the cracks between my fingers. Its rich sepia tone melted smoothly into the skin of a little baby who was smiling at me. I focused on his face and the smile faded into a crescent moon just above a yard with a white picket fence. The fence turned to firewood burning below a mantel lined with Christmas stockings.
The twinkling lights on an evergreen tree reflected off of a silver ornament, creating the glimmer of a diamond ring on my hand. I was suddenly distracted by the weight and shimmer of a sparkling white wedding dress that was hugging my body. The same rising sun that encompassed the baby bird, was now beaming down to highlight every sequin on my dress. The rays then danced across my face, kissing my lips and causing my heart to flutter. My heavy eyes peeled open once again, and my hands slid down my face in slow motion. I looked at my ring finger and felt its bareness like a weight.
With an expression like a guilty dog being interrogated over spilled trash, I looked at the test sideways. Two positive pink lines begin to appear. As I watched them darken, my mouth fell open like I was watching the final scene of a Lifetime movie unfold…
The sexy nanny, long-accustomed to hiding her insanity, had finally revealed her true intentions. After she murdered the wife by cutting her car brakes, she consoled the husband and children who remained, quickly moving into the house. But a suspicious best friend kept coming around and soon discovered that the nanny was actually the husband’s ex- girlfriend from 10 years ago. By wearing a cheap wig and glasses, the nanny had changed her identity and was out for revenge.
Naturally, before the dopey husband could be alerted, the best friend was poisoned and buried in the woods - never to be seen again. Cue the plot twist: The wife, presumed to be burned alive in a fiery crash, was actually alive! Slowly emerging from the darkness as the nanny began to seduce her Husband, she delivers that well-known Lifetime Original cheesy one-liner: “Over my dead body…” (GASP!)
I grabbed the test in shock, and then clutched at the stall door lock to make sure it was secure. I had a new treasure in my hand, and I suddenly felt protective of it. I stared at the door in front of me, noticing the word, “BITCH” next to, “Lupe wuz here” scratched into the beige paint. I briefly wondered what happened to Lupe in that stall.
I looked at the test again, and with the sight of those bright bold lines I felt my entire life before me fade away like the end of a parade, music, bells and applause just a distant rhythmic sound. My face felt boiling hot, like some Looney Toons character who had just eaten a stick of dynamite. I suddenly doubled over with my hands on my knees in uncontrollable laughter.
I was so shocked by my reaction, that I put my hand over my mouth, the same way my Mom always did to quiet her own laughter. After a good five minutes of laughter had gone by, I tried to compose myself. I slide the lock across the latch, as I dabbed at my wet eyelashes with my sleeve. The warm air that had enveloped me now seemed to propel me out of the stall. I tucked the test back into its box, still trying to contain my nervous laughter as I walked out of the door.
I felt like a teenager again, with that same sneaky/excited feeling of shoplifting Wet n’ Wild make-up and press-on nails… only to get caught by the manager who tells you you’re banned for life as you hysterically laugh and run off with your friends. Or like that scary dine-and-dash feeling at your favorite local restaurant, when even the cooks, (who knew your best friend’s uncle), chase after you and your friends down the street, demanding payment.
Or, even like that feeling of successfully cheating on the 10th grade history test you didn’t study for by copying each bubble on Chen’s Scantron. That internal queasiness kind of feeling as you pretend to yawn or stretch as you peek at his test.
I mean, I can only imagine those feelings…it’s not like I experienced ANY of those first-hand... Ok, I’m lying, it was me. And I’d also like to admit to TP’ing houses, ding-dong-ditching, prank-calling and setting glass bottles in the street for cars to run over. I’m only human…
I stepped outside into the crisp night air, butterflies in my stomach flying up into my chest. Unzipping my jacket to relieve some of the pressure, I began searching through the files of my mental database for a coping mechanism to such a life-changing discovery. I touched my tightening chest and closed my eyes as the neurons in my brain fired back and forth searching for responses. The butterflies then fluttered up to my head and flew through my hair, giving me chills.
I burst into laughter again as my mind swirled, and then I bent over with weakening knees, like one of those tall inflatable air dancers promoting a sale outside of tire shops.
My body dipped along with the breeze, and my face froze into a tightened smile, like an overly botoxed soap star. I grabbed a nearby wall and slumped over like a rag doll against it. Tears of laughter fell to the cement below me. I watched the ground change color as they fell like rain, and as my laughter became a slight catch in my breath, I felt one last butterfly escape my hair. My mind was totally clear.
I slowly lowered myself to the ground, crouching in silence. I saw myself back in 1988, hunched over a pile of Barbie’s. I was a Tom Boy back then - my looks and silly behavior earned me the childhood nicknames of Mowgli (from The Jungle Book) and “burnt toast” because of my tan skin.
But looking back at my face framed by shiny black bowl-cut hair, holding Barbie in one hand and Ken in the other, I suddenly thought I looked like a girl. I watched my lips moving with dialogue in front of my gapped teeth as Barbie flirted with Ken.
Little me smiled and batted her eyes as she pretended to be flattered by something Ken had said.
I remembered role-playing many emotions through my dolls back then, especially the idea of love.
Love between Barbie and Ken just felt like a mystery wrapped in magic to me. I didn’t understand why they were so in love, but one day I noticed Ken had blue eyes and I remember liking that about him. When I developed my first crush at school, the magic was no longer a mystery.
I’d stare at Ryan’s bright red hair, his own blue eyes and his millions of freckles sprinkled like a galaxy of stars on his face. He was so different from me that I couldn’t stop staring at him. I think he began to notice, because one day at lunch, he pulled me aside, kicked me in my shins and told me I looked like an ugly boy. I can still see the back of his bowl cut hair bouncing away as he ran, and feel my heart break as I crouched down rubbing my ashy legs, trying to make the pain go away. I stopped staring at him after that, and as days passed I’d walk home every day fighting back tears, talking to myself and replaying his words. Eventually, I believed him.
I will never forget one cool night when we heard a knock at our door. We all ran and hid, and listened to my mom gasp and begin thanking someone. I creeped out and saw a white blonde woman standing in the doorway holding a platter of Thanksgiving food with bags of groceries surrounding her feet. My mom was struggling to carry the platter in, so I ran outside to pick up the rest of the bags. I started to gather them when I looked up and saw Ryan looking down at the hose, hands in his pockets, embarrassed to be there. I said hello to him, and even thought maybe he came over to be my friend, but he wouldn’t look at me. I felt this awful shame pour over my body, and I ran inside with the bags and hid again. We were poor, they were rich. We are on the list for families in need on Thanksgiving, and Ryan knew I was poor and was embarrassed to be there. It didn’t make sense to me until later in life, but that shame I felt, even when I didn’t understand it, stayed with me for decades.
As I developed a sense of self over the years, Barbie was by my side every step of the way. I tried out different reactions to sadness and embarrassment through her, releasing my pain, and (in a way) escaping reality. Barbie was like my diary, my therapy, my hopes and my dreams. She was brave, reckless and indestructible right along with me.
One minute I was an independent sassy red-headed Midge in a rock band (whose hair was eventually cut off), and the next, I was a beautiful queen with 100 boyfriends. Finally, Spectra, and her dog Spark made their debut one Christmas. When I unwrapped them, time stood still for me. Spectra had this amazing sparkly hair, and her body was an incredible metallic pink color unlike any doll I ever had. She even came from a whole different planet, called Shimmeron. She quickly became the alien of the group of dolls. I allowed her personality to be totally unpredictable.
There were so many nights I’d look out my window at the moon and pretend Shimmeron was a real place up there that I would one day run away to. Just the thought of that magical place would help me fall asleep every night and forget all my worries.
As I stood there outside CVS, I noticed I was still gravitating to the sky for a magical answer. A distant ambulance siren grew louder in my ears, causing chills and coldness to surround my face. I hadn’t noticed until then that hot tears of pain were falling down my cheeks, so I quickly wiped them and searched for anything visible in the sky to save me.
I found the yellow moon. As I stared at her beauty, the wailing of the ambulance nearby turned me into a wolf, howling on a mountain top. The song, “Return to Innocence” by Enigma began playing in my mind: “Oh aye hiiii, oh aye aye yaaaaa, (echo) aye yaaa, aye yaaa …”
I felt weight-less, like I was floating in space.
The few visible stars burning bright above sent sparkles into a river where a mama bear drank beside her cub. Over them, an eagle spread its wings and flew through the fog. My wolf’s howl faded off, and something made me inhale deeply and suddenly, filling my body with an animalistic power and pride. My Aztec Native American ancestors had risen up inside me like fire, causing my heart to beat like drums at a pow wow.
My soul filled with suffering, honor, and strength, and I clenched the pregnancy test wrapper in my pocket tight until it stopped crinkling. I felt myself growl a deep low rumble in my throat, and I knew in that moment, for the first time in my life, that I had been taken over by true love… completely.