Edition #112: Mother Material
Plus, 103 pieces of advice, a movie you need to watch, and cultivating personal style
A Note From the Editor
It’s been a strange week. While I’ve become numbly accustomed to receiving an endless stream of bad news in the past few years, the ongoing implications of Roe vs. Wade being overturned and what it means for the future of the bodily autonomy for women in the country has made it impossible to turn my mind elsewhere. Though I normally never do, I struggled to come up with something to write about this week because there is only one thing that feels gravely important to me right now and I don’t have the wherewithal to discuss it in a pithy, thoughtful essay. I’m tired and I’m pissed off. Extremely pissed off.
Instead, I decided to read thorugh some old stuff I’d written in search of inspiration. I came across a short story I wrote in the summer of 2020, a few years before Roe was directly on the chopping block. I was in a relationship at the time, and one day I began thinking about what I would do if I got pregnant at an age when I could, ostensibly, care for a baby. I began to consider what sort of judgment I might receive if I did abort the baby—there was no baby, welcome to my unruly mind—and how my partner would react if I told him I wasn’t going to keep it. Are we really pro-choice if we judge women for not wanting to be mothers when they are able to be, I wondered?
I was thinking about abortion when I wrote this short story in 2020, just as I was thinking about abortion in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and every other year since I’d gotten my period and learned about what my body can do. Abortion has never been a flavor of the month issue for people whose bodies are capable of carrying a child. It has always been with us, and it always will be.
Instead of a full essay today, I’m sharing a chunk of the short story I wrote back in 2020 called “Mother Material.” Below is only a portion of the original story, which is set in two different interwoven time frames, present-day and flashback. I hope you enjoy it, and if you’re not a fiction reader, feel free to skip down to the content section. I’ll be back next week with regularly scheduled programming.
The first time Leah heard the word “sex” from an adult’s mouth was during a six-week sex education class in the seventh grade. The class was held every Monday after lunch, with girls shuffling into the gym and boys in the cafeteria.
“The internet has made the world a dangerous place for our youth,” the permission slip read, “and we must educate them about the dangers of fornication.”
The mothers, especially those with daughters, were uneasy about the idea — until they found out the class was created by the wife of one of North Georgia's most decorated megachurch pastors. Even better, the woman would be their daughters’ instructor.
“Now, y’all probably have all kinds of questions about sex, but I’ve got a story to start us off,” Mrs. Lloyd said on the first day of class, her voice projecting through the gymnasium with trained precision.
She didn’t sport the same spiky, efficient haircuts and quilted Vera Bradley bags as their mothers. Her blonde bob was perfectly flipped in at the ends, her lips painted a suitable shade of frosty pink. She carried a large, dark brown tote that the girls would come to recognize years later as a Louis Vuitton, and she handled the bag with the delicacy of a newborn, constantly tending to it, picking invisible specs of dust from its pristine leather surface.
“Every young lady starts with this,” she thrust a sheet of paper in front of her face, a large, red heart drawn on in Sharpie. A few girls, including Leah, let out uncomfortable giggles.
‘Don’t laugh now. This is a pure heart. The Lord’s greatest gift. There was once a young lady from a good Christian family, not so different from y’all, and when she looked in the mirror she didn’t like what she saw. Her high school sweetheart constantly begged her to have premarital sex. Said it’d make her happier, more of a woman. And what did she do?”
The room was silent, all eyes fixed on Mrs. Lloyd. She tore the paper in half, the sound of ripping echoing off the glossy gym floor.
She paused, holding the halves of paper in either hand. The girls held their breath. Mrs.Lloyd closed her fingers around the piece in her left hand, tossing the crumpled scrap at her feet.
“She threw away half of her heart. To a boy who never loved her. And all she had left was this,” she said, jutting the remaining half in front of her face.
“You’d think she’d have learned her lesson. She was smart! Headed to SMU in the fall, determined to set her heart back to the Lord. But she was a pretty girl, and college was full of temptations. She drank alcohol at a fraternity party, let a boy take her home, and with that decision,” she said, tearing the sheet in half again, crumpling a scrap of paper and tossing it on the ground, “she threw away another piece of her heart.”
She took a deep breath before continuing.
“Junior year, she met a boy posing as a man. Swore she wouldn't sleep with him until she had a ring on her finger. He had plans to propose, he promised. But girls, what do you think happened?”
Mrs. Lloyd stood, arms folded over her ample chest, eyes traveling over the crowd. Leah’s best friend, Brittany, raised her hand weakly, arm bent, five fingers hardly reaching her ear.
“Did he, um, like, propose?”
She strode over to Brittany in four long steps, her peep toe heels click-clacking against the glossy wood floor, and held out what was left of the paper, merely a scrap the size of a postcard. She tore it again, handing half to Brittany and nodding her head. Brittany complied, gently crushing the paper in her hands, eyes downcast.
“No, honey, he sure didn’t.”
As she turned her back and walked towards the center of the gym, Leah gave Brittany’s shoulder a squeeze.
“After all those mistakes, she finally met her husband. He was a provider, a man of God. He was pure,” she said, her pointer finger shooting up to the ceiling for emphasis. “On their wedding night, he handed her his entire heart.”
Her voice got quieter so that the girls had to lean forward to hear. She brushed an invisible tear from her face.
“And in return, all she had left to give him was this.”
The remaining scrap dangled between her thumb and pointer finger, waving around like a miniature flag. Only a sliver of red Sharpie was visible, no longer than an inch.
“She had to beg for forgiveness from her husband, from the Lord. And girls….I’m ashamed to say, but that young lady was me.”
Leah’s mouth hung open. Brittany left out a soft cry. A handful of girls looked down at their sneakers, others chomped on their fingernails.
“That’s why I’m here, to teach y’all about the temptations of sex. That when you meet your future husband, you’ll have your whole heart to give him. Otherwise he probably won’t want you, and that’s just a fact.”
The seventh graders learned a lot in six weeks: you couldn’t get pregnant from blow jobs or tongue kissing. There was another way to have sex, but it was a first-class ticket to hell.
“No matter what the boys tell to you, ladies, anal sex is an abomination. You may not get pregnant, but you will get AIDS.”
“What’s AIDS?” Susie asked. The other girls erupted into giggles, though none of them were sure, either.
“Great question. AIDS is a disease God created to punish acts of impurity. It’s transmitted through anal sex and there is no cure.”
They learned about other STDS, too. Herpes and chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.
“Every time you have sex with a new partner, your chance of contracting an STD goes up 85%,” Mrs. Lloyd said. “You might think I'm exaggerating, but we’re going to do an experiment to prove it.”
She picked three girls to help her pass out little wax cups, like the ones Leah used to wash her mouth out at the dentist. Each cup was filled with half an inch of liquid.
“Each of y’all are going to swap with three other ladies. I’ll demonstrate.”
Mrs. Lloyd held a cup in each hand, pouring all of the liquid from one cup to the other, back again, then splitting it evenly between the two.
“You have ten minutes. Go.”
The gym erupted into a flurry of activity, popular girls flocking to one another, less popular ones standing awkwardly at the outskirts of the crowd. Leah mixed with Brittany, Susie, and a new girl whose name she couldn’t remember. When time was up, everyone took their seats.
Mrs. Lloyd came around with a medicine dropper, adding a single droplet into each cup. When she made her way to Leah, the dropper transformed the liquid in Leah’s cup from clear to a deep, ocean blue. Mrs. Lloyd looked at her knowingly, lips pursed, before moving on to the next girl.
When it was over, she made her way to the front of the room.
“If your cup contains blue liquid, please stand up.”
Leah’s stomach did a somersault. She rose slowly, as did several girls around her. They glanced around the room, surveying who was standing with them.
“When I handed out these cups, only five of y’all were STD carriers.” Mrs.Lloyd said, her hands resting on her narrow hips. “You each had intercourse with only three partners. And yet, look how fast it spread.”
The lesson would live on in Leah’s memory years later. In high school, when her best friend's sister tested positive for herpes after losing her virginity to a long-time boyfriend, she would think of Mrs.Lloyd's knowing expression, arms crossed, saying, “What’d I tell y’all?”
Though no one reacted at the moment, the story spread fast, and soon everyone knew about the experiment.
“Yo, Leah, I heard you were a blue cupper,” Bryce said after homeroom.
“Susie might be the preacher's daughter, but she gets around,” Matthew announced in the hallway.
“Blue cup Brittany looked at my junk!” George shouted on the bus.
Someone wrote a list entitled THE BLUE CREW and taped it up in the cafeteria during lunch. Leah shouldered her way to the front of the crowd, scanning the sheet for her name.
“How come there are no boys on here?” she said.
“We didn’t have to take the slut test,” Bryce said from somewhere behind her, “it’s only for girls, duh.”
The last week of sex-ed was the most memorable of all because the girls learned about a topic so forbidden that their parents had to sign a special permission slip for them to attend.
“We’ve learned a lot over these last six weeks,” Mrs.Lloyd said. ”Y’all have grown so much, and now you’re ready to learn about the most unforgivable sin of all.”
“Worse than anal?” Brittany said. The girls erupted into a fit of giggles, only partially sure they understood the mechanics of what Brittany was referring to.
“Much worse. Let me ask y’all this; what’s the most sinful crime you could ever commit?”
The girls said: lying, cheating, and stealing, but none of those were correct. Leah raised her hand, the first time she offered up an answer in the class.
“Is it murder?” Leah said.
“Exactly! Murder is a terrible sin. But ladies, did you know women all over the country are cold-blooded murderers? And they’re walking free as we speak.”
The girls gasped, unable to conceive such a statement.
“But they can’t escape the all-knowing eyes of Jesus. He sees them for what they are, and he’ll remember their sins when they show up at the gates of Heaven, begging to be let in.”
Even then, Leah had her doubts about the existence of God. She’d read the Bible backward and forwards, finding new holes in the narrative every time, but she wouldn't dare say so aloud. Still, the promise of being shut out of Heaven made her shiver.
A projector was wheeled in by the school janitor. He flickered out the lights on his way out.
A side-by-side picture filled the large screen; an ultrasound on the left, a cherubic baby on the right. He had milky skin and plump, rosy cheeks, his eyes dazzlingly blue. The girls let out a chorus of “Awwws,”
“Sweet baby, y’all agree? A perfect angel. Before he arrived on this Earth, he was just a blessing in the womb,” Mrs. Lloyd said, motioning to the screen.
“Like all babies, he was innocent. Pure. He didn’t demand much. Babies never do.”
She clicked to the next slide; a handsome man with a neat blonde haircut and a square jaw, a stethoscope around his neck.
“Maybe he’ll grow up to be a doctor. Maybe he’ll cure cancer, save millions of lives. He’ll be a good husband and a father. He could even be your future husband, ladies!”
She took a deep breath, walked a few steps away from the screen, clicking to the next slide. Leah gasped at the photo, a tiny, purplish body curled in the palm of an adult-sized hand.
“But he won’t have the chance to grow up. He won’t get to become a doctor or cure cancer, because he was aborted before he got the chance to live,” she clicked to the next slide, “by this woman.”
She looked like the sort of person who might live in the trailer park in town. Her mousy brown hair was wild around her face, eyes bloodshot, a missing front tooth.
“This woman is a murderer. She chose not to use birth control, and instead of taking responsibility she murdered her own sweet baby. For no good reason.”
Mrs.Lloyd assured the girls that no matter how much this woman begged the Lord for forgiveness, no matter how many healthy children she birthed later in life, she would never be forgiven.
Later that night, Leah dreamt she was digging in her backyard when her shovel hit something soft, like the tender flesh of a banana. When she stepped back to survey the ground, her eyes landed upon hundreds of small, purplish bodies, no larger than her pet guinea pig, nestled in the dirt. Their tiny eyes were tightly closed, fists clenched. She woke with a start, sweaty and shaking.
Cheers, my dears, and thank you for reading. If you liked today’s story, please consider opting for a paid subscription my this newsletter, which buys me the time and energy needed to read, write, and curate content each week.
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known. If there’s a list of advice or life lessons and Kevin Kelly is the author of said list, you can bet I’m going to consume it with the enthusiasm of a straight-A student. His level of intelligence and wisdom, paired with a seemingly humble fixed position, makes him one of my favorite writers/thinkers of our time. I was hooked after reading the number one piece of advice on this list.
Dogs Can’t Help Falling in Love. I thought of this one today, as I am currently cohabitating with a pack of sweet, chubby dogs for the weekend while visiting a friend’s family home. When we arrived yesterday, a doofy old Golden put her snout on my lap and stared at me with love eyes as though I’d been her owner for decades. Humans love dogs and we like to think dogs love us back. They do, but they also love everything that crosses thier path, according to this research-backed article, in which I learned dogs have lemon-sized brains and that they love hotdogs just as much as they love the sound of thier owner’s voice.
Six Key Lifestyle Changes Can Help Avert the Climate Crises, Study Finds. I'm no expert on the climate change discourse, but the more I discuss the situation with loved ones, the more it becomes clear that we would collectively prefer to point the finger of responsibility at large corporations who have more financial power to make changes rather than taking accountability ourselves. I can't pretend I've made any drastic adjustments to my lifestyle or that I’ve felt I could do anything to make a real impact on the deteriorating environment, but this article really stuck it to me. Six relatively simple adjustments to make...could we all do it? I read the first two and thought, of course, but then I got to the point about planes. It's an interesting prospect, to consider what we'd be willing to sacrifice for the greater good or for future generations. If this feels insanely overwhelming, you could also just start with this.
Perhaps You Should… Watch Luce on Hulu
When I see/read/listen to something I like, I am entirely unable to shut up about it (see: one of the main reasons I started this newsletter) and Luce might just be among the best films I’ve seen in recent years. After watching it, I discovered it was originally adapted from an off-Broadway play, which partially explains why the filming style and impeccable edits gave it such a theatrical, suspense-building quality. The main character of the film, actor Kelvin Harrison Jr., blew me away. And even better, he’s set to play Jean Michele Basquiat in an upcoming biopic filming later this year. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie ASAP, and once you do, let’s discuss.
**Bonus Content** (Learning to Dress)
As cheesy as it might sound, this visual guide to cultivating personal style was crazy useful and provided me with a few lightbulb moments in the context of my wardrobe.
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“A woman is unruly if anyone has incorrectly decided that she’s too much of something, and if she, in turn, has chosen to believe that she’s just fine.”
-Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.
Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.