(Continued from the last post)
After Jean, in her pretty blouse, went to the country and western bar, my own life became more complicated. I had an induction date into the Vietnam-era army, and in the ensuing months, I spent less time with Jean and Ron. After I received a medical deferment, I was more in my apartment again. Jean, Ron, and I chatted some and occasionally had a barbecue. Everything seemed fine, perhaps too fine, because Jean started showing. She was pregnant.
The soon-to-be-spouse found out that Jean, although at least three months pregnant, had not seen a doctor or had any other prenatal care, and she was doing nothing to get such care. She did not have a regular doctor and she had no health insurance. The s-t-b-s started making phone calls and eventually found a Catholic charity offering free prenatal care and birth assistance. The s-t-b-s took Jean to the charity, where they spent a good part of a day waiting, but Jean was eventually examined and told everything was proceeding just fine.
I was in my last year of law school and, realizing that few legal positions appealed to me, was trying to figure out what I was going to do after graduation, an issue that seemed to be even more important because I was going to be married at about the same time. Wrapped again in my own life, I did not spend much time with Ron or Jean as she got bigger. As her due date approached, however, I did become concerned. She was not going to a hospital for the birth. Instead, when her labor began, she was supposed to call the Catholic charity and someone would be sent to her house to assist. “But what if they don’t come, and I am there?” became my frequent thought.
The labor began as she was washing, on her hands and knees, her kitchen floor. I called the charity and waited anxiously. Someone came within a half hour. Again I waited anxiously. Within a few hours a baby girl was born, and the midwife was gone, although she was supposed to check back the next day. Ron was still part of Jean’s life, but he, for reasons I don’t remember, was not there. Jean was on her own. That did not seem to faze her. A few hours later she was up and about. When Ron did show up, he looked thrilled. Perhaps not exactly the idealized family unit, but one could almost see a cozy domestic situation in the making.
The now-spouse and I were about to move on. We were going to New York City to start our new life. She had a Dodge Dart, which we were keeping, and I no longer needed the old Ford I had been driving. (My car, which I had gotten from a friend, had one of the most important features for Chicago: It always started in the frigid winters, although I often had to manipulate the manual choke for the car to spring into life. However, if the temperatures were in the single digits, as they often were, first gear did not work until the car warmed up. I had to use second gear of the three-gear manual transmission mounted on the steering column. I was inordinately proud of the sensitive left foot I developed for manipulating the clutch to start the car rolling in second gear.) Ron was then carless, and I sold him mine for $50. He paid me half of the agreed price and promised and promised that he would send me the rest. He probably was sincere when he said it, but I was not surprised that the money never came.
Our lives then separated. I never saw Jean again, and we made no pretense that somehow we would keep up. On occasion I wonder what happened to her, but she held so many surprises for me—Sherlock Holmes and slashed furniture, home birth and barbecues—that I know that my imagination can’t really assess the likelihoods for her. And shortly before I left that house and neighborhood, she gave me another big surprise. Somehow I found out from her that she was only twenty-one. My mind whirled, and I tried to hide my surprise. I would have thought at least a decade older, but I realized that if she did not have the bad teeth, she might have looked twenty-one. I tried to calculate how old she was when she had had her first child, but since I was never sure which one(s)were hers and I kept forgetting the age of the children, I could not be sure. Maybe fourteen. Maybe sixteen or seventeen. But she was just twenty-one when we parted, and she had introduced me to a lot of life.