After Jean, in her pretty blouse, went to the country and western bar where her boyfriend Ron tended bar, my own life became more complicated. I was in law school after all. I spent less time with Jean and Ron. Jean, Ron, and I chatted some and occasionally had a barbecue. Everything seemed fine, perhaps too fine, and then 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 Jean 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 up 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 became concerned. She was not going to a hospital for the birth. Instead, when her labor began, she was instructed 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, especially since the s-t-b-s was not in Chicago then.
The labor began as Jean was on her hand and knees washing the 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, promising 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 after the birth she was up and about. When Ron did appear, he looked thrilled. This was perhaps not exactly the ideal family unit, but one could almost see a cozy domestic situation in the making.
Some months passed, and the now-spouse and I were about to move on. We were going to New York City to start our new life. The spouse 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. Ron was then carless, and I sold him mine for $50. He paid me half of the agreed price 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 diverged. 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 envision the life she went on to lead. And shortly before I left that house and neighborhood, she gave me another big surprise. Somehow I found out 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 those bad teeth, she might have looked twenty-one. I tried to calculate how old she must have been 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.