It's a pretty day today, but it's hot. I don't much like going to demonstrations with my Mom anymore. I used to like it better when I was smaller and it made me feel important. Now I'm usually bored. Sometimes I'm embarrassed. I count squirrels and pigeons just to have something to do. Three pigeons peck on one large piece of French bread right now, trying to pull it apart. They haven't managed yet. It looks kind of funny. And there are two squirrels chasing each other up a tree over on the other side of Broadway.
At first I was pretty bored today, too. I know it's a sin to be bored at an important event like a demonstration, and I should have done something useful. But I didn't know what to do, so I couldn't help it. Then I saw Cindy Lou, and my face lit up. I waved to her. I shouldn't have done that, especially that thing with the light in my eyes. I know Mom hates it when my eyes get too lit up about anything that feels good to me but not so good to her. Quickly I checked if maybe I was lucky and she was too busy and didn't see. But she saw. She looked straight into my eyes.
I know she will probably slap me later. But she will tell me it's for some other reason and also that it's for my own good. I'm not afraid or anything. She always does that when something makes her mad or disappointed, and it doesn't hurt all that much. It just stings.
Still, I don't like it, so I tried to do something smart to maybe avoid it. "I'll go invite Cindy Lou to come stand with us," I offered. It seemed like a kind thing to do and I thought maybe it would impress Mom. "She's standing all alone over there."
"Don't you dare!" Mom snapped at me. There was real hatred in her eyes. I just hoped it wasn't for me this time. Mom said this loud enough that some heads turned.
"But Mom, she's all alone."
Mom's voice softened, though it stayed loud enough for others to hear as well, and she started to explain. "She deserves to be all alone. She doesn't belong with us. She's against us."
I looked at Cindy Lou, careful not to have any excitement in my eyes this time, which was easy, since I really didn't feel excitement anymore. Cindy Lou has curly short brown hair, sticking out in small tufts all around her head, and lots of freckles, big enough to see from a distance. She was wearing a pink sweatshirt and gray sweat pants, which made her look more comfortable than Mom who was wearing a suit with a narrow skirt. But Mom was definitely more elegant. Cindy Lou was holding a sign like everybody else. It said "war kills life" and showed a big red and yellow flame explosion and black shapes blowing around up in the air, but no people. Maybe it was better to imagine the people.
Our signs showed the usual little unborn babies in blood, or sometimes just in a beautiful baby curl still in a transparent mother sack.
I didn't want to ask any more questions, although I would have liked to know more. I'd always like to know more, but it's not possible. It makes Mom tired. It makes Daddy tired, too. So I have to leave it alone and hope for a day when I am sure they feel better and not so tired. Then I will ask. But by then I'll probably have so many questions, I will have forgotten half of them. I hope I'll remember the important ones.
I always knew Mom didn't like Cindy Lou much, but I didn't realize that she thought Cindy Lou was an enemy. Mom doesn't like a whole lot of people, so it never meant all that much, I thought. Except Cindy Lou is the only person from our church whom Mom doesn't like. Mom said once, "She reminds me of Delia." Daddy said, "I don't see it," in the voice he uses when he is either embarrassed or doesn't want to talk about something.
I did ask him later, "Who is Delia, Daddy?"
"Who?" he asked back, as though he didn't have a clue what I was talking about, but I think he did all along.
"Delia. Somebody called Delia. Mom said Cindy Lou reminded her of this Delia."
"Oh," he said, turning pink, which he does a lot, and it's sort of cute. It always makes me want to protect him. "She's somebody I knew before your Mom and I got married. Someone we both knew," he corrected himself. "She must be much older now and probably looks nothing like Cindy Lou anymore."
That's all he would say.
So I imagine that Delia was the love of Dad's life, but somehow he got Mom pregnant and had to marry her, and now they're stuck with each other even though they don't like each other all that much. I know I'm not supposed to think those kinds of things. I'm supposed to be more innocent, which means I shouldn't know any of that sort of stuff. I'm pretty good at pretending that I know less than I do. And there are plenty of things, far too many, that I don't know for real. For example, sometimes Dad smells like Miss Spring, the organist, who always smells like spice and roses. I wonder if Mom notices too. Men aren't supposed to smell like roses, but I guess they have to be pretty close to each other when they discuss the music for the next service.
Daddy doesn't come to the demonstrations. He says he can't do it to his parishioners to take sides. This makes Mom mad, too.
"But it's important," she told him once. "And if you don't go, you look like you're actually siding with the baby killers, don't you?"
He didn't say anything.
"So what is it? Are you really on their side? Do you think I should have gotten an abortion and Ellie shouldn't have been born? Is that what you think? And then you could have married that beautiful slut that you were so hot after? Is that it?"
"Honey, I won't discuss this in front of Ellie," he said. "She can hear you. Every word."
"But you won't discuss it anywhere else either," Mom said. "So I have to discuss it in front of her."
"That's right, I don't want to discuss it anywhere at all." Daddy turned away from Mom.
"Well, are you seeing her?" Mom asked. "Are you?"
He turned back and took a step toward Mom and kissed her on the forehead. I wish someone would kiss me that way some day.
"Does it hurt you that I'm taking sides?" Mom asked, sounding much friendlier.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "Yes, it would be easier if you were less conspicuous. But far more important than that is that you do what you think is right." Now he kissed her on the top of her head because he's much taller than she is and she had her head bowed.
I don't mind you fighting in front of me, I wanted to tell them. Maybe I did mind a little. It can be scary. But it sounded like I could learn a lot when they were fighting, and I do want to know who they are, and where I came from.
In one of her sunny moods, Mom once told me that I was the gift from God that made us a family, her and Daddy and me, and that we should always be grateful for that. I think that's nice. But most of the time she just reminds me that I should be grateful for being alive. Which I am. I wish I could show it better so that she would be convinced once and for all. I also wish I could be even more grateful. Maybe that will come.
"You wouldn't be here," Mom often explains to me. "Not if I had gotten an abortion like all those irresponsible women want to be free to do. Including, by the way, your fancy Cindy Lou."
Cindy Lou isn't mine, of course. But I do like her. For an adult, she's pretty awesome. She never talks down to me, and if I ask her a question, she always answers. But I better keep that to myself around Mom from now on. I really think Mom would prefer it if I hated Cindy Lou. At this particular demonstration, there were others like Mom, because everybody stayed clear of Cindy Lou, and some gave her dirty looks. But she just stood there and smiled. Sometimes she makes me think of Cinderella, but mostly because my name is Ellie, almost Ella, and that would make our names rhyme.
I wished I had brought some peanuts so I could secretly drop them for the pigeons or the squirrels, whichever got there first. But of course I wouldn't have the guts to feed animals and birds while Mom and the others were doing serious things.
Finally Matt got here, too, which was a relief. At least I was no longer the only child there. He's much better at this than I am, even though he's more than half a year younger than I am. He's only just turned eleven. I wonder why he's so good at everything. He's beautiful, too. I also wonder whether his Mom tells him, too, that if it hadn't been for demonstrations like this, he wouldn't even be alive.
When she's around Matt's mother, Mom sometimes pats me on the head and says, "She's my prize." But Matt is so much better at everything. His mom doesn't have to say anything. Everybody knows who has the better prize. It isn't me.
Mom always says I should go talk to people on the street, like Matt does. I can't. I'm too shy. It gets confusing. I can't ever get things right.
Matt is a star. He stops people right on the sidewalk with his smile and his grey eyes and his golden curls. I'm much too young, but if I weren't, I might fall in love with him. Maybe later. He shakes people's hands. I'm a little jealous of him, though. Why can't I be that way? Why can't I make Mom as proud of me as Matt's mother is of him? That's only natural, I guess. He's a boy. They're always better at everything.
We're in the same class at school, and we started out as really good friends. At first I had all the A's, though, and Matt had a few B's. But then my Mom told me not to be so proud, that nobody liked it when girls were smarter than boys. So I started making mistakes. Now Matt is better at school, too. But he's so nice and we both know that we are unplanned children. We have that in common.
But Matt was definitely wanted.
Me? I'm not so sure. Mom does say I'm a gift. Daddy and her got married when I was already on the way. So in a way I got Mom her husband. Only, I'm scared whenever they don't like each other or are mad at each other, though I don't really know what I have to be scared about. I'll never have to worry about a divorce, because Dad is a minister, and ministers don't do that. I wonder why, when everybody else does. But that's how it is.
Suddenly I saw Matt go over to Cindy Lou. I wished immediately that I would have gone. Now he'd get all the credit, as usual. He started smiling at her, but he didn't offer to shake her hand, like he usually does with people. Which made sense because he knew her already. But suddenly his face changed and he no longer smiled. Cindy Lou kept smiling at him, though. He threw up his hands. Then he turned around and looked at his mother who looked very angry and went over to say something to Cindy Lou and then she pulled Matt away.
Now everybody seemed to hate Cindy Lou. I looked around and they all stared at her. I wished I could make it better for everybody. Look, I wanted to say, it's just Cindy Lou from church. Matt's mother then sent over one of the two police officers who had been standing at the street corner all along. They have to do that, Mom says, when there's a demonstration. This police officer talked to Cindy Lou by himself, and she kept smiling. So then he went to talk to Matt's Mom for a while. This time she looked angry with him.
I really wanted to do something. But I couldn't. I'm only eleven. Which means I'm in a sort of prison. Someday I'll get out of that prison, I know. As long as I am in it, though, I do everything wrong. One time I did stand out front right on the side-walk, and I tried to talk to a guy, like I am always supposed to. He laughed and said to me, "You're a bit young to want a baby already aren't you? Otherwise I'd be happy to oblige." I turned back to look at my Mom, but she was busy talking to one of the other women. "I don't want a baby," I explained. "I just want other babies to have a right to be born." I don't think he understood what I was trying to say. "Well, I'll be looking for you in five, six years," he said with a smirk that made me both ashamed and confused. I also knew it had been my fault somehow that he smirked because I couldn't explain things right. Everything I do is always my fault.
"Smile," my Mom suddenly said behind me, and I smiled quickly. I hope I was in time. Once here was a picture of us in the local paper, and Mom looked great, but I looked awful. It's no use. I'm supposed to be grateful for being alive. It isn't always easy.
I do like being alive, but sometimes I wonder, wouldn't it have been better if God had created me as a pigeon or a squirrel? They always seem to know what to do, and whatever they do, they never have to worry about committing a sin. They just move, bobbing their necks, or sliding around tree stems. Plus they don't always have to be grateful, though maybe squirrels and pigeons are grateful, too, and I simply don't know enough about it.