"I guess I'll start at the very start. I was reading ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' in grade 11 English. I think it was around March. I'd just made it past the part in the book when the woman throws the rock at the unwed mother's baby. I remember thinking ‘I'm glad people aren't really like that.' The next week I found out I was pregnant. I cried and cried and cried. I told my mother and she got very angry. She said that I couldn't live there once I had the baby. My boyfriend, John, wasn't happy either, but he said he'd help me look after the baby. He said we would get an apartment together and someday get married. I believed him. He was in grade 12, and he worked at the diner part-time. He was saving up money from his job - I assumed it was for us and the baby. Well, after I got pregnant, he got me a job at the diner too so we could have more money and spent time together. I handed all my checks over to him so he could ‘keep track of how much we had.' Yeah right. After he graduated, he took off with ‘our' money. I never saw him again."
"But I kept working at the diner. I got to be friends with some of the women who worked there. They were really nice to me all summer after John left. I felt as if the diner was my second home. My belly got bigger and bigger and people . . . people would look at me differently. They looked at me like I was nothing. Everywhere I went, people would point and stare. No one threw a rock, but I always felt like someone was about to. That's just the way it felt."
"Anyway, by the end of the summer I was able to move into a small apartment. When the summer ended, I was not encouraged to go back to school. I hated school anyway. I stayed on at the diner full time - I needed the money to pay rent. Most of the time I lived on coffee and doughnuts to save money. It's amazing I had as healthy a baby as I did. I worked until the day I went into labor and was actually behind the counter taking orders when my water broke. I was so embarrassed. I mopped the floor before I let them take me to the hospital."
"Then I had a baby. That's all I remember now. People talk about the pain and the joy and a bunch of different things I don't remember happening to me. I just walked in without a baby and came out with a baby. No instructions. I went home to my little closet apartment all alone with a newborn boy. I named him Charles after my grandfather. I called my mother and told her. She said that it was a nice name. That was the last time I talked to her."
"Well, the first few days after I brought him home were hell. I learned everything as I went. Unfortunately for Charlie, it was trial and error. Mostly error, I guess. Breast-feeding frustrated me to no end. By the time I learned how to do it right, I had to wean him and get back to work. I went to countless yard sales and flea markets just to keep him in clothing. Now I'm an expert bargain hunter. I had to be - if there was no money left at the end of the week there was no food. I don't think Charlie wore new clothes the first three years of his life."
"A few weeks after I brought him home, I realized my savings were running out quicker than expected. I wanted to put Charlie in a day care so I could go back to work, but the centers that catered to babies that little were very expensive. But there was this lady down the hall who had about a million kids. Well, actually about four or five, but her apartment wasn't much bigger than mine. She said she'd look after Charlie for me for a very reasonable price. I wasn't sure if she would look after him well, but I had no other options. Lucky for me, she turned out to be really nice. I think she still lives there today, but her kids must have moved out by now."
"So anyway, I went back to the diner after a few weeks. Sometimes I'd work 10 hour shifts to make ends meet. Sometimes I was grateful if ends just came close. At first, my friends would stop by and ooh and ah over Charlie. I got so sick of them saying he was so cute and how they wanted one. All I did was work and take care of him. Eventually, the novelty wore off and they were more caught up in school and boys and prom and college and they forgot all about me. We had nothing in common anymore. I never got to go to the prom or think about college. Then I heard about a support group for teen mothers so I joined. We all brought our babies to the meetings and talked about good buys at the grocery store and traded used baby clothes. It's kind of funny to think about what the other girls our age were talking about. The group took turns baby sitting so we could go out and have time to ourselves. That's when I started working on my GED. I didn't finish until Charlie was three - long after my old friends graduated - but it is one of my biggest accomplishments."
"Over the years I've met lots of men at the diner. I had lots of first dates, but only a couple second dates. No one wants a girl with a baby, believe me. Well, actually, there were a few guys who thought the fact that I had a baby meant that I was easy. They were the worst. I stopped dating. I didn't mind being alone that much, but I really wished I had a father for my son."
"After he started school we moved into a bigger apartment. I had some experience now and was getting payed as much as anyone working at the diner. Things weren't perfect, but they were better. You could still find me at the flea market on sundays. You still can."
"Anyway, my baby grew up and I've had a hard time letting him go. I was always an overprotective mother and always will be. I few years ago I met a wonderful man. He knew I had a son and loved him. For the first time in my life I was in love, real love. He asked me to marry him and I said yes. I got to have the wedding I'd stopped dreaming I'd ever have."
"Things are good now. We're all pretty much happy. I'm still working at the diner and I will be for a while yet. My son's going off to college soon and that worries me. That's all, I guess. Sometimes I still feel like I'm still in grade 11 and my life hasn't really started yet. Then I look at my son and my husband and my reflection in the mirror and I remember how old I really am. Good luck to all of you. It will be hard, I know, but things will work out, you'll see." As she walked away from the front of the class, the girls began to applaud. There were about a dozen of them. All young, all pregnant, all scared.
"Thank-you!" a few called out as she left the room, blinking back tears.