[Context: I’m an upper-middle-aged father living an upper-middle-class life in the upper-middle-midwest of America. A stereotypical wife and two children. A son in his third year at a Big Ten university. A daughter (let’s call her Algernette) in her final year of High School. Both good kids. Bright and personable. Never have gotten into any trouble.]
Last night around dinner time, we get a phone call. I’m upstairs changing into my painting clothes (my wife is on a redecorating kick, and I’m the designated painter). My son is off to college and my daughter is at work and won’t be home until 11 pm or so. My wife picks up the phone downstairs. A few minutes later she comes up, with a stricken look on her face, and says “give me an explanation other than the one I’m thinking of, because I can’t think of one.”
"We got a phone call from a woman at the Medical College, asking for Algernette. I took a message to call back. I asked the woman what the call was about and the answer she gave was “I can’t say. Have Algernette call me to discuss her options.” That’s the thing that sends up all the red flags. That the woman refused to tell us what the call is about and that it’s about options.
[Digression: The Medical College is not just an academic institution, it has numerous clinics associated with it for patient care.]
Well, my wife wants an explanation from me other than the obvious, but I’m having trouble coming up with one. My mind can only come up with…
a) the obvious, that she’s there for a pregnancy test and they’re calling with the results
b) the more obvious, that she’d have probably done an in-home test first, so she was there for an abortion and they’re counseling her.
My wife doesn’t like either of these. “Well, maybe she’s doing some leg work for a friend who’s in trouble,” I say. Not bloody likely I’m thinking.
My wife raises her eyebrow in disbelief. Not that I blame her.
We decide to be mature and pragmatic. We’ll talk to Algernette when she gets home from work. Let her know that we love her unconditionally and ask her if there’s anything she wants to tell us. We want to be supportive if she’s in trouble. We want her to know that she doesn’t have to face this stuff alone. We discovered that we both had been hoping that she wasn’t sexually active, but that if she was, we had the belief that she’d be smart about it. We were disappointed.
It should be noted that we’re a little hyper-sensitive of “trouble” recently. Within the last three weeks, a student at her High School committed suicide, and a teacher committed suicide a week later. Unrelated, but unnerving.
So my wife goes off to a faux painting class and I spend the evening in sort of a daze applying dark-salmon color paint to our living room walls.
I come up with another explanation. That maybe she was there inquiring about birth control options. This thought makes me feel better.
So we go to bed and read. We obviously can’t sleep. Algernette comes home and comes into our bedroom to say good night. (We’ve had a strict rule with our kids that no matter what, when they come home they have to come in, wake us up if we’re sleeping, and let us know they’re home. Not waking us up would result in far harsher consequences than coming home later than they were supposed to. Knowing that there is no way to sneak home late has helped to keep them coming home at reasonable times.)
“We need to talk to you. Please sit down.”
Algernette gets this wide eyed expression and I’m thinking, OK, this is it, she’s going to break down and confess everything. It’s going to work out OK. It may be difficult and there will be a lot of tears, but we’ll make it through this together.
Algernette says “Oh no… did someone die?”
Hmmm. Not exactly the response we expected. We continue.
“We want you to know that we love you no matter what, and if you’re in trouble we want to help.”
Puzzled, she says “What are you talking about?”
We explain about the phone message and hand her the note with the woman’s name and number.
“I don’t get it. I have no idea who this is” she says.
So we tell her that the only explanation we could come up with was that she was pregnant and was seeking help and advice, and we want to know what is going on so we can help. Through all this I’m trying to see body language to indicate lying. I don’t see any. She stands confidently (never sat down). She doesn’t shift her weight. She makes eye contact. She doesn’t appear nervous. She’s calm. She’s cheerful. Clearly not at all like I expected a teenager to behave if she were trying to cover-up something as emotional and potentially devastating as a pregnancy.
She says “No way I’m pregnant. Don’t worry about that.”
Now we’re confused. My wife attempts to salvage the conversation and says “Well, call this woman back and let us know what is going on because none of this makes any sense.”
Algernette says “OK” and calmly walks out of our bedroom.
My wife turns to me and says “That didn’t go very well did it? I don’t know what to believe now.”
I say “She’s either the world’s best liar or there’s an explanation we haven’t thought of.”
Algernette brushes her teeth and from the hallway as she goes into her bedroom she calls out cheerily “Good night.”
And that’s where it stands at the moment.