Rising to the Occasion


Pamela York Klainer

Katie and Loretta and Father Leon all feared the worst, so when the pregnancy test proved positive it shouldn’t have been a surprise but was because the hope for a miracle never entirely fades.

Katie wanted to go the very next day for the D&C but Father Leon made her wait a week.

“Sister Kathleen,” he said gently, “this is not a reversible decision. Nor is it a simple one. You need to reflect, and pray. You need to re-think the decision not to tell your family, or anyone beyond me and Sister Loretta. You need to be aware that your situation is not merely a mistake. You are carrying new life within you, and your choice to undergo the medical procedure will end that life.”

Katie sat stone-faced. She was equally stone-faced later, with Loretta. Katie sounded almost robotic when she spoke, the emotion of waiting for the results seemingly spent.

“I can’t have it, Loretta. I can’t. I don’t want to. That’s all there is to it. I don’t even care about Stephen any more. He could come back tomorrow and I wouldn’t give him a second look.”

Loretta sighed. “Katie, it isn’t about you and Stephen. Not any more. This is about you carrying a baby.”

Katie’s anger flared. “It isn’t a baby. Don’t call it that. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The bell rang for evening prayer, and Katie abruptly left.

Loretta felt uneasy, not about Katie having the procedure but about Katie refusing the call the life within her anything other than “it”. She thought maybe Katie should wait until she came to terms with being pregnant before she decided what to do. But then, she knew Katie couldn’t. Father Leon said they were already late, already pushing the limit of what his doctor friend was willing to do.

Loretta thought you should call things what they were, and being pregnant meant you were going to have a baby. Katie could get angry and run out of the room, but that didn’t change anything. She was going to have a baby, at least until the procedure happened, and to say anything else was just a big lie.

Loretta lied about little things, like saying she was sorry when she let her temper get the best of her and snapped at one of her slower and more annoying Sisters. She wasn’t all that sorry, feeling that she was a nice person most of the time and if she let go once in awhile people shouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill.

But knowing about Katie meant living with a big lie, now and forever. Loretta couldn’t really ask forgiveness about being part of the lie, because forgiveness was supposed to include not sinning again. But she would support Katie again and keep the secret, because her friend needed her and trusted no one else.

Loretta thought that must mean friendship was more important than the truth, and suddenly friendship felt terribly complicated.

Loretta wondered, in passing, if they would get away with it. Probably. Father Leon said this had happened before. Nobody would really suspect Katie being pregnant, even though she threw up in the Sisters’ shared bathroom the other morning, because people just didn’t think of nuns and morning sickness. Katie mumbled something about her stomach being upset, and the other Sister on her way into the bathroom with her shower things had nodded and simply looked concerned. Father Leon was a spiritual advisor to the Sisters, and nobody would think it odd that he and Sister Kathleen and Sister Loretta were spending more time than usual in quiet conversation. Father Leon had a lot of sides to him but no one thought him devious. If there were something sneaky going on no one would suspect Father Leon being part of it.

Loretta had no idea what would happen in the hospital. She decided she didn’t need to know, or want to. Her part of the lie was big and burdensome enough.

Seven days passed, and Katie was unwavering. She was brusque with Loretta, not leaving much of an opening for deeper conversation. When Loretta tried once or twice to say, “Katie, look, I’ve been thinking …”, Katie interrupted, not even willing to hear her friend out.

“Loretta, I know what I’m doing. Once this is over I’ll talk about it with you, I promise. But right now all I can think about is getting the procedure done and getting back here and resuming my life. No one is going to know anything about it, so nothing will be different. I have students to prepare for the math competition. The principal said he found money for three of us in the department to go to the conference on new concepts in teaching math, and I have to get Mother Superior to give me permission to go. We have the retreat coming up, and I want to do at least some of the reading. Otherwise I won’t get anything out of it.”

Loretta thought Katie’s voice sounded high-pitched and a little crazy. How could she think nothing would be different? Loretta thought it was already different, their friendship. Katie wanted her to stay silent and act like nothing was wrong. Loretta thought that what Katie was about to do was almost certainly wrong, although you could make it right by saying if God wanted Katie to be a nun she had to do it. But she didn’t want Katie to act like it was nothing. And she, Loretta, didn’t want to act like Katie’s decision was nothing either.

Loretta made a decision, a small one, that she decided would make her feel better. Even though using the word “baby” made Katie angry, Loretta would keep referring to the decision that way. She and Katie and Father Leon were being sneaky and deceptive with everyone, but Loretta would not let Katie be deceptive with her. The decision would end the life of a baby, and that’s how Loretta was going to talk about it from now on no matter how furious Katie became.

The seventh day rolled over, and Katie and Loretta waited for Father Leon’s call.

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