The Wait


Pamela York Klainer

Katie cycled between giddy optimism and raw, aching despair.

I can’t be pregnant. Not after one single time. My cousin Maureen and her husband had to try for a year and half, and her mother had to pray a Novena, before she came home from the doctor with good news.

I’m going to be pregnant, and Stephen still won’t leave the priesthood and marry me.

Her students noticed the mood swings. One day Sister Kathleen was silly and fun and joking around. The next day she barked at them for nothing, and handed out detention to one of her favorite students just because he forgot his homework, something she never did before.

The Sisters with whom she lived noticed the moods too, wondering collectively what in the world was wrong with Sister Kathleen. But they were trained not to pry. Loretta did her best to cover, saying quietly to anyone who asked, “Family problems. You know how that is.”

They did. All of them lived in two worlds: their religious community, and the families who came one Sunday a month, and wrote, and sent cards.

Families worked things out, usually without much help from their convent-sheltered member. Relieved that Sister Kathleen’s behavior had a logical explanation, the other Sisters went about their daily lives of work and prayer. Sister Kathleen’s trial, whatever it was, would pass.

No one, not a single person, suspected that Sister Kathleen might be pregnant.

Father Stephen, who taught in the classroom just down from Sister Kathleen, felt ambivalence from her each time they passed in the hall. He remained breezily unconcerned. He didn’t ask Sister Kathleen to come to his office. He didn’t ask her to do anything, choosing instead to give her moodiness a wide berth.

That made Loretta angriest of all. She still hadn’t confronted Father Stephen, because Katie begged her not to.

Father Leon was away, neither Katie nor Loretta knew where. Before he went he left Katie a message, saying that if she needed him she could leave a discreet message with the housekeeper at the rectory where he lived, and he would call back as soon as he could.

Katie had no idea what a newly pregnant woman might feel like. She knew that missing a period would be a very bad sign. But she’d missed periods before, now and then. Her mother said it was nothing, as long as her period came as usual the next month. “Unless, Kathleen, you are doing something with boys behind our backs that your father and I have to worry about?”

Katie blushed and shook her head. She wasn’t even allowed to date. When, and where, might she be doing something worrisome with boys?

Loretta didn’t know either what a newly pregnant woman might feel like. “Katie, does anything feel different? Do you feel sick to your stomach, like you want to throw up in the morning?”

Katie indeed felt sick, but all day long and she was sure it was from worry. She felt anxious, and touchy, and moody. But she didn’t know if that added up to being pregnant.

“Loretta, I think we just have to wait until I’m supposed to get my period. Then we’ll see.”

Loretta nodded. If Katie’s period didn’t come when expected, she wasn’t sure what they’d do next. Call Father Leon.

Neither Katie nor Loretta had yet used the word “baby” when talking about the wait. They used “it”. What will we do if it happens?

Katie never thought seriously about being a mother. She hated dolls, preferring to be outdoors playing with her brothers. She hated babysitting, and only agreed when the request came from a friend of her mother’s or a neighbor and her mother said she had to help out. She decided early on to be a nun, because her Aunt Maggie was one and told Katie often that she too had the call.

Katie did like boys, even though she wasn’t allowed to date them. She accepted, largely without question, the assurance of her parents that there would be plenty of time for that.

What Katie did obsess about, for ever second of the wait, was Stephen. Everyone, everyone in the school loved Father Stephen. The mothers made him cookies or casseroles and brought them to the rectory on Saturday morning, when they just might catch him in. The high school girls followed him like fans around a movie star. Even Mother Superior, when she talked about the five priests who lived together in the rectory, smiled when she mentioned Father Stephen.

And Stephen chose her. He said she was pretty, in a way that even a religious habit couldn’t conceal. He said he had feelings for her, and because God created those feelings they had to be good. He said no one would ever know. He said Katie could trust him. He said what they felt for each other was something special.

Katie thought and thought, in the rawness of her despair, but couldn’t remember a single time that Stephen said he loved her. She said it to him, and the words made him smile. When he smiled his dark eyes flashed, and sometimes a lock of that dark hair fell down on his forehead. In those moments he was Katie’s entire world, and nothing seemed to exist other than him.

I can’t be pregnant.

But what if I am?

Would things change for Stephen, Katie wondered, if she really was? He’d said he wouldn’t leave the priesthood to marry her. But he was in shock when she confronted him before. Perhaps the thought of her being pregnant was just too frightening. Perhaps, once they both knew it was true, he would change. He might actually get excited. Of course, it would be awkward, both of them leaving religious life. Their families would likely be horrified, hers without doubt. Aunt Maggie, still a nun, would be mortified and ashamed. But Katie and Stephen could face all that together. If she got pregnant maybe it meant she was wrong about God wanting her to be a nun. Maybe God wanted her to be a wife and mother. She felt a slight thrill, picturing herself with Stephen at her side.

She couldn’t picture a baby.

If she wasn’t pregnant, of course, it would be a huge relief and by far the best thing. And then she and Stephen would have to talk. He’d been distant, barely greeting her when it was unavoidable at faculty meetings, never seeking her out privately to ask how she was.

He had to be worried, Katie thought, that was the reason. Something had happened that neither of them intended, and now Stephen didn’t know what to do. She, Katie, would have to take charge. She could do that. She thought the right thing would be for them to leave religious life anyway, even if not prompted by her being pregnant. Now that she loved Stephen, there was really no going back. And she was sure he loved her. He just hadn’t found the words to say so.

Maybe she should talk to him now, even before she knew. She couldn’t mention Father Leon of course, not even if Stephen asked her if anyone else knew. Stephen didn’t like Father Leon, and would be angry if he were part of this. And she wouldn’t mention Loretta, because Stephen didn’t like her either. Katie would say she’d kept the whole thing to herself. Loretta had to understand.

Katie should have never threatened to tell, never made Stephen say the Bishop would protect him and not believe her. That was wrong, and immature, and she wasn’t thinking when she uttered those words.

She was thinking more clearly now. Sitting here all alone marking off the days on her calendar and worrying was silly. She’d find Stephen, and talk with him, and together they’d make a plan. She wouldn’t be angry, or critical, or try to make him feel worse about anything he’d said before. They’d start the conversation anew, as mature adults. Accepting someone for who he is was about real love, and Katie was ready to step forward and be that woman.

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