May 1, 2114
My name is Rosemarie. You’ve probably heard my story, and everyone who’s heard of me knows that picture. The mug shot that makes me look like a haggard drug abuser, red hair frizzy and flying all about the place; grey eyes staring straight ahead. It’s important to tell you that they took that picture after two days of interrogation and sleep deprivation. I want to tell my side of the story, before I surrender to the dismal sentence I have been given.
After the childbearing edict was established in California, women became lawbreakers if they decided to bear a child without carrying a permit. It was now required to have written permission from the government to conceive a baby, whether you were going to terminate the pregnancy, give the child up for adoption or keep it to rear yourself. Women were denied permits for a variety of reasons: a congenital defect, personality disorder, mental illness or a criminal record. My criminal record was a series of shoplifting arrests I had in my teens, all for stupid stuff like make-up and breath mints. Our lawyer fought to have my juvenile record overlooked, but it was quickly decided that I was a non-bearer. In short, the government would not permit me to pass on my thieving genes to the next generation. Because of all the intervention (I was given a tubal ligation the same day I was declined), their decision was final.
A month later, I realized I was pregnant.
My morning sickness, swollen breasts and missed periods were what normally would have been a blessing to any woman who was hoping to start a family. Instead, I dreaded breaking the news to my husband - it would make Gene and I felons. When he got home that night, I showed him the pregnancy test strips that all came back positive. He was elated and actually cried tears of joy before reality set in. Then, there was an hour or so of hand-holding and silence. We decided that night to have the baby and we made a plan to pull up stakes and head to Idaho, where the laws against illegal childbirth were more lenient and haphazardly enforced.
Within a week we had both resigned our jobs and sold most of our possessions. We had arranged to rent a cabin on the southern border of the Sawtooth National Forest, where the coyote outnumbered the people. The country became spectacular on our drive. The Urban jungle of Oakland relaxed into the fields of Sacramento, where we headed over the Sierra Nevada’s and drove into Nevada at night. At last, the morning sun broke out over a backdrop of trees: the promising landscape of Idaho. We stopped only to refuel the car and relieve ourselves. Our sustenance was peanut butter and blackberry jam sandwiches.
As soon as we arrived, I got out of the car and took a deep breath and stretched. Green air filled my lungs and a blue dragonfly whirred by my forehead. The cabin was in the middle of a beautiful nowhere, just outside of a little town called Ketchum. I still remember seeing it for the first time, blown away by the kaleidoscope of the raw wilderness. A silver steel roof reflected the sun, making us shield our eyes with our hands. The cabin itself was a dark brown, painted to mimic the bark of the tall pines that surrounded it, and stood humbly against a slope of grass, blooming deep purple with Indian paintbrush, leading into a dense forest. It was so different from Oakland, so different from anywhere I had ever been.
Our new landlord stood on the porch, holding the keys to our future in his hand. I knew I wasn’t showing yet, so there was no need to suck in my tummy, but I was nervous. He was elderly, perhaps in his eighties, and his eyes were set deeply in folds of wrinkled skin, but he still managed to look at us suspiciously.
“Welcome to Idaho!” he called to us. Gene raised his hands, smiling.
“Thank you!” he hollered back, maybe a little too loud, but I knew he wanted to be heard.
“Well, here’s the house,” the old man said as we walked up the wide, brick porch steps. The cabin looked solid, but not fancy. I was hoping it had indoor plumbing, my bladder was about to explode.
“May I use the bathroom?” I asked, as soon as I was close enough.
“Sure, sure...” he motioned to the doorway. I opened the rusty screen door and walked in to a darkened room, waiting for my eyes to adjust. As soon as I could see, I walked down a hallway to the small bathroom. There was a blue porcelain toilet, and I sat on it thankfully. As I looked around, I took in the dated decor. Above the matching blue bathtub was a chrome towel rack, two fresh white towels were neatly hung, probably just for us. The faded blue sink that came out of the wall was supported with chrome legs, stained and rusted near the bottom. A wall was a calendar from “A & E Auto Parts and Service” was next to me, from December 1999, smiling girl dressed as an angel wearing a T-shirt and cut-offs. She held a wrench playfully in her hand while she looked over an opened hood of a 57 Chevy. Above the door was a wooden plaque, laced with cobwebs, whose sentiment proclaimed “Trust God.”
When I left the bathroom, I could see the rest of the cabin, which I already knew was 800 square feet. Our bedroom had a double sized bed, covered in a soft nubby bedspread. A maple hi-boy dresser had a mirror facing the doorway and I saw my disappointed expression. I had to remind myself of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
“Next year by this time I will have a baby,” I whispered to myself.
The living room actually had a beautiful fireplace, which made up for the green plaid sofa, love seat and ottoman set that was placed traditionally around floor lamps. A TV with rabbit ear antennae was on a rolling cart, but pushed against the yellow curtains, as if it was an afterthought.
It seemed to get worse as I looked around. The appliances were electric, with foil placed in the strategic areas to deter grease build up. A small faux wood dinette set was in the harvest gold kitchen. I remembered our Restoration Hardware set we sold to my cousin before we left. It was depressing. I went back out to the porch and joined Gene, who was listening to a dissertation from the landlord.
“...managing and protecting the land is going to be what you’ll find most challenging, not only because of the vastness of this land, but because of the varied terrain. In this front area, we decided just to put down the lawn, but you can see there’s no sprinklers...” Gene looked at me and raised his eyebrows, like he knew it was going to be awhile. After we got the keys we went inside and slept without eating, without showering. We were so exhausted from the trip, emotionally and physically that we just collapsed. I had no idea how cold it would get at night. At three a.m. we were huddled under a mound of blankets, shivering and frightened.
Just before dawn, Gene said, “Today I’ll go and buy firewood in Ketchum.” That was the very last time we forgot to buy firewood.
I grew up in Oakland, and I’ll tell you now that it was nothing special. What I did have in my city life were things that worked. I had a coffee maker, a toaster, a shower head that would allow water to spray through. As soon as we could, Gene and I replaced those things. Little by little I was able to look past the sacrifice of modern conveniences and realize that Gene and I had landed in a really special place. The first month was so amazing that I fell in love with that little place. If you were really quiet, you could hear a creek running clear and clean, babbling in the distance. I lost count of how many species of birds came in and out of our yard, day and night. Sunrises were spectacular, only to be rivaled by sunsets. In between, the sun shone onto our back porch with such beauty that it made me feel we were living in our own slice of heaven.
Gene and I decided to cut loose and change the inside of the cabin so it would feel more like home. We didn’t spend a lot of money, but we transformed the place. A couple of gallons of white paint brought an unbelievable facelift to the drab, mismatched walls. The calendar girl was replaced with a medicine cabinet that held my pre-natal vitamins and antacids. The nubby bedspread was replaced with a cool down comforter we bought at a thrift store in Ketchum, but I decided to dust the cobwebs off the “Trust God” plaque and leave it where it was. Gene decided to replace all the harvest gold appliances with used white ones – he even installed a dishwasher. It was the most incredible improvement, and I was so grateful. When I asked him why he did it, he said it was because he couldn’t stand to look at them anymore, and then winked at me.
Our closest neighbor lived a half a mile away and the day he came to introduce himself I had been scrubbing the kitchen floor with pine sol. After Gene installed the white appliances, I decided to make the hardwood floor look good and that meant removing years of grime. Gene was chopping wood in the front yard and soon I heard him talking. Normally, he didn’t talk to himself, but I figured anything was possible since we moved here. Pretty soon, he walked through our front door with our neighbor like they were already best friends. As I looked up at them from the floor, through my dry, frizzy hair that was hanging in my eyes, Gene lost it.
“Honey! What are you doing?” He ran over to my cleaning bucket and took it away from me. Almost as soon as he reacted, he realized that he shouldn’t have. He helped me up, and as I stood, I wondered if I needed to explain his overreaction to our house guest who looked at me, shocked.
“You’re pregnant, aren’t you?” he said. He was smiling, like he had unearthed a pleasant secret and I looked at Gene, who looked panicked.
“No, she’s not,” he said, quickly. “She’s just allergic to...”
“My wife is, too,” our neighbor continued. “We’re non-bearers, but it all happened so fast.” He was still smiling, a tall young man, maybe even younger than us. He had golden hair and golden eyebrows and a broad, white smile that made him look like a Ken doll. Something in his face made me want to trust him.
Gene just smiled. “This is my wife, Rosemarie. Honey, this is Luther.”
I tried to act normal. “Hi.” I was sweating and I knew he knew that I was expecting. I was wearing a tight tank top and I could feel my belly being larger than normal. Luther was looking at it.
“From the looks of things,” he said, looking intently at my tummy. “I’d say that Kay is two months further than you.”
There was an awkward silence as I tried to smile. I looked at Gene again, who wore an expression of confusion and amazement.
“Is that why you’re in Idaho?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah!” Luther said, emphatically. He poured out their story with such freedom that we listened eagerly, standing in our kitchen. They had come from New York, the state that authored the edict in the early forties. No one ever believed it would pass, but it did, sending native New Yorkers for the Midwest. Luther and Kay had a child already and according to the edict they were given amnesty. Even so, because of her criminal record, Kay was called in to have a tubal ligation surgery but she never did. Instead, the family fled to Idaho, where they had lived for three years.
“We would have never predicted the edict would have gone national,” he said. An expression of disgust came over him. “What kind of society declares childbirth illegal for only some women?” I knew that there were several countries that had adopted such laws, but I knew Luther’s question was rhetorical.
“Would you like some lemonade?” I finally asked, motioning for him to sit down.
“No, no,” he smiled. “I came over to introduce myself...” He thought to himself for awhile and then brightened. “Look, we’re having a bunch of friends over tomorrow night for a bar-b-que. A few of them are non-bearers, like us. I’m sure everyone would love to meet you.”
Gene and I looked at each other, but he shook his head.
“My wife isn’t pregnant, Luther.”
For a second, I felt like the floor was going to crack open and swallow us up. Time stood still as the guys just looked at each other. Finally, Luther backed down.
“Well, I’m sorry to offend you, if I did...”
“No, no!” I was blushing, half from embarrassment, half from nervousness. “You didn’t offend me...”
He started covering up for himself, saying that we were invited to come over and hang out anyway. We politely refused and as he left, Gene and I didn’t speak for a long time. We hadn’t discussed how to receive neighbors or talk to strangers. From then on, I knew I’d have to be very careful with how I handled my pregnancy.
The next day, I woke up before dawn. I went out to the back porch and could hear the creek running, birds chirping. The valley was just waking up and as I looked toward the forest, I saw a family of deer looking back at me. I smiled.
“Don’t worry about me,” I whispered. “I’m trying to blend in, too!”
In a couple of hours, I heard someone knocking on the front door and I wondered if I should answer. I looked out the kitchen window and saw a pretty blonde lady dressed in a polka dotted dress standing there with a big pink square box in her hand. I decided to crack the door and peek outside, pretending I had just woken up. When I did, all I saw was her smile.
“I’m Kay!” she said, boldly. “Let me in. I brought donuts.”
I didn’t have much choice but to open the door and let her come in. As soon as she entered my house, it was like a long-lost friend had found me. After she cracked open the donuts, we sat down at our table and started talking.
“I know you must be scared,” she told me. “I was scared too, but now we’re a community. You’re going to love it here!”
I still hadn’t admitted anything, but instead asked her about the community she was referring to. She started listing their friends, people who lived within twenty miles of them. They met regularly, being able to be free and transparent with one another.
“Alright,” I said. “I guess you probably already know, but I am pregnant.”
Kay sat back in her chair and rubbed her belly. “So am I, and I don’t have a permit. Now you can turn me in if you want to.”
I smiled at her and she reached for my hand. I put my hand in hers and when she squeezed it, I started to cry.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “everything’s going to be alright.”
That night was the first time we went over to Luther and Kay’s place. It was the first of many nights we came together with others like us. I came home feeling hopeful, like I wasn't alone and everything was really going to be alright. It was good for me to meet others like us, normal couples who had been denied childbirth permits. To me, they were angels; together we commiserated. We all had the same troubles; the same prejudiced lectures from officials who denied us a basic human right. The government sold their philosophy to the masses, and they bought it. We heard our own friends spout off their dogma: “People need a license to drive a car, why shouldn't they need one to bring a child into the world?”
Most non-bearers who had come to Idaho had a history of criminal activity. Many expectant mothers had a history of prostitution. One of the ladies I grew close to in our circle of friends was Joleyne, who admitted to smoking meth as a teenager and getting arrested for dealing. We were different, but the same. We had both been stripped of the right to be mothers, but we were going to be mothers nevertheless.
I didn’t know about the moles in our group; I never suspected Gary and Denise of being Federal agents. Everyone asks me about that now, especially being locked up in here. I tell them the truth: I never suspected them of anything and they were just really good actors.
It happened at a swim party at Luther and Kay’s. It was a warm spring day and we all decided we didn’t want to wait until summer to use the pool. Joleyne and I were sitting against the wall that normally absorbed all the sun and she asked me why I wasn’t swimming.
“I’m too fat,” I said.
“You’re nine months pregnant,” she retorted. “You’re not fat.”
“I feel fat.”
“So do I.”
“Even my face feels fat,” I felt the underside of my jaw line. “My face looks like a full moon.”
She looked at me and burst out laughing. She was laughing so hard that it made me laugh, too. We were laughing and laughing and I was trying to stop when I looked up and saw something weird. I was laughing so hard that I hardly saw Gary and Gene fighting. I only saw other guys come up behind him and put his hands behind his back. I now know that they were handcuffing Gene, but at the time it looked really scary, like they were going to kill him.
You know how people say that your life flashes before your eyes? That’s what it was like. I was laughing, but then I just stopped. I felt like someone screeched the brakes of my life on. I started to stand up and I was so scared, seeing a group of men coming in to our party and handcuffing all the guys. I remember seeing a flash of everything: being a little girl swinging on the warm swing set in my parents’ backyard, eating watermelon at Fourth of July, my high school prom, pictures at Disneyland, a roller coaster ride, kissing Gene, watching the woodpecker at the cabin...
And then a man walked over to me. My heart was thumping in my chest and my ears were ringing, but I felt his grip as he grabbed my left arm by the bicep and the wrist. “Come with me,” he said harshly. “Cooperate and it will all be easier..."
We came to Hailey in separate cars and we came into the jail one by one, in front of a paparazzi line and news cameras. I had to go to the bathroom so bad and I thought I would wet my pants. I looked for Gene, but I couldn’t see him anywhere. I was given a cell all to myself and somewhere down the hall I could hear Joleyne calling out our names. A female guard came by my cell and told me not to call out or answer her. I was crying, not knowing what would happen to me, but all that bitch cared about was keeping her stupid cell block quiet.
They brought us in for arraignment two days later; I wore a special jumpsuit for pregnant ladies. I was embarrassed. You would think that all the shame inside of me would have been worked out by then, but it wasn’t. Instead, I was weepy and frail as I stood before the judge as the charges were read.
“How do you plead?” she asked me. I looked up at my lawyer, who just nodded her head.
“I want to see my husband,” I said.
The judge looked over her glasses to me. “You need to enter a plea.”
“Please,” I could feel myself crying, but I couldn’t stop. The bailiffs led me out to the hall and my lawyer stayed behind. The next thing I knew I was in a hospital, but I was still pregnant. In the hospital, several federal agents questioned me. They wouldn’t stop asking me questions, even though I was terrified. I kept remembering the deer I saw in my backyard. They were looking at me, like “Don’t shoot me! Don’t shoot me!”
That’s how I felt.
In a few days, I had the baby and she was taken away from me as soon as she came out. The nurse said that the baby would be placed with a nice family and that I didn’t have to worry. I asked her why I had the baby if I had my tubes tied, but she wouldn’t answer me. I wondered if the surgery had worked. I missed Gene and kept asking for him.
It has been nineteen days since my arrest and I am getting sentenced today. I want to tell you all that I am being forced to plead guilty to bearing a child without a permit, which is punishable by five years of work. I know they’ll probably send me to the mines where I can work off my debt to society, but my work will most likely serve the government and save them a salaried position while acting as their slave. I will be separated from my husband, my home, my friends and the child I was hoping to save for at least five years; afterward, I am not sure if I will see any of them. There are no guarantees for the incarcerated.
Today I got a letter from Gene. He is beginning his own sentence, a year in protective custody at a federal penitentiary that will be named the day he gets shipped there. His words are like gold to me:
“Well, Rosemarie, we tried. We tried to live and give this baby a life, but there was no way to do it and we didn’t know that at the onset. Try to maintain a positive viewpoint, because a negative view is actually our real prison. Many people that are free waste their days by judging others, as they did us. Now I am confident that when your five years are up we will be free to have a life together. So keep on going and remember I love you.
There is a cry in my heart for justice, but there is none. I can only pray that my baby’s new mother can keep her happy and out of trouble; then she may have a chance at this life. I’m not good at being perfect, and if that’s what she needs then maybe the government is right.