The frigid night penetrated to the marrow in Samantha Carson's bones, despite the turtleneck under her sweater and thermals under her jeans.
She tried not to think of the tiny life inside her, tried not to associate it with being human. It was not a baby. It could not be. She had tried, for two weeks, to make herself hate it. The best she could do was to picture it as an alien leeched to an intimate piece of her. It had been created by a monster, and therefore, was unwanted.
She bowed her head and walked faster. She could not live with it growing inside her. She had to do it now, before it got any bigger.
She looked up as she rounded the corner. The women's clinic advertised its wares with a glaring "OPEN" flashing in neon red lights. Sam sighed. There were no picketers this evening. Good. She didn't need any complications.
It was bad enough that her body had been violated. She didn't need someone making her feel bad about what she was about to do.
It was her right to choose . . .
Sam shook. She stopped only a few feet from the door, tears threatening to explode from inside her head. Why can't I move? Why are my feet frozen? Her throat tightened.
She began to relive the scenes.
He had snatched her off a sidewalk much like this, on an ordinary, unremarkable night like this. He smelled of whiskey and marijuana. He spoke in slurred, incomplete sentences, calling her honey and baby as he announced his indecorous intent. He clamped a large, smelly hand over her petite mouth and nose before she could scream for help, so that she was suffocating before he pinned her to the ground.
It didn't matter to Sam that the news broadcast such things as commonly as the weather, or that there were support groups that could help her, or that talk shows regularly featured survivors of rape. It was the most terrifying thing that anyone could experience-- and it was happening to her.
It was over in minutes. She lay on the asphalt of the alley in a fetal position, too numb to think or move when he paused, not twenty feet from her, as if he were considering doing the dirty deed again.
In that second, terror gripped her anew. She leapt up and bolted away.
She never reported it to the police. She never went to the hospital. She lived with it in quiet shame for two weeks until she woke one morning with such an upset stomach that she called in sick. She was relieved to have a day off. She had not wanted to be around people since it happened.
She was only twenty-three, a young, perky brunette with a bright future ahead of her at a hair salon. She loved her job. But since it had happened, she didn't want to talk to anyone or touch anyone. She felt horribly diseased. That beast had changed her inexplicably, and she hadn't figured out how to feel normal again.
She was still throwing up at the end of the day. Not working meant no pay, so she decided to go to the emergency room. She had secretly wondered if he had had some kind of disease that he had passed on to her.
He had passed something on to her, but it was not a disease.
Sam still couldn't move. People passed by her, giving her curious looks. She studied them with huge brown, innocent eyes, sparkling with tears that had not fallen. She bit her lip in agony.
What is it? What is bothering me?
She caught sight of a stump to the left of her, offering a makeshift chair. She slid over to it and sat, her body shaking. Her hand covering her trembling mouth, she let the tears come. She pulled her coat tighter against the chilly breeze. Her toes ached with cold. Her fingers pounded with cold. Her body felt as if it could be chipped away with an ice pick.
She sought comforting images. Her home had been stable, her mother and father kind, wonderful people. She had been a straight A student, voted most likely to succeed. She went to church every Sunday. She sang in the choir. She organized trips for the Youth Group.
The images continued until her mind halted at a soothing portrait of Mrs. Mason, her fifth grade Sunday School teacher. How she had loved Mrs. Mason, a warm, dedicated teacher who took her lessons to her class of pre-adolescents very seriously. Sam was one of her best students, presumably because Sam was the only one in the class that showed any real interest in the subject matter by firing no less than twenty questions at her teacher during the hour-long class every week.
Sam smiled at the memory of the elderly lady's oft spoken words. "Samantha Carson, you ask so many questions."
The miracles Mrs. Mason spoke of almost casually didn't make sense to Sam. She had to have specifics, details. What did it look like when the Red Sea parted? Why did God wait to destroy Pharaoh? How could they walk so long through the desert? And Mrs. Mason always answered them as best as possible.
Sam sniffled. She was asking questions again, but this time, there was no kindhearted Sunday School teacher to answer them. Once, when she had no answer for Sam, she said, "God is always here, ready to help you. If I can't answer your question, He always can."
Sam hiccuped. She'd had a hard time accepting the things Mrs. Mason taught, especially about Jesus. Why, with all that power, had He chosen to take so much? Why didn't God make a better way for Jesus to be born? A better place? A better everything?
"Because God wanted to send Someone that hurting, lowly people could identify with," Mrs. Mason replied.
Sam let a tear fall. She never hurt more or felt lower than she did now.
Now that she was grown up, she understood that Jesus had done things a certain way because prophecies had to be fulfilled. She appreciated that the God of the universe would not only send a Savior to mankind but had the compassion to send Him in a way that did not exclude anybody.
Sam remembered thinking about it as a child then, with a thunderclap, about Mary and Joseph. Now, as a woman, she had some idea how Mary must have felt, trying to explain why she was pregnant and yet . . .
Sam shook. She had blamed herself for her predicament. She had thought herself to be sinful and dirty because of that horrible man's invasion of her body.
But she wasn't.
And, she thought with a heart that would burst, neither was the tiny person inside her.
She wasn't married, engaged, or even seeing anyone. But what she was about to do she could no longer do. She stood. Jesus, the Savior of the world, came amid less than perfect circumstances. Whatever happened, happened. Sam wasn't going to end it this way. She was going to let God end it--or begin it--however He wished.
She had chosen not to be with her family this Christmas because of a situation she could not bring herself to divulge to them. She envisioned the whole family gathered around a roaring fire with lots of brightly wrapped presents under a seven-foot tree. And Dad would be reading a story tonight, yes, even to his three grown children.
Sam smiled, remembering a Christmas long ago. After her father had read the Christmas story from the Bible and explained that God had sent His Son as a gift of salvation to mankind, she'd asked, "Can we give God gifts? He doesn't need anything."
Her father had smiled with a nod. "No. He doesn't need anything, but He wants us to love Him, to know Him, and to accept His gift to us."
"How?" Sam asked.
"By giving all of ourselves to Him willingly in love and in service. He will always accept that, and He will use that gift to bless others."
She looked toward the sky. A thousand stars twinkled above her against a velveteen backdrop. It had been a long time since she had prayed.
"Oh Lord," she said with a shaky sniffle, "my Christmas gift to You is me." With a trembling, gloved hand, she touched her flat belly, tears staining her cheeks in waterfall fashion. "All of me, inside and out."
And then, with a trembling smile, she turned toward home.