Friday, November 5, 2021

Brenda's Got A Baby (Tupac)

I grew up in a school district where we had abstinence education. Unsurprisingly, we also had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the area. Every fall, the local crisis pregnancy center was a guaranteed sale for the school’s football program. Council For Life ran a commercial on our televisions for years where an actress, portraying a woman who had gotten an abortion as a teenager, apologized to her ghost son who was riding a bike and catching a baseball. The commercial ended with, “Life is a beautiful choice.”

Off screen, teen motherhood had reached a near epidemic to the point where the high school home economics class set up a day care center so that not only could students receive childcare while they completed their studies, but their classmates could receive credit for taking care of their offspring that were probably conceived in the backseat of a Chevy.

In addition to cheerful advertising and subtle enabling of the pro-life message, we always had that girl who was the trend setter, the first to get knocked up in the class. We all had ideas of who it might be but never said out loud because we were Rust Belt Folk, hardworking and honest yes, but never rude.

At the end of eighth grade, it appeared we had a candidate. It was the last week of school, and my friend Kat Lovic-the local boy crazy gossip-told me her mom could give us a ride home. As we got into Mrs. Lovic’s station wagon, Brenda Capelli swooshed by with her caramel mane, bust that made her jailbait and short skirt that treaded the guidelines of the dress code. Seeing Andy Patrick-the class clown-she flipped her hair and giggled as if she were auditioning for a Pantene Pro-V ad. Kat, in a breathy faux Marilyn Monroe voice, imitated Brenda’s career day pitch to her guidance counselor, one that had become comedy fodder among our peers, “I want to dye my hair blonde, get breast implants, move to Hollywood and become a big, big star.”

Kat and I burst out laughing as Mrs. Lovic-a straight shooting trauma nurse from McKeesport who worked at Mercy Hospital with my Aunt Margaret-lit a cigarette, “Nah, ain’t gonna happen. My next paycheck bets she graduates from high school with a baby.”

Despite the fact it was mean, Mrs. Lovic’s cynicism always made me laugh. I said, “How about this, if it happens I will personally collect your paycheck, Mrs. Lovic.” We all burst out laughing, because it was year end and it was fun to take a shot at the junior high honey trap.

When the fall came and high school started, Brenda and I found ourselves in theatre arts class with Mr. Angle like every other wannabe thespian. On the first day of school Brenda said, “The only way my Hollywood aspirations can become complete is if I know the basics of acting.” Unfortunately Brenda didn’t understand that meant reading about the beginnings of theatre aka Greek Tragedy. Wanting to learn as much as possible, I did the reading and always eager to participate in class. Brenda made it clear this did not sit well with her as she rolled her eyes whenever I spoke. Of course-mind you-I rolled my eyes in return-especially as she bragged about not doing the reading.

Instead of rewarding my hard work, Mr. Angle would say, “April, cool it. You are over anxious, obnoxious, somewhat robotic and had to swallow.” Then he would turn to Brenda as she batted her fake eyelashes, “Brenda, darling, you might not believe it, under there is an artist and performer waiting to come out.”

While it hurt that my talent and hard work were doing cast aside in favor of the lesser sister of Jessica Rabbit, I redoubled my efforts outside of class because I was determined to make being a multi-disciplinary artist my life path. As my mom often assured me, the Brenda Capelli’s of the world would peak in high school, and my efforts now would assure a victory later when it actually mattered.

Brenda, a self-assured femme fatale because of Mr. Angle, began to date Matt Richards-the proverbial boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Matt’s dad was serving a lengthy sentence in prison, and his mom often worked double shifts bagging groceries at Foodland. Following family tradition, Matt was in regular trouble with the law himself. Brenda’s friends felt Matt was bad news, but she would coo, “You might think so, but you don’t know him the way I do.”

Brenda’s father, Marine Colonel Capelli, had recently been deployed to Iraq, her brother was at boot camp and her mom worked long hours as an office manager downtown. Since Brenda lived blocks from school, that meant the lovers could “get drunk and get fucked,” at her house during lunch, as the mullet wearing Prince Matt so eloquently described to his friend group. Brenda often returned to school smelling like a distillery and disguised it by wearing drug store perfume. Matt cheated often, and it was no surprise to anyone except Brenda when she got jumped outside of the Eat ‘n’ Park by a rival paramour one town over.

The following Monday, as she arrived to class with her newly wizened battle scars, Brenda randomly announced to everyone, “Jessica can run her mouth all she wants but Matt said he wants to be with me!”

Gina Bongiovani-who sat behind me said , “Say what you want, Brenda, but what chose you was a burning bag of shit!” Her boyfriend, Vito, who went one district over and was known as a universal asshole, had cheated with Brenda over the summer at a party in the South Park Grove therefore there was bad blood.

My friend Mikki Donato, a transplant from Long Island, and I laughed because Gina’s delivery was so good. Brenda turned and glared, “Shut the fuck up, April Brucker!”

I ignored her figuring she had another one of her liquid lunches. Gina said, “Yoo hoo, dumb bitch, it was me. April’s loud but she’d be too nice to tell you you’re a super slut who got what she deserved.”

Brenda said to Gina, “Could you please refrain from this, Gina. I was talking to April….”

Mikki said, “Ummmm……why are you going off on April when it’s Gina who insulted you? Are you drunk again or did that girl from South Park hit you in the head that hard?” Gina and I were now nearly peeing ourselves because Mikki was always so sweet and soft spoken.

Brenda said, “That’s it, April! Let’s go!”

I said, “Big talker for someone who just got reconstructive surgery performed on her face and probably couldn’t pass a field sobriety test.”

Brenda let out a loud squawk, and then Mr. Angle entered killing the climax of the scene. Mikki whispered, “She has really gone psycho. I have third period with her and you should have seen her then.”

Mr. Angle began the class, “Brenda, why don’t you just come to drama club and make better friends and nurture your talent? Try out for the fall play. You could be a leading lady.”

Rob O’Rouke, the local loudmouth and shit starter said, “April Brucker’s your leading lady. She’s already on public access, and the only place I hear Brenda could ever be a leading lady is a porno cause Matt told us you got those skillz!” This was followed by a him making a gagging sound and all of us breaking out into hysterics. I appreciated Rob’s endorsement, but it was coming not from a place of friendship but because he liked the pre-class cat fight. Mr. Angle sentenced Rob to time out and Brenda flicked him off as he left. End scene.

Over the next several weeks temperatures started to drop. Brenda’s short skirts and low hanging shirts were replaced by sweats and other baggier selections. This didn’t register as odd as everyone was wearing warmer clothes, especially as we were a Los Angles style open campus just outside of Pittsburgh where it rains and snows.

It was now cold outside, but Brenda and Matt’s romance was red hot. Unfortunately, Cupid had other plans for the lovers when Matt was arrested for burglary. Brenda, began missing class with “the stomach flu.” It was okay with us because she had regularly become moody and argumentative. When she was at school, she was barely present, complete with vacant zombie stare. As her looks vanished and she became more morose, Brenda, unsurprisingly, began to drop off Mr. Angle’s favorite list.

After Christmas break, Brenda came to school in a snow white dress with new makeup, a present she claimed was from her deployed dad. She glowed, but there was something that stood out like a sore thumb, her weight gain. Mikki, Kat and I passed her in the hall and Kat said, “Wow, I knew Matt going away was hard but talk about eating your feelings.”

Walking into Mr. Angle’s class later that day, Brenda entered. We all exchanged a side stare afraid her too small outfit on her too large body would rip. Seemingly oblivious, Brenda chowed down on a bag of Cheetos. Mikki leaned in and whispered, “This is her third bag today. Should she be doing that in white?

Dan Long, Mr. Angle’s unofficial senior teaching assistant that was headed to Penn State in the fall learned in to join our gossip, “Guess she’s not getting a date to snow ball.”

Jake Kebs, a snoody jerkoff who was the assistant to the assistant student director on the fall play said, “No date for the next few years, Matt is looking at being charged as an adult.”

I said, “And how do you know?”

Jake rolled his eyes, “He’s my neighbor, Dipshit.”

As we were getting to the meat of the story, Mr. Angle walked in. He said, “Participation is a huge part of this class and a few of you are really not cutting it. April-while hard to stomach-gets an A. Mikki you get an A minus. Gina, A minus. Dan you always get an A in my book. Jake, B plus.” We all nodded at each other pleased we were endorsed.

Mr. Angle said, “But I believe in second chances and extra chances, so why don’t get some folks who are failing up here.” Sure, this was a violation of The Buckley Amendment, but Mr. Angle was unaware that I knew that.

“Dylan, get up here.” A skater boy with his hair in his face, Dylan was notorious for smoking weed and falling asleep in class. Yawning, Dylan made his journey to the front of the room. Mr. Angle said, “And you Brenda.” Rolling her eyes and throwing her empty bag of Cheetos down, Brenda joined Dylan.

Mr. Angle said, “We are going to do an improv. You two are a couple, and Brenda, you have to tell him you are pregnant. GO!”

To begin the improv Dylan said, “Yo shawty, wassup.” The class laughed because everyone liked Dylan and he was a character.

Saying nothing, Brenda turned bright red, began to tremble, looked at us, burst out into tears and ran out of the room. Slamming the door, we all sat in stunned WTF silence. Dylan, visibly confused said, “Mr. Angle, dude, she messed up the scene.”

Mr. Angle rolled his eyes, “Dylan, you have raised your grade to a C. She is still failing and gets a time out.”

Dylan made his way back to his seat. Then it clicked. The weight gain, the cheetos the mood swings, the stomach flu, the baggy clothes, the fact she ran out upset, Brenda wasn’t depressed because Matt was in jail but because she was having his kid and was keeping it a secret! SHIT!

We all were sex obsessed, but Brenda was the pregnant girl, the negative consequence, the monster no one wanted to acknowledge but everyone wanted to pillory. Class proceeded and no one mentioned it again, it was as if we were all afraid a mirror would shatter.

I kept my suspicions to myself, but they were confirmed the next day after gym class while Kat and I were changing in the locker room. Brenda was talking with her bff, Danielle Mills. I didn’t know Danielle well, but I was on the literary magazine with her sister Shelly. Brenda said, “Mr. Angle is such a dick. I mean, do you think he knows?”

Danielle said, “Um, everyone knows. I mean hello! Look at you!” Kat and I learned in to listen.

Brenda said, “I have been trying to keep it a secret because people talk.”

Danielle said, “Um…..they are talking. Did you tell Matt?”

Brenda said, “Yeah, and he says when he gets out in two months, he is gonna take me to live with his uncle in California and we are gonna get married.”

Danielle said, “But…..why don’t you tell a guidance counselor or something? You need to go to a doctor and get vitamins and stuff. You are pushing a person out of your vagina. My stepmom just had a baby and there’s a lot to it.” Kat and I nodded in agreement. While Danielle was known as the dumber Mills sister, this was probably the smartest thing anyone was saying to Brenda right now.

Brenda said, “Nah, Matt is gonna be out in two months, we’ll go then.”

Danielle said, “Brenda, why don’t you just tell your parents? I mean, c’mon.”

Brenda defiantly said, “I am never telling my parents!”

Danielle said, “What are you going to tell them when this kid pops out of you?!”

Brenda took her things and rolled her eyes, “By that time I will be in California with Matt and they won’t have shit to say.” Exiting with Danielle behind her, Kat and I exchanged a glance that seemed to last until eternity.

Finally Kat said, “Well April, looks like you’ll be collecting my Mom’s next paycheck.” Kat, knowing her, would make the rounds with Brenda’s misfortune. I didn’t need to, Brenda’s life, in many ways, was effectively over as she was now a walking cautionary tale.

Brenda continued to live in her cloud of denial that she could keep her pregnancy secret long enough for Matt to be acquitted and rescue her, and Mr. Angle redoubled his efforts by making her the butt of his mean spirited roasts. In turn, Brenda became a shell of a person in class when she showed up. The fact Mr. Angle didn’t support me no longer came as a disappointment but as a relief. Instead of helping Brenda, he was bullying her for sport, that wasn’t just cruel but predatory. His behavior, to say the least, was extremely disappointing.

Matt fought the law but the law won. Due to his lengthy juvenile record, he was sentenced as an adult to five years at Western Penn. The downside was that Matt and Brenda’s California dreams had died, but the upside was that he was reunited with his father who was doing a 40 year sentence in the same facility.

That summer, Brenda’s father returned from Iraq. At Colonel Capelli’s welcome home celebration, Brenda went into labor. Brenda was shocked as she never had prenatal care so didn’t know when the due date was, and her family even more so because they had no idea she was even pregnant. Continuing another generation of good decisions Brenda named her daughter Destiny Beyonce.

Colonel Capelli, angry that all had imploded while he was away serving his country, decided it was best to get his family out of the place where his daughter had become “that girl.” Upon hearing Matt was in prison for five years, Colonel Capelli hired a lawyer and was victorious in pressuring jailbird baby daddy to give up his parental rights. Brenda, now living three hours away in the town her father grew up in, began attending an online cyber school under his supervision. Her mom and grandmother helped her learn to care for Destiny Beyonce. When not in school, Brenda worked at the family’s bakery where she could earn money and be productive in a way that didn’t result in the creation of another human being. Eventually becoming a medical assistant, Brenda married a firefighter who adopted Destiny Beyonce, bought a house, had two kids with her new husband and seems to be living happily ever after.

I laugh now and think if MTV had 16 and Pregnant then, Brenda could have made it out to California with Matt after all. This story also makes me cringe, too. As lawmakers legislate how women use their bodies, I know a Planned Parenthood and trusted, non-judgmental adults were what Brenda really needed. I hear the Christian Right talk about abstinence education and know first hand how not only is it harmful to women and children, but ultimately ineffective. While I am no fan of teens having sex, if Brenda would have known about proper use of birth control her life would have been drastically different. Bottom line, just because you can have a kid doesn’t mean you should. Or in the immortal words of Tupac, “Brenda’s got a baby, but Brenda’s barely got a brain.”

Check out my comedy and merch at AprilBrucker.TV

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