Disclaimer: I own Spring Awakening in Heaven, I believe, but it's not mine down here.
As soon as Wendla leaves I begin to have second thoughts about what I have told her. She is old enough, after all, to know the difference between man and woman; she has seen her own body changing, and I have managed to explain that well enough to her; she knows that the stork is pure bunk…but should I have told her what I did (it is not a lie—exactly)? She is an inquisitive girl, and she well may find out the truth through other people, incorrectly. And she will not trust me then.
But was that so wrong? Admittedly, I can hardly bring myself to reveal to her the act between man and woman, but if I made myself—but surely, there is no danger telling her a small untruth—she is not yet old enough to be a wife, and as such has no need to know of such things. She is so pure, and I do not want to change that.
I have made the right choice; I am sure of it.
"Frau Bergman, your daughter is with child."
I feel my fists clench. I knew, from a single look at her after she first collapsed—I have had two children myself, after all, and I know the signs—but I did not want to admit it, which was why I called the doctor. Better, because we are now sure, but worse, because now he knows too. "You—you are sure of this?"
His face is kind; he has seen this before, of course, but you never think that this kind of scandal will happen in your family, to your daughter. "Absolutely."
I nod; I cannot muster up any more of a response than that. "Well then—good day, Doctor." He will keep it a secret.
"Good day, Frau Bergman."
Well, no more good, for this matter. A word comes to my lips that I have only heard the boys say when they think no adult is listening. We are indeed, totally…. That Wendla, of all people—she the quintessential good girl; we never had to give more than a verbal reprimand, not once in her fourteen years. She has been a woman in body since she was twelve, but I treated her as a tiny girl, and I am paying for that now. I let her be exposed to people like—
"Melchior Gabor?" I am being too harsh with her, but I cannot help it. It was that Gabor boy's fault entirely, of course—and my own. But I leave her sobbing.
The fault is mine, and it is up to me to rectify it. After informing her father, I will have to send a letter to the Gabors, telling of their son's behavior. My blood curdles at the thought, but it is only proper that our shame be theirs too.
The secret is kept; that awful boy bundled off to a reformatory. Only one thing left to fix. I made the arrangements last night; only I and the man that calls himself only Doctor will know of this.
Wendla's terror hurts me terribly, but I cannot let her see this, and I assure her—untruthfully—that I will be by her side throughout the whole sordid procedure.
I make myself ignore her shrieks as she is taken into the attic that must have seen a thousand such operations, and return home to wait. Her friends are there; they think she is sick. I bundle them away.
It is with trepidation that I return to the building. It should be over by now; I have no idea how he performs this particular procedure—and I have no desire to— and sure enough he is waiting for me. But only him.
"Where is my daughter?" I ask him.
His face remains impassive. "She is upstairs. It will be hard for her to walk without somebody to lean on. Come, I will show you the way." He leads me into a dark attic with only a single small window and a couple of lanterns for illumination.
I avoid looking around, especially into the shadows which seem to hide every sort of horrible instrument or potion and focus only on the cot where Wendla is lying with her eyes closed. "Wendla?"
Her eyes blink slowly. "Mama?" She blinks again, drowsily. "You said that you would be here."
"Yes, well—" I am flustered, too much so "—I had other things, very urgent things to attend to."
"He hurt me, Mama. Hurt me, with these cold metal—like knives—he put them—" The rest is choked away.
"Come on now, dear," I say, wiping away the tears with my sleeve. Her face is so pale in this light or lack thereof. "We're going home and then we can speak about it. I'll help you up."
"Would you, please. I don't think…" She puts her arm around my shoulder and I haul her upright. As she takes her first step she screams in pain and falls against me, and I see blood soaking onto my skirt. My eyes shoot upwards to see Wendla wavering; blood is pooling on the floor around my shoes.
"Normal," the Doctor says calmly. "All normal, you know, after all…here, this should stop it for a bit, at least until you get home." He hands me a bit of toweling and prudently turns around while I mop up what I can and then tie it like a napkin around her waist. "And you paid me before, so we're done."
Yes, we are done indeed.
I take Wendla home through the side streets, so that nobody will stare and guess. I am almost carrying her by the time we reach the house. I clean her up, put her into her nightgown and lay her in bed like a child, and bring her warm tea. She waves it away.
"What was that, Mama? Why did he do that? Why am I bleeding like this?"
"The Doctor said that it is normal…."
"The Doctor? Mama, he was no doctor! Do you know what he did to me?"
Unfortunately, I have heard testimony. It was how I knew where to find him. "Yes. Yes, Wendla, I have."
"You knew?" That look again! The betrayed one. "You knew, and you let him?"
"It had to be done, dear. Trust me, it is better in the long run, for all of us."
She is confused. "For all of us? What do you mean, for all—" A look of horrible comprehension comes over her face, and her hands fly to her stomach before she wraps her arms around herself and throws back her head and lets out a wail, a scream that chills my blood. "Mama, Mama how could you? It was going to be fine, I was going to be far away, Melchi and I—Melchior—"
"Don't you think for one moment that I was going to let you be with that boy!" I snap through her sobs. Far away, my eyes! Foolish child. "You foolish child, you're fourteen, you're far too young to be a mother, to even think that you could—"
"Well, it seems like I am old enough!" she screams at me. "I may have been too young for you to tell the truth to, but I was old enough to know that I wanted to feel! I would never have agreed if I'd known, but I didn't know and I did agree and there was no regret, we were going to be happy; he was going to come…the letter…we'd leave…a little girl and he would be a good father, I know it…oh, Melchi, Melchi…I'm sorry…." She buries her face in the bedclothes and I cannot get another word out of her, and I also know that it would be futile to try.
A miscarriage, I will tell them, and she will get over it in time. Two wrongs do not make a right, they say, but in this case I am sure that I have made the right choice.
"Something is wrong, Doctor." I am speaking to a real physician this time. "She is bleeding, heavily. Like what I had when she was born, but only more so. A miscarriage, I think, but something could be wrong."
He looks at me and he knows. I can see that he knows what I have done, and his eyes are less than kind now. "I will look at her," he agrees, "but perhaps you should go in first, Frau Bergman. She may want to be cleaned up or such."
"Of course, Doctor. How considerate." I slip into Wendla's room, shutting the door firmly behind me. The blankets are stained red, and I shudder. Wendla is asleep, finally looking peaceful—she has been sobbing nonstop since the operation. "Wendla, dear? The doctor is here to see you. Wake up." She does not answer, and I sigh. "Wendla!"
She remains still—almost too still. I shake her, but she does not wake. She does not even breathe…. "Doctor!"
They all know: Wendla's friends, their parents, the Gabor boy's parents, the doctor and the priest and the entire town all know. Anemia is a common disease, but it is also a common excuse, and any fool could have put two and two together. Oddly, that matters very little to me now.
Wendla is dead.
So she might have run off, might have had an illegitimate child, but she would have at least still been alive. Whatever one might say about boys, about the Doctor, about inadequate supervision…it was I, and only I. I, that forced her to undergo that procedure, all for the sake of our own family's honor (and where is that honor now, I ask, with a double death on our hands?); I, that out of my own embarrassment and ignorance refused to tell her the most basic things that could have prevented all of this.
Moritz Stiefel's tombstone is only a little away from the one now being set in the freshly-dug earth. Two children buried so close together, but are they even children? Sometime, when nobody was looking, our children grew up. And we failed to even realize it, failed to help them (who was I to tell someone else that they were unfit to be a mother when I myself was so deficient?).
I absolve the Doctor; I absolve G-d; I absolve even Melchior Gabor. The only one I cannot absolve is myself. I cannot trust myself; cannot be sure or anything now, except for one thing:
We all make mistakes, but I am sure that I, more than anybody, have made the wrong choices.
I don't think I'll ever forgive myself.