NONFICTION March 1, 2024

Reformation of a Rock

The first sign was the cramping. A pressurized ache and dull grind on the inside of my abdomen accompanied by bloating. It hadn’t even been a full month since the two of us walked across the stage in cap and gown. Almost no time since we left prom hand in hand. 

A few weeks earlier, an evening in late May, the air in Baltimore was filled with the pull of teenage hormones that led to the inevitable collision of limbs in a raft under his father’s pier. My body slid under the weight of his until the sky appeared to be speckled with sand, alerting us to curfew.

Before that May, we were no less reckless, the tug of pheromones so strong before the slow crash of our mass that it didn’t feel like we even had a choice. We were a couple through most of high school but still celebrated every little passage of time together.

Long before the swollen breasts and distended belly appeared, I was already stuck. I decided to wait on applying to college or trade school. I hadn’t taken the entrance exam, and I was broke, working a waitress job at Friendly’s for $2.15/hr. plus tips. Not everyone’s cut out for college, I told myself. 

But I desperately wanted out of that sticky apron, covered in melted ice cream and hot fudge, out of my boyfriend’s mother’s basement, and out of the life that seemed to have chosen me.


Two tectonic plates moving toward each other is called a convergent plate boundary. When the two plates are of the same depth, they will likely collide with equal force, producing a mountain.

However, what happens more commonly is subduction: the process in which the edge of the heavier crustal plate is forced below the edge of another, sinking into the mantle.


To the high school football star: Some called you Rock, and you were mine. You were a thick, solid mass of a boy, so the name made sense, but to me, your name meant “steady.” We knew we were playing with fire, you and I. We laughed as you went into the neighborhood clinic and grabbed handfuls of condoms from the wicker basket on the front desk, shoving them into your pockets before walking back out to my waiting car. We had big dreams, mostly of planning a life and family together, but also, somehow, of making it to college. Your path was more mapped out than mine, more paid for than mine. 

I took the pregnancy test in your mother’s bathroom, the one that only fit a single person at a time. Following the instructions I fished from the box, I laid the pee stick flat on the counter and waited with you in the living room. We flashed big, white marbly smiles at each other after the second positive test.


Almost a month passed. We were excited, until we weren’t, agreeing to hide it, till we couldn’t. With no health insurance or primary doctor, there were no appointments to make. My throat became raw and weathered from the vomiting that stretched well into the afternoon. It didn’t go unnoticed. Your mother cast a side-eye one morning as she cracked open another beer from the couch. My days were spent sleeping underground in a windowless basement with varying degrees of empty water and ginger ale bottles crowded on the nightstand to no avail. 

I lay as still as a piece of undiscovered ore, curled up in a bed that never felt like mine, covers pulled up to my chin, picturing myself with a hard, round mountain of a belly, like the one Rock’s stepmother just had, how she said I couldn’t hold her newborn even though I never asked. How the baby’s spectacularly delicate features scared me. I tried to think of someone who would be happy to learn I was pregnant, who might reach out to rub my belly when they saw me. Let it be known that I would have welcomed them. Let it also be known I couldn’t think of a single person.

But I’ll say it. I hoped having his child would make him choose me. I wasn’t his parents’ first choice for their son. But just maybe, he’d place his cheek against my stomach and listen to the fluid-filled pit of potential and close the growing rift. 


There are two ways the breakdown of rock takes on and collects water. 

First, below the Earth’s surface is a layer of bedrock with varying degrees of porosity. Sandstone, a particularly porous rock, allows water to permeate, creating space where groundwater can accumulate. Sometimes, bedrock will fracture and crack, producing places for water to collect. And in certain instances, water dissolves some bedrock, such as limestone, resulting in womb-like voids that fill with water. 

The second is divergence, which occurs when two tectonic plates are moving away from each other and new crust is forming from magma that rises to the Earth’s surface between the two plates. Divergence over hundreds of miles for millions of years creates an ocean.


By the end of June, the pregnancy was becoming more difficult to hide. I was underweight to begin with and had managed to lose more weight due to the inability to keep food or liquid down for weeks. We drove for six hours until we arrived at his grandmother’s house in West Virginia, where we thought we had more privacy, more space to come up with a plan.  

But neither of us brought it up. The words weren’t available to me. We couldn’t get below the surface together. As desperately as I tried, I couldn’t see a world with our baby in it. I could only faintly see a future where Rock and I stayed together. 

About a week into our stay, I began to tremble. First, small bursts of tremors, but by nightfall, I couldn’t stop the violent quakes that had taken over my entire body. Rock reluctantly woke his grandmother, and the three of us set out for the emergency room where I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, or severe morning sickness that caused dehydration. By morning, his parents would know. The secret Rock and I couldn’t speak was plainly typed on my patient discharge papers. 


Fault lines signify fractures on the surface of the Earth where rocks on either side of the crevice have presented movement to release mounted tension.

Deep in the Earth, the high temperatures increase the ability of rocks to modify their shape in order to adjust to the compression. The extreme strain can cause too much friction, which results in shifts or slips along these fault lines, creating earthquakes.


To the father of the high school football star: Such a big boulder of a man, with an easy personality that split open every room. You gave me a choice. And by choice, I mean you gave your son an ultimatum to pass along to me. I heard one side of the conversation as Rock paced back and forth while on the phone with you. If I chose the abortion, you would drive me and pay and continue to be involved in your son’s life. If I chose to keep the granule growing inside of me, you would discontinue any support for your son, financial or otherwise. Knowing firsthand what parentless felt like, I didn’t want that for your son, didn’t want to be blamed, didn’t want my child to be the catalyst. I thought maybe you’d come around. I thought maybe you wouldn’t. I couldn’t afford maybes. 

It was too easy to blame you. The one who never wanted our relationship to work in the first place. Too young to settle down with one girl and all. But the truth is, you took the burden during a time I couldn’t tolerate feeling an ounce more of remorse or self-hatred. 

You picked the doctor, probably from the Yellow Pages but maybe from experience. You made the appointment and drove me there—just you and me and crumbling possibility. I watched you fork over $300 or so for the procedure, plus an extra $50 for the twilight anesthesia to make it more comfortable. Thank you, I guess. 

You kept your eyes cast down on the medical-form clipboard when you placed it in my lap, didn’t say a word to me in that crowded waiting room. Nausea got the better of me, so I locked myself in the dirty single bathroom down the hall, lingering a bit there as I contemplated escape. The way your shoulders relaxed when I sat back down next to you made me think you could read my mind.

When I woke up, there was a pressure, so much pressure in the place where life was replaced by an impact crater. You were the last person I wanted to see, but I still took great care not to bleed on your car seat. I cradled the paper bag of prescription pills in my lap where the emptiness was. Who were you smiling for when you promised me, It’ll be alright


Surface-level erosion can sometimes reveal a sill, an underground intrusion of igneous rock along the bedding planes of the surrounding rock layers. It is formed when magma intrudes into and crystallizes between pre-existing rock layers. 


I ate green beans from the can in bed where an electric heating pad covered my lap, where I waited to heal and took inventory of all that had changed in a matter of days, where I wondered what Rock thought, where I studied the photograph he had taken of my belly before the procedure. He had practically held the disposable camera against my skin to take the picture. I still have it. Not in with the photo albums of the family I chose to keep but tucked away in a storage box in the attic, or maybe the basement. 


To my pebble: I’m sorry. Forgive me. I know that is not enough. It’s not fair to call you a Rock; you never made it that far. There you were, floating in my belly, pressing and forcing me to grow in ways I wasn’t ready for. And then you weren’t, leaving a tomb of darkness that fragmented under the weight of your absence. In the stretch of season you were supposed to be pushing your way into this world, I became an aunt. It’s how I mark time as it moves forward without you. I crumble at the admission that I don’t remember how many weeks I carried you, or that I don’t remember your image in the sonogram the nurse made me sign off on, to prove I saw you.


No rock remains unchanged. Over time, they experience a metamorphism, a transformation in their makeup.

Occasionally, rocks are forced tightly together before being shoved deep underground, and then, eventually, they are melted and misshapen by severe heat and pressure only to reemerge later completely altered.


The last straw wasn’t the porn I found in his desk, though that hurt. It wasn’t even when he blew his paycheck at the strip club, though I had him believe it was. If I’m being honest, and I can be honest now, it was when, weeks after my body stopped bleeding, long after my breasts fit into their A cups again, he told me he wished we would’ve kept the baby. 

Why did he say that? After it was too late. After months of ignoring the issue, where did he finally dig up those words?

Over the years, I scoured his Facebook profile, watched him build a cairn from all the little Rocks he fashioned with someone else. 


To the high school football star: Do you remember? Months after we broke up, tumbling through the window of the bedroom at my sister’s house? You trampled through the bushes in her front garden to get in, carrying the scent of moss and stagnation with you that I’d grown to dislike. The way we rolled around under IKEA sheets as quietly as we could. How I wouldn’t let you spend the night, though, wouldn’t let you hold me after. I didn’t fit in your arms like before, our compositions all jagged. Nothing fit. My heartbreak had already set and cured.

I had started a couple of classes at the community college and took out a loan for a used Jeep Wrangler, learned how to drive a stick and move on.

You got up from the bed, leaving the imprint of your head on my pillow, traces of a past life preserved like a fossil I didn’t want to disturb. As you climbed back out the window, you told me I was different now, that I had changed, and I wrinkled my nose up when I asked you, How so? As if I was oblivious to the last few months of being crushed down and burned, buried deep underground alone, grasping for the memory of a soul the size of a grain of sand, when in fact, I was in awe that you noticed. And I laughed it off before closing the curtains to end the conversation, knowing I wasn’t going to return your call, waved you away like I hadn’t already made plans to leave this town behind, and then cried myself to sleep because I knew you were right.


Shannon Tsonis cobbled together a beautiful life in Pennsylvania with her husband and daughter. Her nonfiction has appeared in Lunch Ticket (Diana Woods Memorial Award finalist), Sky Island Journal, Little Patuxent Review, Memoir Magazine (#MeToo Contest People's Choice Winner), and others. Shannon tied for second in the pilot reality show America's Next Great Author. She has an MBA in marketing, an MFA from Goucher College, and is completing a memoir about her mother's unsolved murder.
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