The bump on Emily Love’s stomach became increasingly harder to hide. The sixteen-year-old desperately tried to silence her fear. But it stared her right in the eye while she got sick in the morning. This afternoon, on a day just like the one she met William, she finally began to grapple with the magnitude of her shocking new realization: she could see a 9-month ticking clock hovered over her head every time she looked in the mirror.
Emily was just fifteen years old when she met him. She took a leisurely stroll through her local park in South Philadelphia, sat down, pulled out a book, and struggled to keep the hair out of her face as it got swept by the wind ever so slightly to the right. Beginning to read, she looked out of the corner of her eye to see a young man, just a few years older than herself, start to approach her. He got closer and she recognized him by the second-hand clothing he often wore. His tan pants frayed slightly at the bottom and he hadn’t tucked in his button-down shirt completely. William.
Emily’s father hired William just two weeks prior to maintain their yard for them. That day, she watched him for what seemed like hours, as he moved back and forth across the lawn like a swinging pendulum. He caught her attention, and she couldn’t stop herself from asking her father about him.
“William? Yes, I hired him to do some work on the lawn each week. His grandparents also came here from Ireland. But not our side,” Mr. Love said. Our side: her father’s unwritten code for someone whom people called “poor Irish.” Emily has memories from as far back as she can remember of her parents telling her she would marry an Irishman and he could not be of the “poor Irish.”
William approached her, with a soft smile planted across his face. Emily set her book aside and squinted up at him so she could see, despite the bright sun dancing in the corners of her eyes.
“Hi Emily, I don’t think we’ve met, but I’m William and I’ve been doing the work outside of your house. I’m actually on my way there. Would you like to walk with me?”
She obliged, with a radiant smile, and gently put her book and blanket into her straw basket. I’ll read at home, she thought. She rose, and they started to meander through the park, talking all the while. Before rounding the corner towards her house, William asked if she would join him for a walk like this again in a week, to which Emily gladly agreed.
The walks started as a weekly occurrence, but as time passed, they became increasingly more frequent. Her parents knew of the developing friendship between Emily and William and did not stifle their distaste. However, they didn’t know the two’s once-sprouting relationship became romantic, and over the past year, the pairing found ways to meet each other without alerting the Loves.
During one of their usual strolls through the wooded park on a chilly evening, William blurted out, “I want to marry you one day.” Emily could not hide the look of shock written across her face, but when she peered up at William his read as one of pure joy.
“But I’m not even sixteen yet!” The idea seemed almost laughable to her.
“I guess we’ll have to wait two years then,” he responded, quickly. His confidence felt reassuring. But then a thought hit her like a freight train. My parents. The words of her father echoed within her head, “When the Irish first came over to America,” he often retorted, “it was to expand upon their wealth and make a better life for their children. That’s what our parents did. But this new wave of Irish people, they were too poor to get through the potato famine. They’re too poor to give you a good life.” He’d said this since her years as a child and she knew he’d say it again if he found out about William’s proposal.
“We’ll find a way,” William said. Times like these made Emily think he could read her mind.
He said the same thing today, after she finally told him, through tears, and a voice muffled by the sound of sobs. She waited three months before revealing her secret, but today, as she struggled to put on her dress over her bulging bump, she knew she couldn’t conceal it any longer. And then, he said something Emily expected, but couldn’t admit to herself.
“We have to tell them.”
She knew her traditional Catholic parents’ reaction would be one of overwhelming disappointment and rage. Her anxiety behaved like a crashing wave as she tried desperately to silence her lingering, fearful thoughts about speaking to them. But the feeling dominated her every thought.
Her father’s voice was deafening. Telling them she wanted to get married to a poor Irishman now seemed like a small inconvenience compared to this crushing news. Mr. Love continued yelling, but now she could no longer make out his words. Just noise. Noise that swallowed her whole. She could see her mother, sitting on the couch, her face red and puffy, with tears streaming down her cheeks. Emily realized her tears had ceased. She could only assume the shock of her father’s brutal words caused this.
Now as she stood, staring at her house that felt less and less like home, she felt numb. She lost the joy she felt when she looked at her family portrait. Emily could not feel the guilt associated with the small, circular stain on their white carpet she created while trying to carry her bowl of scorching hot soup. As the noise got louder, her mother’s cries became audible, the comfort she formerly found in her parents left her. So, when her father announced, “This is no longer your home,” she couldn’t be upset. Because now it was only a house to her. Four walls, a ceiling, and two strangers that after this day, she wouldn’t be able to call her parents anymore.
Without thinking, Emily sauntered to the room she used to call her bedroom, packed a small bag, and left the house with a new deafening sound in her ears: silence. She found William waiting on her front lawn and, once again, he knew exactly what happened, without asking.
The two trekked the 10 blocks to the courthouse, and, when asked for her age, Emily lied and said, “Eighteen.” The seal on the top of the license made it official and they took off walking again.
The day Emily always dreamed about didn’t look like this. The white sundress she wore to Easter brunch last year was not supposed to be her gown. She walked alone, without her father, in a nearly-empty church, towards William and a priest whose name she did not know.
 Many Irish immigrants came from rural areas and fields and were not prepared for the industrialized cities in the United States, so they lived in poverty. Industrialization helped higher the living standards for all people, but there was still a large divide between wealthy and poor.
 The potato famine of 1845 caused many people to leave Ireland because of the lack of food and profit.
 It was common for Catholic Irish parents to disown their daughters if they became pregnant out of wedlock. In Ireland, there were even facilities that these mothers would go to have their children, but were given poor care and treatment. Pre-marital sex was also very uncommon for women during this time period.
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