Simon Smith's Autobiography
The Ending of the Beginning
I have seen a church spire from my window but until this morning I hadn't heard the bells ring. Almost in slow motion we walk from the house across the road to the car, a couple pushing a child in a buggy walk past us on the pavement, the bells are ringing out.
I am in the car, you are leaning in over the passenger seat organising your bags, a car whooshes past too fast, and I feel it as a careless danger. “What would happen if they lost control?” I say to you, but you're not sure what I'm going on about.
We set off, the first two speed bumps hurt you so I slow down and in the quiet roads of a Saturday we make our way.
* * *
Driving home I call you to see if you're still at the house, you ask me how long I'll be, I say 5 to 10 minutes. Normally when I come home I call out to say hello but this time I don't, there's just silence and as I get to the top of the stairs you're sitting on the sofa in the dining room, a cigarette in your hand and a cloud of smoke around you. I want to greet you with a kiss but there's no receptiveness to this idea in your poise, instead you nod towards the table. I'm not sure what you mean but as I scan the clutter I see a pregnancy tester showing a positive symbol. I ask you how you feel, you say “nothing”.
I walk towards you to hug you but as I bend down I knock the ash tray over you. As I clear it up I ask you if you feel this was symbolic. You say “yes it's a mess”.
* * *
For Christmas you'd gone on holiday with a friend and somewhere in the midst of 200 yearning text messages you'd asked me to come inside you, to play Russian Roulette between the sheets, upon your return. When you came home we lovingly handed each other the revolver, clicked back the hammer and pulled hard on the trigger. In the logical madness of passion I wanted you to fall pregnant, you had previously come on late and started to get used to the idea but thought it impossible as you were still on. The next day I came inside you again but this time you looked scared so we didn't do it anymore. Sometimes when a bullet hits the brain there's probably a moment when the person thinks that the gun didn't go off, that they've got away with it, maybe, as with depression the first reaction to death is a moment of denial and then realisation.
* * *
As the month drew on you felt as if you ovulated, but then you started to feel smothered in the relationship and I felt scared. You went off sex and I felt even more rejected. You started to feel pain in your groin and womb, your breasts felt very tender but still we both thought that your period was late because you were feeling stressed. In my guts though I felt you were pregnant.
We spoke about it and you said you really hoped you weren't, I asked if you were thinking about abortion, you said yes and my heart sank. You emphasised to me how much you didn't want a child now.
* * *
Later on, in the evening of the pregnancy test, you searched the internet for information about the termination of pregnancy and came across the Marie Stopes website. They had a 24 hour 365 days a year telephone line to call. You called it and booked an appointment for the following day. Several times whilst you browsed the web site the page just closed without any obvious reason. I'd never seen it do that before so took it as a sign that we shouldn't go ahead with the termination, but you didn't see it in the same light.
You asked me what I wanted. I told you I didn't want to terminate “it”. But I loved you enough to support you, so I said I'd go with whatever your decision was. As we got in to bed I kissed each of your nipples and then your stomach. You asked me what I was doing. I said I was kissing “it” goodbye. You told me you found it disturbing and that I wasn't helping you. You felt you were only just keeping it together and that I was making it worse. You started to cry. I said it was better to go through tomorrow being in contact with you mixed feelings because to go in with the business like attitude you had employed so far felt so unreal that after the termination had been performed you might feel you had made the decision with only part of yourself present. This way you would bring more of yourself to the table. You turned your back and went to sleep, but in the night you reached out.
* * *
The system at the Marie Stope's centre is not particularly one that lends itself to anonymity. Just like any doctor's waiting area we were all on show to each other. First we were called in to pay the consultation fee (£60). Then a doctor saw and asked what the reason for the termination was. My partner said she felt “physically and emotionally unfit to go through a pregnancy”. The doctor wrote the words down and didn't question the matter. We were offered counselling pre and post termination but my partner opted only for the latter.
By pointing out the centre's 24 hour telephone line I had instigated the “fast track” approach in the first place. My main point of view was that I didn't want to be part of a process that terminated a foetus with a functioning nervous system. If we delayed it may be a matter of weeks before a termination could be arranged, however I hadn't quite expected it to be this fast, i.e. within 12 hours. Nervous system or not, week 1, 8 or 28 it still feels like a possible human to me, I can't deny that.
The next job for the doctor was to scan the womb using an ultrasonic scanning device. I've had a number of children before so I'm used to seeing foetuses of 14 weeks upwards. I was dreading seeing anything that resembled these previous images and my partner asked me if looking would be a good idea. I felt that if I saw a fully formed human like figure that I would have had to ask my partner to re-evaluate the situation. Instead what the doctor zoomed in on was a small floating object. In my mind I felt I could see this half formed shape floating in a silence, an embryo not yet formed into the shape of a human, a nervous system not yet connected, instead a mass of potential. At this point I justified in my mind that my future child was not going to feel anything, and that my main contention would be with whether it had a soul.
I looked at my partner and reassured her that what was there wasn't going to suffer physically. But I didn't know, not really.
* * *
After the scan my partner had to provide a urine sample, she hadn't drank anything for hours, she may have had to have a general anaesthetic so there's a rule of ‘nil by mouth' so the chances of peeing were slim. We both went in to the disabled loo together. This has been the nature of our relationship, very intimate, very ‘get to know who you really are'. She manages to fill the file.
* * *
Once this first assessment section's completed there's a short walk from one building to another a few streets away. My partner referred to the street as “Termination Terrace” and that all the neighbours watch the comings and goings.
When we get to the building there's several doors at the front, I opt for the wrong one, my partner goes for the right one. Once we enter the same people who had gradually left the previous building are once again waiting there. It feels like a scene from Kafka's “The Trial”.
Eventually the time came for her to go upstairs. We kissed and told each other we loved each other. And then she was gone. I was told to come back at 4 p.m.
I walked to the front door where another man was walking out too. As the door closed behind us and he adjusted his coat, I sighed and said. “It's an awful thing this”. He said “Yes it is”. I said “Do you want to come for a cup of tea with me?” and he said “That's a good idea”.
We went for our tea, exchanged our stories, and through our time together, - one of those immediate connection meetings - I felt and reported to him my pangs of awful loss and wondered if at these moments the termination was taking place.
* * *
In time my partner emerged, a little bit shaky and smiling as usual.
The journey home was gentle.
* * *
Friends knocked on my door asking me to come to a party. I said I couldn't because my partner was ill. They said don't forget your friends.
* * *
The next day a couple of my kids came round to play. My partner didn't want to play happy families, felt the place was a mess, that nothing was organised in a good way for her. When we'd been out earlier she felt the crowds were too threatening, was worried about being bumped in to and that I wasn't paying attention to her needs.
Later when my kids had gone and she was still clearing up I went in to a room away from her to write this. A bit later she came up behind me and put her arms around me and sobbed. She said sorry for having a go at me and I told her it was alright, that I understood she was feeling down and hadn't taken it personally.
We went in to another room and sat together, talked and for the next hour or so broke in to crying fits as the feelings of grief began to strike home. No matter how logical the justification, the doubts, fears and awful feelings of loss kept sweeping over us.
Later on we cried less but the little things that set off the thoughts and feelings surrounding this are everywhere.
Needless to say the relationship ended anyway and even now I feel that one day I will have to face my unborn child and ask for forgiveness.
The Doors of unreality
Angela wakes from a dream where she hears a baby swaddled in a basket crying from the doorstep of her parent's house. She gets out of bed walks down stairs and opens the front door but there is nothing there. She walks back up to her bedroom, as she steps on to the landing she sees her mother watching her from her doorway.
“What are you doing?” her mother asks.
“I thought I heard someone at the door” Says Angela
“What at this time of night?”
“I must have dreamt it” Angela says quietly
“Go back to bed before you get a cold”
* * *
I wake from a dream where I was originally in the termination assessment clinic, but had to go through a doorway because I was scared of a Dalek patrolling the area. Once through the doorway I find myself in an unending wasteland. I feel like I've been banished from the Garden of Eden. I want to go back through the door but the Dalek is saying “Ex-Terminate” and if I face it I fear I shall die.
* * *
End of chapter 4