It wasn’t much to begin with –just a thread: two strands of fibre spiralling together to make one- but in time it could have grown, could have become woven into the fabric of an Us; our warp and weft. It had the potential to become something secure and self-sustaining, like a blanket we could have wrapped ourselves in together. If only it had not been holed, and then begun to fray –from the centre to the edges- before falling apart completely.
When we first met, you and I, we made a tacit promise with our eyes, then set about fulfilling that promise –to and for each other- with our minds, our bodies. We shared, it seemed, even our souls.
We took turns at driving and at navigating while we searched for just the right nest: close enough to the University for your studies; not too far from the city, and my work. We shared the cost of furnishing and finishing the flat, combined ideas on decorating, indulged our mutual delight in having it all the way we wanted it: warm, cosy, light. Our womb.
We grew like Siamese twins, seeming of one mind; our plans and fantasies conjoined in a single consciousness, the way our bodies always fitted –so serenely well- together. We reached a point of balance, a happy stasis, a solid base from which we could expand.
I was always aware of your yearning to fulfill your potential as an academic; I always felt that I encouraged your studies. You knew –I know- that I yearned always to fulfill my own potential as a parent, to perpetuate my genetic inheritance. I was ready. You were ripe. It could have worked. I’m sure it could. If only…
It would be unfair of me to say the problem was that you changed, when I was just as much at fault because I stayed the same. Suffice to say we grew apart as your lecture times increased, your workload doubled. Days and nights were marked by our apartness. We began communicating through notes left by the telephone. I would often be asleep when you came home late from the library, and was sometimes still asleep when you left the next morning. Other times, I made sure not to wake you when I left early.
But we obviously still found time –once or twice a semester, maybe- to make love. Obviously, we must have done. Because I found that Medicare receipt in the top of the bathroom rubbish basket. You must have left it there for me to find; you must have known I would; I’d read it, see that one-word sentence: Termination.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant? I demanded. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“Because I knew that talking it over with you wouldn’t make it any easier to decide for myself,” you told me. “I knew you’d probably want to keep it. I knew you’d be upset…”
Upset? I was in total shock. I grieve still. I feel myself flush at the thought of that potential for a child –those bonded genes that symbolised our love- now just a rotting piece of blood, a speck, decaying somewhere in the vastness of the sewerage system. A nil return on my 50% genetic start-up investment.
“A man can’t really identify with fatherhood at such an early stage of pregnancy,” you said, as though quoting from a manifesto. But I knew you were wrong. I identified with fatherhood long before we’d even met.
“For a man to have a say in the situation is irrelevant,” you told me, sounding like a prepared statement. “It’s always the woman who is left holding the baby.”
But you knew I’d have done my share… more than my share. You knew I would have become a house-husband. I’d have taken a couple of years out of the rat-race. I’d have tried to write that book I’ve always talked about, between the nappy-changing and the feeding, the bathing and the playing. I’d have been happy to be a full-time Dad, you knew, while you finished your studies. And when it happened, more than just the baby –the not-baby- was destroyed, I felt. Something we had built cell by cell, moment by moment, had been crushed and torn apart. It was the lack of consultation that made me feel rejected, discarded, like the foetus. You had said I was irrelevant.
“And anyway, you have no legal rights over my body,” you told me, as though I would have tried to get an injunction, to abort the abortion. “A husband has no enforcable legal or equitable right to prevent his wife having a legal Termination of Pregnancy.”
“Hey, wait! Listen… it’s got nothing to do with the Law,” I pleaded. “This is about Us.” I explained that I wouldn’t have tried to stop you. It was your decision, and I would have left it up to you. I would have supported you all the way, either way.
“I know what you think, “ you snapped. “But it would be my pain, my stretchmarks. And I would not want to miss out on those first few years. Why should you have all the fun?” And you stormed out.
I found out later that you hadn’t taken this decision entirely on your own. You had talked to a couple of people about it. Some anonymous professional on the pregnancy help line. Our doctor. My sister. I don’t know if you went on any radio talkback shows and let half the city in on your secret, but if you told my sister Serena, you may as well have done. And apparently everyone advised you to terminate.
But you didn’t talk once to me.
That’s what made me the angriest. That’s what made me shout at you, and throw that favourite vase of yours. Your reaction surprised me… a whole stack of dinner plates disintegrating on the kitchen slates. So I retaliated with the teacups, one by one, and then the saucers, all in a stack. And you hit back with the glasses, one at a time, punctuating your invective, underlining every insult. I felt slivers of crystal pricking my shins.
It could have escalated further, our domestic arms race, but I resisted the temptation to start in on your china elephant collection, fearing for the safety of my laptop. Besides which, I had started sobbing, as I surveyed the battle scene. And you broke down as well, sliding down the cupboard door to squat amongst the shattered crockery, your hands across your face.
There was such a sense of despair about the way your head hung, and my anger was dissolved. I felt only the desire to comfort you, to reassure, to love. I picked my way between the shards and took your hands, and kissed your worried forehead. I helped you stand and led you to the safety of the living room, where we collapsed into each other in tearful contractions. For some minutes we knelt together on the carpet, hugging hard and long.
And then you began kissing my ear in that special way you knew I liked. You nibbled my chin, and sucked my lower lip between your lips. You pushed me back, and spread yourself across me, undid my shirt buttons with your teeth.
But I felt, I am ashamed to say, nothing. Of course, you were aware of that. I felt nothing but the full force of my impotence. As I looked up at you I knew that something –some fundamental element- had been changing, was still changing. And I was powerless to stop it.