The unspeakable

Portrait_002‘A Jew killed my baby.’

The words had rushed out and now lay like mustard gas in a trench, ready to choke either of us if we breathed. There was an undoubted toxic nature to what was said about the loss of a child but it felt equally toxic that the allegation, from nowhere, was that a Jew had committed the act.

Throughout my lifetime society has become increasingly uncertain about how it can deal with challenging words and phrases – perhaps even more than challenging situations.

Growing up in the centre of a major city, ethnic strife had been around me. I would even witness race riots and disturbance up close and personal. But my junior school was a safe, close community sort of school.

The first girl I remember kissing – I was 5 – was a Jehovah’s Witness; she mixed well with the Methodist children, Catholic children and Jewish children – although not everyone came to assembly and sang the hymns. Hashtag Morning has broken

‘I wrote a poem.’

I’m momentarily stunned by his voice breaking into my distant memories. In my teens, I had dated a Jewish girl for more than a year. My mind was away again with those thoughts … being at Jewish New Year; playing an extraordinary board game full of Jewish expressions I hardly understood. And in the time we dated, I don’t remember her ever mentioning that she received any anti-Semitic insults.

‘I wanted to read it to you. I want someone to hear it – out loud,’ he says. I’m motionless, perhaps frozen. Why am I so worried? Is it because it might be aimed negatively at a Jewish person? This young man is in pain; I need to listen to him.

Gently I motion that I am ready to hear him. ‘Okay,’ I say. I am listening, but I know I’m doing the equivalent of looking through my fingers at the scary film on the screen.

Within the bitch lies my beggar, the unseen, unheard one I love …’

And I do listen. And it is upsetting to hear the story of how this young man who, while having been unworldly, felt ready to make a choice because of the pregnancy his sperm had jointly created. He felt it right and responsible to take on the role of father. This young man was ready to stand by his partner, to make a relationship that was secure enough and loving enough for a family to be created. This young man was ready to take the step that many are never able to: to devote his energy, his action, for the good of a child, to love the son or daughter, to support and grow together with the mother. His poem drew me close to tears as he sobbed the words. The anger at the Jewish woman, the ‘bitch’ in his poem was a pale disguise for the distraught position every man can feel when a pregnancy is terminated against his own wishes.

I’m no longer worried about the shock of a ‘Jewish baby killer’. The sheer wretched desolation of a man in his mid-40s telling me of the loss he had experienced 27 years earlier is the new unspeakable. In front of me, through the tears and months of piecing together the fragments of story, the 18-year-old’s tale has finally been told.

‘I’ve never shared those words, never spoken them out loud,’ he seems to sigh from deep within his psyche.

The doleful look is frozen on the teenager’s face but I am already sat once again with the mid-40s singleton.

The visiting of prostitutes, the mistrust of partners and the generalising of that trait, ultimately, the tragic inability to connect – even within the successful relationships, even with the kind women – appears to have a place. The tale of this bachelor finally has a narrative. This has been the direction, the goal of which the therapy dyad has sought. But there is an undoubted emptiness at this temporary destination and there are new unspeakables.

He had been so close to everything that society vaunts, pumps out, demands that men and women achieve – the goals of life: a partner, a lover, a child who creates of a couple a family. The child never born, the siblings never created. There is an endless line of loss, thoughts and images that the therapy chair receives.

What he feels, I have just felt, but what he is now thinking remains a mystery that the clock controls.

As the seconds tick, we both know it will not lend us enough time today.

Duncan suggests …

… consulting Brook’s website page ‘Abortion: Advice for men’

www.brook.org.uk

 

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

The source of the Nile

3monkeyGlenn‘So why are you living on a boat on the Nile?’ I ask.

‘Like everyone else here, I’m looking for the source,’ she laughs. I smile.

‘I value the solitude, the heat and being independent. Now though I mostly feel lonely; all I have for company are mosquitos. It’s self-enforced exile. I can’t forgive and can’t be forgiven.’

‘So you punish yourself in exile. How long will you do that for?’ I ask.

‘There’s no way back; I’ll probably be eaten by a crocodile and no one would ever know.’

Her head swivels around as she takes in her dimly lit cabin. It’s tiny, a few brilliant shards of sunlight pierce the darkness through a hatch behind her. I think of mummies cocooned in tombs.

‘Is there anything else keeping you there?’

‘No, apart from my boat, nothing.’

‘What’s your boat called?’

She looks embarrassed. ‘Dignity. You know, like the song …’ – she sings – ‘… a ship called dignity’.

‘I know that song.’ I reply.

‘The man in the song is a street cleaner. He wants to get away. He saves his money for a boat he’s going to call Dignity.’

‘It doesn’t sound like the right name for your boat.’

‘Uh, how so?’ she asks.

‘A ship called Guilty seems more apt.’ I’d not really seen the link before between dignity and guilt; they’re quite similar … I begin floating away on my thoughts.

She interrupts my thinking, I’m back with her again, ‘I see what you mean but you don’t know what I’ve done.’

‘You could tell me.’

‘You’d hate me.’

‘It must be awful for all your care to be taken up with what other people think of you.’

She looks away. ‘Like a ship’s captain I’ll probably go down with this bloody boat.’

‘That’s up to you. Forgiveness, no forgiveness; either way it’s up to you.’

‘Okay I’ll tell you.’ She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath. I feel like a priest in a confession booth – the computer screen in place of the lattice opening both separating and connecting us.

‘I allowed my husband, my ex-husband, to do things, terrible things, to our son.’ Her breathing stops for a moment. Apart from the hum of my monitor there’s silence.

The cabin looks to be closing in on her. Rather than lighting her way out, the sunlight is a chink in her self-created cell.

‘Where were you when he did these things?’

Tears start rolling down her cheeks. ‘At church, for Sunday evening prayers.’

I feel sick.

‘Did you ever tell the priest?’

‘I think he knew. He’d see my son in the morning at Sunday School. He would go on about forgiveness. I don’t think he believed what he was saying, maybe he did, in any case what the hell does the Church know about abuse or forgiveness.’

I wonder if she’ll ever have any peace. With this thought my peace is gone and I feel priestly again. I can feel the tension mounting in the ether somewhere between her cabin on the Nile and my home in Cambridge.

‘So, what do you think?’

‘About what?’ I reply.

‘About what I’ve done, what I failed to do as a mother? What else?’

‘It is awful and yes it’s hateful. Did you know at the time?’

‘No, not consciously, I knew something was wrong … You think what I did was unforgivable, I can tell?’

‘You want to know if I forgive you?’

‘You wouldn’t tell me honestly.’

‘You don’t know, you’ve not asked. I don’t think you want to know.’

‘You’re avoiding the question.’

‘You haven’t asked the question.’

‘I know what you’d say: “I’ve got to forgive myself first”, blah, blah, blah; that’s a dodge too. What I’ve done is unforgiveable, that’s it. Anyway what’s your problem with forgiveness?’

‘It’s self-absorbed. It has nothing to do with your son. Besides that it won’t free you.’

‘Wow! You really don’t like me very much do you?’

I smile. She replies, ‘Okay, now you’re going to tell me that it’s not important whether you like me or not. Come on, really?’

She’s right, it’s an uncomfortable question, I can’t avoid it; ‘I don’t forgive you; your son won’t forgive you. You’ll never forgive yourself, your ex-husband, the priest or the Church. And you’ll never forgive God.’ I give these words time to penetrate her cell.

I add, ‘You don’t need forgiveness; it’s about finding a way to live with the pain.’

She looks sad, then a smile, ‘The priest won’t like that.’ Then letting out a deep breath, her voice now coming from her diaphragm, ‘If that were true I could come back to England. I’d have to sell the boat first.’

‘Maybe you could give it to the priest for dispensation?’ We laugh.

‘You could just leave it behind.’

Glenn recommends …

The Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.