the next round

The last time my father stood next to me, he was ringing your doorbell and telling you that we loved you. The next day you scraped our child out of your womb.

Leonardo da Vinci, Feto umano nell’utero, 1511

That was nearly five years ago. Now you complain that I am harming you. You have failed at forcing the issue. You are begging me to desist. But I am not doing anything wrong. Nor am I harming you. If you want me to do your bidding, you must understand my reasons and convince me of your understanding. If you can feel remorse, we may benefit from conversation. If you stand on your rights, we have nothing to discuss.
    You offer my survival in some good memories. You offer kindness and a possible friendship. But how you remember me is your business. Your kindness last screeched at me amid 57th Street. Neither of us is good at friendship. I am sorry to hear about your father’s recent death. I offer you my condolences and appreciation of your effort to be responsible. But your responsibility is impossible without remorse. You will be responsible for people who love you; you are sorry if you have hurt me; you are deeply sorry for the baby; but you obsess about your reputation. You will say anything to forget our catastrophe. Is that what you call making peace with the past? You seem to be susceptible to shame. Think of it as your medicine meant to elicit remorse in regard to our common history.
    There are two innocent victims in our story. Neither of us is one. But my guilt is not an issue in what you want from me. Refusal is my right. You have two ways of getting past it: either persuade me that satisfying you is the right thing to do or offer me something I want in return. You want to move on. You claim that my account deters you from doing so. It does nothing of the sort. I am nowise deterred by Usenet libel claiming that I fucked a dog. You are displeased with my versiculi. But pleasure is not your right. And I am nowise obliged to concern myself with whatever pleases you.
    You need to be jarred from complacency. You have cancer of the soul. Your anguish is its symptom. I live with your disparagement. You could likewise live with my diagnosis. Your discomfort stems from recognizing its truth. You suffer from a spiritual malignancy. Seek to cure the disease, not to palliate the symptom.
    I mean to be therapeutic for both of us. I could be wrong. But you haven’t begun to persuade me of my error. As to your offers, I doubt that you have anything I want. But it doesn’t hurt to try. This is not an issue of sexual deviance. Your love of pain was entertaining. Its frustration of your own aims did not stand between us. Nor am I concerned with your failure to live up to your role models of Sex in the City, that bevy of time-worn bags traipsing around Manhattan in search of a steady regimen of penetration. You relate to women even more tenuously than you do to men. You could have friends through interest in people for their own sake, or through interests shared with other people. Neither of us is good at caring for people. But you also lack concerns that might ally you with others. You fail at concentration. Your attractions are notional. You imagine yourself in life and work without realizing any role. You have dabbled in marriage and yearned after motherhood, just as you have dabbled in design and yearned after commerce. You avoid sustained effort. You must work for a living, and you are content with the minimum of work that will keep you alive. Millions of others live like that. Unlike them, you refuse to make peace with mediocrity. You admire the drive towards betterment but fail to keep up on its path. Things get too complicated. Progress is too much to bear. It’s fun to whine about aimlessness and regret childlessness. It’s a drag to create a business or stay the course to become a mother.

Johanna Schwarzbeck, AFTER ABORTION, 1993

You might look up Johanna. She is your kindred soul, supplementing sex in the city with syringes. Even closer to your home comes a movie about a Chinese woman who seeks to reverse the effects of aging by consuming her own foetus. The only side effect of her success is a fishy body odor. George Orwell observed that “in the West we are divided from our fellows by our sense of smell”. As an exile from ideology, I prefer to divide myself from the advocates of class struggle and gender privilege. Tyranny stinks. I accept the attribution of foetal cannibalism to domination by the Chinese Communist regime. The party rules you to this day. In your doctrinary moods, you always had issues with my material comforts. But the roots of your resentment may be more ancient. Think of Euripides’ Medea, the tale of a woman who kills her own children in order to punish their father Jason for trying to start a new family. Medea addresses grieving Jason at verse 1396, which David Kovacs translates as: “Your mourning has yet to begin. Wait until old age.” The Greek original is twice as concise:

Μήδεια: οὔπω θρηνεῖς: μένε καὶ γῆρας.
Medea: [not yet adv] [sing a dirge, wail verb 2nd sg pres ind act]: [await, expect verb 2nd sg pres imperat act] [and conj] [old age noun sg neut acc]

You may have fancied yourself unwittingly, Medea to my Jason. Perhaps you deserve to address me as ψευδόρκου καὶ ξειναπάτου, breaker of [my] own oath and deceiver of a stranger. For my part, I broke nothing and deceived no one. Perhaps you fear running out of chances upon reaching your fifth decade. For my part, every day brings new beginnings. Your dirge is unripe. Oupô thrêneis: mene kai gêras.
    Perhaps Latin will suit you better than Greek. In his speech for Aulus Cluentius in 66 B.C., Cicero recalls a certain Milesian woman convicted of a capital crime for an abortion that she brought on by medicines, having been bribed to do so by those who stood to inherit the father’s estate in the absence of his unborn child. And rightly so, says he, inasmuch as she had abolished the hope of the father, the memory of his name, the supply of his race, the heir of his family, a prospective citizen of the republic. But as the great orator wrote to Atticus seventeen years later, in the midst of a civil war that doomed his republican cause, ut aegroto, dum anima est, spes esse dicitur. It is said that for a sick man, there is hope as long as there is life. Set aside the rest of the story, from Pompey’s flight from Italy to the ensuing display of Cicero’s hands and head on the Rostra in the Forum. You may yet redeem your errors. If you could save three lives, you would restore the balance. Let me know how it goes. If you can take my help, I will give it.

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