"There are monsters on the building," she said in the sad song of a West Texas drawl. She sounded like she did when she talked in her sleep. We had paused there to examine the doorway the way people do when they know something frightening and important will happen to them on the other side.
Somehow the banality of the details seemed at odds with the profundity of the situation: A hot breeze taunted us with the smell of garbage. Pigeons did their stupid strut and pecked and **** on the sidewalk. Manhattan pedestrians slogged past through the May heat wave in a sweaty river of hurried lives, each stranger a subtle hint that perhaps our pain wasn't so profound after all. My own rivers of perspiration seemed to drive the point home.
Molly had more than once accused me of being attracted to the dramatic, and she was right. In response to this weakness, this juvenile habit of seeing myself as a hero in the story of my life rather than just another person in the world, the God I still half believed in seemed to be punishing me with mundane aggravation as we prepared to defy him: crowded subways, humidity that pressed in from all sides, growing stains in my armpits. Now that we had reached the building the half-believed God added a master stroke of lewdness. Squatting on the threshold of our destination were a pair of gargoyles [cement artistic tradition combined with superstition] that peered down at us with obscene toothy grins.
Molly tugged on my damp fingers, and asked again, "Greg, why are there monster's on the building?" Her eyes seemed both accusatory and desperate for affection, but her voice was sleepy, like she was trying to pretend it was all just a dream.
"I don't know," I said. "It doesn't matter."
It was true. It didn't matter accept as a symbol in a story that somewhere deep in my mind I was shamefully conscious I would someday write. Disgusting but unavoidable for the boy I was at 19, a boy who wanted to be important someday, wanted to be important by being "a writer," and didn't see how he could ever be anything else.
"Write what you know" they say, but I was just an upper middle class white kid, nothing important had ever happened to me. This was important. This was life and death. Most of me lived it but part of me watched from outside.
We went inside and found the elevator, then the waiting room. I held her left hand while she filled out the forms with her right. I told her I loved her, trying to say it like a transcendent spiritual truth that could make all the facts of our situation irrelevant and sweep them off somewhere they didn't matter.
Then a nurse came and took her away.
It offended me that despite the life and death business conducted behind the wall, the waiting room looked just like any other. Maybe worse. Worn out office furniture in generic shades of brown. Stacks of magazines that looked like they had been procured second hand from some cleaner pricier office where happier people sit and smile about life while they fill out forms and wait.
I glanced around the room, careful to avoid eye contact. There were two other men, one white one black, both looking sad and dejected, staring into space, thinking of the women in that other room I just like me I figured, wishing there was something they could do.
I selected a magazine with half its cover missing. Celebrities at a party. Celebrities at the beach. I put the magazine down.
I should be feeling more than this, I thought, and that thought seemed shameful too.
It was still a question about me. The pathetic existential question that has always gnawed my television generation: Why can't I just be real? The question brought more shame. Why are you asking these questions? This inner monologue ... they are killing your son in there! They are ripping him out of the girl you love. Shut up and just feel! Or don't feel, and just shut up.
Searching myself for sadness I found again a numb disgust for being outside myself and looking in.
I thought of praying but an image came to me of Jesus struggling to carry his cross up a hill. He was being chased by His Father who took the form of the God of old paintings, a long white beard, muscled body, the eyes of a tyrant. God was leading an angry mob, scaring Jesus up the hill to his death, screaming at Him: "This is what my son was meant for! You don't have any other choice!" It was not the sort of image I hoped prayer would inspire.
Finally I arrived at the thought I was avoiding: Molly crying on a cold table, machines inside her, everything happening too fast. I had asked if I could go with her and hold her hand.
"No," the nurse had said with a touch of scorn, like the question was not just dumb, but an insult to women everywhere. Why would she let the guilty party make things worse?
A few yards away there were doctors working machines inside the womb of the only girl I had ever loved, taking the life of a child I would never know. But even if I had wanted to stop them, which I didn't, it was too late now.
It was the first life and death decision either of us would make, and even though I would try to console her with the idea that we had chosen life, our own lives, our own futures, right or wrong, I knew we had also chosen death for our first child. Death always brings sadness, and despite whatever happiness we might still enjoy in the years to come, this sadness would would linger with us, in some form, forever, unless we came together to conceive another child and raise it. This is not what Jesus told me. This is what I told him. He listened but he didn't seem to care. He had no time for *******.
Molly appeared in the doorway to the back rooms where I had not been allowed to go with her. I would have liked to go with her back there. I would have held her hand, made her know that we were doing it together, that I was equally if not more culpable in this death than her, and if that were not possible, and it probably was not, at least I could have held her hand.
But I was not allowed back there. She went through it alone with strangers all around her speaking in professionally sensitive tones.
I put down the magazine and went to her. Her face was blotchy, and there was still dampness in her eyes. She had been crying for awhile and she was crying still. A nurse's hand was on her shoulder.
"She was very brave," the nurse said, like Molly was a four year old who had just made it through her first hair cut without squirming.
"Will she be okay?"
"Yes, but now you need to take her home so she can rest."
The nurse disappeared. I held Molly, and kissed her forehead, and told her how much I loved her and always would. She did not speak and her body felt lifeless in my arms. I led her back to the elevator and then out into the Manhattan bustle. The humid heat had reached its most brutal hour, and I began to sweat immediately as we walked towards the subway.
We passed a deli. I asked if she was hungry and she nodded. I went inside and used the little money I had to buy a sandwich and two bottles of juice and we found a bench in the shade and sat there to eat. She ate a little and drank some of her juice and then finally
"It was a spot."
"It was a spot. They showed me. It was a little black spot on a screen."
"It's okay, Molly It's going to be okay," I lied.
"It was my little girl, but she was just a spot. They showed me and then they took her away forever."
"I love you. I love you so much." It was true and all I could think to say and it didn't help much.
I brought her downtown to the financial district where I was staying that Summer in an NYU dorm with a friend from High School. We were there to take film classes together. Our parent's had allowed us to spend extra on the best housing, and the dorm we stayed in was actually an apartment on the 14th floor of a building with a doorman across from South Street Seaport. It had a kitchen, high ceilings, and huge windows with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, and even a
separate bedroom. Fortunately Rick had allowed me the private room so he could have the larger one with the view and the television, so there was a place for Molly and I to go behind a locked door and lay down.
We got in the little bed together and curled into a combined fetal position. I kissed the back of her neck and she took my hand and placed it on her pelvis where I could feel the bandage rustling under her sweatpants.
"Can you feel it?"
"Everything will be all right," I almost said, but it felt like garbage on the tip of my tongue and I had not yet grown used to lying except to myself.
I hadn't known there would be a bandage.
"Yes. I can feel it," I said. This, at least, I knew was true.
I lay there with her like that with my hand where our child had
grown for a few weeks and we fell asleep.
When I awoke, the room was gray with dusk, and Molly was snoring peacefully. I got out of the bed carefully without disturbing her, sat at my desk, and opened my favorite drawer. There was my small purple glass pipe, and a little baggy stuffed with the high quality marijuana that in my experience, you can only find in New York City, the Pacific Northwest and American Colleges. I filled the pipe, lit it, and pulled hard, holding it in as long as I could and then coughing intentionally on the exhale for the fullest effect. I repeated the process until the bag was nearly empty, lit a cigarette, and sat at the desk with my feet up, looking back and forth from the
high rise across the street to the young woman in my bed, contemplating life and love and God and the future.
In that moment, high as I was on the drug and the city and the relief of having made it through the day, it truly did seem that everything would be all right.
I had taken to writing poetry a few months before, and I found a
piece of paper and began to write another:
God sat in the abortion clinic waiting room
while they killed his only son.
"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
"I don't know. It seemed like the right thing to do."
I thought I had the beginnings of a very good poem. I hoped maybe, someday, somehow my poetry might change the way people thought about things. I was young and stupid and ****** and my mind was about to crack open completely and let forth a torrent of strangeness.
I was very sad.