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This story is about an adult subject. If you are under 18 and happen to read this, talk to an adult afterwards. And ask lots of questions.

Short story

By Nooneh
May 28, 2001
The Iranian

Yesterday my friend, Alexandria, had an abortion. Hamid, the "father", insisted on being with her during the procedure. He told me it was the most difficult experience of his life. She, said nothing. He said he knew exactly when "it happened". She was ovulating, she had said, and he was feeling "extra frisky". "It was as if we were playing Russian Roulette, it was the best sex we had ever had," he said.

Why was he telling me this? We were friends. Actually, I was really his friend. Actually, we used to be lovers or rather we used to have sex in between relationships. Alexandria was his neighbor. I remember exactly when they met. We were returning from grocery shopping for that evening's party and as we unloaded the car we noticed a woman we had never met before was trying to unlock the next door unit's door. That unit had been left empty ever since Eric, the late owner, died of heroin overdose about six months ago. I remember Hamid walking over to her inquiringly. She had just moved in, purchased the place, no less. She looked maybe 24, an okay looking young woman with a very attractive smile and nice eyes, the kind that you can see shine from a distance. She did have a glow about her, an aura.

Hamid invited her to the party. Actually, he first asked her if she wants to come over for a beer while we were preparing for the evening's party. She said yes since she may not be able to attend the party as she had previous plans. Well, she apparently canceled her previous plans because not only did she have a beer with us while we were preparing for the party but she left when I was taking a shower and reappeared later dressed rather lavishly in one of those leopard suede dresses that were quite trendy at the time. She definitely caught my eye then. Hamid and her stayed very close that evening so close we had to leave after the party was over at 5 am so Hamid could have his bed all to himself. He did offer me the couch but I have a knack for knowing when I'm not wanted. Was I hurt? Not at all.

You must understand Hamid is almost public property. I can't think of anyone he hasn't had sex with. So when a new female moved in to the neighborhood it was only natural that she should be "ordained". It was just a matter of time. That was almost a year ago. I guess they spent more nights together. I make sure not to inquire about Hamid's affairs. Whatever he tells me, I hear; what he doesn't, I don't. Usually, he tells me more than I need to know. Does this mean he considers me a friend? Not really. Hamid has no friends. No one that is really, truly close to him. His younger brother hasn't spoken to him in years and his mom is too far away to be involved. He never speaks about his sister. She died in an accident many years ago. Hamid is a lonely man, like many others I know who search for happiness in the arms of numerous women.

I don't really count myself among his lovers. Our sexual encounters were too infrequent and even then we mostly just kissed and hugged and fell asleep. He had a difficult time getting an erection when he was with me. He explained it was because we usually drank a ton when we were together. But I took it to mean that he just wasn't "into me" which frankly was a blessing, I must say given the fate of all his lovers. Like Alexandria. Her eyes were not shining yesterday. I think she really wanted that child. She really wanted Hamid to want that child. But he didn't. I remember many years ago when I had an abortion. The father in my case really wanted the child and I didn't. He said because it was conceived in love. I wasn't in love. He too knew exactly when the child was conceived. I didn't. I left him after that vowing never again to be with someone I'm not in love with. Never to have sex with someone I wouldn't want to have a child with. I did not keep that vow.

Today is Mother's Day. Alexandria left last night for her mother's home up north somewhere. I liked her a lot and felt really bad about the whole thing. I don't now why I felt responsible for Hamid's bad behavior. Alexandria, of course, didn't think he had behaved badly at all. She said she knew exactly what she was doing. She had hoped that he actually loved her the way he screamed it during sex. He didn't. I remembered how shocked I was the first time we had sex and he cried out "God, I love you, I've loved you since the day I met you, I've waited all my life for this moment!" all in one breath. I had laughed at the time but was rather worried later on that he might have actually meant it. It was a relief to find that he didn't when only four days later a girlfriend of mine called to ecstatically report that Hamid was in love with her. I congratulated her before asking any more details. They had spent one night together and she expected him to call her any minute. He didn't. She moved to another state when she saw Hamid putting on the moves on another woman at a party later that same week.

Honestly, I did wonder sometimes if he was sick. I mean maybe he could benefit from seeing a professional, I mean a psychologist or something. Did I suggest it? No. Why? Not sure. Maybe in a way I thought I'm the one who was supposed to help him. I often feel I'm the one who can and should help people. Most people appreciate this aspect of my character. A few don't. I leave those people alone. Hamid belongs to the former group. Maybe this is why after Alexandria left yesterday I called Hamid and offered to make him dinner tonight. I figured he is down, we'll have some wine, shoot the shit like the old times and maybe even talk seriously about relationships and how sleeping with forty different women a month may not be the healthiest thing in life. The timing though is all weird. Mother's Day and all. How do I tell him that having an abortion is truly a grave loss for both parties? The woman suffers physically and emotionally and the man only emotionally but still he too suffers. That is if he is among the minority of men who actually have emotions; I mean are aware of them. I want to tell him that the two of them could have been celebrating this day. It could have been the first time he gave her a Mother's Day gift, first in a long string of years to come. But they chose not to.

I wonder if she felt she had a choice. Choice is such an elusive thing. Yes, she could have kept the baby, raised it without a father, and be reminded of his lack of love for her each time she looked at the baby. Maybe not. Maybe she would be happy being a single mother. Maybe having a child is just what she needs. Happiness too, I find, is elusive. Dictionary definitions fail to fully explain the weight of these terms. Choice. Happiness. Or Freedom, for that matter. Having the freedom to deny life. This reminds me of how some animals eat their young when they have reason to believe their chances of survival are slim. Does the mouse or cat consider that a choice, I wonder. Do they ever think twice: "Maybe I shouldn't eat this one."

A mother's instinct. Another term I don't find a definition for in the dictionary. We can't separate the child from the mother or the mother from the child. They are one and the same. It is a mother's role to bring children to the world, or not to. It's a woman's responsibility, her prerogative, her God-given right, if you will. The problem with the whole abortion issue is that in politicizing the act we've lost track of the real human factors. Life, love, commitment. Motherhood is a lifelong commitment. It cannot be trivialized. If we could all agree that abortion is a difficult but necessary last resort then we could start working on ways to prevent it. Not by banning abortion or telling women how they should live their lives. But by providing real alternatives for prevention, education, contraceptives. Teaching both men and women to be more responsible in their sexual relationships, in their love relationships.

Is love required in life? I mean how many people consider themselves loved? We're all alive but do we all feel love? Do we need love? Who says a child needs a loving father? Or a loving mother for that matter? I need love. That I know. But is that a general rule and can it be applied to everyone and can national policies be based on the fact that children need love and hence in lieu of a loving home one must opt for not having a child. I've had three abortions. Twice the fathers knew. Once he didn't. Those who knew wanted me to keep the child. I didn't. One told me, several years later when we separated, that he wished he had forced me to keep our child because then I would not have been able to leave him. I wondered why he thought having a child would make any difference in how I felt about him. I told him I never would have forgiven him if he had forced me, as he put it, to keep the baby -- the mechanism of which he did not really explain and I did not ask.

Abortion is a very difficult experience. One I wish no woman ever has to go through. But being denied that option is even more difficult. A mistake you live with. This is how I heard someone describe an unwanted pregnancy. Or is it a mistake you have to risk dying for? I've often thought that I will never have another abortion. But I can't sign, seal and deliver it. What I do know is that I do not want to give birth to a child whose father is not there for him. Does the father have to love me? I would have to say yes, that is a requirement. I have to say too that love is a requirement for healthy living. To be quite honest I think it's the only requirement. Everything else is a luxury.

It is with these thoughts that I open the door for Hamid. His perfect smile beaming from in between the two bottles of wine he has brought. "Two?" I ask. "I'm counting on you having at least three." He answers and walks right in past me heading straight to the kitchen to grab the bottle opener. I inquire about his health. He is well but where are the glasses? I explain that I've redecorated a bit since the last time he was over and give him two stems. He pours and empties his own glass twice before remembering mine. He is not well. Can it be that he too loved Alexandria but was too afraid to express it? To stop her? How difficult is it to tell some one you love them? And if you do, how difficult is it to promise to stay with them for as long as you can stand it? I often find that expressions of love and commitment are difficult for myself. Although I have conducted no survey on the topic, just based on a superficial look at the general state of affairs today, I have to say that most people are in the same camp as me. Hamid certainly is.

"Rosemary chicken and potatoes. Nice." Hamid exclaims happily. "The potatoes are from my garden." I report. He is pleased with my progress as a gardener. When we first met many years ago he grew all his vegetables at home and I was failing in tomato 101. Now my garden boasts four varieties of lettuce and even more of tomatoes plus cucumbers, eggplant and potatoes. Hamid was visibly proud, mostly of his own tutelage than my progress. He certainly is an attractive man. What was it that drew everyone to him? I loved his dimples and his thick hair. And yes, his big strong hands. He did a lot of landscaping work. Maybe it was his connection to life, his hunger for it that made him desirable. He enjoyed all the pleasures of life and he could be very generous in giving pleasures too. But as I looked at his beautiful ass and the tight muscles that supported that erect perfectly toned body, I was reminded of the tiny drops of melancholy I had often noticed hidden way deep in his eyes. Those were the stars that did not shine. The way Alexandria's eyes did not shine yesterday. Hamid turned around and found me lost in thought behind him. "Have you spoken to her since she left?" I felt compelled to ask. He only waved his head no and walked to the stereo. Why does he always change the music? "Don't. I want to listen to this." It's time for me to take charge in this relationship! "No, I like it. Who is it?" This is what always happens.

I remember how once I called Hamid and cried on the phone for hours because one of his friends had walked out on me. The guy was a loser from the start and Hamid had openly warned me about his abusive tendencies. I remember I had responded, "He can't be any worse than you." I guess that was a time when I actually considered having a serious relationship with Hamid, which of course was a mistake. Yes, in hindsight it all seems so clear. Hamid had broken my heart, his friend extended a helping hand and then some and I absolutely needed to be loved, to feel wanted and maybe I didn't feel I deserved anything better anyway. Why do we get into abusive relationships? Is pain the most familiar feeling? The comfort I felt through pain I never felt in love. Can this be true? It wrings my heart to even write these words. Pain, my only friend. Maybe Hamid knows this, counts on this. Abortions, separations, walking out on love, fearing commitment -- does this sum up my history? There was a time when I thought I wanted comfort. In searching for comfort I actually sought insecurity. I thrived on uncertainties. The shakier the ground the more excited I got. Now I sit and look back and wonder why? Now I ask myself, Why is it that the most gifted are the least confident? This of course classifies me among the most gifted which brings a smile to my face.

Hamid has been talking. He is working on a new project and this particular client actually appreciates his unconventional landscaping designs. I stare at his hands. Those beautiful blue highways of life. We even donated blood together once. I love that day. We ate a huge breakfast, had sex on the balcony in the day light followed by one noisy shower where we each tried to top the other's voice in singing Googoosh's "Do Panjereh" and then we went straight to the Red Cross and donated blood. I'm convinced those two pints were the most life giving units in the history of transfusion.

Talk, talk, talk he is still blabbing away. Let's eat, I declare. We fill our plates in the kitchen, get a new bottle of wine and go back to the living room to eat by the coffee table. I sit on the floor across from him sitting on the big couch curving over his plate as if he hasn't eaten in years. "Yum. This lettuce is fabulous!" It occurs to me that Hamid never says what is really on his mind. That he often says exactly the opposite of what he's really thinking but even that is not predictable. It occurs to me that I often am clueless as to what Hamid really thinks or feels. The first time he kissed me it came entirely as a surprise. The sweetness of his lips came as a surprise too. And the fact that his hands knew exactly where and how to touch, that his tongue was the most skilled I had encountered. All this came as a surprise to me. Was I blind? Did I just not notice things about people? I don't know, often times I don't pay attention to things most people notice immediately.

"The rosemary can't be yours, where is it from?" Hamid knew that I had killed my rosemary plant a couple of months ago. "My neighbor, the blond" I filled in the blank. "The dike?" Apparently my neighbor was quite obviously a lesbian. I didn't think so but then again. "She's not," I said unconvincingly. "I'm growing Tarragon now. It's really good with roasted potatoes." was his simple reply. There was something fishy about Hamid's light conversation. I began to speculate the depth and weight of the pain that was eating him from the inside and before I knew it I said "You loved her, didn't you?" Silence fell across the table and for what seemed like five hours inconspicuous chewing noises took over the air and amplified a thousand fold and echoed throughout the room. Chew, chew, chew that's all he did. Then finally he said "I believe in love, I really do."

During seconds I learned for the first time that not only was Hamid a romantic at heart but that he could in fact be very shy when it came to love. Now, some people would not be surprised by this information. After all, most big talkers are hiding nothing but fear or fragility but for some reason, again, I had failed to understand this about Hamid. He elaborated thus, "Every time I see a woman I like, I get excruciating stomach cramps by the mere thought of uttering a word to her. Then the strangest thing happens. The woman utters a word or two to me and before I know it I'm in bed with them. Now the first few times, this makes me feel attractive and desirable. But after a while I ask myself if anyone out there is interested in that one word that never succeeds in escaping my mouth. What am I? Just a piece of meat?"

This question leaves a piece of chicken skin hanging from his mouth. I continue to pick the Rosemarie off my potatoes and eating it like sunflower seeds. Life is never what we want. How many people do you know who are satisfied with life? We are all misunderstood and unappreciated. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I'm the only person who actually listens to what Hamid has to say. But I have paid dearly for this privilege. Hamid clears off the table as I make Turkish coffee. He washes the dishes while I scoop Rum Raisin ice cream into two bowls. When I return from placing our fourth course on the coffee table I find that he has dried everything and placed them in their designated locations. "Thank you," I say. "Thank you," he responds and kisses my cheeks. His lips do not burn through my skin as they used to. This is a new feeling, or lack there of. I've never been able to be impartial towards Hamid. Call it friendship or love or whatever else you find in our limited dictionaries but the bottom line is that seeing him, his closeness, always excites me. It increases my body heat and makes my skin all tingly. But now, the touch of his lips leave me indifferent. This is interesting.

Armed with new ammunition I charge towards the coffee table ready to deliver my sermon on the benefits of chastity, fidelity and commitment. Images of Joan of Arc and Mother Teresa give me strength and I begin. But what comes out of my mouth is Orangina compared to the tempest that I had brewed in my head. I find myself consoling him instead of chastising him. I'm promising to be there for him and I ask him to be there for me in a similar situation. He is happy to comply but he hopes that such experiences will not repeat themselves in his lifetime. He plans not to impregnate anyone whose child he does not intend to father. Not all is lost, it seems. I feel heavy weights lifted off my shoulders as I pat myself on the back for this small achievement and decide not to seek more profound changes this evening. We still have more wine and frankly I think we started on the coffee prematurely. It's as if we both feel lighter after delivering our declarations and have now gained the right to an entertaining repartee. Two hours later we are still engaged in fanciful conversation but the fluid intake forces me to pay a visit to the porcelain temple.

When I return from the bathroom I find Hamid in my bed. Baffled, I think maybe he has passed out. "Are you okay?" I ask. "Absolutely", he responds with a big smile. At this moment I face a crucial decision. Now, I was not planning on having sex with Hamid tonight. But here he is in my bed and the question is, Shall I join him? You might say, friends can sleep next to each other and even comfort one another without exchanging bodily fluids which I fully agree with. However, this is Hamid we're talking about. On the other hand, shall I hold that against him? I go back to the living room. Turn off the lights. Blow out the candles. Take the ice cream bowls and coffee cups back to the kitchen and gently place them in the sink careful not to wake Hamid with the noise. He is not asleep. I am sure of it. I walk back to the bedroom without looking at him, then the bathroom. Brush my teeth, wash and moisturize my face, reenter the bedroom, remove my clothes, keep the underwear on as not to impose a particular direction on the future events and slip undercover. I half wish for him to be asleep but when he turns and smiles at me I feel my heart sink and my nipples harden. Interestingly my neck responds differently to his lips than my cheeks had only a few hours earlier. I am not able to explain this discrepancy right at the moment but it may be that our body parts do not share the same memory bank. That in fact each zone carries its own database and similar to many a complex corporations, our body being no less complex than the most complex corporation, these multiple databases do not necessarily share or exchange data. So that while my cheeks may have been completely over Hamid, my neck is not. And my breasts certainly are not. And he does not appear to be over me, or if he is, he has a very odd way of showing it. "I didn't bring any condoms." Hamid confesses as he removes my undergarments.

- "That's okay. My period just ended a couple of days ago."

- "Good. I don't like sex with a condom on anyway."

- "Me neither."

- "But you use them, right?"

- "Not really."

- "My God! I worry about you sometimes."

- "You- worry about me?"

We offer one another comfort. A home in this world of displaced emotions. For one night, we know that together we are cared for and protected.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Nooneh

By Nooneh

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