On the night before the appointment you lay on the beige couch after dinner, impervious to everything and everyone around you. Then, you moved your eyes lazily from a rerun of Real Time with Bill Maher, craned your neck and turned your gaze toward the kitchen where I was washing dishes.
“I’ll sleep on the couch tonight,” you murmured.
We’d barely spoken since Memorial Day when you told me about a missed cycle on the back patio of your sister’s townhouse in Roxbury. Your sister’s friend’s boyfriend was working the grill alongside a mounting pile of unwrapped hotdog and burger bun packages. We had had a few drinks already and you might have been too tipsy to see the terror that flashed across my face before I summoned a smile. Only now do I recognize the depth of my own disingenuousness.
For a few weeks, I pretended to be as excited as you about this new development. You probably didn’t notice the wall, but I did because I laid the foundation blocks. I tried to make myself excited about the prospects of family picnics and birthdays. You pestered me with questions about Cameroonian family customs to which I couldn’t provide answers. Do you remember that evening we spent trying out different names? Do you recall how when our conversation shifted to health insurance and school choices, I reminded you of how much measly my barista paycheck was?
“When you return to Lesley and finish that MFA, you’ll find something better,” you said.
Then you pointed out that your income and navy benefits would be sufficient. You told me I need not worry about things like insurance for the baby.
“We’ll be fine.”
Sometimes I wish I had listened to you. But I too have spent a lifetime ingesting the false narratives of a patriarchal order that claimed men were invulnerable masters of their destiny.
“You will be a great father,” you said.
I nodded knowing well I wasn’t ready to be a father. Because I asked you to terminate the pregnancy, it is hard to tell whether you were right, and I wrong. Just like I will never know how my choices weighed on you in those weeks leading up to that night before our appointment. Sometimes I cascade between guilt and regret—it is hard to really know the sentiments that govern the spaces in between.
When I recall the effort it took you that evening, on the eve of our appointment, to unfold yourself from the blanket, sit up and eat the plate of leftovers staring at you I realize the extent of the pain I caused.
“Thank you,” you murmured before your first bite. Then you pulled yourself up, still in your nighties from the night before, you walked past me to the bathroom. I felt invisible.
“That was delicious, but I am good,” you said just after a few bites and a swig of water from my cup.
You stretched yourself on the couch, and pulled the blanket over you.
When I tried to make small talk, you reached for the remote control. The laughter from the Real Time rerun drowned out my thoughts.
Dear beloved, lately, I have been thinking about my role in our decision, almost five years ago, to terminate a pregnancy you initially wanted us to keep. As I have pondered about our relationship before the pregnancy, I have thought about our conversations, which ranged from your eclectic family tree to Malcolm X; from colorism to coffee brewing methods. I have thought about trips to the grocery store, walking the aisles at Marshalls and driving on the manicured streets of Newport, Rhode Island on my birthday.
But I have also reflected on how my motivations for wanting it terminated must have impacted you. I have thought of our drive on the morning of the appointment from your apartment in Braintree to the clinic in Brookline. I have thought of the lone woman carrying a placard with photos of fetuses.
Dear beloved, I hope this letter can provide some closure to that chapter of our life. Now that I know not to rationalize my position, I apologize for the pain I caused you.
Our son or daughter would have turned four early this year, and perhaps would have grown with memories of a father who crossed the oceans to fulfill desires he didn’t imagine possible in Cameroon.
I am sorry.
Kangsen Feka Wakai was born in Cameroon. His writings have appeared in Chimuerenga’s The Chronic, Transition and Callaloo. He lives in the Washington, DC area.