When Stories Develop Lives of Their Own
Now, months later, I wake up in a cold sweat, shocked at what I’ve done. Not at having the abortion — I’m at peace with the choice we made — but at having written about the most private and painful of traumas. Mostly, it was a natural thing for me to do. I’ve kept a journal since I was a child, so to write is as commonplace as breathing. It is also the only method I know for imposing structure on a random universe. When haphazard events spin out of the darkness and crush you for no reason at all, how else can you carry on? To write is to feign control over randomness, the storyteller’s attempt to impose meaning on chaos. During those unhappy days after my abortion, it was an act of hope to marshal the messiness of life into words, words that might help me to understand what had happened. Yet I knew that those tidy paragraphs weren’t just personal; they also described an experience that could add nuance to the political debate. For this reason I took my story to the Texas Observer.
I didn’t expect my article to have more than a handful of readers. After all, the Observer covers gritty political issues and, though my experience of Texas’ abortion laws was both topical and terrible, many greater tales of torment exist in our great state. To say that I was surprised by the spread of my story vastly understates my reaction. By making myself a face of one of America’s most divisive political issues, I’d exposed myself to the disapproval of those who disagreed with my choice. Indeed, once I’d read commentary from some angry extremists, a sense of unease plagued me. Moreover, by writing about my abortion, I’d willingly departed from my own cultural norms. I’m a Zimbabwean immigrant to the U.S., which means that I’m three parts white African (we’re wary of getting involved in politics) and one part old British empire (we think it’s poor taste to discuss our emotions). By unhitching from those conventions, I’d caused myself to spin into a strange and sometimes menacing universe. Out there in the unfamiliar ether, it was me and this story that — whether I like it or not — will always define me.