In the movie Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks, who plays the title character, famously said that life is like a box of chocolates—“You never know what you’re gonna get.”
However memorable, I disagree with this metaphor. To me, life is more like playing poker.
Every hand that you’re dealt is potentially a winning and losing one, depending on the other cards on the table.
Unfortunately, as much as I believe that life is what you make it and not just something that happens to you, even the best gamblers lose through no fault of their own. It’s what’s known in poker terminology as a “bad beat”.
In other words, shit happens, and we don’t always have the luxury of choice to fall back on. Twenty-five-year-old Raj* certainly didn’t, and even though he wasn’t gambling, there were huge stakes involved.
I mean, the topic of abortion is already one that’s at worst black and white, and at best controversial. Given that I’m here to speak with a man to find out his side of the story, I’m more than aware of how sensitive the territory is. After all, the decision to keep the baby revolves solely around women and their right to do as they wish with their bodies.
At the same time, Raj’s story, one of how he could only watch helplessly as a part of his life crumbled around him, is worth telling too.
As our agreed upon meeting time nears, I see Raj approaching and he greets me with a half-smile. After exchanging pleasantries, he begins.
It all started four years ago when Raj was twenty-one and a regular in the armed forces. He was drawing a steady salary, blissfully in love, and life was good.
All of that changed one evening when he came home to his then twenty-year-old girlfriend Alicia* crying.
“She was standing on the other side of the room and refused to come closer because she had something to tell me and was afraid I would freak out.”
He pauses for a sip of coffee before continuing his narration with immaculate clarity.
“My girlfriend threw a pregnancy test on the bed and after examining it, I looked at her and was just like ‘you’re pregnant?’. The first feeling I remember having was that of joy, something she didn’t expect at all,” he says.
At his suggestion, the couple then made their way to the nearest hospital for confirmation, which they soon got from the doctor.
“We were in shock but both of us definitely wanted to keep the child. When I saw the sonogram, I said to myself ‘that’s my child right there’ and was really happy about it.”
Three days later, Raj (with Alicia) broke the news to his cousins, and later that same day, his parents. But while his cousins and dad were supportive and hugged them, his mother flew into a rage.
“That evening was the first time I ever heard my mother swear. As soon as I told her, she freaked out and repeatedly asked if it was a “fucking joke”. My mum then shouted at us to consider what my paternal aunt would think when she found out. Not the world, not the whole family, just that one aunt. My mother was very specific.”
Confused, I stop him to ask if there was any bad blood between the two women. He shakes his head and tells me that to his knowledge, there wasn’t. He’s never seen his aunt poke her nose into his family’s business.
“My mum immediately told us that she was going to find a clinic for us to have an abortion and of course I refused. I retorted that I wanted it to happen and that I was her son. She should have been protecting me instead of worrying about the opinion of someone else.”
He goes on to share that he was raised to not be concerned with what others thought of him. Yet here was his mum, a hypocrite. Standing up to his mother proved futile, with her telling him to get out of the room so she could talk to his girlfriend in private.
Raj then overheard his mother tell Alicia that she had to go through with the abortion lest their family was bad-mouthed or looked down upon. Regrettably, those were words that Alicia took to heart.
At this point in our conversation, his composure begins to crack, with flickers of anxiety creeping in to replace the anger in Raj’s voice. He continues.
“Back in my room, I remember constantly reminding her that it was our choice. Yes, it might not have not been my final decision to make since I wasn’t the one who had to carry it to term and give birth but she, not my mother, had the final say.
“I even suggested that we get married since we both saw a future with each other but she didn’t want our wedding to be because of this or cause tension in my family. Her mind was made up,” he tells me, voice trailing off.
It is their body and hence their choice. Yet I can’t help feeling that discussions around abortion tend to be too simplistic.
Barely a week after receiving the news that brought him so much joy, Raj found himself alone in the clinic’s lavatory, bawling his eyes out and retching at the thought of what was happening in the other room.
He takes a deep breath, sighs and finally whispers, “I was a complete mess.”
A few months after that, the couple broke up, with Alicia citing her inability to take the “mental torture” of being around anyone or anything that triggered the memory of Raj’s mother.
“Up until then, I had no issues with my baby nephew but after it happened, whenever I saw my mum holding him I would just feel this hatred inside of me. I really hated that my brother had the chance to be a father just because he was married and so I did whatever it took to avoid my nephew,” he says, explaining how the abortion resulted in him withdrawing from other members of his family.
Raj spent the next year in isolation, navigating his downward-spiral. Any spare time he had was spent drinking himself into oblivion in a bid to numb his feelings.
“Every single day I would make sure that I got fucking drunk before the bar closed,” he confesses.
In that year, thoughts of ending it all were commonplace and he attempted suicide thrice.
Life, however, was determined that he wouldn’t get off that easily. His friends, colleagues and neighbours always intervened in the nick of time.
“I was never really a man of faith but after three failed attempts, I inevitably started wondering if it was a sign that there was something else planned for me.”
Raj then tells me that the turning point came one night when he was lying in bed, craving a drink.
“My brother and I collect Absolut Vodka bottles and when I was about to open one, I started asking myself if I was so desperate for alcohol that I was going to ruin the collection we had painstakingly built up over the years, and if I was really just going to sit alone at home and drink. It was then that I realized how desperate I had become.”
From that moment on, Raj decided that enough was enough, and stopped suppressing his emotions. Instead of running away, he let the negativity take over his life in a bid to feel again.
As he dealt with his feelings, he slowly started letting people in and began the long, arduous climb up from rock bottom.
Now, I honestly wish I could say that there was a happy ending to Raj’s story, but for the time being at least, “happily-ever-after” remains a pipe dream.
Raj is no longer the jovial optimist he once was and tells me that he’s always looking at the bigger picture of choice and consequence now.
“What I had to go through completely broke me and I will never be the person I was before,” he says.
When I ask him about closure, and about whether it’s something he seeks or will ever get, he shrugs and replies no to both questions.
He still lives with his parents and sees his mum on a daily basis. But he doesn’t see a point in asking his mother or his aunt, who till today has no idea of the consequences her mere existence has had on his life, for answers.
“What’s the point? Is it going to change what happened in the past? No. I guess I have enough to live my life. I know that I was right back then and that I was ready. I could’ve been a good father.”
After pausing for a second, he adds, “It was just a hard lesson in acceptance.”
Outraged? Maybe. Dejected? Perhaps.
Abortion is already a difficult issue to have conversations about, and more often than not we don’t get the entire story for fear of asking questions that bring up traumatising memories.
It doesn’t help either when the stories that stick with us are the ones of douchebags who disappeared during an unexpected pregnancy or who insist on abortions.
The miracle of life is such that it requires a 50-50 contribution of DNA, yet we hear so little about the male perspective, and the stories of men who wanted but couldn’t keep their baby.
From the handful of women I subsequently speak to who’ve wanted or gone for an abortion, I learn that the general consensus is that their partner’s views would have had little to no effect on the outcome, with the common argument being “my body, my choice”.
They’re not wrong. It is their body and hence their choice. They’re the ones who will have to carry the pregnancy to term.
Yet I can’t help feeling that discussions around abortion tend to be too simplistic.
Say, for whatever reason, the woman doesn’t want the baby. What happens then to the men who see the unexpected pregnancy as a blessing and look forward to fatherhood? To what extent does it matter whether they want it when the mother has already made her choice? What if the man is willing and able to raise the child (on his own if necessary)? Does this change anything?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, and unfair as it is; as much as Raj might’ve been a victim of cruel circumstance, I suppose that’s life. All we can really do is to try and make the best out of the hand life deals us.
Sometimes you win with nothing, sometimes, you lose with aces.
*names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.