Megan Nolan, above, has written an essay, called Aborted, about an abortion and relationship she had when she was 18 years old.
I sat at a grim bank of computers in Luton airport, staring lovingly at the email I had been waiting for. My results had arrived and I was officially a student of Trinity College. From a freakishly early age, attending Trinity was bound up in my idea of what it meant to be interesting and modern and intellectual. Woozy relief spread through me and I ran outside to call my dad. It briefly occurred to me to worry that some telltale errant dial tone would alert him to the fact I was abroad, but it passed without notice and I cried telling him the news. We had both worked so hard to get to this point, past the anxiety and inertia that threatened to derail me. I hung up and leaned back against the cool brick wall. I felt faint and a light sweat was breaking on the blonde fuzz of my upper lip and forehead. I wondered if it was hunger, or satisfaction after months of uncertainty, or just the morning sickness returning.
Nearby, my boyfriend tried to hail the cab that would take us to an innocuous leafy suburb where we would pay for my abortion with fistfuls of sweaty fifties, half of which I had been forced to ask my mother for. I learned I was pregnant in the toilets of a theatre in Waterford, before sitting through an excruciating production of Romeo and Juliet.
Afterwards I sat in the corner of a disused carpark and called him and howled down the phone. He said the right things and promised I would be ok. Abortion is illegal in Ireland, so as thousands of Irish women a year are I was forced to get a last minute flight from Dublin to London. The whole journey felt blatantly sordid, like our fellow passengers could smell the illicitness. I felt steely and brave and defiant defending myself against the imaginary accusers in my head, but itchy with revulsion when I thought of real people knowing. I cried in the taxi when we told the driver the clinic’s address. The procedure was painless and over in minutes.
This surprised me, having been educated as I was in a Catholic convent school. Religion lessons were served with a side of The Silent Scream, an outrageous American anti-abortion film from the 80s which appeared to show a woman being tortured and a fully formed newborn baby being dismembered and tossed around with merry abandon. When it was over I sat in the aftercare room with other girls and women in a similar state of muted boredom. I read magazines and a nurse only a little bit older than me told me I had done really well. I knew the truth, which was that I had done nothing much and that I felt nothing much about it, which was so frightening I refused to know it again for several years.
My boyfriend was 29 as he waited there in the clinic. I had just turned 18. Already as I write those inarguable facts I want to dispute them. I want to say “But it wasn’t like that!” I wanted this essay to be about how wrong I now think our relationship was, how angry I increasingly feel about it as I get older, how I sometimes zone out and go into a daze of bafflement that it all took place. And yet, I still have the urge to defend it, and him. It would be easier to write this if he was a terrible person, some domineering two-dimensional 50 Shades of Grey type nightmare. Instead I feel obliged to reassure you that he was the funniest person I had ever met, and he adored me in an uncritical way I had never experienced, and most of all that he knew it was wrong. Does that make it better or worse? He wasn’t a habitual seducer of 17-year-old girls, he agonised over whether to be with me in a way I never did over him. In fact I’m struck in retrospect by how irate I was about his reluctance — my diary recounts several incidences of being in bed and him suffering crises of conscience, turning away, pacing around the room, muttering “We can’t do this.”
And yet in the end we always did do it; I don’t know how much value can be awarded to this ambivalence given that the outcome always remained the same.
When we met I was in a band, and part of the reason I had left my first, serious boyfriend was that I wanted to take advantage of all the hedonistic pleasure being really young and really alone and in a band, which, in case you have not gathered from Motley Crue biographies, is pretty fun. I was in my final school year at the time and would get the bus to Dublin on weekends to play gigs and flirt with music guys. They were heavily fringed drummers or fast-talking promoters or just gig-goers with good t-shirts and haircuts. We tussled in spare rooms at house parties and held hands in smoking areas. It still took me by surprise that adults wanted me — I remained embroiled in the teenage game of comparing myself to the longer-limbed, honey-highlighted rich girls I went to school with.
But I was 17, wearing knee socks and tiny party dresses, and visibly thrilled at being let out in the world. Of course men wanted me. It both disgusted and excited me that idiots on the Irish Hip Hop forum debated whether I was old enough to fuck.
I didn’t mind too much when it transpired that they had no interest in getting to know me, when they inevitably had some long term on-and-off girlfriend they neglected to mention, or a too-recently broken heart, or decided belatedly that they were too old to be with me. The transient heartbreaks seemed a small price to pay, because for the first time in my life I felt beautiful and special. It seemed likely at last that I would have the sort of future I had imagined for myself, one where I was desired and busy and cool. It is both telling and completely insane how deeply fulfilling it felt to me to be photographed by a street style blog. I wanted to be seen to be creative and dynamic, while in reality I was too busy being looked at to create anything meaningful. Mere proximity to the endeavours of others felt substantial and progressive to me.
It was this time, growing tougher and feeling unassailable, which made me think there was no romantic encounter I could not negotiate playfully. There was no man I could not handle, no situation I could not glacially dismiss with a click of my fingers if necessary. When we met he was interviewing the band for a magazine he wrote for. I loved him almost immediately, for how funny he was and how good a writer, for the pleasing and thoughtful way he mocked me. If I thought it troublesome that he was eleven years older than me, I thought of it only as the kind of trouble I should wilfully get into to see how it panned out. I felt like that about everything back then, and I still can’t shake it entirely — that no matter how terrible the possible outcome, you should plunge right in to any passing situation to see if something interesting will emerge. Continue reading