‘He Was 29, I Had Just Turned 18’

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Megan Nolan, above, has written an essay, called Aborted, about an abortion and relationship she had when she was 18 years old.

She writes:

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.

We were together for five months before I became pregnant. My friend and bandmate Maebh heard us laughing uncontrollably one morning as she passed his bedroom door and remarked that it sounded like what a relationship should be. I felt petite and perfect with him, like a thing naturally delicate and lovely enough as to be deserving of diligent care. I sent him emails of Tennyson poems when we were apart during the week, in between doing my mocks and writing dreamily in my diary about how astonishingly we were overcoming the age difference. I believed without question in my own maturity, my unique ability to overcome the ostensible difficulties of our relationship. Perhaps it was bad for OTHER teenagers to date men a decade older than them, but those girls surely lacked the precocious self-assurance I was blessed with. I could do it, because I could do anything

I thought I wanted to be with him, but really what I wanted was to BE him. I wanted to be a writer; I wanted it so badly I stopped being able to admit it. I wanted to be funny, and popular like him. I had become so distracted by appearing a certain way that I forgot to actually be anything. It felt like if I stood close enough to being a writer, and closed my eyes really tight and held my breath maybe it would all eventually be mine. He had a life, a personality, opinions; I had a MySpace page and a suitcase full of sequinned playsuits. I tried to breathe in the wholeness of him instead of trying to build my own life, and when that failed I had nothing.

Cracks appeared. I went out for drinks with his friends and felt hotly aware of myself when I had to admit to a doctor and an architect that I hadn’t yet sat my Leaving Certificate. I swallowed my teenage-ness, pretending that my fondness for reading newspapers beside him could be construed as successful domesticity. I flaunted my sanity and good humour, trying to prove to everyone he knew that I was worth the trouble, worth the embarrassment. He bought me a pair of heart-shaped sunglasses once on a trip to the beach.

“Megan,” my mother said incredulously, “He bought you LOLITA sunglasses?”

I laughed this off. I really found it funny at the time.

After the abortion things became less amusing. I felt the near-miss of his baby and everything it implied rushing past me, whistling by my ears like barely dodged bullets. I felt his unconditional, protective love settle uncomfortably on my skin, and wanted to shake it off. I counted the age the baby would have been at regular intervals, imagined its hypothetical fingernails hardening; but I did this only because culture had told me this is what I would want to do, not because I cared. I started college, and quickly realised I wanted to leave him.

I treated him terribly, breaking up and veering back repeatedly. I was dying to be alone, but it seemed that to reject his love was to reject love in the abstract, that the alternative to this particular fidelity was a life of promiscuous excess. I was awful to him, and I have no doubt that I hurt him. I spent years feeling guilty for this, but I find no remorse left inside of myself. I feel only rising horror with each year I get closer to the age he was when we met. When we were together I literally did not know how to go grocery shopping, pay a bill, clean a fridge. Why did he think I would be capable of the rather more muscular activity of being in a healthy relationship with somebody of his age? Because I was special — but there aren’t any special teenage girls.

They’re all special, of course, all dazzling and entertaining, all outrageously lush and fertile as greenhouses. But I was still forming. I was better than most girls at behaving like an adult, and I felt like one most of the time but that delusion unraveled when I began college and summarily started to lose my mind. I missed my home and parents all day, and drank all night. I felt sick of the secret of my abortion, felt like painting it on a billboard to get rid of it.

Sometimes the only thing that could soothe my mania was very slowly applying, removing, re-applying makeup. Yes, it seemed to say, things are bad, but isn’t it incredible how I can still look like a human being? It seemed there was no amount of makeup that was too much; that there was no state of being that could be too different to what I really was. And no matter what the difference was, ugly or good, the more the better.

It wasn’t his fault, of course, that I got pregnant, any more than it was mine — it was a failure of birth control. It wasn’t, strictly speaking, his fault that when I began college I felt dirty, and tired, and old instead of excited and fresh. But no matter how many different ways I try to think it, how I try to shift the facts in his favour or against, whether I feel poisonously angry or full of soft remorse, he is always the 29-year-old in our equation. I think of us being together and am seized with deep horror that I cannot reach into the memory, take his hands off of me, bring myself home.

Soon after we broke up for the final time I started seeing somebody completely different. The new guy was young and beautiful, had the most upper class accent I had ever heard, and didn’t mock me even a little bit. He took me to his family home in Wicklow for the weekend. I wondered if this was what college was like, following boys to country manors, drinking whisky and smoking cigars in front of the fire. There were actual hens in their outhouse, and he taught me how to poach their eggs. We went out to the fields after midnight, blind in the lightless evening; we held hands and the iced leaves snapped sharply as we ran over them laughing.

I felt young for the first time in months, and wondered if he was the answer to everything. The next day, I returned to my attic in Rialto, sat in bed and looked around me. I was only 18 but the scenery of my life was collapsing like wet cardboard already, and it would get a lot worse before it got any better. I looked at my records and notebooks, props for a character who had been killed off, and knew suddenly that the new boy couldn’t save me. I couldn’t inhale his life; I couldn’t be him. I was going to have to be myself, at last, somehow.

Aborted (Megan Nolan)

106 thoughts on “‘He Was 29, I Had Just Turned 18’

    1. Sidewinder

      Given that the legal age for consent here is 17 I think comparing him to a serial paedophile is more than a bit extreme don’t you?

      You could also try reading the piece.

    2. Inopro

      your comment is audacious. 17 is the age of consent that being one of the oldest in Europe as for the Saville bit, make light of a serial paedo cover up for comparison- stay classy!

      1. mn8forever

        no sorry i don’t care what u or anyone else thinks. its a bit creepy
        i hope this doesn’t get deleted.
        some balance please

      1. Gdo

        Is that a reference to Lolita and hence, a snide reference to the age gap?

        This is a well written essay on an underpublicised (in the mainstream media) aspect of abortion and deserves credit.

      2. All the good ones fly south for winter

        Willingly suggest to you as I lean against the red vibrating smeg fridge desperately try a few cold random yellow pages of wonderful Nabokov as an big antidote.

        1. Mick Flavin

          You have really honed in on this particular thread. Yes I’m sad for having noticed, but at a rough count you have contributed 20 (mostly negative) posts out of the 100 here. It just seems a bit odd.

        2. Mick Flavin

          Your tone seems too sinister and manic to be really making an attempt at “balance”, Ben. Maybe that’s just me.

    1. Jordofthejungle

      I hope not – she has a day job as a conveyancing solicitor in central Dublin although her specialisation is in Catholic obstetrics apparently…more or less.

      Cora Sherlock is entitled to her views but what I do find objectionable is her insistence that her hardline stance on abortion has nothing whatsoever to do with her religion. She is a particularly devout Catholic from an acutely religious Drogheda family. Nothing wrong with that but it is certainly something she minimises at every turn. Her parents have been religious anti-abortion activists at a time when the debate was certainly more hardcore and pro-life marches did not involve the production standards of today, confiscating religious iconography to fool people into thinking that their cause is not in the main motivated by religious belief. Cora is largely credited with bringing this more “modern” approach to the so-called pro-life cause in Ireland.

        1. Jordofthejungle

          Indeed Clampers. Just like Iona and creepy David Quinn, he’ll give you every argument no matter how outlandish and dishonest against marriage for same-sex couples except the very one which is his main animus: the religious one! As a hardline Catholic surely he believes sexual intimacy between same-sex couples is sinful? But he’ll never give you this one argument which is the very one which motivates him. It’s so dishonest.

  1. Soundings

    If she was any further up her own arse, she’d be coming at you like that monster in Alien.

    Which is more cathartic, ‘fessing up to a bunch if strangers online about an abortion or teasing out your unspectacular relationship issues, all the time unburdening your pensive melancholy on us in the dullest prose imaginable. That’s two minutes of my life I’m not getting back.

      1. fluffybiscuits

        Thats because you are both a pair of uncaring twa*s and a lot of the reason people who are experiencing traumatic events do not come out to discuss their issues.

        Well written piece and very moving. Megan has a writing talent, nice prose and it flows.

          1. Case

            With soundings and rotides too, insightful piece on abortion? Or just a whole lot of self absorption ?

          1. Mani

            It takes a certain amount of courage to write about this topic publicly. Just enough with the adjectives. They don’t make you a better or more intelligent writer. It just show’s you’re insecure about being taken seriously.

        1. Soundings

          Because I’m uncaring, I don’t. well, care.

          As for “flowing”, it flows like contaminated Roscommon water with added cryptosporidium.

          He was 29, I was just 18. My, wasn’t I mature, and an older man took an interest in me. And
          I dumped HIM! And then poshboy fell for me. I really am that lovable (and no doubt, complicated and unique), though strangely I was never able to confide in either my feelings about the abortion, so I thought I’d try a worldwide web of strangers.

          1. Sidewinder

            That’s called projection soundings.

            We get that you don’t like it, you’re certainly not required to like it, but why do you have to be such a dick about it?

        1. Mani

          Ex girlfriend posts article about you plus I’m guessing a bottle of white (ah let’s say red and give you the benefit of the doubt you masculine bastard) = multiple ill judged posts. Good luck with the hangover.

    1. Karl

      Ok, the writing is hackneyed. But it takes a lot of guts to put something like this out there, for that she should be commended.

      1. Delacaravanio

        I agree. I was falling asleep during some of it, then again I’m a guy, and couldn’t give two hoots about her relationships. Either way she’s very brave and should be commended.

  2. Al

    Fair play for writing about this. Every time a woman writes or speaks about their experience regarding the ‘A word’ Ireland moves one step more out of the 1950s.

  3. Loony Loo

    Is that a 1,000 word justification for getting an abortion? Or just a nice little essay someone wrote.

    I bet anything can be justified in a 1000 words.

    1. Miss Carroll

      She doesn’t appear (to me) to justify anything. Nor does she need to. She simply tells her story. If you read an attempt at justification into it, that’s your take on it.

      1. Loony Loo

        True, it’s not a justification. I read too much into it. Thanks for politely putting me straight.

    2. Sidewinder

      I actually thought that the abortion was incidental to the story. Seemed dar more about her relationship and how she is developing a personality than about the fact that she got an abortion.

      1. jungleman

        Thought the same thing. But doesn’t that justify the sceptics coming to the conclusion that this is really just an attention-seeking piece?

  4. Padi

    Leaving abortion aside for a moment, it would be good if there was a campaign to make all forms of contraception condoms, the pill, morning after etc very widely and easily available and very low cost. Surely this would mean people would have full control over their body and take on the responsibility themselves. Of course they are all not 100% secure but would this not decrease abortion rates??

    1. Mani

      Free condoms on prescription but they all have a picture of a naked and tumescent Gay Byrne on each wrapper. That should bring their efficacy up to 100%.

    2. Sidewinder

      I’d say free tbh since it would clearly be a cost effective move for the state but you have to couple it (pun intended) with excellent sex ed.

      Also worth noting she specifies she fell pregnant as a result of a failure of birth control.

    3. Lorcan Nagle

      Access to proper sex education and contraception has been shown to reduce both the teen pregnancy and abortion rates.

  5. Ferret McGruber

    Megan Nolan, whatever else you think you may or may not be, there is no doubt that you are a remarkable writer; fresh, honest, articulate and compelling. Ignore the trolls and keep writing. There’s a Booker in you somewhere.

        1. Caroline

          Jeez Ben, she apologised for treating you like crap. You must be sliding towards 40 at this stage so why not draw a line.

  6. elsie

    Very good piece, i would like to see her write a book.

    I found her mother’s reaction a bit blasé
    “Megan,” my mother said incredulously, “He bought you LOLITA sunglasses?”
    …I wonder if her mother actually made any attempt to stop this relationship, to protect her daughter….

  7. isintheair

    I don’t really care about your life story so far. Twitter will care, there’s always an audience there.

    I’ve had enough of people online using their illness or life story so far or some moment to get attention and to display how wonderful they are.

      1. Mikeyfex

        Yes, absolutely. And not just one ‘evil’ ones. The ‘righteous’ have become bloody painful n all.

        1. B Bop

          Every time Mikey Fex,
          Can we see a return of the core Broadsheeters-when it was merely Mani’s hilarity, Frilly Keane’s witticisms, The Hoop’s tuppence worth, Fluffy’s fluffiness etc without the clicheéd attacks on every post.

          1. Mani

            He’s been crying in his room all morning.

            Well, not all morning….the Evans’ Xmas catalogue arrived and he’s got a weakness for the plus sized matron.

      2. isintheair

        I like this tweet: Beyond moved and surprised at the reaction and at how willing people are to respond. I LOVE EVERYONE.
        That’s the pretend to be surprised tweet. The essay was all about getting attention and she knew people would spread it around on Twitter. And blah, blah, blah.
        And for the interwebz record, I think Megan is amazing, dazzling, incredible, outstanding, unique, brave, random, trustworthy, tender, a joker, a visionary. And many more things.

    1. Mani

      Now you’ve gone full Howard Beale, what do you intend on doing about it? Are you going to actively engage anyone who forces you to read their material or are you going to passive-agressively whinge here about it like an impotent slug?

      1. Sidewinder

        Oh but she says it’s not to tell you you’re special like you always wanted her to. Soz bbz.

  8. Lilly

    This girl should write a book. I enjoyed her honesty and self-awareness. So many young Irish women are lost – the product of generations of inadequate nurturing – and learning how others navigate difficult paths can be a great source of comfort and guidance. More Megan!

  9. Anne

    I thought Halloween was tomorrow night.. where the flupp are all these gowls coming from?

    Loving writing.
    Brave and honest.
    Captivating.

    I’d love a book of this. Talented woman.

  10. Wanchorman

    What I find particularly interesting is that it really doesn’t take Holmesian levels of deduction to quickly deduce the identity of the father. There’s just enough info in the article that, when aided by Google, gives away the name rather easily. It’s interesting to say the least.

    1. rory

      Makes me wonder what delusions are clouding me now.
      The only thing that feels true is the suffering from traumatic experiences. When things fall apart.

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