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The Chain by Chimene Suleyman

A devastating personal testimony and indictment of misogyny

Content Warning: Abortion

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I did not want an abortion. Nor did I want a child. Such is the complexity of a person who lives alongside assigned roles. I was ruled by fear – the dread of not keeping it, the dread of becoming a mother. There was no part of me that aligned, nor would there be fully again. My body had gone into the action of protecting what was two months within it. Because women’s bodies are not singular, yet I had further understood the meaning of being treated as mass on this day. To be a woman in the London of my youth was to
be an idea before a human. And so our bodies were touched and stroked and grabbed in bars and on roads. We were told who to be and how to be it. To be a
woman was to be a shape, smell, size; a walk, then a dress style, a mother, a mother one day, and so on.

But we were there: a clinic in Queens, finality around us. The doctor, a woman with short-cropped hair, spoke to me with the patience of a person who had said these same words a thousand times. The first pill, she explained, would terminate the pregnancy. For twenty-four hours I would carry it as such, lifeless, until it passed from me. She asked if I was sure, and in the absence of knowing how to say no, I nodded. She asked if I was alone, a question now peculiar for its answer. No, I told her, my partner was in the waiting room, we loved each other, and all that had been carnal within to have gotten us to this place would take us from it. I walked the staircase to the waiting area. White walls. I read the messages on my phone – telling me we’d get through this, that he was only gone to find the restroom. That when we got home, we’d eat ice cream and watch reruns of my favourite shows. That he loved me, and I should wait for him in the waiting room.

In a chair facing the receptionist, I was hot in my winter coat. I scanned the room and saw the restroom. Clear. Empty. I made a sound. I remember the sound. I cannot describe it. I wouldn’t know how. But as the waiting room emptied of its women and men, as a young woman tapped the keyboard of her computer with perfectly pointed nails, what I understood came only as noise. He was gone. He was gone and my calls went only to voicemail.

Outside the clinic I howled. Walking quickly, circling the block as though searching, when there was no one and nothing left to look for. I was both frantic and insensible, both numb and wild. If I found him this would all be over, if I found him every question I had not previously known to ask would be answered.

I remember dropping, slipping in the sludge, sitting on my knees in the snow that was partially brown. I screamed again. And then, somehow, I was at the subway, had climbed the stairs to the platform. What if he were dead. What if he were on the tracks or fallen from a bridge. But the trains were still running, and the stations came, 21 Street, Greenpoint, Nassau, and I texted his friend as they passed.

You may remember me, I wrote, telling him all that had just happened, without knowing myself.

Where are you? the friend replied. Are you okay? How did he seem? 

I cannot recall my answers. They do not matter. After how long, I don’t know, I was at my apartment. Time is an illusion when there is no reason left to count it. But it was outside my apartment that I saw the messages from him.

Do not reach out to my friends again. You are ruined. There is nothing good or human about you. You are not someone anyone should ever be with. No one should love you.

No one should love me.

I reached for my keys, but put them away. I turned the handle on my apartment door and expected, rightly, that it would open. The shirts he left in my closet were no longer there. His T-shirts that had fi lled the bottom drawer, gone. His sneakers that had formed a neat line against my shoes, and some of my belongings too, gone with him.

Excerpt from The Chain, Copyright © 2024 by Chimene Suleyman. All rights reserved.

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