The Butterfly Effect
Ascent, Moorehead, MN, 2001.
Majeda, hair pouring in all directions and her face hollow, met me outside the priest's office. A plump, bland man, he seemed to live far from the fire. Eunuched. At Majeda's request - "I don't want to mislead anyone" - I made it clear she was an atheist and held Marx and Lenin in greater respect than Jesus. The priest had learned not to ask prying questions though he was brimming with curiosity about the woman twisting this way and that in his office chair. He had probably never seen a woman so mad with pain. He gave me two telephone numbers and we thanked him for his kindness.
In Majeda's apartment, whenever she mentioned a problem, I wrote it down. On another sheet I wrote money, insurance, legal status, her own doctor, apartment with laundry. The show of how it could all work out calmed her. Henry, the father, had told Majeda that he had money problems. Improbable, on the face of it. He commanded thousands of dollars for every speech, his books sold in the millions, his salary must be decent and he must be loaded with grant money.
"Where does he live?... What does he drive?... He's not short of money." She told me what he had told her - he was born in a poor family and all his relatives turned to him for money.
She told me more. Each of his wives was a woman of color. The first a waitress; the second a pre-school teacher in the inner city; the third, a Kenyan clerk in an import-export firm.
"He has never chosen a woman who could stand up to him."
"How can I have a child with no father?"
"This is America. No one cares. Some will admire your courage. Has he got children?"
" A son, with his second wife. When the boy was two, his mother abandoned him. Henry's mother looked after the boy, but when he was a teenager he committed suicide."
"Have you told any anyone else you're pregnant?" A couple in Israel, friends of long standing, without children. They offered to take the child. She'd answered, "If I have this child, I will keep her.' Though she agonized about money for child care while she finished her degree.
Her friends had suggested a lawyer. Henry had to protect his image. Majeda told me his response - 'That Jewish woman wants to lynch me.'
I could have lynched him with her. "When will you see the lawyer?"
"O.K. Insurance?" She had asked him to include her on his. Impossible, he'd said. "Let him pay for your individual policy." I wrote "Blue Cross" on her to-do sheet.
Item by item I assured her everything could be dealt with, and left notes to show how. "You're not alone. You've got friends. We'll help you."
She mentioned the gay man in England willing to marry her if it came to that.
"There we are." Though it all seemed a thicket of brambles, criss-crossed and thorny. Rubus occidentalis. Of the rose family.
Before I left she prepared some food for herself. She had been investigating pregnancy on the Net and was eating everything the child would need. I accepted a dish of beans cooked "the way we do it." Homesickness twining round morning sickness.
While I was eating, she showed me photographs of her brother and his infant. Holding the baby, Majeda was smiling into the camera with deep happiness. As unmistakable as Rosa 'Ramona,' the Cherokee rose whose open, fragrant, carmine flowers cry out, "Joy. Love. Beauty. Life."
The chairman took a week off after the conference and I made calls for Majeda in his office, behind closed doors. The Catholics had some useful information but targeted younger women and I feared they would make Majeda feel a murderer if she chose abortion after all.
I took to calling her with reports on what I was learning. Her greatest danger, I thought, was feeling isolated.
The lawyer recommended trying to work things out. Taking Henry to court would be expensive and slow and he would have no paternal obligations until the child was born.
She talked with Henry, determined to make him care. No doubt, more than talk.
Call by call, I heard her becoming more calm, though at any time rage would pour out again.
At our end of year party, Majeda danced like a bird who does not need to touch earth, like a fire that disdains the log it flames from, like a serene river untroubled by the swift pull to the falls. I marveled. Henry had taken on a woman of mettle.