Equipped with the self-revelatory means of media -- blogs, podcasts, YouTube, MySpace, radio, reality television, even op-ed writers -- armchair psychologists are never at a loss for new subjects. But even they might suffer from TMI (too much information) at times. These various media encourage, allow, and facilitate the revealing of personal information that many of us would either never tell, or we'd pay a therapist, or we'd find a confessor. In a sense, the modern confessor is the world at large, or anyone who's willing to pay attention.
The New York Times has long parted from its motto of printing "only the news that's fit to print," whether reporting classified information that could help terrorists or serving as a forum for a columnist to lament her dating life. Their latest TMI episode comes in the form of a piece by Jennifer Cacicio who describes the experience of looking up an old boyfriend on MySpace and learning that he now practices a gruesome pastime called suspension. In essence, he hangs himself from metal hooks that pierce his flesh and has himself hoisted by some sort of rigging. According to Cacicio, people do this for different reasons:
Some are in it for the rush that occurs when your body experiences something so intense. But some are looking for something deeper: to conquer their fears or push the limits of the human body. They hope to learn to let go, to move around outside their body and to experience something most others never will. Others simply seek the unknown.
In excellent prose, she communicates how disturbing she finds this new information about her old boyfriend. And then, she starts to play the arm chair psychologist about the man she hasn't seen or heard from in seven years.
She searches her experience for something to explain his current state. Now, keep in mind, she could tell us about any part of her experience. No one is telling her story for her.
Explaining how they met, she describes their relationship as "a scalding hot bath that feels like comfort but in reality is scorching you." More than anything, she writes, they were "grateful not to have to sleep alone." Despite the unique experiences that human beings have, none of this is uncommon human experience. Many can say that they've been there and done that and, fortunately, moved on.
But after a few months of their "tumultuous" romance, she was pregnant. Although they were 20 and 26 years old, she explains that they were "but children [themselves]."
Her boyfriend's reaction to the pregnancy?
When he said without hesitation that he wanted to keep the baby, I was shocked. Having come from an abusive family, he had long claimed that he never wanted children, that he would never bring a child into this messed-up world. But when actually presented with the opportunity, he changed his mind.
"Maybe this is exactly what we need," he said. "Exactly what we've been looking for. Maybe a child would give our lives meaning, a purpose. Maybe if we had a kid, we wouldn't feel so lost anymore."
The timing was off and she didn't love him; so she decided to have an abortion. When she told him her decision over the phone, she writes he responded, "You're dead to me." And hung up.
Given the fact that he's now mutilating himself by hanging from hooks and posting it on the Internet, some might say that she was lucky to get out of it. They would argue that a child can't fix you -- look at all the instances of bad parents. Having children didn't improve them. Run, don't walk, sister.
Others might suggest that he's suffering from post-abortion syndrome, its affects on men less discussed but real nonetheless. They would argue perhaps that his life spiraled downward as a result of the abortion because he felt guilty for not being able to protect his own child, that he felt he repeated the cycle of abuse he experienced as a child with his child.
But, at the end of the day, he's not writing the piece and she hasn't spoken with him in seven years.
She describes herself as "devoid of regrets." Thinking about the "decision" she writes:
But every now and then I would be struck by the idea that I could have a 2-year-old child right now, a 4-year-old, and so on. I would be sitting in a restaurant, watching a server deliver a highchair or a pack of crayons to a thankful parent, and I would think, "Oh, yeah ... weird."
Apparently, the abortion was no big deal for her. Still, she sees it as the crux of his story.
We could discuss further the effects of TMI and some might say that the Times should not have published the piece given its graphic nature. However, the piece is published and to retract its effects would be like trying to trying to gather the feathers that have been cast to the wind from the proverbial pillow.
The piece tells a story. She wants to understand and explain why her ex is such a mess. And she sees her experience with him as part of that story.
People's stories intertwine all the time. In telling his story, she tells us about herself. If she truly sees the abortion as the lynchpin of his decline, it seems the abortion should be something more than "weird."
More could be said about the piece and about the author. But for our purposes here, it enough to note that she's used the narrative of her boyfriend to almost confess to the world that she's had an abortion. Almost.
Exploring her doubts, she concludes:
Maybe a child would have given his life purpose, as he had hoped, filling whatever void he was now plugging with this self-inflicted pain. So did that mean this was my fault? Was I responsible?
And then I recognized my attitude for the presumptuous narcissism that it was.
The "presumptuous narcissism" saves her from admitting any guilt surrounding the abortion. After all, he explained that he felt lost and that perhaps a child would keep them from feeling so lost. Cacicio concludes her piece writing that perhaps hanging from hooks makes him feel "found."
While they may not have made the best parents and quite possibly should not have persisted in their relationship, killing their unborn child seems to have left them both somewhat unsettled in their own ways...as she tells it.
I welcome any such open discussion of abortion and its effects.