The Antigua Journals (What Is a Homeland) | Chanelle Benz | Granta

The Antigua Journals (What Is a Homeland)

Chanelle Benz

I am about a week away from seeing my father for the first time in thirty-six years. I have almost no memory of him, so it will be a bit like meeting for the first time. How strange to see someone who remembers me much more than I remember them. When I think about this trip, I can’t think about the trip – only the edges of my brain remain functional. I want to immerse myself in a possible itinerary of Antigua but it’s hard to believe that this is happening. Because it’s also a return to a homeland I’ve never seen.

Found out that my great-grandfather, Harold, was an overseer in the 1930s. Post-slavery, but not post-colonialism or oppression. The 1930s were a time of intense poverty in Antigua. I wonder what kind of man he was, what his job entailed, and which class he would have been considered a part of. He was Black and of mixed heritage. One of his wives, my grandfather’s mother, Rebecca, was white, though I believe she would have been called Mauche, maybe a derogatory term for poor Europeans.

I am getting an abortion tomorrow. How terrifying to write it, to commit to that word I have hypothetically supported for everybody, but maybe not for me, who was supposed to never need it. These are secret thoughts I have been keeping from myself. I am looking for a poem but I cannot find it unless I write it myself and I am no poet. I am making the reality decision and everyone I tell agrees except for my breasts, already fuller and more tender, having been here three times (this being the fourth), like a needle finding the groove in a record that’s been played before. I am no longer tortured by the pros and the cons of a child I can’t imagine, but when I read about the medical procedure my conviction slips because I don’t want to do it and I don’t want to have it, not in the reality of the life I actually have and can already barely hold.

Like a witch, I get a stye the morning after my abortion. At least it’s in my right eye, the left would feel more significant. I took the pills in the evening and the pain was mild compared to my miscarriage before the boys, which had felt like mini labor. I’m not sure I deserved such little pain. I was fine in the doctor’s office until the ultrasound, when they asked me if I wanted to know how far along I was and if it were twins. The embryo was six weeks. That knowledge pushed the button in the middle of me reserved for grief. I couldn’t stop the tears: my body was screaming at my life. My mind stepped in to assert itself, to make a point, to advocate for its right to flourish. The physician assistant was patient and left me alone so that I could be certain before I took the first pill, which had taken on a science-fictional quality. You take the first pill to stop the pregnancy from growing, and the second to empty your uterus. You have to take the first pill in the office, meaning the decision had to be made now. Usually my body betrays me, but this time I felt like I had gotten the drop on my body. I was wringing my hands like I were in a Chekhov play, some Tolstoy drama, next I would faint and be swallowed by the inky folds of my mourning dress. Except I was under fluorescent lights, sitting on wrinkling white paper, the PA watching me behind her glasses and mask, measuring whether to offer comfort or medical advice, and there was no answer other than I am not certain, which in this moment of my life I was not allowed to be, being the adult, the body in question, the only one who could in reality make the decision and so the only one in reality who could carry the weight of it.

The days that follow my abortion are not days of thinking, no thinking about my self is done. I work, read, catch up, feeding and dressing and fetching and putting children to bed, mostly the little one who I need to hold close to me now more than ever. I love the high baby voice of two, the mispronunciations, the joy and denouncements: Good idee, Mommy! Go away, Mommy! Mommy, I come with you! The urgency, the soft apple cheeks, the sucking on my knuckle because he finally lost his pacifier. The older one, my little chaos agent, has either been serenading us obsessively with his ukulele or lying on the floor in some howling fit, both of which I have come to expect of him. I have nothing to say for myself. I am packing and planning and preparing. I am having erotic dystopian Shakespearean jungle dreams. I am wondering what happened the last time I saw my father, if I were five or six, and if either of us knew it would be the last time.

I’m hoping the trip to Antigua will be a little boring.

Chanelle Benz

Chanelle Benz has published work in the New York Times, Guernica, Electric Literature and the O. Henry Prize Stories. Her novel The Gone Dead was a New York Times Books Review Editor’s Choice. Her story collection The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead was shortlisted for the 2018 Saroyan Prize.

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