FICTION: Obstacle by Rodrigo Ribera d’Ebre

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Obstacle 1

Whenever I talked to people about me ex-girlfriend Karen, I always left this one story out. I brought up the fact that she was a skank and a cheater, that she had kids, and that she looked like a Polynesian version of Denise Richards. Those were the most important details. But I couldn’t go around talking about abortion―it made people uncomfortable. If you want to know what you’re really made of, tell someone you killed a fetus.

Right from the get-go, I told Karen that I didn’t want kids with her. She already had two―what the shit was she going to do with another one? That was the only bargaining chip I used. Most of my friends even said, I can’t picture you being a dad. Ever. It’s just not in you.

My response was always the same, Of course you can’t. I’m only twenty years old you fuckin idiot!

I grew up in the hood where teenage pregnancy was the norm. My sister had one at seventeen and a bunch of people I grew up with did too. The empirical evidence for this figure hinted at the region’s social disorganization. But I didn’t want to be a statistic. That wasn’t my thing. I wanted something better. I was a junior at Otis College. That said something about me―straight up. I was going somewhere. Dropping out of high school and being a young parent wasn’t typical in White middle-class America, and that’s where I aspired to be. But for that, I guess I needed a White girl. Not this skanky immigrant Salvadoran who dropped out of high school and had two kids. That was backwards. I wanted to make it to thirty without having children. After I was married and had a stable job and a house. After graduate school. After my work had been collected by the Smithsonian or I had solo shows in Berlin next to the Expressionists. I wasn’t going to raise a kid in an apartment either―ruin my kid’s and my neighbor’s lives. How selfish was that? I hadn’t even gone to the Basque Country or Russia yet. I wasn’t even of legal drinking age. And even if I got married, the words, I want to have a kid, would never creep out of my mouth. I would only agree if my future wife wanted a child. I could easily coast through life without being a parent―for real.

Karen came to my studio apartment one night to watch Nosferatu. I wanted to educate her on black and white cinematography. Yeah right. It was around October, and since the streets were dark with decorative goblins and ghosts hanging on people’s houses, and green and orange ornament lights and fog machines, I turned on red candles inside to give it that Halloween feel. I even wore a black Misfits t-shirt and played the Collection II album. I looked through the window and saw Karen park on the street. I rushed downstairs and waited underneath the staircase, behind the community door and next to the mailboxes. And when she opened the door, I hopped out with a rubber devil mask and a cape. I lifted my hands and said―

But she slapped me and said, You scared me, what the fuck? What the heck is your problem?  I smacked my lips and said, What the fuck is your problem? I was just playing. You ruin everything. I was just trying to get into character.

We didn’t exchange words as she followed me up the staircase. I walked a few paces ahead of her. I looked back once and she had her arms crossed. Tough crowd. I wanted to call the guys to see what they were up to. I was thinking of a good enough reason to ditch her. Worst of all, Karen was a step-down from my previous ex. The one before said I read too much, that my reading habits and paranoia were getting in the way of a healthy and democratic relationship. It didn’t help that it was the end of the millennium and I was into conspiracy theories. She gave me an ultimatum, It’s either your books or me! And of course, I chose the former. But I guess I wasn’t smart enough to land a better partner yet, and Karen just happened to be around. And she always wanted to fuck, so whatever. I was just a kid, give me a break.

After four white-Russians Karen was looser. She grabbed my hand and apologized. And she told me to turn off the movie. And that was it, we were about to do the deed. No need to talk about the film or the art behind the process. I threw on the Bela Lugosi’s Dead record by Bauhaus and I attempted to slip off her shirt, but she got up to use the bathroom. I stared at her long dark hair that met with her ass with annoyance and I grabbed my stiff cock. I downed my drink and prepared another one. When the song finished, she still hadn’t returned. And it was a lengthy track―almost ten minutes. I neared the bathroom door and I heard her crying.

I knocked once, opened the door lightly, and said, What’s wrong, are you okay?

Of course I’m not. I wouldn’t be crying if I was, would I?

How the fuck should I know? That’s why I’m asking.

Just close the door, leave me alone. Just close the fuckin door! Her mascara and eye-shadow ran down her face and formed rings around her eyes and I thought, at last she’s in character!

I said, What the fuck is your goddamn problem? That’s so typical. Getting mad at whatever. That’s why you and I never work. This is so stupid―I’m out of here.

Before I shut the door, she said, You’re stupid. See, you don’t give a shit about me. You just care about your books and your art. And your fuckin friends. You don’t care about us. She looked at her stomach. That’s why I’m gonna leave and get out of your life. And you’ll never see me and your baby again.

My baby? What the fuck you mean―my baby? What is all this? I stared at her belly.

I’m pregnant! And I didn’t tell you because you probably want to kill it.

You’re goddamn right. I’m not trying to have a kid right now. Are you stupid or something? You already have two. What the fuck you want another kid for? I thought you were on the pill?

I was. I mean―I am. Maybe I forgot to take one, I don’t know. She sat on the toilet.

You can’t be irresponsible like that. What the fuck?

She got up and came towards me. She tried to strike me. I grabbed her hands and said, Look at you? What kind of a mom are you? You’re a drunk. If you are pregnant, and if it is mine, look what you’re doing to that child. You’re a piece of garbage.

Of course it’s yours, asshole. I got an ultrasound last week. It’s a boy. We’re having a boy.

I said, We’re not having anything. You’re not keeping it. I’m telling you right now. I’m not playing around either.

Fuck you Memo, you want to kill my son! Our son! She slammed the door when I stepped out.

And she kept screaming and crying like that for almost a light year. I sat on a chair for a little bit and I heard a downstairs neighbor pound on the wall. Damn it, she was going to get me into a wreck. I went back into the bathroom and I hugged her. I put my arm around her shoulder and scooted her towards the futon. I wiped the tears from her eyes and said, We can’t have this baby, we just can’t. I don’t have the resources―neither do you. Think about your girls. Have you thought about where we’d live? How that will affect my college thing? Let’s take care of this first thing on Monday, alright. How many months are you?

Almost three, she whimpered. She lay down across the futon with her head in my lap. I almost got a semi-long one.

I kissed the tears when they surged down her check. I held her tight and said, You need to be strong. You can do this. We will do this together.

And her body shivered and she stayed in a fetal position all night. I was so pissed, but I had to play it cool to facilitate the termination. She was a goddamn liar and I was foolish for trusting her.

When I took her to the abortion clinic in Inglewood, on Monday morning, there was a handful of pro-life protestors in the parking lot holding signs and banners. Jesus is Pro-Life. I Am the Pro-Life Generation. And the funny one―I’ve Noticed That Everyone Who Is For Abortion, Is Already Born. As I drove in, they swarmed us from all angles. Some old white lady walked up to the passenger side and tapped the window, she said, Baby killer. God’s going to punish you.

Karen cried and gave me a dirty look. She buried her face into her hands.

I said, Ignore them. It’s your body, your decision. Fuck those cocksuckers, they don’t know shit about us.

I parked and she got out and she looked back at me and said, Aren’t you coming in?

I think I’m going to wait out here. Call me when you’re done. I can’t go in there. I’m not good at these things. I’ll be here―I swear. She looked back at me and said, If we did keep him, what would you name him?

I said, Ian of course. Like Ian Curtis―or Ian Brown. Or, Ian Svenonius. Almost forgot about that one. Tears poured down her eyes and I said, Good luck.

Karen said, You’re the baby-killer. We’re about to murder baby Ian.

I should have left her there, but I waited around the parking lot. I anchored several feet away from the protestors and I read a Juxtapoz magazine as I lay in the backseat. The banner-holders bothered other people that rolled up and I kept the windows up and the music loud. Fuck them for exacerbating my guilt. Or anyone else’s. They didn’t care about anyone’s individual story. They didn’t know if Karen or anyone else in there got raped or penetrated by their dad. The demonstrators made themselves self-appointed judges and jurors, and they prevented pro-choicers from reconciling their own guilt.

A few hours later, when I saw Karen at the exit of the clinic, I ran to help her. She had her shoulders hunched and she was shaking. I found her behavior dramatic. I almost clapped! I aided her into the passenger seat, while a pro-lifer ran up on us, and the stranger spit at the floor and threw a sandwich bag with blood at Karen’s feet. Karen closed her eyes and I shoved her into the car. She sank in and reclined her seat all the way back. I thought the activist staged a good performance piece, and her gesture gave me an idea for an installation. I drove around for an hour or so, while she slept, and when Karen got up, she looked at me and sobbed. I rolled up to a business strip and bought a few pizzas, some pasta, and two meatball sandwiches. I figured she’d be hungry and this way we wouldn’t have to leave the apartment for like two days. Plus, the food was on sale. She got up, ate, then slept. She repeated this function three different times. We didn’t talk much and I mostly watched films. I wondered what her live kids were doing, and if she even cared to check-in with them.

Before bed, I rubbed her arm and said, We did the right thing. You’ll thank me later.

She said, Ian’s dead. I killed my son.

Obstacle 2

The second-time Karen got pregnant by me was just a few months later. In the time between termination number 1 and pregnancy number 2, we were on a downward slope. I prepared to make my escape because she was straight cold―permafrost n’ shit. She used to be a push-over and she bought me things, but after the abortion she would just sit there and ignore me. I couldn’t get her to suck my dick anymore either. So, I hung out with my friends and I looked for other girls to fuck. I didn’t ask how she was doing―I didn’t want to hear it. She had called me a baby-killer far too many times and she never asked how I resigned to the loss. I had motherfuckin feelings too. We just fought and fucked, and mad-dogged each other and argued and―it was futile. And when we fucked, she often cried and it was getting depressing. And boring. I didn’t learn my lesson though. I shouldn’t have trusted her again and I should’ve left, but it was hard to leave a girl post-abortion. Try it, you’ll see. It was like the ultimate abandonment. She bought a stuffed boy in a bear suit and named him Ian, and she slept with the doll. I’ll admit though, it was kind of cute and I played along. When she saw little boys on television or in public, she’d cry and nod her head. And then she’d give me the death look and turn me into stone like Medusa.

One day she said, How does it feel to kill your own son?

I said, You should know. You’re the one that actually pulled the trigger. Ultimately it was your decision.

And then she said, Well guess what? I looked in her direction. She continued, I’m pregnant.

She smiled sarcastically and I said, Again? What the fuck is your problem?

I don’t know, maybe my body’s rejecting the medication. Or maybe I was meant to have your kid. Why are you so upset?

Well, you know what I’m going to say, right? You’re not keeping this one either.

Why? And I said, Same reason as before. I’m not having kids with you―period. You need to handle that ASAP. I got up off the sofa and headed for the door.

I figured you’d say that. Fine then, drop me off again and stay in the car like a coward.

I didn’t respond. I didn’t want to fight her and influence a dumb decision―like her keeping the goddamn kid because she was pissed. She would too, keep it out of spite. That baby would be born into a world of hate.

Karen said, This is the last time I get an abortion. Just leave, like always. We don’t need you in our lives anymore.

Like the previous time, I didn’t go inside the clinic. I just dropped her off. The protestors were still there and I wondered how many of them got a secret abortion. I knew at least one of them had, I just knew it in my gut, you know what I mean? Damn hypocrites. I gave Karen three hundred dollars, dropped her off, and she didn’t look at me. She slammed the door and stormed off.

I almost hit the gas, but I thought it a philistine act, and I so badly wanted to rev the engine against those conservative dodos. I made eye contact with some dude, some white boy with red hair who looked right through me. If I had a weapon I would have used it against him, swear to God. Punk ass motherfuckers. I hopped on the 105 freeway, towards the 110 South, and made my way to Downtown. I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art because I had a homework assignment due that week and the exhibition was set to close. It was about the black and white drawings of Sam Durant. There were sketches of all types of protestors in different settings and I thought about those fools at the clinic. All I could think of was another dead fetus and I sketched a graveyard of fetuses underneath a hospital, while I sat at the café terrace. I stained the unborn kids in a blood shade. I positioned them inside of trashcans.

When I picked up Karen, she asked me about abortion number 2’s name and said it was another boy. I said, I would’ve named him Sebastian. Like from the band Belle and Sebastian.

She said to me, You killed Ian and Sebastian. That’s on you.

She got another toy kid in a bear suit and she called it Sebastian. She now slept with two dolls between us and she cuddled with them and sobbed daily. By this time, I was seeing other girls on the regular and I didn’t feel bad anymore. I saw Karen less frequently.

Obstacle 3. I finally had enough courage to leave my ex, and while in her living room one afternoon I said, It’s over I can’t do this anymore. I think we’ve both arrived at the same place.

Karen remained quiet and didn’t look in my direction. She just sat there in silence and stared towards a window. I said, What’s wrong? This again―like always. See, that’s why I’m leaving. I can’t be with you anymore. I just can’t.

I proceeded towards the front door and she said, I’m pregnant again.

I said, You’re out of your goddamn mind. And I slammed the door behind me.

Thing was, I wasn’t as pissed as the other times. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to convince her to get an abortion a third time. That was out of the question. I knew she was determined enough to have this kid no matter what the outcome, or no matter my role in it. Around that time frame, I had started my senior year at Otis and when the baby would be born, I’d be in my last semester. I’d have to find full-time employment, maybe at a museum or something―curating art shows. I started thinking about names for the kid. Vladimir for a boy, like Lenin or the Impaler. And Nina for a girl, some Russian shit. I didn’t have to stay in a relationship with Karen either. We could be co-parents. I’d have to be a single dad. Girls liked that anyway. I’d have to get a bigger apartment, at least a one bedroom. There were a bunch of spots in Mar Vista that I could afford. I’d still be close enough to Westchester, where campus was, and I’d look for work at LACMA or the Architecture + Design Museum across the street. They might need a full-time illustrator. My mom, my sister, and my niece could help with the kid during the week. And I guess Karen’s mom and her daughters too. I’d need a car seat and I’d have to baby proof the apartment. Fuck it―let’s do this! Let’s have this baby. Besides, like Ian Svenonius of the Make-Up said, Every baby cries the same. I had to man-up. It was my fault for still fucking her and coming inside of her. It was my responsibility.

A few days later, while in Karen’s kitchen late at night, she started hunching over and said she was cramping. She attempted taking small steps but she couldn’t and she grabbed at the counter.

I hopped off the sofa and reached for her, I said, What’s wrong? Breathe. Breathe.

It’s the baby, she said. Something’s wrong. I’m hemorrhaging or something.

I didn’t know what that was and what it represented. She said, I have to go to the bathroom, take me to the bathroom. We hobbled over. She staggered a few times. She sat on the toilet and pushed, and she appeared to be in a lot of pain. She screamed loudly and I considered calling 911.

Close the door, close the door! I did and I waited outside and I got nervous. My teeth trembled. I dashed to the bedroom and got her Ian and Sebastian toy dolls. I held them tightly against my chest. I considered handing them to her why she did whatever she was doing in private. Then she got up and opened the door and I glanced towards the toilet. It was a bloody show, and not the good one that women have right before labor when the cervix changes shape and mucus and blood get released. This was a bloody mess, and I guess she had a miscarriage and the fetus slid down the drain. My heart sank down with the baby.

Karen cried and she threw herself into my arms. She said, I was going to surprise you―it was another boy.

I had three sons at one point in my life, but they were all dead.


Rodrigo Ribera d’Ebre

Fred Perry photo

Rodrigo Ribera d’Ebre is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, and his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Los Angeles/Times Design LA Magazine, Juxtapoz, 1888 Center, and Dual Coast Magazine. He is an award-winning filmmaker for his writing and direction in the documentary film, Dark Progressivism. He received an MFA in creative writing from Mount Saint Mary’s University in 2017 and he lives and works in Los Angeles.

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