05. 26. 2010. 11:03

Legends of the transhuman

The doctors panicked / during the operation. But I had already flown / away to tranquility. I watched my body / from without, I left the room. Everything was fine, / I had arrived before a certain presence. In the sufferings of all my mothers, / there is my own share. I could have stayed, but you still / have things to do, this was said to me.

On Margaret Island
 
1.
We got to know each other on Margaret Island. Zoli
worked there as a soldier. We had been planning our future
for a few years already. We would have liked
a church ceremony. The priest said we couldn’t
sleep together first. But the next day, the embryo
was there already, we just didn’t know. I had
a shop that sold baby clothes, I ran it with all
my energy. One evening in the twenty-sixth week, the blood
came pouring out. It really was gushing. I myself could hardly
believe it. The ambulance was like a boat, taking me
from one hospital to the next.  A succession of doctors
whispering into my ear. They wanted to press the mask
down onto my face.  All the while I tried to defend myself.
 
2.
We searched desperately for a hospital with an incubator.
Finally we anchored at the Baross utca clinic.
Women lay in a row in the stable-sized birthing
room, separated by folding screens. Like a vessel floating
into the underworld: the tortured voices of the damned.
From the high ceiling the half-encrusted plaster
prepared to come crumbling down. In the corners, spiderwebs
blackened from decades of dust. Everything was
impersonal. The bodies, like logs, lay
a little farther from their own pain. When the two
drifted together, the screaming began. As I did,
once. A doctor then stepped over to me, and
showed me the body, slippery with blood: “A boy!”
 
3.
“Then he shall die” – I answered, because
I knew that boys don’t stand a chance at times
like this. I just looked at the tiny body, motionless
in the incubator. It lived for forty-eight hours. I did not remain
in the gymnasium-sized ward among
the happily nursing mothers. I went home, assuming
responsibility for my condition. On the way, everything that I knew
became strange. The world was unfamiliar, I remember that.
Everything distant and unreal. That absence,
that something is not here. There were only two of us
to take leave of Zoltanka. We chose cremation,
scattering over the waters. I liquidated the baby shop.
I sold all of the tiny clothes. Not to remember!
For nine years I was not pregnant. I came to the
Infertility Centre. It wasn’t easy, but at last success.
 
4.
I was pregnant. Twins! In the beginning there
were no problems. Buoyantly, I kept myself busy
with this and that.  Halfway through, however,
it became hard to move. At an examination
I was told one of the babies wasn’t moving. I had to go
in. I ended up in the six-room high-risk
pregnancy ward. Sunday morning at dawn
the pains could not be stopped. First the dead
baby came out, which was no help. A C-section
was performed for the sake of  the
other. Gabriella lived for nine hours. Already, though,
in the hospital I had decided that in six months
I would be pregnant again. A doctor told me,
as if speaking to a little girl, that my womb was small. But
even unsuccessful births train it, broaden it.
 
5.
We cremated Gabriella, Zoli brought home
the little urn. I asked him to hide it.
I didn’t want to know where it was. Six months later
I suddenly was pregnant. Halfway through, again,
I went under. Exactly in the twenty-sixth week,
just like before, there was a premature birth.
Unfortunately, in the last hours the baby turned around.
Two Caesarian sections would have robbed me of my hope.
So I gave birth. The foot came out first. But the two
hands, raised up, made it much more difficult.  Szilvia
lived for two and a half weeks in an incubator. She had
a brain hemorrhage, worn down by the breech birth. One time
when I was alone Dr. Ice-Queen haughtily
told me that she would be mentally handicapped.
 
6.
And that I was the one who did it to her. I sobbed
for days, by the third week I could no longer watch
her suffering. When they called me from the hospital to say
she had died, I once again sank into a maelstrom
of tears. Zoli took care of the cremation.
The urn was brought home so Gabriella wouldn’t be
alone. I didn’t need to hide them any more.
I survived this grief, from time to time a guilty
conscience returns. I prepared for
the third premature birth consciously now.
I also decided that I would have a C-section.
After the twenty-second week, I was hospitalized.
 
7.
In the thirtieth week, something in my body
began to twitter. I reported it. I stayed out of
the hospital, found my own midwife.
The pains were coming by the minute. No time
for a C-section.  They took it quickly
to the premature deliveries ward.  Krisztian’s birth weight
was a kilo and a half. He was in the hospital for six weeks.
When we brought him home, he already weighed
two and a half kilos. Now he’s one and a half years old, you can
see for yourself, how happy and strong he is. To accept humiliation,
so that the vanquished may too prevail. I am not
bitter about the past. This was my fate. 
 
 
The Stone Tablet
 
In my case, there was no drama. The lady doctor
was very nice. I arrived quickly onto the other side,
the side of being not pregnant again. Of being without child.
It’s not such a big deal, nothing extraordinary
has happened, I kept repeating to myself.
I’ll get over it quickly. I slowly made my way
home, saying the words over and over. Just don’t let my
grandparents find out, they raised me. I’m strong,
I can overcome this. No problem.
But by the time my roommates got back that evening
I had a high fever. They gave me something to bring it down. I was twenty
years old then. A dancer. My partner also came
straight away. I’d overexerted myself, you need
bed rest, said the lady doctor. He wanted to take responsibility for the child,
but he was a musician, not yet ready for a family.
I’ll even go shovel coal, he said. That pleased me.
We used the rhythm method. Maybe because
I was so regular. But we were passionate,
more than three hours without it was too much. It was
an impossible dilemma. I brooded for days on end,
always arriving at a different solution. From no to maybe.
To what if, instead of yes. It was too great a weight,
this decision of life and death. No won out in the end, but
I didn’t want to live through it. My great-aunt was a doctor,
I called her to see if she had any ideas. She began to shout
at me that it was sordid. That I was a murderess. Please
try to understand…. She just pointed
at the stone tablet…. I’m a grown woman now, I have a
child, lots of girlfriends. There is no greater
sin than the extinguishing of life. Everyone screams that
the abortion of an embryo is a serious crime. At the same time
no one has any esteem for motherhood. Who, looking around,
could be proud today of motherhood,
examining the faces that one sees? Or
one’s own, looking into the mirror? And what then,
if we should fall again? Death?
 

The Watermelon
 
1.
Maybe it would be best to start with this:
as a girl, birth seemed to me like a tale
of horror. Although my mother had an easy delivery.
Still, I always saw before me scenes from
Ridley Scott’s Alien, you know the film;
and always imagined how it would be torn out of my belly.
I felt all of this when I became
with child. I hoped it would pass.
But then I started to wait. Everything was
coming along perfectly. The birth went
easily, afterwards I felt strong and energetic.
What was harder for me was the hospital:  the
position of an invalid in the institution, the
degradation of the treatments. At home,
it all came together. When Borika was getting close
to the age of three, we planned a new baby.
 
2.
But I miscarried. My leave was over, I had
to go back. I was a special-education
teacher, I worked with mentally handicapped
children. My work ended at six
in the evening. This was a burden to our family.
Six months later, I was pregnant again;
at the beginning, I kept bleeding a little.
I talked to my baby, then went back to
work, the money was important too.
But I wasn’t feeling good.
My work brought neither joy nor
success. I was happy to quit, surely
that was the best for the baby.
 
3.
The parents came, they bustled, washed the windows,
cleaned, we prepared for the arrival.
There was great commotion. And I
just rested. My mother didn’t know her way
around the city, so I went with her to the nursery
to pick up Bori. I got a watermelon too,
and lugged it with me. At last everything
was set. We only had to wait now;
nothing else required my attention. That’s how
I went to sleep that evening. Relieved.
At night, though, I began to bleed.
The next morning in the hospital the bleeding lessened,
I was told the baby was healthy.
 
4.
Two days later, the blood came again, furiously.
The doctor said it was a miscarriage,
you’re going to hemorrhage. The birth will have
to be induced. When they hooked me up
to the oxitocin, it still moved in my stomach.
I prayed and prayed, sang soothing
lullabies in my head. In my imagination
I held its hand. I knew the baby was still living,
but that it would not survive. On that mysterious evening,
between the contractions, the heavens became open
to me. Love and openness swelled forth from
within, and inside of me, which then turned
to others. As long as I lived, I felt,
I could draw strength from it. My baby
was 16 weeks old and had to be born
unto death. No one at home ever spoke
of it. As if nothing had happened.
 
5.
The emptiness inside me since then is
so vast and deep, only the night is
deeper than it. My friends say there’ll
be another. But I know that never shall there be
another birth. The future stands before me like
a colossal mouth. And it yawns. What was
ripped out of me: the Perfect Organism.

 
The Washbasin
 
The sufferings of all my mothers are present
in my story. The fate of a woman is
always the same – my mother used to say. The murdered
children weep in our dreams, because
we cannot nurse them. But they only
run away from me. My grandparents didn’t dare
have too many children. My mother, however,
conceived immediately. They waited for me, trembling, as the world
prepared for war. I remember the air-raid shelters,
the fear. I was three years old when my mother
disappeared for a while. It seems unbelievable, but I remember it
like the day before yesterday. That was the first
child that was taken from her. I recall how she vanished,
and then her return. It was spoken about openly, as I began to
comprehend more and more. The burden of an unwanted
child occurs from time to time. This was considered
a natural part of a woman’s fate, yet
a terrible one. In my sufferings are contained all of
the stories of all my mothers. If necessary, the midwife
came at dawn. She did not judge. That was how women lived,
to no avail. I adored my husband
passionately. My son was born eight years
afterwards. Then one year later the second came along,
much to our joy. I was four months pregnant
when I lost the baby. Labour pains started
then the blood gushed out. Shaking violently, I screamed
for my husband. I put a washbasin down before me,
and gave birth to the fetus into it. I sat at the threshold
of life and death, as if life could still
return. We were horrified. Bundling up the little
body, we took it to the hospital, to the emergency ward. They
took it away from me. I don’t know what became of that
tiny body. I have my suspicions, of course. I couldn’t cry,
because of my son. That helped. One lets life
seduce one anew. The remorse
swallowed up all my tears. I was no
longer confident I could have another baby. I
still didn’t know my soul would have to bear this
four times to come. I wanted to understand why
life had dealt me this blow. The doctors had
no explanations. My husband was taken up with work, other women,
his passion. I however was excited by the mysteries
of women. I went to the countryside, to speak with older,
experienced women. They spoke gladly and willingly of it
all: birth, miscarriage, abortion.
I was shattered by the case of one peasant woman, that
tiny infants can survive in such desperate
conditions. The fourth time, the dead baby was already
decomposing in my abdomen. I was a living coffin
for the dead. In my dreams it pleaded for food,
but I couldn’t feed it. The doctors panicked
during the operation. But I had already flown
away to tranquility. I watched my body
from without, I left the room. Everything was fine,
I had arrived before a certain presence. In the sufferings of all
my mothers, there is my own share. I could have stayed, but
you still have things to do, this was said to me. My husband,
swept away, had already left. I clung to him
to the point of self-abandonment. I learned self-sacrifice
from my mother. He sent me to one of his friends, but there was no
lasting relation; there was, however, a baby right away,
my daughter. My husband and I no longer shared the kitchen table,
although at times we still share a bed. I long for him
as much as in the very first week. My mothers’ lives
are my own; their sufferings mine. This is my fate, I feel.
 
The Incubator
 
Life was always so chaotic,
the years just came and went.
I stacked up the days beside each other.
A move out to the countryside,
then back to the city.
We started a business. It was a lot
of work, which did not bring, but instead
took our time and money. Tamás
did everything that a man has to do.
Yet every burden fell upon me.
Little Tamika and Panni were
already there at that time. Life went on,
but nothing was good,
only problems everywhere:
with the kids, with money, with Tamás.
Suddenly I was pregnant. But
I didn’t give it too much attention,
then one day I was in the hospital. Like
a fish, a thought slid out of
me. So much of a struggle
to love, maybe you know
what it’s like. But nothing. Everything was
the same with the next one, and
before the birth at midnight I just wept,
entreating Maria in prayer, although
that isn’t my way. By dawn,
peace was flowing into me. We’ll work it out,
Tamás said. We called her Luca,
she became the motor of the family,
and things settled down. We made
money, quite a lot, the business really
took off. We floated, as if
all of this was meant to be. You know
how you don’t reflect too much,
things just happen. Then two more
children were born, the family
grew, the business, but it was a lot
of work. Tamás had a woman
on the side. Joy was extinguished in us
by work and money. We had no
time, no strength for the sixth
child. It came early, the doctor
put it in an incubator. I went home,
I’ll see enough of this later, all the same. Two times
in all, perhaps. It loved the
nurses. If I touched it, the tiny
body tried to escape from me. The life-support
 machines screeched. Pure
panic. The next day the doctor said
it’s ill. Fine, it’ll pass,
I thought. And on the third day again
just said it’s ill. Tamás asked: should I
get a priest? Yes. Maybe the machine
will keep it alive that long. And that is how
the baptism took place. I held it in
my palm, the body was so tiny, but
every limb was perfectly intact. I sobbed. Only
needles pierced through the legs, the hands.
At times faith means little. Pain is
so strong, it burns you up. We
changed. The business died out.
Our house and our garden are overflowing
with homeless families. It’s really difficult to
help, life is so alien to them.
 
 
The Matter
 
Actually, it was the poetry that brought me
back home: Petofi, Arany, Vörösmarty. I received
a serious patriotic upbringing. I could
have gone to the West. I didn’t know then
that I wouldn’t find anyone… My father was very
religious, as was my husband. Before his death, he would
sit in an armchair, the Bible in his lap, as he contrasted
the Greek with the French texts. At first he gave me
the books, too. I would read one page, then
hand it back. He spoke not one word, nor did I. He saw
it wasn’t going to happen. I am a born
materialist. Even at the age of two, I didn’t believe
in Saint Nicholas. Or in the stork. I lay in wait
for the cats when their bellies swelled, when the tiny kittens
were born. My mother kept up her concealments… I respect
their belief, that too was beautiful. I would have
liked to become a doctor. After I came back,
I studied geography and history
at night. It wasn’t easy: I was working, there were also
two children, and then night school. Few remained
from our family. Two of my nephews, one of them became
a doctor, the other an engineer. When my father’s
cousin told him to come to Pest, it was April: March 15th
had passed, as had the 19th. My father didn’t
want to go. If the others are suffering, then we
can suffer too, he said. I agreed with him.
The idea of escape was never even mentioned. I went to work
in a military factory. We sewed combat trousers
and field jackets. In the meantime, the radio played
incessantly. The situation was bearable
until they took us to the ghetto. The Jews there
tried to take no notice of the matter. It
was coming closer to Pest by now, although the matter
could not be spoken openly. The next day at four a.m.
the gendarmes came, telling us to pack up. It was the thirteenth
of June, and a Friday. Baking day, because that evening
the Sabbath would have come. We left without bread. We were
in the last march. The matter was halted
by the Regent, but the local authorities
pushed it on to the end. Later on, I found out: we were not
taken there legally. The doors completely shut tight. Try
to imagine what it was like there in that wagon: ninety-seven
of us crammed in there, by the time we reached Kassa. We were
actually glad when the Germans took over, as
the Hungarian gendarmes were much more brutal. Then
the door wasn’t shut all the way. We breathed in
the fresh air as the train crossed over the Carpathian
mountains. We arrived on the ninth of July, into
a Sunday dawn. We became aware of the lights, and the
smell of smoke. Then the men were made to stand apart,
we bid Father godspeed. We went with my mother,
her arms entwined with mine, and then Mengele said that
you’ll meet up in the afternoon anyway. My mother went to the left,
and I to the right. And I didn’t look back,
I didn’t look back… Originally, the laws wouldn’t
have applied to my mother, she was born a Catholic
but had converted to the faith. She kept a kosher house,
and learned to sew brocade. On Friday evenings,
she lit candles. Her religious life did not extend any further
than that. She went into the gas. They went, never to return
again. After a time, some of us were taken
to the B/III extermination camp. Here was the hospital
where births were attended to: the infants murdered
immediately and the mothers sent
to the gas. Where they poured out the morning coffee
onto the ground in front of us. In October, we ended up again
in C-Camp. Often there came the scream ‘Transport!’
and one time we stood in line. We were taken
to a factory preparing parts for hand-grenades. Before
work started, we were given a tin bowl and spoon, and
turnip soup. It was as if I had never before eaten
anything so delicious. It was the poetry that brought me back home,
those words, the way they lie on your tongue… Forgive,
but never forget! That’s how it should be. Yes, let it be thus.

Translated by: Ottilie Mulzet

Tags: Szilárd Borbély