Winter Early 1967, age 15
The rain lashed down outside as I watched TV alone in the telly room. I heard someone tapping on the window of the front door. Dilly was out and Dad never answered the door. Would John or Toody come downstairs?
More tapping and letterbox rattling. Grumpily, I stepped into the frigid hall and pulled the door open. There stood Jamillah on the doorstep, drenched and miserable, hair dripping with rain, mascara running down her cheeks. We stood there awkwardly.
“Is John in?” she asked in a small voice.
As far as I knew, John had stopped dating her weeks ago. Seeing her in the house again made me squirm with embarrassment.
A month previously, I’d answered the door and there was Jamillah, bright and cheerful, inquiring if John was around. I told her he was out. She smiled brightly and said she’d wait for him. Then, without a go-ahead, she flounced past me to clomp up the stairs in her high-heel shoes. Uneasy with her wandering around upstairs, I followed her up.
When I entered John’s room, she was lounging languidly on John’s double bed reading a magazine, her miniskirt displaying far too much naked thigh. She looked up as I stood inside the doorway and beamed at me with a beckoning smile.
“You know, Paul, you’re kinda cute,” she said, tossing the magazine aside. Her comment was weird, particularly as she didn’t use my real name. Then, like a vamp in a lurid movie, she gave me a long meaningful look under fluttering eyelashes. I mumbled something inane, riveted by her sensuality but repelled by her behavior. She squirmed down on the bed and her miniskirt bunched up so I could see her pink underpants. I tried not to stare.
She let her legs fall open and gave me a deliberate look. In a husky voice she said, “I have an awful bad itch. Would you like to scratch it?”
I stood there, eyes glued to her crotch, thoughts running ant-like around my head. Does she want me to fuck her? I pictured myself between those inviting brown legs—and felt instant repulsion. No longer drawn to that warm inviting nook, I felt nauseated. Sex with John’s girlfriend on his bed was gross beyond imagination. How could she even think that?
I dragged my eyes away and choked out, “Eh… John will be back soon. I’ll make a cup of tea.” I fled from the bedroom to the safety of the kitchen, hiding until John arrived.
Here in the hallway was a totally different Jamillah, almost unrecognizable. I yelled up the stairs, “John—Jamillah’s here.” She stood dripping forlornly as John came down. I retreated to the telly room where I could hear them faintly through the door.
Jamillah sobbed and babbled. John said hardly a word but when he did, his voice was low and serious. I caught a phrase or two and guessed the rest: she was pregnant.
A peculiar feeling of anxiety and relief swept over me: Thank God, I hadn’t had sex with her. What a mess—but it was really not my business. I turned my attention back to the TV.
The door banged as Jamillah left. John came into the TV room looking shaken, his energy dimmed. He didn’t say anything and I didn’t ask. I had enough on my plate with up-coming O Level exams. He’d have to sort it out himself.
Over the next few weeks, the atmosphere in the house turned dark and tense. Dad looked burdened; John was missing; Dilly alternatively screeched and mumbled, particularly when John was around. I caught sight of Dilly ushering Jamillah into her bedroom, overheard snatches of muted discussions about money. Then the agitation died away and I assumed the crisis was over.
Suddenly it all blew up. I was in the kitchen one evening making coffee when Dilly cornered me, tears streaming down her face, raging and crying: Jamillah had been taken to hospital hemorrhaging blood.
I looked at her blankly. What is she talking about? Why is she telling me this?
Her voice raised an octave. “Where the fuck have you been? You’re so clueless, living in a world of your own. What do you think’s been going on? You do know Jamillah had an abortion?” She was practically screaming.
That stark word, abortion, hit me in the stomach, made my insides twist. “Well… I knew she was pregnant.”
“Oh my God—you’re completely hopeless! Jeffie got the money together—three hundred pounds. Sonny had a friend who knew this medical student. It all went wrong.”
Dilly started rocking back and forth, arms clamped across her stomach, tears trickling down onto her blouse. I stood with shoulders slumped, wishing I could escape to my room—anywhere but there.
Dilly took a shuddering breath, wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand and scowled. “The bastard! Fucking idiot didn’t know what he was doing! Poor Jamillah. She started bleeding uncontrollably. She almost died!”
A chill ran down my spine. Horrific images crowded my mind, images of a grimy bedroom, images of sharp objects inserted deep into Jamillah’s womb, images of gushing blood and hospitals. I had to get away—but I felt trapped as Dilly plowed on, unstoppable.
“They couldn’t control the bleeding so they had to call the ambulance. Just let me get my hands on that bastard—I’d strangle him! See how he’d like to have his balls cut off!” She gave a high-pitched screech of laughter.
“The doctors had to call the police. They scared the shit out of her, so she told them everything—poor thing. I don’t blame her. Anyway, the cops arrested the medical student and there’s going to be a trial. They’re coming for John… He can’t tell them about Sonny!” She said the last statement with fierce emphasis.
Now I understood what was freaking her out—she was terrified that Sonny, her boyfriend from Trinidad, would get charged with procuring an abortion. Then he would really be in for it.
Sonny was a regular visitor to the house. Originally, he was a friend of my older sisters, Veronica and Jeffie; now he stayed over in Dilly’s room on an irregular basis. I always knew he was visiting because the sickly smell of marijuana emanated from under Dilly’s door.
Sonny crackled with magnetic energy. Short, muscular, with flashing brown eyes beneath hooded eyelids, he beamed at everyone, his small stumpy teeth gleaming white against smooth amber skin. It was hard not to be fascinated.
About a year previously I’d discovered Sonny was a drug dealer. One afternoon, he’d appeared at out house when everyone else was out. He’d given me a funny look and asked, “You wanna go for a ride?” It was an odd request. He drove a bright blue sports car so I naturally said, yes.
We stopped near the intersection of North Road and Eastern Avenue, a busy crossroad with traffic lights. Sonny scanned the streets. Reaching a decision, he turned to me. “You see that lamppost over there?” He pointed across the intersection.
“Do you mean the one by the traffic lights?” I asked, confused.
“Yeh, that’s it. Now, take this, cross the street and walk up and down.” He dug under the seat and pulled out a package covered with waxy brown paper and handed it to me. It was heavy, about the size of my foot and an inch thick.
“A tall Jamaican guy will come up to you. Give him the package and he’ll give you an envelope—OK?”
A wave of anxiety swept over me: What’s in the package? I knew he was using me for something illegal, probably drugs—but I couldn’t refuse. I got out of the car, closed the door and shakily crossed the street.
Under the lamppost, I hesitated for a moment and then walked a few steps away and back—no one appeared. Just as I turned again, a big black man with a rough beard materialized in front of me. I almost stumbled into him.
“C’mon Mon, give it to me,” he demanded in a dark voice. He nodded toward the package forgotten in my hand.
I fumbled and dropped the package onto the pavement. Both of us bent and almost bumped heads. The dark man gave me an angry look, picked up the package and handed me a fat envelope.
“You wanna count it?” he asked. I shook my head. He pushed past me and hurried away.
When I got back to the car my legs were quivering. Sonny was sitting in the driving seat, smiling and relaxed.
He laughed out loud: “Hey, what you throw the stuff on the ground for? You near gave me a heart attack.”
I handed him the envelope. He ripped it open, riffled through a thick bundle and handed me a pound note. I was a paid drug runner!
Later, I’d asked Dilly, “What does Sonny do for a living?”
In her thoughtless way she blurted out, “Oh didn’t you know? He sells a lot of dope. How’d you think he can afford that car?” She laughed. “The bloody police are always out to get him, but he’s too smart for them.”
No wonder Dilly had to protect Sonny from being implicated in the abortion—just the excuse cops needed to arrest him. My head was in a whirl. Even aiding an abortion is illegal. What will happen to the family—to John? An earthquake had cracked the foundation of our world. All I could do was hold my breath and wait for the catastrophe.
John was served an official notice to attend the abortion trial. On a gray overcast morning, Dilly marshaled the forces: “John, dress up in your best jacket and tie; Moey, you’re coming to the courthouse; Toody, go to school.” Dad was coming along but more like a silent spectator; he looked gray and grim.
Four of us climbed onto the trolley bus and sat in a nervous huddle in the back seats: Dilly talking endlessly, going over all the possibilities, telling us what we should and shouldn’t do. Dad was quiet. John looked bleakly out the window. The atmosphere was nightmarish and I felt myself drift off into a fog. This is not about me. I don’t have to be here.
We got off the bus and walked the short distance to Cardiff Crown Court, up the wide stairs, under the portico and through the heavy oak doors. The court was built to an inhuman scale, larger than life, imposing and intimidating. Inside, dwarfed and disoriented, we followed Dilly as she navigated the echoing corridors to the courtroom. These alien surroundings had unfamiliar, unknown rules—and we were helpless victims.
Outside the court, we sat on a wooden bench, perched crow-like, whispering and waiting. Dad was lost—his composure wavering with indecision and I felt a tremor of dread witnessing his uselessness. Thank goodness Dilly was there.
“Wait here and don’t go anywhere,” Dilly ordered. “I’ll find out what’s going on.”
She left in a flurry. Dad said something artificially cheery that didn’t register. The monstrous legal machine—merciless wheels and gears—was about to roll over us, crushing our family into a smear.
Dilly returned and passed on the news: the solicitor would brief us. In the meantime we could slip into the courtroom as spectators.
She turned to John. “Remember, if they call you to the stand, you know nothing about anything. Don’t mention Sonny whatever you do. Got it?” John nodded, face bleached.
Single file, we crept quietly through the heavy door and onto a bench at the back of the gloomy, oak-paneled courtroom. There were people in front of us and it was hard to see what was going on—lots of distant black robes, horsehair wigs, subdued voices and arcane ritual. The hushed proceedings were incomprehensible and faintly ridiculous, like something out of Alice in Wonderland. I might have giggled if it hadn’t been so solemn and serious.
Dilly, sitting next to me, hissed in my ear, “That must be the fucker up there. He looks like a right piece of work.” She pointed to someone at the front on the left. All I could see was a bowed head with long greasy hair. I was not even sure it was the right head.
The witness box stood empty as the barristers addressed the judge in front of his raised bench. I imagined John up in that box, exposed in front of these menacing strangers—a terrifying thought. One thing was sure: better John than me. I wouldn’t survive cross-examination. However sorry I felt for John, I was more grateful to stay hidden at the back of the room, safe from humiliation.
Finally, the bewigged barristers sat down and a fresh-faced young lawyer hustled up to Dilly and whispered something. Dilly followed him outside. In five minutes, she came back wearing a wide grin and beckoned for us to leave.
Once through the doors, she gave us the news: “We can go. John, you’re off the hook for the moment. They decided not to call you ‘cause you’re only seventeen.”
Slumped with exhaustion, we traipsed home on the bus. No one spoke about the trial—it was too fresh and raw and we were still in suspense. As the tension began to drain away, I felt strangely letdown; the whole thing was such an anticlimax. Where was the drama, the last-minute revelation like in the movies? I needed something to happen, something to make a difference in our humdrum lives. All I felt was drained and useless.
A week later a lawyer’s letter arrived announcing that the police were not pursuing the case against John. They had their conviction: the abortionist was sentenced to prison for four years. John quickly returned to his normal self but Dilly was still upset. After the trial, I was a more willing audience, prepared to listen to her diatribes.
“You know, he lied about being in medical school—the bastard. He hadn’t a clue what he was doing—just in it for the money. It all came out in court: he’d done it to lots of other girls. I’m glad he’s in prison—serves him right.” She would have spat on him if she could.
Who was to blame? I couldn’t get it straight in my mind. Was it John and Jamillah for not using contraceptives? Was it the abortionist for botching the procedure?
I asked Dilly, “Do you think Jamillah should have kept the baby?”
“Don’t be stupid: of course not! She couldn’t be a mother, not at her age.”
“So it was OK for her to have the abortion?”
“Of course—but it should have been done properly, like with a real doctor. It’s those bloody male politicians, sitting on their arses up in London; it’s their fault. They don’t care about women. Abortion should be legal. We don’t need more unwanted children.” She grinned her wicked grin. “If men got pregnant, I bet they’d change the law tomorrow.”
That made sense. A kind of righteous agitation stirred inside me, cracking my eyes open. Now I could see clearly: society was sick and unjust. To make it worse, self-seeking idiots were in control of a messy, scary, unfair world. And our family, the Evans’s, we were not immune or safe. No one was safe.
Illusion and Disillusionment
Humankind cannot bear very much reality. – T.S. Eliot
As Eliot tells us, human beings have a remarkable ability to distort reality. You might say that illusion and self-deception are some of our defining characteristics. Strange as it may seem, clinging to certain sorts of illusion is quite normal and even healthy. Every child is born into a daydream of safety, an instinctual assumption that the world is trustworthy and that parents will be caring and consistent. Infants need to feel magically shielded or the bottom drops out of their world. If this illusory veil of protection is ripped away, a child is left trembling on a narrow ledge with no safety net.
I first experienced that kind of existential dread about three weeks after my grandfather died. I was coming down stairs to breakfast when I abruptly burst into tears. A realization had flashed though my ten-year-old mind: my father could die at any moment. I would be alone, orphaned—totally bereft and terrified. I’d accepted the loss of pets, but until that instant I’d never believed death could take those close to me.
Growing up strips away the veils of illusion. Ideally, this happens without too many unexpected shocks and sudden traumas. The job of a parent is to buffer the blows and modulate the harshness of reality so the tender soul of the child can gradually get used to the hard edges, the unfairness and the suffering of the world.
Adolescence is a time when consciousness of the world first smacks us in the face: almost overnight, everything looks rotten, unjust and unpredictable. This agonizing awareness is the core of rebellion, the source of depression and teenage angst: parents are inept and out of touch; society sucks; the world is going to hell and it is all the fault of stupid adults. In a very real sense, the rebellious teenager is more in touch with the distressing facts of life that most adults.
The shock of Jamillah’s abortion and the court case ripped through my fragile defenses. I’d relied on the fantasy that we Evanses were special, secure from the calamities and predicaments of lesser mortals. That belief was the bastion of my self-image; it sustained my assumption that life would treat me well and that everything in my life would turn out OK. The shipwreck cracked the shell of that fantasy. We’d come to the edge of death and been precariously snatched back to life. The abortion case smashed the shell to pieces. Now I knew I was definitely not safe or immune from disaster.
Just as the protective illusion of childhood is absolutely vital, so the disillusionment of adolescence is necessary for our psychological development. Maturity means finding a precarious balance between illusive hopefulness and realistic cynicism. The glass is both half full and half empty. We face the horrors of this world without flinching. At the same time, we maintain an inner certainty that, “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Leaning too far one way or the other throws us out of equilibrium. Moment-to-moment, we have to live as if personally invulnerable and possibly immortal. Otherwise, we would never climb a ladder, drive a car or step out of our house. This magic trick allows us to take on idealistic challenges, work toward a better future and feel positive waking up each morning. Optimistic illusion is functional—but only so far.
Too much delusion and self-deception create a wake of destruction. Many marriages founder because partners deny what is happening in their relationship and avoid responsibility for the emotional mess. War, poverty, prejudice, inequality and injustice are human creations. We can never resolve these soul-destroying evils if we deceive ourselves into thinking they are inevitable and turn our heads the other way.
What if we let go of illusion in favor of absolute realism? Research shows that while ‘normal’ people see things through somewhat rose-tinted glasses, those with depression have a more ‘realistic’ appraisal of themselves and the world. Essentially, depressed people see the world more clearly—but it comes with a cost. Focusing only on human suffering leaves us helpless and consumed with quiet rage. Whatever the ‘facts’, pessimistic realism makes us miserable and unproductive!
Growing up is like journeying through a labyrinth. One dead end is cynicism; another is self-deception. To move onward, we have to confront evil, ignorance and self-deception in others and in ourselves. We cannot get stuck in avoidance and denial. Even as we perceive the darker, shadow aspects of reality, we remain mind-full and heart-full. Awareness, acceptance and unreasoning hope—these are qualities of a true human being.
Poor Jamillah. She was a victim of the last gasps of the outdated UK anti-abortion laws. In October of that same year, 1967, abortion was made legal in the UK. The following year she would have been eligible for a free termination under the National Health System.
Whatever I say about abortion, I am bound to antagonize many people. As Wikipedia puts it, “Abortion is a controversial and divisive issue in the society, culture and politics of the U.S…” Unlike countries such as Ireland, the US does not have the political will or democratic institutions to settle the issue once and for all. It remains a partisan hot potato, a symptom of the deep divide in the collective psyche of the nation.
There are so many reasons why women should be able to obtain an abortion. Pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous, particularly in the US where childbirth is expensive and the mortality for low-income mothers is the highest in the developed world. Most people can agree that in cases where the fetus has a birth defect, the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or the mother’s health is at risk, termination has to be an option. These factors do not account for a high percentage of abortions, but they do have the support of the majority of people (around 80%).
What tends to get lost is the impact of an unwanted pregnancy on a woman’s mental health. I have worked with women who’ve had elective abortions. They tell me it was possibly the most difficult and heart-wrenching decision of a lifetime. Depressed and anxious, trapped by their circumstances, they felt compelled to terminate the pregnancy: bringing a child into their unstable situation was practically, morally an emotionally wrong. Their reasons for the decision were always complex and personal: the pregnancy was unplanned and unwelcome; their relationship was unstable; they lacked the emotional and financial resources; they did not feel capable of being a mother.
These women were in terrible emotional distress and they made a hard decision to lose their babies. As a therapist, I support their ability to choose the best possible life for themselves. Unlike Jamillah, they had that choice.
What about the fetus, you ask? Does it not have a right to life? This is where we confront a harsh reality: a vast number of children should never be born. Apart from the fact that there are too many humans on this earth, that we face a dire future of global warming and pandemics, children who are unwanted, unloved and uncared for, are at high risk to have terrible lives. The right to life is a first step on the road to misery.
Like all therapists, the majority of my clients have been subjected to abuse, emotional deprivation and bad parenting. These are the roots of personal suffering. On a national level, the statistics are appalling: 3.5 million cases (over 7 million children) were investigated for child abuse and neglect by authorities in 2019. Agencies report only the most severe kinds of child maltreatment, so we know about only a fraction of the children who are tormented and anguished each day.
Imagine Jamillah and John caring for a tiny infant. Jamillah was far too immature to be a mother; John would certainly have abandoned her at the first opportunity. Their child would have grown up traumatized and emotionally unstable. How could that be a desirable outcome?
Whatever our beliefs, we need to develop understanding of and compassion for the pregnant mother and their embryonic child. Giving birth to an unwanted child in the wrong circumstances leads to terrible distress for the mother. To be born as an unloved and unwanted child is far worse. Above all else, abortion should be about avoiding human suffering.
There is one positive note to the whole episode: the abortion did not prevent Jamillah from becoming a mother. Some years later, John met her on the street proudly pushing a pram with a cute little baby inside.
 T.S.Eliot (1943). Four Quartets. Harcourt, Brace and Co., New York.
 Julian of Norwich, 14th Century English mystic.
 Neel Burton. Depressive Realism (2012). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201206/depressive-realism
 “Abortion in the United States.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 14 August 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_the_United_States.
 “Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 3 November 2021,
 “Maternal Mortality and Maternity Care in the United States.” The Commonwealth Fund, 2020. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2020/nov/maternal-mortality-maternity-care-us-compared-10-countries
 “Abortion and Mental Health.” American Psychological Association, 2018. https://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/abortion
 Dawn Stacy. “Why do women have abortions” Verywellhealth, 2021. https://www.verywellhealth.com/reasons-for-abortion-906589
 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2021). Child Maltreatment 2019. Available from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/research-data-technology/ statistics-research/child-maltreatment.