Recently someone remarked that my horror stories are too violent and therefore unpleasant. I answered that I just depict the world as it is; the pristine world is generous but also hostile to human kind and we need to thrive to survive. But in the urban jungle we live, the greatest danger lurks inside ourselves and in our relations with other inhabitants of these luxurious cages we call cities. I’m not like Stephen King, who invents horror to quench his readers’ thirst for fear, I just happen to be sensitive to man-made suffering and I feel the need to tell everyone about the dangers hidden in an unaware soul. Tejerina’s case reverberated throughout the whole Argentina long time ago, but its echo still remains in the innermost part of my memory. Such a case should have never existed, and the fact that it still does and it has its advocates saddens me. So here it is, the worst horror story I’ve ever told and which unfortunately happens to be a real one.
I won’t write about the details of the case because they’re irrelevant. There is one and only one thing to know to understand the horror of this story, but, for those of you who haven’t heard about Tejerina before, I’ll build up the tension so you realize the horror she must have suffered. I don’t do this to entice my readers or to have fun at the expense of real suffering; I do it because I believe in empathy and I find simply inhuman the matter-of-fact way in which reporters talk about tragedies. We become desensitized by reading or watching this kind of stories in which the human factor: feelings, is missing. Imagine Tolstoi’s War and Peace or Dostoievsky’s Crime and Punishment written in a matter-of-fact way and you’ll see my point. These are not pieces of entertainment but socially committed stories that are not less serious because they depict feelings; on the contrary, they are the more serious because of that. So here it is, the worst horror story I’ve ever written and which unfortunately happens to be a real one.
As I said, I won’t tell the details of the story because actually I don’t remember them, but I’ll tell what I do remember. I remember hearing about a woman who was being condemned to fourteen years of prison for the murder of her newborn. I remember her case sparkling a heated debate about abortion in Argentina. I remember that the prosecutor had actually asked for life sentence, but then allowed for mitigating factors. What these mitigating factors were, I can’t remember right now, maybe because they were not so relevant to the case, but relevant enough to be “mitigating factors.” The relevant factors were that she had given birth to her seven month old child in her house. Immediately after the birth she put the child into a box and stabbed it twenty times in the bathroom. Now, someone so inhuman as to kill an innocent creature should be punished with death, but maybe Argentinean judges are too generous. Actually the whole penal system is generous. Tejerina was released from prison only seven years after her conviction. What a country to allow child murderers to walk freely in the streets! Actually the fact that it was her own child should have been an aggravating factor, but maybe Argentinean judges understand the law better.
Now, this case still burns inside me because I’ve recently had the displeasure of hearing about Pope Francis’s stand on abortion and also because the Polish government wants to restrict even more the abortion law by penalizing women who are subjected to it. Every time I hear advocates of the pro-life option, I clench my teeth and wish that I’ll see the day when there won’t be more Tejerinas. But there still may be, maybe not so murderous, but as dehumanized as that poor woman was. What leads someone to kill their child, to abandon or abuse it? How can we force a woman to love the fruit of her womb? Isn’t the pro-life option a more hideous crime than murder? Because if you kill someone, they suffer only once; you’re actually harming more their loved ones by depriving them of the person’s presence. But if you force a woman to undergo an unwanted pregnancy, you’re violating her body and spirit and she becomes alienated, inhuman, as it happened to Tejerina. But it’s not the child’s fault, they say, and it deserves to live. But that’s because they obviate the most essential. A fetus is not a child yet; its mother’s love is the only thing that can make it into one. And a child is not a fully developed person yet; its caregivers’ love is completely necessary for it. So again I asked, how can we force someone to love? But I asked also, how can we force a person to be born loveless? Isn’t love an essential part of every human being? How can we even think that a person can be without love?
Now to conclude I want to depict the situation as I imagine it in Tejerina’s head the tragic day in which her child was born. She had just given birth in her house because she was hiding. Her pregnancy was unwanted so it was a shame for her to be seen in that state; therefore she chose to have the child at home. It was born with her sister’s help and then she was left alone with the child. At that moment she took it, that small creature who should arouse maternal instincts in her, but didn’t. She actually hated it, or maybe she hated herself and didn’t want that innocent creature to suffer from her lack of love. She was loveless; she was broken and she couldn’t conceive of the idea of bringing a human being into the life she hated so much. But she was forced to, because abortion is strictly restricted by law in Argentina. Her pain was focused on that creature in front of her. She took it in her arms, giving it the only token of love that it was going to ever see. Then she put it into a cardboard box and carried it to the bathroom. There, on the bathroom floor, she laid it down and went to the kitchen for a knife. While she was away from the child, her alienation grew inside her. Her hatred towards the system that had violated her was only overcome by her hatred towards the child’s father, a father in the mere biological meaning of the term. She was miserable and no one cared; they had actually put her into this situation: the father’s child and society. She hated them all. Her hand tensed up when she grabbed the knife; she knew there was no other way. She’d premeditated her crime a hundred times, during her seven months of martyrdom. She’d been abandoned to her loss with a child in her womb; society didn’t care about her or that child; it just cared about formalities. “So they think abortion is murder; I’ll show them real murder then!” she said to herself. She went up to the child, but it wasn’t a child anymore; it was the image of society and the child’s father. She hated them, society that had violated her body, forced her to carry an unwanted child for seven eternal months, ironically doing the same that the child’s father had done to her: violated her, rape her and abandon her to her loss without caring about her or her child. So she stabbed them, the father and society, but they’d never suffer as she did, so she stopped. Now she had finally aborted her child, and she felt the same as before: loveless, but her martyrdom had only begun. And to the experts in justice, this was only a mitigating factor.