The Strangeness of Grief

There is a wide difference in breaking up at 21 and breaking up and 26. Mathematically speaking it is only a matter of five years but psychologically it is another phenomenon altogether.

One morning almost a week after we broke up, as I stood in the too harsh summer sun, waiting on the platform of Mira Road station, bursting with people, it dawned on me that my life has drastically changed. It was one of those sneaky moments that creeped up on me and whispered sadistically in my ear, you don’t have a boyfriend anymore. But I looked around and it all looked the same. I looked down at myself, still the same. Wasn’t there supposed to more drama? I could barely remember, it had been five years since I last went through this.

The last one was rough, I was too young and convinced that this relationship was going to last till the end of time. And when it all began to fall apart, I remembered (after grave difficulty) the copious amounts of tears that flowed as we had ‘the talk’ over the phone. I wept and sobbed, I begged and screamed. And after it was over, I grieved for longer than was necessary. I drove myself insane thinking about his non-existent future dates, about all the happiness he will relish without me, about my own impending doom. I rambled on and on about him, about how he has made the biggest mistake of his life, about how I did not see it coming, about how he will realize what a stupid decision he is taking at some point too late in his life. Basically, I was pathetic. And he chose (the reasons now make sense to me) to stop communicating with me post break up, so the empty space that he left in my schedule took a lot of getting used to (and with a lot of scope for unhealthy behaviors)

In short, the whole experience messed me up and it took time and work to get myself back, scars and all. At the end of it, I was clear about one thing. Never again (with all the surety of youth)

The voices of the people on the platform now became louder and indistinguishable from each other, it became a collective hum that rose and faded into the background. The oppressive heat made my clothes cling to my body and I realized how afraid I am to let the first tear flow down my cheek, unless it will make way for the dam to burst. The train came, too crowded, people shoving and pushing their way in, like getting inside the train was a matter of life and death and in so many ways it was. It was a daily reminder that one cannot afford to stay closer to the main city. It was a daily punishment and a test of endurance. It was a challenge that teased you to know if you were really serious about getting someplace. It was humanness played out in all its beauty and goriness day after day. I watched the train go, I could not get myself to fight my way in. Then another came, and left. I was still there. My legs welded into the ground, my thoughts racing and the sun blazing in the sky.

I wish I could narrate a more dramatic sequence of events that led to our relationship breaking down, but there was none. It was just life that caught up with us in the most predictable manner. I tried to remember the little things, I wondered about the last time we kissed, the last time we hugged as a committed couple, the last time we made love and it is hard to remember the precise details although it was not so long ago.

Would I want to know then that it was the last time?

No.

It would make it too bittersweet. Too unbearable. Instead, I cling to the mundaneness of my memory of our last day together, the day I was moving out of my apartment and he was with me to help me pack and move my things back to my mother’s. It was a very unremarkable day, we argued about the way to pack the boxes, barely talked and did not make love that day. I wondered would we be any different that day if we knew. I think this and in my memory, translucent versions of us emerge from our bodies and cling to each other. I see our translucent selves, our ghosts who knew, rise above us and kiss each other like it is our last. It looks too surreal to be able to survive. Unknowing below them we sit in my living room, surrounded by boxes and bags, eyes glued to the respective screens of our phones, ignoring each other.

When my father died, it will be ten years this year, it took a long time for that first tear to roll down my cheek. It took time to sink in that I was never going to see him again. I remember this as I am trying to analyze the particular nature of my grieving. Maybe I have not accepted it yet and hence I stand here this morning being pushed in every direction by a mass of people, symptomless. Or maybe, as I always suspected I am dead inside.

Misery truly does love company, and mine comes together in a predictable parade of despair. Led by the grief of losing my father, followed by break ups, and failures and heart wrenching words each in all their dark glory. Each displaying their capacity to wreck my life, exhibiting how some of them nearly did. The little disappointments shimmy their hips around the big ones, the quirky unexpected bunch of them.

I watch this parade each time, and watch new additions and sigh. It keeps getting longer, this parade. In the end, I gather each one of them and put them in a container. I discuss this in sessions with my clients, about how smart our brain is and how in order to continue to function in face of a traumatic event, it bottles up the experience into containers and keeps them inside freeing the conscious part of the brain to carry on with life. I think I have so many of these containers now that I close my eyes and imagine entering a room filled my containers of trauma and somehow I see them extend, in neat rows, for as far as my eyes can see.

Another train arrives at the platform and this is the one I arbitrarily choose to board. Except, I decided too late and the train is packed with passengers, I cling on nonetheless because I have decided. And only when the train moves do I realize, I am barely inside the train and for the next few minutes till the train reaches the next station, I will have to hold on for dear life. My hands begin to shiver and I feel like I will slip any minute now, I feel like maybe there is some part of me that wants to slip and it this all. Maybe, then my grief will recede. And I look at my hand clutching the handle, whitening at my knuckles. I try pushing with all my might, but I cannot get inside this goddam train. The sun sears into the back of my neck. My breathing grows heavier and I have lost sensation of both my arms, they don’t look like mine anymore, they don’t feel under my control anymore and finally I stop fighting it and just stand there, waiting.

And suddenly, something shifts and almost theatrically, the people ahead of me part and I see a square foot of space for me to get in. I push my way in, and finally allow myself to be swallowed by the sadness of it all.

 

grieving-natalie-holland.jpg
Grieving Painting – Grieving by Natalie Holland
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