Therapist Me (TM): Are you in your dark place today?
Sad me (SM): I am. I think I am losing the focus of the ‘why’ in life. Why should I wake up, go to work, talk, laugh, be me? This why was so sharp at first now I have to strain my eyes to see.
TM: And yet you get through the days and yet you live on.
SM: It scares me, this dark place and yet I see myself coming here more frequently than ever before. And the same things that used to calm me are now drenched in black shadows, grabbing at me with their cold fingers. The sound of the waves that always help me align my thoughts is now the inky black sea calling out to me. I want to walk into the sea.
TM: But you haven’t yet, I know you’ve been thinking about it lately, but tell me, however blurry it may look right now, tell me about your ‘why’.
SM: My ‘why’ is only the people I love and who love me back multiple fold. My ‘why’ is the one who holds me through the night when I cry wordlessly and the one who is not afraid of my dark place. The one who does not rescue me but waits until I find my own light.
I feel if Dad was around, I’d be more anchored and not feel as directionless in life.
TM: Look at the things you have managed to accomplish however small. Look at them closely, I see direction and focus. I see things that Dad would have felt so proud of.
SM: But he did not get a chance to see those things. I never got a chance to know what he thinks and aspires for me.
TM: You had the chance to know him closely enough to know what he thinks. You know just when he would be happy and when he would disapprove. You have him, his voice, right there. You just need to close your eyes and listen.
Me: Each time I come visit you my eyes are closed, in fear and pain and all I do is curl up and lie here. Feeling but not seeing, but today I feel stronger, enough to open my eyes, look around and ask you some questions.
Dark Place: You haven’t come visited me in a while. The more you come and stay, the stronger I get. We can talk for as long as you like till you stay with me.
Me: There is a locked cupboard in that corner there. Open it and show me what you have hidden.
Dark Place: It is full of broken things, your broken things. Ghosts of the past you banished, shards and pieces of all the things you did not become. Each one of those things are sharp, mind you, don’t touch them, they may hurt you.
Me: If I look closely first and accept those broken things as just a part of me, of who I was and who I am now, I know they won’t hurt me then.
Dark Place: And you think I would? Am I not too, only a part of you?
The last family dinner of the Sharma’s was held on 3rd January 2016 at an overcrowded family restaurant with yellow lights known for its large portion sizes. The meal was to celebrate a birthday and was preceded by an inordinately long wait outside the restaurant peppered by irritated remarks and impatient leg jiggling. Present for the occasion were Mrs. Sharma, her two children Rita (26) and Avi (22) and Mrs. Sharma’s brother and his wife, the Singhs. In addition to those present, Rita’s legs also made their prominent presence felt. The contention for the evening lay between Mrs. Sharma and Rita, both of whom differed on the acceptable extent of leg exposure and its function in the delightful evening. Mrs. Sharma strongly voiced out her view of the leg exposure as vulgar and an invitation for rape multiple times throughout the evening only to be met with awkward silence on the table. The men on the table preferred to take a politically wise, neutral stance in the conflict. Mrs. Sharma was remarkably consistent in constantly acknowledging this indecency for it is after all the complete responsibility of moral young women to safeguard their bodies from men. Rita on the other hand differed in her views although hard to say what those views exactly were owing to her remaining silent for most of the evening. Except on one occasion when she just looked down into her food and remarked about the unusual amount of chilli in the chicken leg this evening. She remained unavailable for further comment.
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?
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.
A beautiful rose has grown in my home garden. She is gorgeous, her petals falling perfectly in the most luscious shade of red. She is not the first one I have had, there have been about half a dozen before her, but none of them as perfectly formed as this one. And I feel so proud.
No sooner did I get over just how lovely the rose in my garden is, I began preparing to lose her.
I was anticipating that someone will pluck her.
Because, that’s exactly what happened to the half a dozen earlier ones.
The first time it happened, I was appalled, shocked and violated. I vented to anyone and everyone who would listen. I was consumed by the loss of this precious thing in my life, something that grew right before my very eyes, and something whose existence was so dependent on mine. I tried to find a space to keep her safe, somewhere that will keep the trespassers out, but any such place would also keep the light out and take away from her things that that I wished her in abundance. No, I could not punish her for this.
Slowly I got over this first blow and soon there was another. And it happened again. This took me to the investigator mode where I suspected every person who walked by my gate to be the “plucker”. I did not find him/her but I did collect a fair amount of strange gazes by my neighbours when I suddenly opened the door, convinced the plucker was at it again. I spied on my maid when she left and almost screamed when I found a rose in her hair, but stopped myself when I realized there is no way to prove that this rose is a rose from my garden.
For the next one, I took to plucking it myself, because if I won’t then someone else surely will. But this just made me sadder.
But this new gorgeous one has brought about a whole new response.
I am prepared that she will be plucked. I will never know by whom but I knew I will not be able to avert it. I love her and I will lose her. But still, she is lovely and she bloomed in my garden and she is here right now. So I smiled and took a picture and tagged it #happiness.
I wondered about how books begin and I figured they too start as nothing, blank space and then a dot and once that dot is formed, it has begun. And it is this very dot that refuses to come out of me. And yet I can feel my book inside me sometimes. It feels almost whole, its edges sharp against my skin, its glimpses so vivid like the words are already printed on a page, fixed and un-undoable. So why am I so afraid to start, so keen to decide exactly what it will stand for before it is even born, so skeptical about its future. Will it be lost in the lakhs of books printed and forgotten each year across the world in a kind of literary black hole? Will it be just a dot in this Milky Way of books? What if it really eventually amounts to nothing, a failure? Will that be terribly beautiful or just terrible? Will it make me happy to have finally accomplished the task of writing a whole and entire book or will I lose that soft glow of a vague but promising future success that illuminates so many of my dark days and nights?
What will come out of me if I allow it is slightly intimidating too. I think once we begin writing, the piece takes on a life of its own and at some point the piece tells you where to take it, how to twist it and prune it, it whispers softly into your ears, so soft that one doesn’t know that the thoughts are one’s own. I am afraid what this piece will make me do. Whose hearts it would break, what shade in me will be highlighted and more than the lies and fiction, what facts and truths that are deeply buried, will it unravel?
This urge to write is a strange and elusive thing. It will roar and swell when I am in motion, walking, traveling: train, bus, auto, doesn’t matter and the minute I come to a place where I have the actual luxury of taking a notebook and scribbling down my thoughts or rat-a-tat-tat at the laptop keyboard, I will draw a complete blank. I will be unable to think about what I wanted to write. Like a shy bladder almost. A shy hand. Can’t write when the spotlight is on me, in this case, my spotlight is the white glow of the blank screen on my face. I also notice that I can’t take out my notebook and write when someone is looking over my shoulder. And sometimes a new and unusual place, not even particularly quiet you know, like the food court in a mall on a weekday afternoon, such places too cause an immediate flow of thoughts, ideas and words and for those few blissful moments, I am in the flow, I can hear my “hum”.
His face is really close to mine, too close. I can smell him, woody and intriguing. His eyebrows are knitted together and he is looking right into my eyes. I feel exposed. A bead of sweat trickles slowly down my back. Why am I nervous? I bravely continue to look at him without a clue of what he is saying. Is he expecting me to respond, I wonder. And then suddenly he throws his head back and laughs his usual roaring and thunderous way. I gasp. Something is supposed to be funny, although I can’t seem to recall what it is. We are in a restaurant like place, loud and uncomfortably cold. A yellow paper lantern hangs low between us, its soft reflected glow shining in his eyes. He is talking about something I think but his words turned into a hum the minute he leaned in closer. I look down in embarrassment and he catches my eye. He puts his hand gently on mine and startled I open my eyes.
I am dreaming of him again. I open my eyes as I register that I am still in my room. I squint and check the time on my phone risking being blinded by the sudden light.
The lights outside illuminates the wall I am now staring at as I lay awake wondering what this dream means.
It takes me a while to fall back to sleep again and I know in the morning the details will be fuzzy but this sensation will remain. A tingling I feel right down to my toes.
The next day, I look at my phone for the bazillionth time.
Shall I message him?
What will you say?
I don’t know.
And yet, I find myself thinking about this boy I know. I’ve known him for a long time now. I remember him pulling off wrestling moves on friends in our third or fourth grade classroom. This boy who must always be the center of attention. I visualize his face changing over the years , its soft edges and sharp angles that shift and yet how he remained the same, his voice still rising above everything else. I recollect the eye patch over his face when he plays Sir Ralph the Rover in our fifth grade rendition of The Inchcape Rock and I smile. I think about all his jokes and one liners and pranks and stories and the ever flowing stream of words from his mouth and yet the words that haunt me the most are the ones he leaves unsaid.
I sit down across a table with this boy and a few of our friends and he carries the whole evening on his brazen shoulders. He owns it and collects people like currency that he would never trade. This boy I know, with a golden heart.
I think about when we re-met a little over three years ago over sandwiches and jokes, I felt something I wasn’t ready to admit. This boy who asked too many questions. I laughed and talked and held back those words I really wanted to say. Although I forgot the time and place when I was with him, I could not forget that soon this boy will be gone and so will his questions. Let’s not smile and walk into a shipwreck. Let’s not write another story where the ending is set. Let’s not be fools, I told myself. But when he asked me questions, I answered. And his questions and my answers got entangled and formed something we sat and stared at but dared not touch.
He was something else, this boy who wore his heart on his sleeve. He did not see himself the way I did.
The goodbye came closer and I hid from him knowing the ways of my wayward heart. Till he called me just before he left and out came tumbling from my mouth everything I swore I’d never say.
Here I am again, this time the words tumbling out on a blank page. Nothing has changed yet everything is different. I have been following this tale, the tale of a boy I know for some years now, and I must admit sometimes I wish I could skip to the end. Until a thought crosses my mind. Endings are like destinations. The reason we imagine destinations is to provide a point on the compass that orients us in our journey. Without a destination in mind, we’re lost – we are traveling without direction. But isn’t there an indescribable deliciousness in being lost. A hope and a hidden adventure? And besides, sometimes the destination does not turn out to be what you’d hope and when you get to such a place all you want is to go back to that moment where you did not know how this would end and the world was still ripe with possibility.
So I take a deep breath and choose to wait as the tale unravels itself slowly.
I cannot believe I am in this chair again. I had successfully evaded this for four years now. But here I am again, the light shining right into my eyes, a small transparent sticker across its middle which said ‘Raise you hand if you feel discomfort”. Huh? I thought to myself, “discomfort” is a blatant understatement. My dentist was a young woman, about my age maybe, her hair neatly tied behind her in a ponytail. Her lips shining with freshly applied lip balm, her brows furrowing in infuriatingly mysterious expressions as she peered into the depths of my mouth and tried to ascertain the root of this excruciating pain which had laid siege over the last two days of my life. She explained each step as she went along, agonizingly patient and too polite. She shoved two pins inside my gums and told me half a dozen times to not close my mouth even as her fingers physically separated them and took what must have been the fifth xray of my mouth. She took the tiny X Ray and handed it over to the senior doctor at the table who looked at it gravely for a minute and said, “This is inconclusive.” Great, I thought, there is an UFO – unidentified fucking obstruction in my mouth which is going to torture me for the rest of my days.
I looked around as she told me to hold on while she figured out her next steps and everything was green. Bright lime green. This onslaught on my eyes warrants an additional painkiller of its own I thought. On this first day here, my dentist had sent me home after a preliminary round of drilling and refilling the cavity which she presumed was the source of my pain only to have me back in the chair the very next morning with pus-filled boils on my gums. It is an infection she concluded. At least, they had named the UFO finally. I felt relief wash over me as she explained to me the next steps except when she said the last line.
We wont be using anesthesia.
My eyes must have popped out of my sockets because then she launched into a long explanation of why. Something about the anesthesia being alkaline and the pus being acidic and she said you don’t want those two reacting inside your mouth. Well that definitely did not sound like the kind of chemistry I wanted in my mouth. And for the next hour or so as she drilled and drained and pinched and poked and scooped out what seemed like the very insides of my being, I swear I saw stars.
When I was a teenager, I could not wait to be an adult. And it is on days like these that I wish to reach into my past and whack my teenage self on the back of her head and whisper raspily into her ears, you have no idea what you are wishing for. Every loved one I told about my tooth problems shook their head gravely and said, tooth pain is the worst kind of pain. That was really helpful I thought. But the hardest part of this entire endeavor was not the pain or the goriness or the fact like my cheek proceeded to swell up like a balloon. the hardest part of this whole experience was that I had to do all of this alone. This was the third time that I have t be very honest regretted the fact that I live away from family. the first was a few weeks ago when I was ill and struggled through the day, the next was when I had chest pain and panicked and took myself to the doctor all by myself and then it was this.
No matter how hard I try there is no way to glamorize this taking care of yourself when you are ill business. There is a desperation and sadness to it that is hard to “rephrase”. And I was feeling caught right in the middle of that. Everything else, I have learned to in fact I enjoy doing alone, shopping, eating out by myself, watching a movie solo. I find it interesting and enticing. So close to my mental image of sitting in a cafe with a book in my hands staring out into space conjuring up my next piece. It all looks so fabulous. But this, nah-uh. There is nothing fabulous about dropping things around and making a mess of yourself and struggling to make it through the day with dignity. So the next time, I saw all my loved ones, I looked at them a minute longer than I usually do and silently in my heart prayed to God that for most of my adult days, I have loving company.