It is difficult not to be affected by the world around us. I have been trying really hard to stay positive, to not focus on everything that is going on around us but it is hard. How can one stay immune from the impending fear of doom and continue to live a normal life? And then, undoubtedly, the next question is: What is normal? Normal has been and always will be subjective. I am craving the normalcy of a quiet corner. The virus is wreaking havoc much beyond our imagination and it is leaving me without a calm space inside my head or home to write something meaningful. It is robbing me the space to tap into my creativity. It has infected my creativity and has temporarily succeeded in putting my mind into complete lock down. I am unable to write.
But write I must. Historians are urging everyone to record their experiences and lives during these difficult times for posterity. I think that’s a brilliant idea! But not today. Today, I want to reflect. Today I want to take the easier way out. Today I want to gather my strength to fight another day. Today, I would like to share, instead, a piece of my life that spelled doom and despair, much like the times we are wading through now. The days were dark and I struggled hard and long. The battle was within me. Today I want to tell you a story of hope because we need some hope today.
What did that make her, then? Her mind was definitely in control of her at that moment. But it was the kind of control that was tearing her soul apart. There was a voice deep inside her that was telling her to shut away the world. The world really got to her all the time. She picked up the phone and switched it off. ‘Not than anyone will call me or miss me or worry about me’, she thought, as her eyes welled up with the sense of loss that she felt. How to tune out a world that was always too much for her? Over-stimulation. That was the word. The constant, jarring noise of humanity caused her pain and made her aware of how intensely she felt everything. It felt like quicksand. It pulled her in, drew her deeper and deeper into the depths. Sometimes she struggled to free herself from the formless, thoughtless, ceaseless assault. It was an endless void. A chasm so deep that no matter how far she fell into it, she never touched the bottom, and hence never found some closure. It was relentless, the darkness. She wished she could crumple herself into the smallest ball, like paper. But she could not bear this pain of loss. What do you do when you cannot find the person you love? If someone you love dearly goes missing? How do you deal with having to hope that one fine morning, you would open your eyes and see the face that you’ve longed to see for so long? How do you not mourn their loss? She was feeling that pull at her navel that was making everything spin out of control. Today she was mourning the loss of a friendship.
J. K. Rowling had described the Dementors as these wispy dark things that sucked hope and peace out of a person. That was how she was feeling today. There were these dark shadows which were looming, circling over her head. It was as if she could communicate with them or them with her. Either ways, she felt as if they were the only ‘beings’ who could understand her. They whispered back to her the thoughts that she was thinking, sometimes aloud, sometimes in her head. She could not distinguish one from the other anymore. All she knew was that these shadows of darkness were telling her that she was worthless, she was a failure, she was not a good mother or a good wife. She was definitely not getting enough sleep. She always felt so tired. All she wanted to do all day was sleep. All day she thought about when night would fall and she would be able to hit the pillow. She fantasized about how it would feel to lie in bed all day, reading, drinking tea, listening to music. When was the last time she had hummed a tune? She just wanted to be the laziest person on the planet and then some. She knew that she was not the only one but that did not help matters. Who cared if there were another million women out there who were sleep-deprived and swimming in self-doubt? That did not make her situation any better, now did it? Why the self-doubt? Women are always made to feel like they are inadequate, no matter what the task. But wasn’t she getting enough practice of ‘multi-tasking’ by keeping her sanity with insecure in-laws, or interfering parents, or dominating husbands, or jealous siblings, or gossipy cousins, or nosy neighbours, or judgmental strangers, or misogynist shopkeepers, or preachy mothers in playgrounds? You would think that dealing with such madness every day would equip her with the tools to take on the rest of the world, but that was not to be. Women are destined to live in the reflected glory of someone else because, physiologically and emotionally, they are not cut out for world domination. Theirs is the doll’s house to play in and play with and she had also bought into that discourse for years.
These are the two words she abhorred the most— ‘nurturer’ and ‘hormones’. She would personally like to wring the neck of the person who came up with the idea that women were either perpetually swimming in hormones and/or were natural nurturers. Maybe she was an exception? Maybe there were millions of other women like her who are exceptions? Why does motherhood have to be this blissful state of mind where the woman feels finally ‘complete’? Why is it presumed that women are incomplete projects who need to feel complete and whole with all these different kinds of social denouements like getting married and having a child? Why has there never been anyone who gave a standing ovation when a woman worked towards a career and said, ‘Now she’s a complete woman’. It all just felt so unfair. There were days when she did not feel any love towards her child or her husband. She felt distant from them. She felt alienated from a world which was seeping into her, like the thick viscous liquid, filling all her vital organs. She felt helpless and trapped inside this liquid which was running through her body, in her every capillary, instead of blood. The world around her was becoming too much for her. Everything about the world bothered her immensely, and when she said everything, she meant every single thing. The traffic on the road bothered her, infuriated her. Why could there not be some level of discipline? She sometimes craved the synthetic, robotic order of the Western world, the grid pattern of American cities. She loved the apparent order of airports—one always knew what to do, where to go, what to expect, when to arrive, and more importantly, the polite aloofness of strangers and airport staff. She loved that distance.
“Mum, remember the time you left me with grandma and grandpa?” her son asked her, his doe-eyes bright and expectant. She did remember, she says; and she had not ‘left’ him with them, she corrects him. She reminds him about the fun he had had with his grandparents. It was back in those days (and it seemed like an eternity to her even though it had only been a year ago) when she was still fighting to have a career and be a mother. She had waved the white flag the day she had to rush back from a meeting because her son was running a fever of 103. It had been the longest 45-minute drive of her life. He was a six-year-old who couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast, or whether he had had breakfast at all that day; but he most certainly remembered the three days that he had been alone with his grandparents. But he had felt “abandoned”, as he kept repeating every time the topic came up in any conversation. “Abandoned is a strong word. You should not use it casually”, she reminded him. “Like the word hate?”, he asked. “Yes”, she nodded. He was always one step ahead of her. Everyone, for that matter, was ahead of her. Everyone seemed to have moved on and abandoned her. Where was her husband when she needed him the most? Where was her best friend? Everyone seemed to be living their own lives. She was barely surviving.
“What have I done with my life?” It was as if, she had spent an entire lifetime in a waiting room. All she had done was wait. She felt like she was stuck endlessly and eternally in the Waiting Place. Like Dr. Seuss says, it is the “most useless place”. She was waiting for something exciting to happen. She was waiting for something to change. She was waiting to get out of this decade long rut that she was in, like she was in a never-ending tunnel spirally downwards. Only there was no Wonderland at the bottom of it. She could not see the end of this bizarre hole that she seemed to be falling in. When would this stop? Would this ever stop? Would she ever feel adequate? Would anything she did ever feel enough? Would anybody ever say, ‘You are doing a fabulous job’? But why did she need validation or appreciation from others? Why hadn’t she learned to feel that she was enough? Why had nobody ever taught her to say, like Aibileen in The Help: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”?
She felt so tired these days. She felt the fatigue in her bones. She felt that her mind and body and spirit were being completely neglected and pushed into the dark corners, where there were cobwebs. She felt like she was walking in the dark and wisps of cobweb were brushing past her cheek or she was getting caught in this room filled with nothing but cobwebs. She could not get past them and she could not get out of them. They got lost in the labyrinthine maze that was made of air. There was nothing around her and yet everything was trapping her in and not letting her move. When she moved her hand across her face in an attempt to push away the cobwebs, all she got was something so fine that it barely touched the skin, but it was certainly there. She found that it was difficult for anyone to understand what she was trying to tell them. They would come back with retorts like, ‘But he is such a wonderful child; so accommodating, so caring, so understanding’. She agreed with them because her 6-year-old was exceptional but on days like today it was difficult to stay afloat. On days like today, she wanted to be more than just be a mother. On days like today, she wanted to be.
[…] The day was dragging on like no other. Time had come to a standstill. There was no beginning and there was most certainly, no end in sight. The day felt just like the day before or the day before that. Nothing seemed to change and the darkness does not seem to lift. In fact, the more she tried not to think about it, the more it pulled her down with its sticky fingers. The faint sounds of the television floated into her consciousness. How long had she been sitting at the window? When did the sun set? She glanced at her watch. It was dinner time. She pulled herself up from the chair and made her way to the kitchen. As she served him his favourite meal, he snuggled up to her and said, “You’re the best, Mum. You always take care of me. I will never replace you.” Where did he learn all those words? How did he know how to string them together to make a meaningful sentence? ‘He is wise beyond his years’, she thought and hugged him tight.
The above are excerpts from Circle of Love by Subhadra Roy Patil.