It’s an important date. It used to mark anniversaries of a past love. Year after year of gifts and romance, cards and special surprises, then absence, distance, bitter fights to coming back stronger with a sweeter love. The aging date stole time from under our young, naive eyes, only to throw them back at me as memories of a lost dimension.
5 anniversaries later, I started resenting the lost years of stumbling through life unquestioning, unaware of who I was and where I was headed. I was restless, and I knew this time the upheaval was far too big to be subdued under compromise. I knew then, that I would always be restless in love. I would always be certain only of what I don’t want, and always seeking what I want.
On 21st November last year, I bade goodbye to my first love, scared of letting go and guilty of having hurt him. But my instincts told me I’m doing the right thing. A year later, and nothing has changed; but nothing’s the same any more.
Who knew so much could happen in a year, especially so much of what would ultimately be remembered with either sadness, guilt or regret? I believed I was still the same person inside, just doing things I didn’t usually do. It’s just a phase, and I’m living someone else’s borrowed lifestyle of excessive partying, drinking and occasional screwups, I kept telling myself. Well, not anymore. This girl is sobering down, it’s done and resolved.
The date is still significant. This year the clock struck 12 and time passed by a drunk me in a stranger’s arms. It gave me a good hard much-needed slap on the face. It left me wringing my hands in despair, and the more I thought of what I’m doing the more I fell into depression, terrified of confessing to anyone for fear of being judged, and completely clueless of how to get out of this mess.
So I wrote this post and decided that if there’s one thing I knew about myself, it was that I’m not a coward. I told myself to take a deep breath and start by being completely honest, without fearing who I might lose in this process. Once again, this date seems to have woken me up from a deep stupor.
I guess now the date marks my years of stumbling down an unknown path, stubbornly alone, just as unaware of who I am, and just as sure of what I don’t want.
My leg slipped, and I felt hands trying to pull me back up. But all I saw were expressionless eyes and cold hands. So I let go and fell. I could see rocks jutting out, twigs and tree branches. I could just put out a hand, and try to let myself escape with just a few bruises, but the hand wouldn’t obey. So I told myself the twigs would have snapped anyways. I kept falling and hit the water below, hard.
Instinctively I took a large breath before going under. I found the water welcoming. I felt it engulf and wash over me with a sense of peace. Until I opened my mouth and gulped water. Until I realised I couldn’t breathe, but I wanted to. I tried to move my arms and legs but they got heavy and the water kept dragging me down. Down below the surface where I opened my eyes and looked around to see nothing. Looked below, and saw rocks at the bottom. But I hadn’t hit rock bottom, not yet. The fall had been too effortless.
The lack of oxygen was closing in, suffocating, pressing on all sides. I felt the sharp sting of tears pierce at my eyes, constricting my remaining air supply, gnawing at my own self-pity. And then I realised I was still waiting for someone to come and save me. I was waiting for someone, anyone who cared enough. I believed there would be enough ripples on the surface for someone to look into the depth.
And then I thought, ripples fade and soothe the surface. The water stays calm until the next storm. I had no breaths left to wait for someone to cause another storm. I knew how to swim, I just needed to remember how to send the brain signals to get my arms and legs kicking.
When I was a little younger, I used to crave freedom. I used to crave going out with friends and staying out late, going for parties and dancing and drinking, without any restrictions and while still living under the parents’ roof. The coming home curfew and endless worried phone calls by the time I reached home irked me. It got much worse when they knew about the boyfriend. Typical middle-class Indian parents. They wouldn’t allow me on stayovers unless it was an all-girls no-drinking strictly pajama party. Drinks and alcohol were an unspoken taboo and the idea that their daughter might wish to familiarize with an occasional glass of wine or a dip into the stronger stuff would have come as a shock to them.
Sure I rebelled and begged and wheedled and lied, but somehow I got through the teens without giving my parents much cause for worry. Which simply means that I made sure my parents never found out the truth about all those times I said I was helping a friend study for his paper, taking a baking class, volunteering at an NGO, attending study circle lectures, learning graphology or face reading, or the most-used cover-up: sleeping over at a girlfriend’s. Because those occasions became important memories etched forever into a teenager’s mind. A lot of firsts. First sleepover with the boyfriend. Getting dressed up and attending a party. Four friends sneaking the car out in the middle of the night for a long drive. Making out in a car parked on a service-road off the highway and getting caught by the police. Getting started on that glass of wine, slowly graduating to the good stuff, the vodka, rum and all those cheap pitchers of beer. Finally understanding what the fuss is all about after going through those wonderful phases of high, tipsy and then straight, plain drunk.
I’ve done my share of crazy, but it was simply easier that my parents didn’t have to know any of that, so they wouldn’t lose their precious winks staying up worrying about a wayward daughter. But things change as we grow older, and I can’t tell the exact moment my parents began to think I’m not a kid any more, but it began sometime during their understanding of my academic failure and the end of my first very serious relationship. Their way of looking at me changed, especially when they realised others took me more seriously than they did.
Nowadays (most days of the week) I behave like a ‘professional’ and go to work (most days of the week). And every other weekend I’m out trying to make up for the fact that I have to work as per someone else’s instructions, with the justification that at least for 2 days a week, I’m living my life. And at least I tell my parents half-truths such as the people I’m with, where I’m going, whose place I’m spending the night. The parents do still yell and throw an occasional fit for all the hours spent out of the house, and friends being more important than family shit. I figure that is a given when I’m living in my parents’ house post turning 20, and I’m just going to have to deal with it.
Maybe someday I’ll admit how little they really know about my teenage and growing up years. In my defense, I was simply sparing them the mortification. If I tell them after some 10-odd years, I don’t think they will ground a 30-year old right? But for now, if I’m drunk and partying, at least my parents can begin to look for me. And preferably they won’t find me lying in a ditch somewhere; I’m sure I have better friends than that. At least it’s a start, makes me feel a little more responsible this way.
It’s the question that eternally haunts me: What should I believe? The words that form on his lips or everything else that he left unspoken? When our very connection was the silence of our conversations, did he say the few things he truly meant, or did he simply trust I understood everything he omitted saying?
People always want to feel special. Simply knowing themselves that they were part of something big is never enough. They want others to know it, and acknowledge it. They want to be treated like a conquering hero returning with the world on their backs. Sure, they’ve achieved something the rest of us probably never will. But it’s also true that while they’ve been away (spiraling up into the clouds) we haven’t exactly been tuned in to their frequency, listening in with bated breath as they make their dream come true. For us, life went on.
They say even a taste of fame changes you. It leaves you a different person, unable to fit in among the nobodies. They are all grounded when they start off, resolute in thinking they won’t change. And then it hits them, their first taste of the salty spray of fame. They are intoxicated, overwhelmed by greatness, pulled in deeper by the ever-changing tide and the waves. And they adapt to the ebb and flow, knowing their place will always be by the bay. ‘Mumbai meri jaan’…
“It’s not working out”, he says.
“I don’t understand. I thought you liked her. So what’s wrong?” I asked him.
“She doesn’t like me. We were only fooling around, just a physical relationship between friends. We’d always made that clear between us”, he says, trying to sound matter-of-factly.
“Did you tell her you like her?”
“Why would I tell her that?”
“Cause you like her”.
“I don’t give a shit about her.”
Rejection. It’s a hard blow to the face that knocks out half your teeth and breaks your nose. It was with difficulty that you’d let yourself fall for someone without the thought of getting too serious. Barely a day gone by and you’d begun to miss them more than you’d like to admit. The concepts of ‘love’ and ‘dating’ were beginning to make sense again. Who’d have thought you were to fall, only to fall harder, alone.
Two people getting together and falling in love is a beautiful thing. You see that happiness in their eyes and in their smiles. You see the affection in every word, a hint of a blush from a text /mail. They just want to keep their new-found love a secret and at the same time they wish to tell everyone about it. They are oblivious to the world around, and much more aware of each other. They float in their own bubble, some feet above the rest of us. They dissolve into a world of their own, a different world of music and laughter and fun and touching and kissing and caressing. Their conversations are now all about the other, the sparkle in her eye, his mischievous dimples, their unspoken understanding, the little romantic gestures, the perfection of a moment.
You may be talking to them and they could be nodding back, but their eyes unfocus and you can’t be sure if they’re listening, or if their thoughts have wandered back into his arms. You try and make plans with them, and they are reluctant. Because you know, “He just loves this band, he’s a big fan” and “You don’t mind if she goes with us, do you?” “Of course not. The more the merrier. It’ll be fun!”, you say brightly.
And you tag along like a third wheel. It’s not uncomfortable at all, not even when each time you wish to say something to your friend and snicker like old times, he sticks his head right around and stares stone-faced as you laugh holding your stomach. Then you haultingly explain the joke, but since he’s so new to the slang you and your friends use, he doesn’t get it, and the laughter subsides. It’s not uncomfortable, even when you want to hug your friend, but he’s brought his new girlfriend along, and you don’t know really know her and you don’t want to make things more awkward than they already are.
They’ll ask you questions, such as “What about you, are you seeing someone?” And you shrug it off saying something like, “Naah, I guess it’s just not for me, the whole dating game. Not now, anyways.” And they nod understandingly at this insight they’ve gotten into your struggle with relationships. Then they are back into their snug little bubble of two, just him and her. And you watch them from the outside, truly happy for them but your feet firmly touching the ground.
It’s a beautiful thing, falling in love. There’s no shame in being in love, and there’s no denying that one can’t really stay away from it, no matter how badly it tore you apart. You may fuck around all you want, and say things like, “I don’t give a shit about him”, and “I’m just fucking her, I’m not in love”. You try with all your might to run from love and the tangle of emotions that is now just too hard for you to overcome once again. You mock the bubble, but you’ve been on the inside once or twice and you know how blissfully the bubble wraps around you, above the staring and mocking eyes of people, and teaches you not to care. And your feet suddenly get the urge to be lifted, lost in just one other pair of staring eyes.
Some things are just too easy to toss away. I was cleaning my room with gusto last night (adding to that some loud music, dancing in pajamas and an extremely rare moment of applying nail paint) and I filled two whole bags with crap which I had so carefully stored for years with some special sentimental value. And after all those years I casually tossed it without more than a second’s thought.
This, I think is the moment where you realise you have really, truly and completely moved on and though the memories with those persons you will cherish forever, you don’t need those memories stored in a box, and you’re better off without the sentiment. I’d prefer those memories were hidden inside my mind and within my control rather than jumping out at me when I’m hunting for an old hat at the back of the closet.
Does this casual tossing away imply that those years / moments I spent with the person meant nothing to me? Does the fact that I could toss it away mean the person didn’t have a special place in my heart? Of course not. Sure, it was special and it was painful. I’ve been loved and I’ve been wounded. And now that time has passed. Why ruin that with prolonged sentiments that make you go back in time to the flurry of emotions that the two of you couldn’t sort? Focus on your present, I’m sure it’s much more happening than the past we keep digging up.
I know what we had was special. I won’t misunderstand. Just toss it out.