In a daze I stumbled back to my dorm, stoned on some of the best hash the country had to offer. I crept inside my blanket and began tripping to the breathing of seven men into the silence of the wind. I had surrendered to the daydream delusions and fantasies of my drug-addled brain, when I heard a sob from the bunk above mine. One, then another, until great heaving wails rocked the entire bed, yet the others continued breathing and snoring, as if I was the only one alive or sane enough to hear the sound of grief. Listening to the drunk little boy shaking with tears, I froze within my stupor, unwilling and unable to reach out. I pretended to be asleep, and he continued sobbing into muffled pillows. These are tears of self pity, I thought with disdain. These are not tears where you feel sorry for a three-legged dog or a poor beggar kid; these aren’t tears of losing someone dear or missing someone who is far, far away. These tears were because he felt sorry for himself, sorry for the way he is, sorry for those that were no more in his life, and because he never knew the love of a mother. I knew, and I understood, but I was hardened and he was weak; I despised his tears, I hated a man who could cry unabashed for the man he could not become.
I’m surrounded by people, but I am alone. As always, alone. I wish the smoke from my cigarette could obfuscate some of the thoughts floating around in my head, the ones that are too clear, too sharp for this particular moment. They worry about me. They think I am turning dark. They think I am letting myself go. Well, go where? I am right here, letting empty days stretch out lazily before me like a long winding road – their favorite metaphor for life. I may not laugh as much as I did, there are definite dark circles under my eyes, and I may be writing about death and sex and the darkness that shall fall when that last cigarette falls from your limp hand. I may be tempted by Death as a mysterious seducer, the she-Devil, a Scheherazade of the netherworld. But no, I am not ‘turning’ dark; maybe it was you who chose to only see the light. And no, I am not suicidal, I have always been strong enough to ride the wave. Let me reconcile with my darkness; I cannot shove such bile back down my throat like you did, only to have it erupt when you least expect it.
It rarely happens that one has sex and death on their mind at the same time. As I lay abusing myself until darkness fell, I thought about committing suicide. I wondered why people mourn the deaths of those who had willingly tipped themselves over the edge and six feet under. I composed my note as my fingers slipped once again inside my panties, working of their own accord. “Don’t mourn me”, my note would say. “I lived well enough – I ate, I breathed, I fucked to my heart’s content. I loved somewhat, I was loved rather more. Don’t let me drain your strength and zest for life.” I would try not to sound condescending; I wanted to praise everyone for surviving me but also to let them know that I wanted this. But I always stopped myself before I began thinking of ways to die. As fascinatingly morbid as death is, one finds reasons to keep on living… I think I have more shudders left in me, as my fingers fall limp and my eyes close in sudden ecstasy.
I ate a burger today. Immediately after, I wanted to shit it out.
I listened to strangers yak about bullshit until my ears began to burn. I needed to vomit the poison I had injected.
I went for a run until sweat dripped from every pore.
It wasn’t enough.
I wanted to cut myself and watch the blood trickle from unsuspecting veins.
I wanted to reach inside my throat and turn myself inside out. I wanted my guts to spill out in a heap on the side of the road.
Instead, I expelled words.
I don’t adore the sea anymore. Not like I used to, anyway.
I feel betrayed, though the logical part of my brain says this feeling itself is ridiculous. Despite the upheaval of emotions, this was not betrayal, for there never was a betrothal. It was me in love with the sea. Then, until yesterday, and possibly tomorrow and always, but not today.
I dip my toes into the water, but there’s no response. I wade in a little further, feel the waves lick my knees and retract as though in apology. Frustrated, I yell at the empty, bottomless froth, “Do you not know me?” The only answer I get is silence.
I talk my heart out, confessing my feelings in a whisper. “I admit, ours was an unlikely union – ever since I was a one year old running into your embrace and you threatened to swallow me whole. Yes, I’ve contemplated the depths of your soul as though looking into the eyes of a lover. I’ve been poised at the brink of your being, wanting to forever surrender to your torrential love making. So why do you hesitate now?
I feel betrayed, though you did nothing wrong. I sensed a connection that never existed. You knew we wouldn’t be happy. And I still played the fool.”
Silently swallowing a bitter pill of hard truth, I turn my back on the ocean I’ve come to love. I’ll be back tomorrow as a different me, but for today, I’ll lick my secret wounds and mourn the loss of something unknown.
The frivolity of death has always bewildered me.
Sometimes I feel close to it. I sense it around me, slowly inching forwards. I hear it inside my own beating heart and in the hopes and dreams of the people I love. Some nights when I can’t sleep, I can see it hovering, lingering, lurking in the shadows that dance on the walls, whispering with the moonlight. I dive inside a blanket, shut my eyes tightly and plug my fingers in my ears but now there is a loud ringing in my ears, the shadows on the wall are dancing on the canvas of my mind and death is suddenly a spiraling loop of the faces of my loved ones, creeping closer every day.
Sometimes I see it in the vastness of the ocean, an endless, bottomless life form that breathes and recedes, exhales and flows and engulfs our dead. The living seem as dead as the dying, and it pains to see precious lives die a little more with each nightfall.
And yet I’ve known a few moments, when life pushes me to the brink, right at the edge, the closest I could get to the stairway to heaven, and I do not even think about death; I simply live. I know it when I make heady, passionate love. I feel it in the thin air at the top of the mountain. I welcome it when I take a hit, smoke a joint, piss in the wind, howl at the moon, succumb to the highs and soar among the clouds. I can sense life in the trickles of water that drip down my skin after a dive. I can taste it in my nostalgia as I summon memories of sunshine, laughter and friendship.
It mesmerizes me, amazes me and drowns me. I am befuddled, still, at the transience of life. After all our struggles, ups and downs, hits and misses, what remains is the absurd frivolity of life and death.
It was the fall of 2016. While the temperatures in the Valley were moderate, after sundown, the wind picked up and howled through the trees, making them shiver and shed their autumn foliage. We were bundled up in our winter jackets and scarves, and in search of whiskey to burn our throats and warm our innards. Up in the Himalayan mountains, it is a question of survival; it doesn’t really matter whether you ordinarily drink or not.
It had been a rough hike; with the sun beating down on our backs and sweat soaking through the layers, it was hot enough to experience a stroke. We occasionally sat and cooled off, but this part of the Valley had scant greenery, and sometimes there was not a single tree for miles. We were walking through a landscape of endless mountain ranges of brown and grey, a deserted trail beside a frothing white river and a clear, blue sky; despite the hard terrain, it was achingly, breathtakingly beautiful.
The population of the entire Valley was in four digit numbers, and the locals played host to weary travelers with undisguised delight. Food, water and shelter – your basic needs got taken care of with hardly a dent in your pocket, and beyond that, there was not much you needed, for travelers in the Valley never care for luxuries, rather, they are on the run from it.
After the day’s hike, we had chosen a small hostel on the outskirts of the village; it was cheap, promised decent food and had 5 rooms for rent. We were a strange group – me and my boyfriend, a girl with glasses who wrote poems and skipped stones, two musician guys from Mumbai who had been roaming these parts of the mountain for more than a month now, an American super-athlete couple and a young German girl and her Indian boyfriend who had been volunteering for the past year at a blind kids’ school in rural India. Incidentally, it so happened that that night would be the last time all of us met together in the same place, for the next day, we would all be going different ways.
Our search for a warm beverage proved more than fruitful, for the two Mumbaites not only had a bottle of scotch saved for some such occasion, but also produced some good quality hash, a souvenir of their travels. And so that night, a group of strangers gathered in one of the rooms, lit some candles, poured themselves some scotch, lit a joint, and sat in a circle to swap stories.