Monday, March 26, 2018

Holy Matrimony


That morning was just like any other. She looked at her clock and chewed on her lower lip thoughtfully. Less than 10 minutes and she still had so much to do. This was supposed to be her big day. The day she’d been dreaming about since she was a little girl in pigtails and flouncy skirts. Joy and fear both battled for her attention.

Ok. Stop. Breathe. Breeeaaathe…. In and out. In and out.

Feeling a tad better, she proceeded to adjust her jewelry. The beautiful diamond encrusted piece glittered on her forehead. Gold bangles adorned her hands, from mid-forearm to wrist. Her wedding saree was this stunning explosion of fuchsia and purple intertwined with delicate golden tendrils of silk. Dev had picked it out for her. Her darling Dev. Handsome and tall, his dark eyes flashing with barely restrained passion. She was still amazed that he’d asked her to marry him. She’d wept and answered Yes! Yes of course!
Her eyes teared up at the memory and for a split second, she teetered between the past and her vision of what lay ahead of her. Soon she would be married to him, blissfully united for eternity.
Deftly applying kohl to her still-wet eyelids, she leaned back and looked into the mirror. Yes. She looked perfect with her sun-kissed skin and lips splashed with a shimmering red color. Squinting, she placed the large bindi between her delicately arched eyebrows. In the distance, she could hear the loud clanging of the bells and voices shouting, laden with emotion. Perfect timing. She was ready.
She climbed down the steps of her bungalow. The house they would both come back to after marriage. Their families would eventually hold a dinner in their honor, but only after a million anecdotes had been shared and enough tears had been shed about how young and lovely they were together. She wasn’t planning on staying for the post-wedding ceremonies — she was too impatient to leave and start her journey with Dev.
The large field was decorated with flowers and the smell of spicy smoke. She could see the red, dancing flames and the priest reading off a little prayer book. She considered herself progressive and liberal, but when it came to an important day like today, she wanted to stick to ancient and timeworn traditions. Her parents and the wedding guests stood all around the Holy fire, shielding their wet eyes from the flying embers. She blinked and saw the distant silhouette of her Dev. It looked like he was smiling, but it was hard to tell amidst the tongues of fire.
She heard her mom call out to her, and her dad yell something. But she couldn’t focus, not while Dev waited there for her — his arms trembling and his body quivering. She ran forward to him and almost tripped on a flyaway branch. Unaware that she was sobbing, she reached Dev and smiled at his glorious face. Now she would be forever his.
She turned back to look one last time at the priest and her wedding party. Their voices rose in a resounding uproar. She smiled and took a breath.
And as a million eyes bored into the back of her skull, she hoisted her wedding saree and jumped into Dev’s funeral pyre.



Author’s note: Sati or suttee is a completely obsolete funeral custom where a widow immolates herself on her husband’s pyre or takes her own life in another fashion shortly after her husband’s death. This custom hasn’t been legal or even practiced in India since the early 1800s when it was outlawed, thanks to the heroic efforts of progressive Indian reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy. The author does not endorse or agree with this horrific practice.





Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Raison d'etre

I loved running as a little girl.Till I was almost 12; I was one of the faster kids in my school. Possibly even the fastest. I ran during recess; I ran in the hallways (can you tell my teachers hated me?), I ran when I was late to class and sometimes I ran even when I had absolutely no reason to. I had no formal training, no fancy running shoes and certainly no coherent plan to turn this passion into something more serious and streamlined. I ran, simply for the love of it and the purity of that purpose was something that kept me going, rain or shine. It was something I could do, all by myself and for myself, and if you know tween girls, you know how important that first bloom of independence is.


When I got to my teen years, I gradually stopped running. Schoolwork, puberty and mood swings were far bigger masters of my time and soon I started contriving excuses to not run. I hated myself for a bit, ashamed and scared that I suddenly lacked the desire to do something that was once so important to me. But again, my teenage brain wasn’t moored down enough to persevere on this for too long, so I moved on.


Almost at the same time as I stopped running, I started writing. Initially, it was just a couple of short, laughably amateur stories. Then some essays. I loved those. I could ramble on for hours, about small nothings that most people wouldn’t even notice.The richness of prose wasn’t as important to me, as was the simple act of putting pen to paper. I wrote, and I wrote, running hard to keep up with the thoughts that kept pouring out of me. I wrote till my ink-stained fingers ached… and then I wrote some more.


Then I stopped writing as much.High school/college/med school. The list of reasons grew longer. However, this time it was difficult. I wanted to write.And I did write, sporadically and in rapid bursts of frenzy. It wasn’t my best work, but it certainly kept me sane. It made me happy. And it kept me aware that this could very well be my calling even though I was statistically unlikely to make a decent living out of it.


I’ve realized over the years (and I know this is probably obvious), that the best way to forge a habit is to keep doing it. The more I put pen to paper/fingers to a keyboard, the more I wanted to do it again. The simple ritual of getting my coffee and sitting down in front of my screen filled me with memories of past pieces. The emotions I had when I wrote and the release I felt when those words came pouring out of my fingers. That is probably what I sought most.


Unlike running or dancing or a million other hobbies I left in my wake, writing is therapy. It is sometimes painful, often joyous but always cathartic. It doesn’t always guarantee a pretty result, but isn’t that reflective of life itself? So I write. Polished little posts, snazzy and ready to be devoured with your morning cup of coffee. Commercial articles, fluff pieces, deeply introspective essays. I write for you and your best friend and I hope you will enjoy what I have to say.


But, a large part of what I write is private. Some scattered thoughts, some observations, and some epiphanies I happen upon, the fifth time I read them. Most of them don’t even make it to my personal blog. But those pieces are my best friends because they have seen me at my worst and stood by me just the same. Those pieces are the foundation of what I hope to be a decent career as a writer. They are necessary, critical even. Because, before I implore you to be my audience, I need to be sure I’ve convinced myself. And this I vow to do, every time I fill up an empty screen.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Big Girls Cry

Some days, acceptance is hard. So horribly hard. Not just autism acceptance. But just acceptance of everything that has been put on your plate. You know all the hope-filled mantras you chant to yourself. And you know how strong your faith is — both in your children and in yourself. But some days, when life hands you those damn lemons, you just want to fling them back in Life’s stupid face. No amount of positive talk is strong enough to lift you out of your funk. You despair at every curve ball thrown at you.
And that is ok. Abso-fricken-lutely OK.
Anger and resentment doesn’t mean you’re a phony. It doesn’t mean you’re going against all the wonderful things you believe in. It simply means you’re human, and because of all the overtime hours you put in, your battery has run out. And for someone who so carefully charges your simple phone why wouldn’t you take some time off to charge yourself? So give yourself time to cry. Let yourself feel all the anger and grief. Those are some pretty powerful emotions and keeping them bottled in is dangerous and… frankly counterproductive. Instead, unleash them in a safe place and manner. Talk to a friend. Vent to your spouse. If you want more privacy, write them down in your journal. Or post them anonymously somewhere, so empathetic strangers can give you virtual love. But importantly allow yourself to hurt. Don’t try to console yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s ok. It obviously doesn’t feel Ok, so why would you believe that! Instead, accept that — Yes, right now life is incredibly sh*tty, but this is not permanent. In that adrenaline rush of high emotions, it’s easy to feel like this horrible day is going to be your forever future. IT IS NOT!
You are immensely strong and powerful in ways you don’t even realize. You are this badas* Goddess who will move heaven and earth for your children. Yes, today you’re wounded and hurt, and you don’t feel like getting up from bed.
But. BUT. Your kid is not going to struggle the same way tomorrow. They are not going to have the same or even similar challenges. They will wake up with a new set of requirements, but also with a well-rested parent, who loves and believes in them even more. You have grieved and even if you are only partially healed that is still a damn better parent than anyone can even be for them.
So even if today is a total Crapfest, don’t give up. Hug your child and love him/her extra hard.Do what needs to done for today, with the full knowledge that it is purely for maintenance purposes and not for new achievements. Permitting yourself to go through this ‘mental spa day’, will help you be stronger tomorrow.
To quote (and add to) a particularly heroic Game of Thrones character, there is only one thing you say to Death AND LIFE — Not Today!
*This was written at the end of a rough week we were having. We survived and even better, thrived.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Goodnight...


"Mommy, I’m scared.”


“Oh Jonathan, not again. We talked about this, remember? You need to sleep, you have a big day tomorrow with the field trip.”


“But”…


“Trust me on this honey. I promise you. There are no such things as monsters.”


“Ok, mommy. You really promise?”


“I do, baby.”


“Mommy?”


“Yes, baby?”


“Can you leave the door open?”


“Sigh. Sure. Sleep well, ok. I love you.”


“Love you, mommy.”


Rachel walked down the narrow hallway to her bedroom. She got in and shut the door. Shrugged off her robe and stood by the bed. She should probably speak to his teacher tomorrow. Maybe something was going on at school?


She was so lost in thought, that she almost didn’t hear it the first time. A high, childlike voice. A voice she knew and loved.


She turned around in confusion and saw him. Her eyes widened. He was almost exactly the same, but… so wrong. Almost like he had been reassembled in a hurry. She saw spines and hair where there should be none, and rows of sharp, pointy teeth. God those teeth!


His talons clicked along with old wallpaper, as he shuffled towards her.



As she whimpered, his fetid breath rasped over her face. “why would you lie to me, mommy?”

Monday, March 12, 2018

Let it go.

When I think back to my childhood, I often go through a quick mental Rolodex of half blurry images — carnival music, the ocean, playing with my cousin, grandma’s food, reading with my mom, my sister tugging on my sleeve. And then somehow, those memories creep into view. Kids laughing at me, a teacher’s stern reprimand, my best friend who no longer liked me. The pain is still real and my feelings are still raw, covered by a thin scab of time and pseudo-maturity.

I was a kid with an overactive, rich imagination. My parents were (are) decent, loving folk who praised me reasonably often. But that message didn’t reach my brain, which was like this constantly overzealous hamster — a hamster training for the wheely marathon.Till I was a little older and realized that I could transcribe these thoughts to paper, I struggled with 2 realities — the reality of the world and the reality that I was sure existed just under the surface. I imagined slights, analyzed micro-expressions (before I could even spell the word) and generally had my defenses up all the time. This is not to say that I was targeted or bullied. I was NOT. My peers at school were mostly decent, innocuous kids, blessed with social graces. They mostly liked me but were likely put off by how high maintenance I seemed. I needed constant reassurance that I hadn’t offended anyone, and that shtick gets tiresome for a bunch of 9-year-olds. Of course, there were some children who didn’t genuinely like me, and while adult me is ok with that, my 9-year-old self felt like I wasn’t good enough.

All this insecurity led me down the perfectionism road. I HAD to excel at everything. Failure wasn’t just not an option, it was also this cold voice who constantly goaded me into acting out with anger. And since I couldn’t possibly succeed at everything, I grew into this angry, sullen teen with polarizing emotions.

Over the years and with lots of therapy later ( both paid for and wisdom I’ve picked up here and there), I am a reasonably well-balanced adult. I’m moderately successful both in my chosen profession and in my Calling. But I still struggled to raise my kids without self-doubt. I wanted them to see me as imperfect and human, but somehow I forgot to let them make their own mistakes. I was always hovering, worrying and badgering them. “Don’t do that!” “Are you sure?” “Do you need me to help?”. I could see the confusion in their eyes — “Am I not good enough?” “ Why can’t I try it my way?”.

I was somehow taking these beautiful small humans and trying to make them perfect, little robots. I honestly didn’t know why? There was this deep fear of failure and now I was projecting that into my children’s lives, intensely buffering their actions, lest they fail and fall.

Sometime last year, I had finally had enough.I finally sat down and had a meeting with myself.With my inner child. That inner child was scared to see my children hurt. So, I reached inside and held that child. We wept together. We mourned the lost time and the life unlived. I hugged that little girl tight and promised to always love her, without her ever again asking me to. And when I left her finally at peace, I made a conscious choice to just….stop. Cease and desist. Abdicate and let things run their own course.It was just as simple (and as difficult )as that.

Nowadays, my life is a chaotic mess. Things get smashed easily, knees shiny with happy bruises and fingers messy with impromptu bake-offs.I still catch myself wanting to step in, to correct. But instead, I shut up, sit behind and laugh with my children. And inside me, the little girl laughs with abandon too.
Photo by tam wai on Unsplash

Perfectly average



Somewhere in the first year post spawning my older son, I dropped all pretense of perfection. The first to go were any and all attempts at using concealers and other makeup miscellanies (seriously, does anyone really know how primers work, or if they even do)? I traded in my sleek dresses and snazzy shoes for stretchy yoga pants and slip-on sneakers. The baby didn’t really care and thought I was just divine as long as the milk-burp-diaper cycle was running like clockwork. So I embraced this new paradigm and proceeded to act busy.

I wasn’t THAT busy. Of course, I was viciously sleep deprived and pretty happy to talk about it. I got really good at making this vague clawing gesture anytime someone asked me to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. I also spent a disproportionate amount of time obsessing over baby bodily functions (I’ll spare you the details, except to tell you it rhymes with hoop and sometimes tarts). Housework existed, as did the world outside my motherhood bubble but (somehow) I had convinced myself that I needed to look perpetually disheveled — because that’s what society expects of a new mother. I felt guilty after I took a long shower as if devoting a few extra minutes to myself meant I was ignoring the baby. Even though I had this amazing supportive family, I chose to be the ‘martyr’ and did everything myself, just so I could convince myself that I was a good mother.(I know it sounds laughably ridiculous, but try telling that to my hormone-addled brain). My two best friends then were regret and resentment. I was starting to dislike this whole “mom” business because none of my choices guaranteed me any sustainable peace.

A few months later, my OB gave me a diagnosis of Postpartum anxiety and depression. I was ironically happier post the diagnosis because at least now I could tell myself that I wasn’t such a selfish witch for wanting to have an occasional morning to sleep in. I started working out and seeing a therapist and a year later I was back to my quasi-chirpy self. The kiddo was almost 3 and chugging along and finally, I felt like I had some semblance of balance in our lives.

Then I got pregnant again. 9 months later, a sweet baby girl showed up. This time around, I was wary. I knew to expect the blues, so I was every vigilant. I dropped the ‘martyr’ act. I gladly took all the help I was offered. I tried to catch up on as much sleep as the new gremlin baby let me. I remembered to put on lipstick when I was starting to feel bleak. I was best dressed on particularly dismal days. I went out more with the baby. Joined a group therapy class. Exercised and generally tried to be as social as is possible with a child attached to the boob.
Thinking back, the depression hit me harder the second time around. Much worse and peppered with random moments of utter grief. But somehow I felt more at peace. Calmer and more connected with myself and the baby. Probably because of the happy pills as I was on, but also possibly because I finally realized that motherhood is what I make it to be.

I was a perfectly average mom, flawed to the gills. And that was exactly who I aimed to be.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Phoenix



She was a hard one to read. Oh you'll know right away if she was mad or getting ready to deliver a snippy comment (always obvious from the way she scrunched up her face). But on the whole, as an entire person....well, it was impossible to just pigeonhole her and say " Oh she's such a sensitive soul/she's a raging flake/she just is such a good listener. She wasn't any of those, but a poor amalgamation of all those traits. Just when you thought she was going to head a certain way, she'd turn around and do the complete opposite. The weird thing was, you wouldn't even be surprised, because this inconsistency was exactly consistent with what you'd come to expect of her

She had a temper. No doubt about that. It was explosive and (obviously) unpredictable. The same things didn't trigger her always - she had this armor of sarcasm and apathy to deflect repeated insults. But when something did push her over the edge, it was not pretty. She lashed out, her ordinary eyes transformed with a fiery beauty. Words spewed from her, both hurt and hurtful-  projectiles of rage and despair.

But. But she was also meek. Sometimes to the point of being painfully diffident. A stark contrast to popular perception, she did not enjoy social exchanges. Picking up the phone to talk to a stranger was something she often took pleasure in procrastinating. Most of her appointments were made online and if that failed, her next resort was calling during lunch hours and gleefully taking the voicemail option. 

People don't really remember her in her entirety. Not because she was forgettable, but because there were too many things to remember her by. It was not a pleasant experience to describe her to a stranger or worse- a friend; far easier to change the topic to something more uncluttered.
She was not a bad human being, just an unremarkable one. Unable to inspire a single soul, she would have gone on to live a long, purposeless life, completely blinded from the nuanced realities swirling just outside her line of sight. 

She was almost 30 when she suddenly died. This was a few years ago. She wasn't missed by most people. Even fewer noticed or cared that she was gone. There was no funeral and there were no grieving masses. Just some sudden emptiness soon filled by newer and better things. 
Well enough about her. She's old news, and frankly, it’s a little exhausting to keep her alive in my mind. Let's talk about me instead.

I remember some of my first memories. I hear loud humming. I look up, and I see this older lady standing in front of me, her face laden with worry and concern. "He needs a comprehensive evaluation, because I'm definitely seeing some red flags here", She says. I nod dully, shocked by the news that I fully expected to receive.........


Over the next few days/months/years.....

.....So speech will be once a week, but don't you think he needs more? No, no he's not making sounds yet. Yes.... No, not even 'mama'. Yeah. OK, great we'll see you Wednesday! *Call disconnected*......

..... Yes, we have the autism diagnosis on file. Does he qualify for behavior therapy?...

.....No. No. Grandma, stop and hear me out. It is NOT a curse. His brain just works a different way. Spell it with me. Spell it with me:  N-E-U-R-O-D-I-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y......

.......Well, he does speak full sentences now. No, you need to add these goals to his file, so we don't lose momentum......

........No, he doesn't have a photographic memory. He's a person, not a camera. What?No, he’s not like Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. (Thank goodness for that!)…..

…….Aww sweetie, don’t pull Geraldine's hair. Its great you want to get her attention, but let's try something nicer, please? (Wow, this is the first time he's choosing to engage with another child!)....

...... No ma'am, I know that he doesn't have a physical disability. But do you understand that he's very likely to bolt? Yes, especially in parking lots. I can make another appointment, if you need me to get more paperwork from his doctor.....OK, thank you for understanding. No I don't need the license plates, just the disabled person placard......


........Thank you so much Mrs.M! He was just so perfect up on that stage! Yup, music is definitely his calling....

 As the years go by, I sporadically think of that dead girl. Why?  I am not like Her. I'm not timid, but I'm not loud either. Almost always even keeled and entirely predictable. I don't whisper requests, but I also don't shove and grab my share of the pie. I talk slowly. Calmly. Even my anger is deadened by my equable tone, because too much is at stake. I don't have a shield around me - on the contrary, I choose to feel and bleed without a buffer. I cry openly and plentifully, because I don't really have any bandwidth for storing up that sorrow. And then I put my oversized shades on and make a much needed trip to Target.

And sometimes I lose it. I yell and fight, kick and thrash - gloriously and explosively feral. But in my head. Always in my head.

People know me. Not because I'm flamboyant and not because I'm memorable. But because I am everywhere, so obviously earnest. I have this purpose now and I am every bit the clich├ęd woman on a mission. I love speaking to everyone, learning and imbibing as I go. I'm not duplicitous and I don't really judge anyone else, because I'm content in myself and my vision. I don't fight any big wars- instead I go to battle everyday to make this world better for my son and others like him. Because really, at the end of the day, that's all that matters, right? 

That brings me to my very first memory. I call it my proudest moment.

It was when I killed her and rose from her ashes.