Campus,  Creative Content,  Editorial Week '19 Contest,  Literary Work

Comfortable Shackles #EW19

(1st Place)

My mother was a beautiful woman in her day. Even today at the age of 60 you could see the remnants of her beauty on the curve of her smile and in the depth of her eyes. I tip toed into her room as quietly as I could, because she had yet again fallen asleep waiting for me to come home from work. Her unconquered silver curls wreathed her face and there was the familiar scent of lavender in the air. She always did love scented candles. I took a few minutes tonight just as any other night to sit by her side, just breathing with her. Inhale. Exhale. Thank god she was still alive. Thank god she made it through. It was in these moments that I took the time each day to just be grateful. I would close my eyes and tilt my head back on the rocking chair beside her bed, letting the memories come gushing out of the trembling cracks of my heart. It’s been 20 years since we left and yet even to this day I could not think of him without it breaking my heart a little each time. Salty drops welled in my eyes and I let them leave a trail to my ears. Thank god. Thank god.  

I was 10 years old when I watched my father, drag my mother’s curls on the floor along with her. Too young to understand whythe only emotion I could feel was paralyzing fear. I can still hear her screaming for me to look away, trying to protect me. This only seemed to anger him, how blasphemous to make him look like the villain. With his fury, his hand hit with a harder force, this time she crumbled to the floor with blood. It was a loud and ugly sound, like the cracking of a bullwhip or the tearing of a limb. Power and malice, those were his weapons and he made sure we never forgot. This was one of the harder days. And one I doubt I will ever forget. 

I got upchanged and washed up for prayer. And as usual I spent an extra few minutes in quiet meditation not sure how to put into words but hoping god would understand my confused mix of emotions. I hated him so deeply and yet my mother had asked me to understand him. And if I could not understand him, to not hate him. Because that would do me more good. Because maybe, just maybe that would unbind me from the shackles I put on myself – the constant rumination over the past. And while I’ve spent many a year trying to forget and forgive, I’ve just learned how to numb. The scars have fibrosed and yet they’re easily friable and comfortably numb, all at the same time. I needed to change. 

It’s not that I don’t want to change. Sometimes or rather for most of my life-  I’ve just felt like an old oak tree with my roots firmly projecting through the soil, twisting and turning and descending into the depths of the earth. I’ve tried to get help before but I guess as much as I had to admit it – I never had enough drive to change myself. After all it was easier staying in what I knew, what I was familiar in – the self-hateI didn’t need to change when I struggled with major depression in college, not when I know that my husband, Subhi – the kindest person I know and the one I love most after my mother hurts when he sees me hurt. But something’s changed recently. My husband doesn’t know yet, but I’ve known that I’ve been pregnant for 3 months now. And for the past 3 months I’ve been in therapy. 

Subhi has dreamt of fatherhood ever since he was a kid himself. He’d excitedly and somewhat embarrassedly describe the details of these dreams to me over breakfast, giggling and laughing over the dirty diapers and baby bottles of comically variable sizes and shapes. I’d fall in love with this version of him over and over again – with this twinkle in his eye, passionately describing the minute details so I wouldn’t miss out on anything. And while I knew he would never force me into anything, I also knew this was important to him. For me, the idea had not crossed my mind, while somewhat naïve I simply didn’t think the shell of a person I was, was capable of harboring another life. I was a nurse, I knew how this sounded. I would’ve scoffed and mocked if I heard it too. But to me and what I thought childhood was – I never wanted that for anyone else. I knew my husband was not made from the same cloth as my father and yet I was still afraid. It was not something I could explain. 

For as long as I can remember – I’ve lived in self-hate and deprecation. I made it a point to be kinder to everyone else– after all you never knew what kind of scars even the most normal seeming people harbor. But when it came to myself – every thought was laced with contempt and every accomplishment was subpar. The slightest thing could go wrong and even if it was beyond my control it was inadvertently my fault. I live on the 23rd floor and if I came home and found the elevator right at level 25 instead of level 1 where I need it to be somehow that would color my day useless and while I realize that is incredibly insignificant, these small things had more control over my day that I did. I still loved baby’s breath and big bright sunflowers and Mozart and movies about the high school geek finally one- upping the mean cheerleader. I laughed just as hard in class with my friends when we talk about the times we mimicked Hannah Montana episodes and I always kept my grades up. By all definition at least on the outside I was a normal person. What they don’t realize though is that when the laughter stops and I’m all alone I used to let the familiar creeping despair come out. I was comfortable in my shackles with weights bearing down on my shoulders. If I was falling too far, sometimes I would call a friend, asked for the warmth to ward it off atleast for a night longer. But part of me always knew that this wasn’t who I wanted to remain as.   

I’ve been in therapy for 3 months – that’s 2 months and 3 weeks longer than I’ve ever been in therapy before. I used to always stop when it started to get real. It’s been a terribly hard experience trying to gnaw at years of fibrous tissue that had grown over something that died when I was so young. At first I was skeptical and found it hard to talk openly about my past, but I’ve been changing. One the first sessions she asked me whether I had any hobbies that I had lost touch with. I talked about how I’d always loved painting skies and oceans with brilliantly bright colors. She gave me an assignment that day and I went home and painted for the first time in years. My mother and husband complimented the aquamarine waves and pink skies and that was it. A flooding feeling of goodness filled me. I was so engrossed in myself I had forgotten how to enjoy those small things. Not just on the surface but really truly enjoy them. My pregnancy was what made me want to change but what I’ve come to want to change not just for my loved ones but also for myself. I am, atleast I am trying to equip myself with the tools to deal with the pain and rebuild myself. It’s a small step  but I  no longer grimace when I come home from work and I see the elevator at 25, rather I’ve started to giggle at why that had bothered me so much for so long.  I’m not completely cured and I don’t know if I ever will be. I still cry when I think about those hard times but I’m also hopeful to reclaim my freedom from my own shackles. For what may be the first time in my life I was really trying and I don’t think I could be prouder. 

I got up from prayer and went straight to see if Subhi was still up. I found him watching Netflix on the couch. “I’m pregnant and I found out 3 months ago.” I blurt out with no thoughtSubhi got up and stared at me for a bit, walked up to me and gave me the warmest hug. “I started going to therapy again just when I found out, and I wanted to be in a better place when I told you this, I’m sorry for keeping it from you.” I tried to explain. “I love you.” He said. I smiled. And we both stayed up that night, stories that we had missed from each other’s lives spilling out, laughing and crying and unbelievably happy. Before we knew it the copper hues of morning peaked through our windows. Streaks of magenta and soft pinks danced on the porcelain sky spreading with it the start of a new dayAnd I knew, I was going to be alright. I was going to be just fine.

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