I was a gawky, socially awkward girl who found it difficult to make eye contact with other children – who seemed better off in every way imaginable. They were smarter, happier, better looking, more accomplished in every sense of the word possible. I ate lunch alone. I would choke on my words if someone ever asked me a question. I was completely inept at holding conversations. The only exception was perhaps the one time I spoke to Mister when I was eight.
At home, I was the eldest of three children. My mom traveled a lot, so I ended up taking on roles too big for me – I became the cook, the agony aunt, the mother, the judge – all too soon; I still remember chuckling as I thought about how she was the actor, but I got all her roles. My sister and I fought a lot, sometimes there were badminton rackets and bruises involved, but we were okay. My brother was nine years younger to me, and I practically raised him like my mom should’ve.
Sometimes it meant missing homework; sometimes it meant I could use it as an excuse to miss homework.
Growing up, I craved an older brother, and found one in S., my cousin. He was technically six months younger to me, but he loved me and was very protective about me. I liked that. He was very affectionate and would often hug me and hold my hand. Sometimes he was really mean to me, but he once beat up a guy because he was looking at me inappropriately and that more than made up for the heartbreak.
Once, S accompanied me to the school fete. People just assumed that he was my boyfriend. The next Monday, the school was abuzz with gossip of me seeing a really good looking guy. The popular girls suddenly wanted to hang out with me. It make me even more awkward, but I did enjoy their attention.
People asked me where I met him.
When I was 23, I finally fell in love with a great guy. I could see that he loved me back; he even looked up to me in a boyish sort of way. He made life so easy. I no longer had to really be responsible for anything. He placed no demands on me, and told me he felt that a woman only really belonged to herself.
It feels really naïve now, but I thought that I had found the perfect man – one who would shield me from the world. I thought that I wouldn’t have to deal with issues on my own – he would do the dealing from there on. I felt like marriage was the only way I was ever going to be safe again; I expected him to protect me from the world; he was going to be the rock I could hide behind.
Once we were married, the practicalities of life took over. He worked nights, and I worked during the day. So there was a whole lot I had to take care of on my own. I realized that I couldn’t really depend on him to give me a comforting shoulder when I’d had a bad day at work or a squabble with his mother. He wasn’t there.
His was a demanding job, so I tried to make his life as comfortable as I could. I took on household responsibilities in addition to my full-time job. I kept quiet when his mom called me a whore for wearing a skirt to office. I acquiesced when he said he wanted to drive to work because his cab took too long. I happily accommodated and took a rickshaw to work. I stopped asking him to visit my parents when he told me he was uncomfortable around them.
I missed him, but I valued the two days a week I got with him, and I taught myself to be content with that.
The first five years were basically peaceful co-existence. It didn’t bother me that he didn’t know the name of my doctor. It didn’t bother him that I forgot about his daily injections. He needed his space, and I happily gave it to him. He gave me my space too, but the alone-ness scared me, so I filled it up with crowded malls and shopping.
I realized that space had turned into distance; in my marriage I was isolated, quiet, and unnaturally passive. I was ‘okay’ with everything that happened to me; I didn’t have clear choices any more. My intellect was gathering dust and I kept brushing that dust under the carpet, where I thought it belonged. I had twisted myself to fit the mold that I thought would fit the alliance, and it was finally beginning to hurt.
But I desperately wanted my marriage to work.
Then, one day, I was at a mall, alone, after work. I didn’t want to go home. That day it suddenly hit me – we weren’t really a couple; only two really different people desperately wanting to be one half of a couple. I was more desperate than him, and that was clear to me from the start.
My life was slipping out of my grasp and I needed to do something about it. So I quit. I walked out of his house with two big bags and a heart full of dread.
Suddenly, I was outside in the world, alone. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with it.
When I moved into my parents’ house, I was living out of my luggage. I didn’t have a room of my own; I didn’t belong there anymore. At some level I never really had.
I moved out and got a place of my own. The 1 BHK house seemed huge – I didn’t know what I was going to do with so many rooms. But when I finally settled down, I was surprised that I could occupy so much space. That is when I realized how cramped my existence had been – I had been living like a cooped-up bird in a cage; uncomfortable and with not nearly enough room to breathe and with no courage whatsoever to tell the truth.