The following is the story of one my best friends which really moved me, and with her permission, I am sharing it with you. She is an extremely sweet person who I have always admired. We spoke for hours every time we met, but it was different that day. The fact that I had known her for 15 years seemed insignificant once she started talking to me that day. I still cannot believe that those beautiful eyes had remained moist most of her life and that pretty face had a painful past behind them.
Here’s what I heard on a chilly evening as we sat on the terrace at my place:
“As I talk to you, images of all those traumatic events right from my childhood flash before my eyes. I remember the first one took place when I was in kindergarten. My mom’s elder sister and my maternal grandmother had come to visit us. As a kid, I was really excited to see them. Little did I know that happiness is short-lived. There was a loud noise in our house. I knew something had been broken. As I rushed out, I saw my mother trying hard to hold back her tears. I could sense an air of tension but was yet to find out the source of the noise that I had heard a while ago. Before I could ask my mom about it I saw her walking hurriedly towards our backyard. I just had to follow her to get my answer – pieces of a broken jar and some pickle were lying there. I knew instantly that this was the same jar of handmade pickle that my grandmom had lovingly brought for us. It now lay broken in the backyard, its red contents mirroring the meaningless anger of my father. This was my first memory of a tussle in the family.
As the years passed, I witnessed a lot more. I was in the third standard when one day, as we sat down to have our meal, there was this particular dish that didn’t please my father’s taste buds. Without a second thought, he flung the bowl across the table at my mom. I still shudder at the recollection of her face covered in gravy. I was shocked to the core. I never thought someone could do that to a fellow human being (let alone doing that to your spouse).
A few years later, we were transferred to our hometown. This was when I began living with my paternal grandparents. Yes, a joint family. Things seemed to be going smoothly for a few months before a big fight broke out between my mom and her in-laws (the word ‘grandparents’ is too respectful a term for them). It was a bad fight and I remember crying due to fear for the first time. There were endless arguments in the family. It almost fell apart (I so wish it had right then), but somehow divorce didn’t seem like a viable option to my parents. So, they compromised (what they decided upon, I still don’t know). Anyway, after having sown the seeds of hatred, my dad’s parents left our home. They left, but the hatred remained. It only grew over the years. My dad and mom were never the same again. They would fight frequently. Disagreements over the silliest of things turned into verbal abuse from my father (yes, it was always one sided) and ended up in physical abuse. He hit my mom often.
I particularly remember an incident where he slammed her head against a door and my heart skipped a beat (I wish it stopped, though). I went numb. That was the first time I actually felt aware of my body’s reaction to a traumatic visual. My mom was wounded physically, I was scarred mentally. I was only a little girl, but my life didn’t seem like that of others girls in any way whatsoever. Even as a teen, I don’t think I have experienced hormonal changes like other girls of my age. While you guys spoke about your crushes, I knew I would never have one. My thoughts surpassed my age. Maybe exposure to such painful events early in life kills the child in you. I never spoke to any of my friends about what my family was like, not even you, so all of you assumed I lead a happy life. I had learned how to suppress my feelings over the years. To you, I was this bubbly and cheerful girl who was always there for her friends. That was how I liked it. Almost everyone I knew shared their stories with me – unrequited love, financial problems, academic pressures, what not. They often said I was a relief, that all they had to do when they felt low was to talk to me and their mood would be lifted instantly. I felt good about myself. I felt like being there for more and more people in distress because by helping them I was actually helping myself. I felt good every time I made someone smile. Although I made some genuine friends, I never let them see the other side of me. My good enough sense of humor always came to my rescue in situations where someone tried to look beyond the façade that I had created. My life always seemed perfect to the people around me. That was how I painted it. I was a good artist. I lived an imaginary life that most people craved for, something that I myself craved for deep down in my heart. Only I knew I was faking it all.
Then came the next phase in my life – college. The less I talk about it, the better. I know you always wondered why I hated college. Let me give you two reasons. One, I was never interested in that course, and two, nobody at home really cared for what I wanted to do in life. While every other person was seen socialising on campus, I stayed in my cocoon. I was happy with myself, or at least, I thought I was. I never hung out with my friends as most of the time there was chaos in my family, which further pushed me into depression. Also, I hated the idea of having fun with friends while my mom suffered at home. So I avoided meeting my friends (not that I had many anyway) after college. I never invited the very few good friends that I had to my house as the last thing I wanted was for those few precious people to see my dad shouting at my mom and show sympathy towards me. Not just this, I suffered silently through a lot of other issues like hypersensitivity to loud noises (read voices), anxiety and depression. I lacked the confidence to express my thoughts clearly, lived in constant fear of losing my friends, and my academic performance was poor as well. Despite these setbacks, the one thing I never gave up was faking my life and fooling my brain into believing that everything was fine with me. So what’s the point in sharing all this with you then?
Twenty years have passed since the first such incident occurred in my life. But nothing has changed in my life. My dad hit my mom this morning and all the previously mentioned scenes came alive, I went numb again, my whole body began to shiver, I could hear my heart beat clearly (only my wish for it to stop forever was much stronger now).”
That innocent five-year-old girl went up to her dad and demanded an explanation for the broken jar containing that yummy pickle. Though she didn’t understand what he had said in his defence, all she knew then was that her dad made her mom cry and she just wouldn’t allow that. What that little heart did not know was that there was a lot more pain in store for her in the future.
Today, after failing for the nth time to confront her father, this young woman, once again wishes to be that five-year-old girl who feared nothing.
Update: “…and with her permission, I am sharing it with you” was added to the first line of the article to clarify that the author shared this story with consent from her friend.