It is 6.45 on a Bangalore’s shivering December when I wake up to make him his favourite salad. It has to be just how he likes it. Finely cut green chillies, a cup of curd, perfectly cut bananas, a sprinkle of salt, his favourite ketchup, a dash of sugar and a pour of milk. I like to sprinkle a bit of coriander but he hates it. I heat the milk on the stove for my morning tea. Still half asleep, I begin to make him his salad as he snored away to glory. His nocturnal self at least gave me peaceful mornings.
Early mornings. The only time I have to my own self. The time I can breathe. The time I can stay silent and not be questioned. The time I can look at myself in the mirror and not be grabbed. The time I can open a book to read and not be mocked. The time I can write articles without the paper being snatched away. The time I can take pictures of myself without being laughed at. The time when I don’t feel strangled. The time I am not questioned about my phone calls. The time I am not hit. The time I can like myself all over again. The time I can live.
I look out through the window towards the faint drizzle and the dark clouds. There is a hint of mist in the clouds, as I cover myself in my mom’s sweater. The warm red sweater which smells of mom. I wear it every time I miss her. I wear it every day now. Now torn on one end from the last night’s tussle, it has a different story to tell. I remind myself to buy needle and thread on my way back from office to stitch it again. Only if my relationship with my partner could be stitched back as well.
Why did he do that? Why has he been doing that? Why am I even letting him? Why am I even still loving him? The boiling sound of the milk breaks my train of thoughts as I pour some over his salad and remaining dipped with two spoons of tea powder and three spoons of sugar. I keep the stove on the sim and let the thoughts wander again. Should I leave him? No, I can’t ..I have become financially dependent on him. Should I hit him back every time he abuses….No he would hit me more. Last time he had choked a bit harder. Should I tell someone about this…but everyone calls us couple goals. Should I call my parents…No I cannot bother them.
Maybe he still loves me. Maybe too much. Maybe I am not his girlfriend anymore. Maybe I am just a commodity that he owns now. But it is only when he is angry….other times he is fine. He does apologize a million times after every beating. Sometimes he even cries. Sometimes he even applies the ointment on my bruises himself. Maybe I should just not make him angry and the monster in him would keep sleeping. But how long? Was there a time? Would I ever be able to breathe again?
As I stir the tea, I hear the bed creaking. He is up! He is up early today. The salad is ready. My tea too. This morning I do not get my time. The shackles felt alive early today.
Still mad about last night?
He asks me standing in the kitchen, leaning against the wall.
Could I tell him I am mad? That will get me late to the office again. He may fight more. Let’s not tell.
No, I am not. I am just making breakfast.
Meera, you know that I love you right? Say you love me too.
Yes, I love you too.
My second lie of the day.
Meera…listen, I am sorry. I know I shouldn’t have done that. Let me look at that. Show me.
He says as he holds me in his arms, trying to check last night’s bruise. It was the ear this time. Still red and swollen, his hands run through the ears trying to check if there is any internal injury. The same hands that caused the pain.
Why do you make me do this Meera?
I still struggle with my thoughts pondering how am I responsible for this? Was it that I met a male friend of mine for dinner? Was it that I spent more than an hour with him at a restaurant talking about life? Was it that for once, I was laughing after a long time? Laughing for real. Was it that I ate my favourite food this time and did not cook? Was it that for once, I did not pick his hundred calls? Was it that my good friend dropped me back safely to the most damaging man? Or was it maybe for a brief time…that I was happy? What was it?
It’s okay…leave it. I will go take a bath. I am getting late. I have a lot of patients today.
Can I join? Let’s make love in the shower. Let me make it up to you.
I want to throw up as I cringe at the thought of it. How does one make it up to physical and verbal abuse by making love? I am reminded I am in shackles. I am told again.
I got my periods today. I tell him.
My third lie of the day.
Oh hahaha. That is why you’re mood is off. Now I know. I thought you were still mad at me.
He says as he hugs while I stand like a robot.
I’ll go get ready now. Getting late.
Yes yes. Go.
He says picking his bowl of salad and munching the bananas.
The sugar is too much.
He lets me know as I shut the bathroom door in angst and quickly open the warm shower. As the boiling water trickles down, I notice the mark on my shoulder in the mirror from last week. It was red then. Now turned black. I recall how he had sobbed like a baby after doing that, then taking me to one beautiful rooftop restaurant for dinner. I threw up that night lying to him that it is the food. I threw up on his existence. With a watch as a gift that night, I wear it like a chain every day reminding myself that I am owned.
I come out to dress quickly thinking about my 9’o clock appointment. Have a long day today.
Oh come here…you look so sexy in a towel.
He says as he tries to remove my towel and I struggle to save myself. Personal space had died long back.
Sahil…please, I don’t have time for this. I am getting late.
I cringe at his touch on my bare body.
Okay okay fine…whatever. You are never in the mood anyway. Oh and today you have periods. I spare you.
I hold my tears and keep it safely for later.
I will pick you up from work today. Message me when you are done meeting your crackpots.
I stay silent at his joke on my patients and his ridicule to Mental Health Profession. I just cannot be late to work. I need to leave.
Fortunately, the distance between HSR layout to Indira Nagar in Bangalore gives my forty-five minutes of time. The time I can have to myself again. I get ready and book the cab immediately.
I am leaving. The cab is here.
I say, taking my bag in a hurry and grabbing an apple from the fridge.
He shuts the door, locking it as he pushes me to the wall and begins to plant a kiss on my lips.
You know you cannot leave without this. How did you walk out? Now you may go.
I try to move my frozen self, just after left feeling molested by the man I once loved.
Making my way out, I rush my shivering body outside pacing my way downstairs to the cab. I break down already as I try to hold my tears. I sit in the cab wiping my tears as he waves from the balcony. I turn my face away to the other side. I breathe a little again. The moment I am away from him. The freedom of having the next eight hours of the day to myself again.
What have I done to myself? When did all this begin? From an award-winning psychologist to a victim of an abusive relationship. From a strong independent woman to a weak dependent soul, when did it all start? Why did I leave my independence, a high paying job in Mumbai and fall for this? Why did I let go of the opportunity to go abroad and instead chose love? That is what I did. I chose love. I had always been a giver. But now, a sufferer. When did I become this… why am I in this? Why do I stay? Will I get love again? When have I let go of myself? Above all, when did I stop loving myself?
I let the thoughts wander, ignoring his messages again. My excuse for sleeping off in the cab helped me not indulge in a fight for that. He tends to believe my lies. The biggest one, our relationship.
Meera, this is gas lighting. You know it yourself. I don’t need to explain it to you. This is abuse. You need to get out of it!
I hear my friend at the office, explaining it to me a millionth time now. I knew it. I have always known it. Just not accepted it.
How do you allow someone to treat you like this? Under the name of love?
She continues to explain, as I look at her numb knowing every word of hers is correct and known. There is nothing that I do not know already. Nothing that I have not felt. Nothing that I have not thought? Yet something stopped me. The name is Fear.
Fear about everything. Fear of safety. Fear of abandonment. Fear of being wrong again. Fear of not finding love again. Fear of loneliness. Fear of dying. I feel like a soul possessed by him. He controls me and why am I not changing that.
Anyway, you are coming to the conference tomorrow right? You are the leading psychologist there.
She asks, knowing I haven’t been allowed to be on time previously.
Yes, I am presenting. I’ll be there. Don’t worry, I am not telling him this time.
My success is his defeat.
Okay, I’ll see you there Meera. Take care. And get out of this. You are stronger than you know.
I bid her goodbye for the day and begin to walk outside the office. I see my colleagues, wanting to rush home while I wish if time could stop. Ten minutes later, I move out and walk towards the man killing me every single day. Little by little. He looks handsome. How I had fallen for him. Revolved my universe around him. With nothing left of my own now.
I missed you so much.
He says as he walks towards me and takes me in his arms for a hug.
Did you have any male patients today?
His constant question every day after work.
The shackles were alive again and the suffocation was back.
I answer his questions, walking back home with the monster.
29th May 2017.
I held my left shoulder beaming in pain as I soothed it with my right hand, caressing the muscle. I gave up on wiping the tears of my new stained cheek as I knew there were more to come. The deep cut on my lower lip had a blood clot with the constant attacks. I sat on the floor with my stomach bend down in my black shirt and my formal pants. The attire I wore for today’s conference.
The shirt and pant that I had carefully taken out from the drawer to be noted as a delegate. Now crumpled and torn, they had a different story to tell. I wish I had worn something thicker. The mind whispers.
My hair had come loose, as the ponytail hung half tied leaving a few strands to fall over the face. A headache had only multiplied by now as the body shivered to the incident that was happening. I rest my face on the floor, still soothing my shoulder staring across the room to the decals I had pasted on the wall last week to surprise him. What a fool I must have been. I think.
I lift up my face a little, helping my body to get up aiming to run away. The main door is ten steps ahead of me as I count and I hope to escape. But it seemed too late for anything. Too late to escape. Too late to beg for mercy. Too late to even live, I guess.
My body shivered through witnessing his bloodshot red eyes as I look at him walking towards me with a knife. The red knife. The one I would use to make him his favourite salad. To make his favourite meal. The memories still flash across as I await my fate.
Stop crying you bitch! Just stop crying!
The ponytail loosens as he grabs my hair harder. I scream again. Louder each time.
Saahiill….Saahill please…Just stop. Let me go.
I beg as he drags my hair, pulling it harder making my body sweep the floor.
Aaaahhh….. I hold his feet.
Get up, you ugly whore!
His voice echoes the room.
He lifts me by the hair, making me stand up. I feel like a piece of meat dragged from one point to another, prepared to be slaughtered.
Cut your hand and show me that you love me! Here! Cut yourself!
I stand numb as he screams in my ears, presenting me with the knife.
Do it you bitch!
He screams again.
Saahill…I…I cant…what is wrong with you…Just, please…
My cries turn into howls now, yet the savage continues.
You should have thought of this before cheating on me you cunt!
I have not cheated on you! How many times do I tell you that? I just met him. He is my friend, for god’s sake. And he is getting married now!
I scream back.
Amongst the pain, the agony, the anger, the trauma, I search for the man I had fallen in love with. But he was dead. Long gone. Dead with the first slap eight months ago. Dead with every time he could not control his anger. Dead with every time I accepted it.
Aaahhh…I scream in hurt as he throws me across the table landing on the floor again. I have now forgotten which all parts of my body hurt. The head, the hair, the shoulder he had hit a while ago, the slaps on my face or the stomach that he had punched. I give in to the pain as it travels through my body. Not knowing if it will ever stop. Waiting for the end.
Either you cut your hand or hit your head on the wall and show me that you love me! Get up you fucking slut! Show me!
The next sentence follows.
My head revolves around the agony as he continues to hit. I watch him turn a monster waiting for me to accept his punishment, and prove my love for him. Love. The word could make me laugh now. I stand there looking at him pacing around the room with a hand on his head, clueless of what to do, trying to comprehend a phone call, wanting to probably kill me or make me suffer. I see traits of a psychopath as I share the room with him.
I cannot do it!
I mutter as the screams grow louder and I fall on my knees crying and begging for mercy.
He screams his loudest grabbing the laptop charger kept on the table. The hit is hard as it lands on my forehead.
I go blank, as I collapse.
The moment passes away in a fleet as the morning sunrise from the window hits my face and wakes me up with a head hitting pain. I wake up with my torn clothes and my eyes shift to the monster peacefully sleeping next to me. I look at the clock. It is 6.02 am. I find myself on the floor, as he lay on the mattress and the house is a massacre. Just for a moment, I know exactly what I have to do.
I knew this was it. It was enough. It had reached enough a lot time ago. It had reached enough when he had slapped me for the first time. The hope to change him was gone a long time ago. Last night it died. Something about the morning tells me it is over. The storm has passed and it will be calm now. It had to be over a long time back. Somehow the pain screamed of our decent. Now it is.
As the body screams with pain, I gather myself up quietly and rush to the room to get my bag. Three things crossed my immediate thought. My transcripts, my laptop, a few clothes and my mom’s sweater. I grab the first thing I see in my wardrobe and stuff my bag, ready to leave.
I quietly pace my steps without making any noise careful of not waking the monster up. I pause to take one last look at the house. The house I had made a home. I take one last look at the room and the memories. The knife lay on the table and I relive the horror for a moment again.
I walk away from the best and the worst relationship of my life. I am walking away from the man I chose to love. I am walking away from my home I had created. I am walking away from the man who wanted to insert a rod in me. I am walking away from a man who wanted to almost kill me every time we fought and told me I am never enough. I walk away from the man who wanted to keep me as his own, without making me his own. I am walking away from toxic. I am walking away from the monster.
I open the door, wear the bag and run. Run as fast as I could. I knew it was time. Time to break the shackles. It was time to breathe. I run for kilometers straight. With a paining body, throbbing headache, visible marks and a deep cut, I finally find myself breathing.
The air smelled different today. It smelled like Freedom.
4 months later
And now I would like to call upon the stage, Miss Meera Kumar, for outstanding excellence in the Field of Mental Health and her contribution to the field of Psychology. Miss Meera…Ladies and gentlemen.
As the crowd roared with claps, I soak in my tears and walk up to the stage with pride and honor.
Miss Meera, Your research on Gas lighting and behavioral effects of physical and verbal abuse, has helped millions of lives and has spread the news about it. Would you like to give out a message to the ones who are still struggling with it?
Yes. I would like to start with four words.
Do not stay there…
And I begin.