Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A small bottle of yellow pills...

... That's all it takes to end a life, usually your own. Ofcourse, getting the prescription pills requires a little bit of planning, but some kind of ingenious thinking, some acting abilities and some make-up can take care of it. The truth is, when it comes to quieting once and for all the all-pervasive silence that has invaded your entire being, it's a small price to pay.

When i was 15, a favorite teacher in school hanged herself from her living room fan when her two kids were out playing, and the husband was at work. At that time, it was a massive shock - after all, she always seemed so happy, she had such a great life, wonderful family - what could possibly have possessed her to take such a step? Running almost alongside that thought was the usual judgement - how selfish not to think of the devastation that she was going to leave behind.
The fact, as i think i know today, is that that very thought is probably what prevented her from taking that final step 3 weeks or even 6 months ago. But 3 weeks - 6 months later, when she found no respite from the life that she had, she despaired.

A few months ago, when i found myself face-to-face with the bottle of pills, I finally realised that words like 'selfish', 'cowardly', 'stupid' had no place in this scenario. At that time, the big problem was heartbreak. I know it's a cliche, but then a cliche didn't become one without help, right? However, at the time, i didn't recognise the signs... Let me explain.

Every BODY has a way of dealing with pain. Some drink, some fight and some cry. In my case, my body usually shuts down all systems of functioning, waits for my mind to deal with the pain and accompanying rage and then finally surfaces, whole, complete, new. However, when someone broke my heart, the magnitude of pain that radiated through all my nerve endings was more than my system was used to. It shut down, completely, while dealing with the pain and the gargantuan amount of rage that systematically eroded away my insides. The only thing that continued to function was the screensaver which kept flashing “I’m all right, don’t worry.”

Taking this screensaver as gospel truth (even i did that, incidentally... I know it's odd to talk of oneself in the third person, but trust me, that's usually what happens), I attempted normalcy. Hanging out with friends, going out every night, having interesting encounters of the sexual kind, and 'living it up' became the order of the day. However, as much as i would try normalcy, the more I started getting enveloped in a kind of fog (worse than prison walls) that separated me from the person sitting 2 feet away.

The spoken words began to have the metallic quality of sound emanating from an answering machine – and that’s what I became in return. Soon the words too lost their meaning, and I found myself lip-reading, emulating the expressions on the person’s face – they laugh and so will I, she quirks an eyebrow and so will I, he nods a question and I nod back in response. I was on auto-pilot mode. Which was probably good, because work was apparently great (My bank balance was quite healthy even though i don't remember now what i was doing then) and i had many friends (don't remember who was there and who wasn't). For all practical purposes, i had a great life.

The truth was I was imprisoned by my own silence, finding it impossible to reach out for anything, or to even scream for help, in my slippery journey to the edge. I wanted to yell and shout and scream about how much I was hurting, how much it pained to keep that smile pasted on my face, how essential it felt to reassure everyone else instead of focussing on me. And how, despite the parties and the drinks and the various laughs I was sharing with the world, I was desperately unhappy.

One morning, at home, I confronted myself. I finally acknowledged that ball of dread that had nestled comfortably in the pit of my stomach which left no place for food, drink, or any real peace. My reflection mirrored my emaciation of spirit, my lips which had lines of resentment etched around it, my eyes which had lost all of its sparkle. At the young age of 27, I had become a bitter, old woman. Didn't anyone see that?

And i thought, what a way to live, and what's worse, i could see no way out of it. Years of this isolating silence stretched out in front of me; dinners, drinks, parties that i would be at and yet feel absolutely unconnected to, the series of people i was naked with and now can't recollect the faces of... I was trapped. The idea of falling asleep one night without the accompanying dread of waking up to such an existence was hard to resist...

Just as that bottle of pills started to look really good to me, my guardian angel stepped off from his usual celestial perch and bumped into me, in the form of an old friend. He took one look at me and said, “Jeez, you look like shit. What’s up with you?” After all this time, with everyday being spent in the company of many friends, was i still so transparent to someone who took one hard look at me?

And in a crowded coffee shop, I sat across from him and poured my heart out like I hadn’t done ever. I cried and I laughed and then I went back to crying, and told him all about my loneliness, and my sense of disappointment, and the crushing blow to my sense of judgement and self worth… why didn’t anyone love me? Was it that hard?

And the mere act of telling him, and finally acknowledging to another live human being how completely apart I was falling over some guy was cathartic. Like layers of clothing, my bitterness and resentment and pride fell away to finally reveal my true unsullied self to the Sun. I basked in its heat, finally content that my unhappiness wasn’t a dirty secret that I was keeping hidden from everyone, and that I could let it out, and hence prevent it from festering.

Even as I sat there, the opaque fog of silence lifted from around me, and sounds of the world started filtering in. The lines around my mouth surprised themselves by curling up into a smile. And that smile finally sent that shot of electricity to my eyes that brought its spark back to life, albeit feebly… but then it hadn’t been used in months. That evening, I went home, and got rid of the pills, and the months of silence that had surrounded me. I revelled in the music of the day, I danced for the first time that year, and I actually listened to love songs.

Many months later and just a few days ago, I saw him again. Bombay is a small place, and its surprising that it hadn't happened more often, but it seems the Universe does conspire to give you everything you desire. By this time, a lot of water had flown under the bridge and I was able to see him for who he was - just another stranger smoking a cigarette wondering where his next paycheck was coming from. Maybe some crimes are never forgiven, but at that moment, I found myself surprisingly happy and relieved. It was finally over.

As I walked away, I knew that something inside me which i had assumed was broken, had healed itself. The fact that I had had a good look at Despair, gone right to the heart of it... and found nothing there might have helped a little.