Thursday, July 31, 2008

Damage Control

Mark asked me a few days ago, "What's the one major way that your parents' divorce affected you?" I was a little bit stunned by that particular conversation-opening gambit, especially since over the last few months, Mark and I have pretty much drifted off each others' radars. But seeing how he's Mark, and that I'll always have a soft spot for him no matter what, I gave his question serious thought. I told him, "I think it's the inability to recognise, and thus retain, a solid romantic relationship." Even as I said it, i realised that I sounded like such a cliche! Seriously, divorced parents, damaged child? How long can that band play? But it got me thinking of the many ways that we are damaged over the duration of our lives.

The friendly man-servant who one day carries 7-year-old you into a small room, and gets so friendly he leaves you in tears. Your favorite sibling who finds your secret diary and reads it aloud to his laughing friends as you sit humiliated. The girlfriend who makes you choose between the love of your life and her friendship. The parent who dismisses you for the nth time or looks at you as if you were a stranger. The lover who proudly guarantees that he would never feel anything but lust for you, teaches you to wall off your emotions, and says, "Atleast I'm being honest" as if he expects a medal. The fiance who breaks your heart the day after proclaiming to all and sundry that "I may hurt myself, but I will never hurt her". The friend-turned-lover who stands you up several times with the excuse, "Oh shit, I forgot."

The list is never-ending, and not all of it serious, sure. After all, Life is the School of Hard Knocks. It makes you appreciate the good, and makes you a better, kinder, more trustworthy person. Yes, sometimes, some of it is true. But at what cost?

Two decades ago, I wrote this totally uninspired childish attempt at a short story that tells the tale of a fortress and how she sets up her defences against attacking hordes. Everytime her exteriors were breached, she would magically rebuild stronger than before (much like human bones actually). One day, a young soldier who'd heard of the unsurpassable fortress walls came by. It was a lovely crisp winter morning, seasonal flowers were out in full bloom, and the Fortress, liking the look of the bloke who didn't shoot cannons at her, let him in without any struggle. The Prince, unworthy as he is, robs her of her treasures, sells them off, gets drunk, invites random blokes from the nearby tavern to show off, creates a ruckus, breaking all the furniture, etc etc. The fortress, pissed off, throws him out, and shuts her doors forever.

So yes, it's an obvious story with somewhat of an obvious moral. But for me, the story, and my post, is not about the shrapnel from external sources and the holes in the exterior walls. It's about the real damage inflicted by people you trust, people you let in, people who became privy to your closest held secrets, people who treated that courtesy not as a privilege but as an opportunity.

Don't get me wrong. I do know that for every jackass out there, there are atleast 10 wonderful, warm, loving people living right under your nose. But herein lies the rub. When we're born, we carry this ball of light within us. It makes us laugh loudly and unselfconsciously, it makes our eyes shine brighter, it makes us adorable to everyone. We are innocent, taking for granted that we shall be loved always, that no one will deliberately harm us, that we shall always have friends, and there'll always be someone with an answer to our dumbest-brightest questions. So good people are expected. It's the betrayals that get our attention. Because they change us.

With every betrayal - small and large - the door of the fortress shuts a little bit, converting another fraction of the ball of light into lead. At some point, you make a choice between keeping the door open, and watching your life-source getting sucked into lead, or keeping what remains of the light and just shutting the fortress door saying, "Thanks, but no thanks. Who needs this shit!"

The good news is that the light inside grows. It replenishes. It shines out through the windows, and draws everyone to you. It makes you laugh again. But it doesn't obliterate the memory of how close you got to losing everything. It whispers continuously about how it's others like those out there who made you shut down to begin with. You have all the right reasons to stay where you are. Content. Happy.

So I suppose it's fair to say that the whole separation/ parents-hating-each-other/ divorce thing is just another betrayal (maybe the biggest) in a life full of them. By now, you have some amount of perspective. But as you look out through the windows of your self-constructed missile-proof super sonic shield, you can't help hoping that someone worthy would come by and ask you out to play again. And that it's before you've forgotten how to say yes.

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