Learning to love again

Learning to love again


I slept last night. After a very long time. A very, very long time. That is, for the first time since I stopped taking the sleeping pills. The doctor eased them off slowly, promising that I had not gotten addicted to them and easing them off would mean that my body got used to doing without the chemical sleep. But it didn’t. At first my parents and the doctors said that it was psychological. That I should be able to sleep now, without the pills.

But they don’t know my nightmares. They don’t see the dark shadows looming above my bed.

Or smell the whisky on the breath.

Or feel the weight of him as he presses against me, crushing my body as his hand roughly shuts my voice.

Sometimes there are more shadows than the one. And sometimes I awake from my non-sleep to find myself in a sweat—shaking and trembling like an earthquake has hit my bed. And I need to go to the bathroom. Really, really bad. But I am too frightened to move. And besides, I’m not sure that my legs will hold me up. And so I lie there, shaking from fear and the need to go to the loo. I lie like that all night, turning towards the window to try and get the first glimpse of daybreak that would mean that I am safe again. And then turning away from the window, frightened that there is someone hiding behind the curtain, waiting to pounce. And the whole nightmare starts again.

I can’t scream. For he has taken my voice from me. Not that I am a wreck without the ability to speak. Just that, when the Fear strikes, it also strikes me dumb. So my screams are trapped in my chest, choking me, along with the hands. Those hands.

Those hands weren’t rough. In fact, they were creepily soft. Pudgy and soft, like there was no bone underneath. Fat, soft. But strong. Stronger than the whisky on his breath. The heat of him. The weight of him.

And I’m screaming again, deep inside my being, I’m screaming. My mouth stretched wide. My throat hurting from silent screams that scratch at me.

I have been told that it’s going to get better. The psychologist has promised. But then he had promised I would sleep better. I am not blaming him, just losing faith a little, day by day. Night by night.

Finally, finally, creeping in ever so softly, little by little, sleep comes. Short naps at first. And even though I am not sleeping the whole night, my body is feeling a little rested in the morning. Finally. I am not so sure about my mind, though.

And then it’s time.

I know it’s useless for me to protest or resist any longer. In a way, it will be a relief to be back to school. It will give me a sense of normalcy. Or at the very least, my family will get a sense of normalcy. I don’t know what normalcy feels like anymore.

As I get out of the car—my dad’s dropping me. No bus for now, the car feels a bit safer. But then, but then—I have a moment of panic. Not for the first time, I wonder if everyone is going to know. Is everyone going to stare? Am I going to be branded as the ‘victim’? But how would they know? No one would have told them, would they?

I feel my dad’s hand on my shoulder, he is gently stroking my back. I think he is telling me, whispering to me that it’s going to be all right. But it’s never going to be all right. I turn towards him, to tell him that I’ve changed my mind. That I’m not ready. That the conversation we had two nights ago where I was feeling I could face the world again was long gone and I couldn’t do it.

But then I look up into his face. His kind, kind face, the one with the twinkly eyes that no longer twinkled. Not since…since…

I dig deep into myself. If not for me, I have to do it for him. For Dad and Mum. And Nana and Nani who are suffering along with me. In a way, it must be worse for them. It was their son who had done it. It was Mum’s brother who had pulled me into the darkened room when I made my way to the loo down the corridor. It was Mum’s brother, it was Nana and Nani’s son, it was Dad’s brother-in-law with whom he’d played golf and sat on the swing outside and talked politics. It was my uncle. My Mama. It was him.

No, I have to do this. And if I back down now, I may never be able to do it again. At least not for a long, long time.

I lean over and hug Dad. At least I can do that now. For the longest time, I couldn’t bear to touch or be touched. But I like that I have my father in my arms now. I am stroking his shoulder. It’s me comforting him now. ‘It’s going to be okay, Dad. I’ll be all right.’ He’s trying to be brave, but I can feel his shoulders tense. And then I can feel his heart beating almost out of his chest. I have to do this. For him. For them.

And then I’m standing at the gate of the school. I turn back to Dad and see him trying to be brave and confident. But his eyes are twinkly with unshed tears now. I wave at him and wave him away, a big smile on my face. Tight, tight smile. Fine, I’m going to do this. I will. I will. And I will be fine.


Excerpted with permission, from the story, Learning to love again from The Other: Stories of Difference, Paro Anand, Speaking Tiger.

Price Rs 299.


Cover photograph from: paroanand.com

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