Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Walking Away

When I look into the mirror, there is a stillness in my face, in my eyes. I feel like my house- silent and empty. It is as if sounds would echo inside me if I spoke loudly. I don't speak loudly. No one does. My father's was the voice that was often raised, and hated. It's gone now.

When he left, he took a few things with him. I cannot name them. I am not even sure what they are. But the void is felt. It is not strength that is carrying me through. It is my body. I eat and I sleep. My body demands both, insistently. Every other desire has faded into a grey background. But even in the silence, words have been forming, slowly collecting. I knew I would write this. I dreaded it, but I knew.

Biology is a bitch. It makes you love people you have no business loving. It makes you fight and struggle to save their lives. And when you fail, it strips you of joy. He was not an easy man to love, my father. In his eyes, my gender was inferior to his, and that always stood between us. I learnt to care very little for his world view, but I could never let my mother be a victim. I was her guardian, he was her owner. Our roles pitted us against each other and the battle was a constant one. Our fights were bitter; contempt and anger flying between us even as we struggled to find some peace. I wished him dead, because his stubbornness ruined our happiness, and his refusal to change ensured it would stay ruined as long as he lived. We were always one of those families that rarely laughed. The quietest one at picnics, the most well-behaved, the most boring. At home, each of us stayed in our rooms, determined to stay away, tired and saddened by the fact that we could not get along. We blamed him; he knew it. There were moments when he tried to be different. He always failed. He carried his hell with him, and in time, we learnt to distance ourselves from it as much as we could.

This past year, he stayed in his room more than ever. I, who once managed every aspect of his health down to the tablets he took, stayed away. His health had become a vague blot in my mind- I did not understand his fanciful skipping from one form of medicine to another. It was baffling and best left to him. From time to time, I'd hear my mother berate him for mismanaging his health, but his ego shut her up as effectively as it'd done their entire lives together. He filled his little boxes with pills and powders, and he lay on his bed, always a bit tired. His tongue was still as sharp as ever, his words to me as cruel. I left him lying there, in the comfort of his words, in the mercy of the cancer that we did not know was eating away at his liver.

I do not look back at him or at our relationship with regret. Every fight was an opportunity for him to look at us differently, to love us unconditionally, but he never took it. He was a tragic product of his past, a prisoner of his own memories and the skewered lessons they'd taught him. But then he died. Pitifully. And that is where I move past our past and grieve for my father.

There are moments of overwhelming un-acceptance, when the mind repeats over and over that he is gone but cannot believe it, because it is so colossally unfair. Because I've always been able to save my parents. I've always dropped everything, rushed to them and made sure that however their bodies protested, they pulled through and bounced back. This time, I was powerless, helpless, standing by frantically pressing his legs and back as he asked for death. People tell me he was lucky, that 10 days from start to finish is a short time to suffer. In another life, I would have agreed. But I stood by him day and night as his body betrayed him. I learnt how long a minute is. I learnt how much pain is enough to break a mind. That last day, he told me to flee, to save my life from the bomb that was going to explode. My heart kept freezing and burning as I stood next to the bed of this brilliant engineer, a man who almost single-handedly kept a petrochemical factory running, the man who taught me math, as his eyes widened crazily and he shouted at me to run away, again and again. I dreaded each time I was called in to him, each frantic warning to run away before the bomb exploded. And then the bomb did explode.

My sister was chasing a miracle, a drug that gave her hope enough to rush to Bangalore. My mother, exhausted, was asleep in a room on another floor. I stood at the door of the ICU, alone, the medicine bags slipping from my hand and crashing to the floor as I saw people rushing to him. A male nurse was on his bed, compressing his chest with a force that was frightening. People were running around him, desperately inserting tubes, blood on every surface. The machines were beeping, screaming alarms. When they all quietened down and the doctor walked out, I thought they'd managed to bring him back. They hadn't. All I could think was- the last thing he'd seen was me walking away from him, to get him more medicines. He'd lain on his side, his eyes popping, his gown askew, one hand clutching the frame of his bed, watching me walk away from him. And then the bomb burst. He knew it would. He'd told me to save myself. I couldn't.

For days afterward, the image of him watching me walk away haunted me. I could not close my eyes because it was burned into my brain. It took time, and a lot of grief to be able to move past it. Or rather, to attempt to do so.

Now, he is reduced to a photograph that sits in the hall, adorned with flowers. I struggle to accept that. But I cannot accept the dignity that was denied to him in death. Here was a man who never even left his own bedroom without combing his hair. I'd seen him naked, unaware of the fact, unable to do anything about it even if he'd wanted to. I think perhaps that is the hardest part of all this- that death stripped him of everything before it took him. It worked slowly, starting with his hope, ending with his sanity. And now he is gone. A life is gone. Perhaps he has moved on to another life, another bout of learning. The slate wiped clean, ready for a fresh start. If so, then he is the lucky one, and I wish him well there. For us, for me, life has to go on.