The Fluid Nature of Friendship

I was wiser in my twenties than I give myself credit for.

In an old blog, in another time, I remember writing, at the tender age of twenty-two, that some friendships had use-by dates. Sadly, I didn’t remember my own advice, and I’ve struggled with the act of letting go all my life.

It’s caused me nothing but heartache. I’ve clung to friendships that were clearly over, to people who clearly didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore, and to scenarios where I was clearly the one without a clue.

I have often wondered, later, in the small still hours of the night, what on earth I was clinging to. Why, I would chastise myself, hands wringing sadly, head shaking sorrowfully, why, why, oh why did I put myself through that? In cases where I should have walked away a long time ago, I stayed; sometimes, inexplicably, I stayed for months. And then it suddenly hit me.

I wasn’t staying hoping to make things better, or hoping for good times to roll around again. I was staying because I couldn’t let go of the past.

It’s a common ailment that many of us face. Not being able to let go of the past. Not being able to bid adieu to the wonderful friend with whom I had so many good memories. Not being able to walk away from the relationship where love had clearly died – not just died, but decomposed – because I couldn’t forget the wonderful times when I had felt in love, and loved. It’s something that I’ve had to learn, and relearn, and constantly reassure myself that it’s okay to put myself first for a change.

Take a recent example of a good friend I’ve been friends with for years. We saw each other through some pretty horrendous times. She lifted me up when I needed it, and I did the same for her. We laughed, we cried, we connected, and we swore we’d be best friends forever.

About that last thing.

Yeah.

No.

A few months ago it became all too obvious that all the reaching out was coming from my side. I confided in her only for her to receive my news coldly, and to dismiss my fears and experiences outright because it happened to a lot of people, not just me. While I blinked in confusion, she logged off abruptly, leaving me to hold my head and ask myself what had just happened.

I sent her a message privately on Facebook asking her if everything was okay, and if I’d done anything to upset her. Typically, I put it all on myself, assuming I had erred in some fashion. Perhaps I had been negligent. Perhaps I had been too caught up with my life to be interested in hers. Perhaps I hadn’t responded to an e-mail or to a message. Perhaps it was me.

In the conversation that had preceded the private message, I had confessed to my friend that I was suffering from severe anxiety attacks as a result of certain stressors in my life right now. She knew that this was the case when she saw the private message from me and then proceeded to ignore it for 24 hours.

Yes, dear reader. Facebook informed me that she had seen the message, because that’s what Facebook does. Then my friend, or so I had thought until that moment, ignored my message for 24 hours, despite knowing I was suffering from crippling anxiety attacks at the time.

While I reeled, freaked out, hyperventilated, and freaked out some more, there was a voice at the back of my mind saying ‘eh, it’s over’. I knew it was. I had known it, I think, for some time. However that didn’t stop me from trying to salvage it for all I was worth. Never mind that the person concerned didn’t care about me or my well-being any more. Never mind that the effort was all one-sided. Never mind that I wasn’t the one with the problem; it was her.

She replied the next day with one line: Nothing is wrong, I’m just busy/having a bad day/ill. I can’t remember which of those excuses she used, and frankly, I can’t be bothered going and digging it up to look. All I know is that it sounded remarkably blase; it was a note from someone who didn’t care. It was also a note from someone who, cruelly, had kept me waiting over 24 hours in a state of panic. Not, as you will surely admit, the actions of a friend.

She had also told a mutual friend of ours that there had been ‘problems’ between her and I for ‘a very long time’. It was the first time I was hearing of it, and it astounded me. You honestly could have knocked me down with a feather. I hadn’t realised that there were problems, and when I’d asked if everything was okay I was told that everything was okay. I realised that you only do that when you no longer care to keep someone around. When you can no longer be bothered to salvage your relationship with someone, you lie. She lied.

I began distancing myself from her right then and there. I no longer acknowledged her, and I no longer cared to. I tried to stop caring, but that took longer to accomplish. In fact, I don’t really think I’m there yet. Perhaps I never will be. Perhaps I will always remember the good times when she and I were friends, and perhaps that’s okay. Perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

This morning I realised she hadn’t showed up on my Facebook feed for a long time, so I went to see what she’d been up to. Her profile was absolutely blank. I could see nothing except a public change of her cover photo, and a new profile picture which was also public. Everything else was a blank.

I shrugged. What can you do? It had been done. To all intents and purposes, she had unfriended me, but she hadn’t yet hit the button. I wondered why she hadn’t done that. Perhaps she couldn’t let go of me. Hang on, I told myself. She’d already let go of me. Perhaps this then was about being the bad guy. She didn’t want to be the bad guy, unfriending me completely. Perhaps she didn’t want to explain to our mutual friends if I made a fuss. Or perhaps, if I unfriended her, she needed someone to vent to and blame me, as she had blamed me all along.

I didn’t even hesitate. I hit the unfriend button. I moved on.

You see, twenty-two year old me had been right. Some friendships do have a use-by date. Friendship is not a static thing. This is because human beings are not static. We grow, and we change. Some of us change in positive ways, and some of us change in not-so-positive ways. When all is said and done, sometimes, ten years later, the person you became friends with a decade ago isn’t the same person as she or he was a decade ago. Now, some friendships survive this. There is real love and honesty, and you both grow with each other, towards each other. Some of my oldest friendships are testament to this. When you care so fiercely about someone else, you make room for them in your life. Sometimes, you just stop caring. Sometimes, things just end.

Endings are okay.

The Terror In Your Bones

I can sense the terror in your bones.

You had it all figured out. You made all the right decisions. You came out swinging, with every turn, because that’s who you were. You did all the right things. There isn’t a single person out there who could fault you, because your actions were faultless. And then, one day, while you were sleeping, something happened somewhere that you had no control over. It was something that controlled millions of lives, and yours was just one more, or one less. It destroyed you. In less time than it took to build yourself up, almost overnight, it consumed you. The glass and the steel are almost mocking; self-important men and women in designer suits whose actions barely changed their own lives managed to destroy yours, and now, people pass you by in the streets.

You used to own these streets.

But not any more. Your life is no longer your own. You were just one more, or one less. They won’t look at you properly, and when they do, they see a broken man in a battered coat, dirty jeans, and filthy sneakers. They wrinkle their perfect noses. You want to tell them that you can remember the day when you bought these jeans. You remember when your sneakers were new. You paid for them with the money you earned, when you lived in your house, and worked at your job, and paid your own bills. You wish you could say something, but you can’t. They don’t care. They’ve decided who you are. You’re lazy. You’re unmotivated. You’re a scrounger. You’re a waste of their tax money. You’re barely human, and you’re not worth acknowledging.

I can sense the terror in your bones.

And you? You never had a chance. Nobody took anything from you, because you never had anything they could take. Born into poverty, dragged up from the gutter, you’ve never known anything other than this. Your terrors aren’t the nightmares other children have. Your terrors are real. They are hunger. They are fear. They are despair. Some people think despair is ugly, but I think despair is desperate. Despair is you. It’s your mother, unable to save your sister, who should never have died. There were medicines that could have treated what she had. Despair is your father, who barely works, and who drinks his paycheck when he does. Despair is the cold you feel when the weather changes, and your clothes are barely enough. Despair is the racking cough you can never get rid of, and despair is your grubby hands reaching out to people for a coin. Any coin.

I can sense the terror in your bones.

People don’t want you to touch them as they hurry past you. I watched someone throw a coin at you, behind you, so you’d chase the coin, and stop chasing them. My heart aches for you; my soul feels your pain. You have no dreams, other than food, and waking up tomorrow. You are just one more, or less. Your life is worth nothing here, where all life is worth nothing.

I can sense the terror in your bones.

Puppy Love

Three little puppies.

Actually, I first noticed them because one of them wasn’t moving, although the other two were playing around her, frolicking about, and being generally joyful. I was in a small shop on the other side of the busy road, so I crossed over, and squatted down near the dirty brown bundle. She looked at me out of watery brown eyes, barked a little wuff as if to say, ‘Well, hello to you too’, and wagged the tip of her little tail. Her other two siblings came rushing over boisterously – another little female, and the boldest and friendliest of the trio, a little male who tried to play tag with my foot.

I looked around for their mother, knowing that I was probably looking in vain. Street puppies in India are often abandoned by their mothers as soon as they can survive, and this lot, at about one and a half months of age, must have been deemed fit to survive by their mother. She’d abandoned them where she’d probably had them and raised them, and here they were, playful, joyous, exuberant – and riddled with mange.

The mange was a problem. I knew it would be difficult to get them the help they needed because a) there isn’t a single shelter in Chennai that is no-kill and b) everyone I know who rescues animals privately (like my mum) are filled to capacity, and unable to take on any more. I called around, even though I knew it was hopeless, and then decided to let them take their chances on the mean streets of Chennai. I decided I’d help them, and to that end I paid a couple of people to move them close to where they already were, but an inner road, where they’d be safer than on the main road. Then I brought the vet to look at them, and he prescribed deworming tabs and medicine for their mange, which he assured me was the non-contagious kind. I decided I’d feed them everyday, and give them their medicines mixed into the food.

It worked. It worked well. For more than a week I drove to them twice a day, with food, water, and medicines, and they ate and drank. They learned to identify my car and they’d welcome me with wuffs and yaps. It was working.

Then it all turned sour. I went one day to discover that only two of them were there. The puppy I had met first, the female who was lying down while her siblings were playing, was missing. I asked around, searched as well as I could, and drove around looking for her. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. She had vanished.

I continued to feed the other two, hoping the missing one had just gone wandering, and that she’d turn up. She didn’t.

Yesterday, I went there with their lunch, as I usually did, to discover that a bunch of people had apparently chased them away from where they were sheltering, and the boldest puppy, the sweet adventurous friendly little male, had rushed out onto the main road in a fright, and had been run over. I stared at the woman from the fruit stall nearby as she told me this, trying to stop the tears from leaping into my eyes. But they came anyway.

In an attempt to comfort me, she laid her hand on my arm. “Don’t cry”, she said. “They were just diseased puppies.”

I stared at her as I tried to gather my thoughts, and pulled my arm away. I walked down the little road trying to find the last puppy, but she wasn’t there. I looked everywhere; I even looked on a parallel road. She’s disappeared.

I sat in the car, staring unseeingly at the life that was going on around me. Yes, they were diseased. No, they weren’t particularly beautiful. Yes, their lives were probably worthless to almost everyone who looked at them.

But not to me.

I fought hard for them. I _wanted_ them to grow up. I tried to help. I believed then – as I do now – and as I always will – that they had a right to their lives. They wanted to live. They were full of life, and I respected that.

I went back today, hoping the last puppy may have wandered back. She was nowhere to be found. I asked around. Nobody’s seen her. She’s probably dead too.

I came away with tears in my eyes, because someone has to cry for these puppies, and it’s going to be me. It’s going to be the person who tried to help them to live; it’s going to be the person who tried to even their odds.

I’ll never forget them, because this is puppy love, and it lasts a lifetime.

Shut Up And Sing!

Movie Poster for 'Shut Up And Sing'.

Last night I watched a very interesting documentary called ‘Shut up and sing‘. It covers the lives of the Dixie Chicks for three years after Natalie Maines publicly criticised the George W. Bush administration for going to war against Iraq. … Continue reading

Hello, 2014

It’s been far too long. I haven’t written here for months and months, and I suppose I should write a little about how much I missed my blog, and how much I longed to be able to share myself with the world again, but the truth is, I didn’t.

I mean, don’t get me wrong; I love my blog. I love that I can log in sometimes months later and find (as I did today) that people have left me messages telling me how much they support me and how much they love my writing. It’s gratifying, and somehow, those messages of support from you make me feel like all of this makes sense somehow. Thank you. It means the world to me that you feel that way about my writing; it’s humbling and energising at the same time.

I also discovered that I have gained 80 new followers over the past four months. Thank you, all of you, for following me, and for reading what I have to say, and for clamouring for more. I really am smiling from ear to ear; this blog now has 696 followers, and that is beyond brilliant!

But to get back to the reason why I didn’t miss my blog. It’s quite simple. I didn’t miss it because I was too busy being overwhelmed by life.

It’s been a difficult few months, and there have been a lot of changes. I barely know where to start updating you all. Suffice it to say that too much has happened; I have leased my lovely crazy kitchen-in-the-basement home to a very nice couple and have moved to my friend Saran’s house. Well, technically, it belongs to his parents, and they’re not using it, so here I am, living rent-free in a house that is much too big for just me (and three cats). It really is simply enormous; even the rooms have rooms here, if that makes sense. Three (four if you count the ground floor) floors of rooms; I’ve already had to cordon off quite a few of them and place them firmly off-limits to the cats. The last thing I want is for them to wander into one of the rooms where Saran’s family are storing gorgeous antique furniture, and huge big tapestries, and floor-to-ceiling paintings, and have them use them as scratching posts. I shudder at the thought!

So, in between the move, and all the stresses normally associated with moving, and saying goodbye (for the couple are leasing to buy) to my old home, there have also been a few other stressful things that my family and I have had to deal with. What with one thing and another, it was an absolutely rotten Christmas. I really never want another Christmas like that again, ever. What is usually one of my favourite holidays felt unendurable, and I longed for it all to be over more than once. Never again.

However, it is the New Year, and it feels just that – new. It feels freshly laundered, and clean, and sun-dried. It feels like I want to roll about in it and be grateful for being alive. I know people say that it’s still your life, and it’s just another day; well-meaning people can’t resist reminding us that absolutely nothing has changed, and that nothing will change unless we make the change happen. I understand all of that, and I do agree for the most part, but I disagree with them just a little bit. I know it’s still my life, but for some reason it just does _feel_ like a new year. It feels hopeful, and different, and just good. I know it won’t be perfect; it never is. Perfection doesn’t exist. But I think this year will be wonderful because I feel like it will. I’m quietly hopeful. Sometimes, I’m even exuberant.

Hello, 2014.

Bubbles of Excitement

I said something last week that I’m not particularly proud of.

During a moment of self-pity when I was bemoaning the tragedy of my life (as I put it so eloquently during that particular moment), and complaining to one of my best friends that I was surely beset with misfortune as I had not yet managed to have a child of my own, I also managed to say that I found it difficult to muster any excitement about new births and pregnancy announcements from my friends and acquaintances. Now, I should add that my friend has been trying to get pregnant for a while now, and has so far been unsuccessful. So at this point she said to me rather sadly that surely, SURELY, I would be excited for her if she managed to get pregnant.

I was morose and I told her to please not ‘ask me that today’. We then moved on to talk about other things. We have spoken almost every day since, but always of other things. But what I said to her has continued to bother me.

Knowing how difficult this journey has been for her, and looking at her journey through the lenses of my own journey, my reaction ought to have been different. I can offer no explanation and I certainly deserve no excuse. How could I not be excited about any of the births and pregnancy announcements of any of the people I care about? How is it possible that I imagined at that moment that I would not be able to ‘muster up’ enough excitement for her?

K, I am sorry I said that. I will be beyond excited for you. I will sing a song of happiness, and offer thanks to the Fates when you get pregnant. I will be with you every step along the way as you plan, and dream, and ultimately obsess about your unborn child. I will look at paint palettes for your nursery, and coo over nursery furniture, and send you links to maternity dresses that are still fashionable, and shoes that you will hopefully adore. I will bemoan the fact that I do not live where you live, because that will prevent me from being useful to you, and I will talk you out of any weird names that you might momentarily favour.

You will feel my love and happiness through every step of your journey, and when your child is born, I will love that child the way I love the children of all of my friends. I will be in love, from the first moment that s/he enters the world.

My happiness will be tangible and ever-present, and my excitement for you will bubble over.

That’s what I should have said. That’s what I know I feel, and will always feel, and I should have put my unhappiness aside and felt the boundless joy I always feel on behalf of the people I love when they succeed, accomplish, create, and achieve.

I love you.

F.O.O.D

Pista-chio. (Beautiful, expensive, rich.)
I have a bag of these, and I don’t know what to do with them. That’s rare for me; it’s rare that I don’t know what to do with an ingredient. But when it comes to these I’m torn. Should I save them for Diwali and add them to a sweet, made with thickened milk, sugar, and saffron? Or do I make them into a delicious cold ice cream? Or do I bake them into a cake? I don’t know. But I’d better decide soon, because whenever I take the bag down to look at it, I end up eating some.

Apple. (Crisp, cool, delicious.)
My mantra is to eat seasonal and buy local, and there is nothing more seasonal than apples during autumn. Mind you, we don’t really have autumn here. What rotten luck for me to miss my favourite season, although it is true. The leaves don’t even change colour here. Nothing dies, and nothing is reborn. But I always know where I am with apples. I can’t get enough of them lately. I add them to almost everything, and apple sauce does go well with chicken. Just saying.

Cof-fee. (Hot, steaming, black.)
When I’m working (translation: writing) I am addicted to coffee. I drink it in the morning, and then I drink it through the day. My grandfather liked his coffee sweet and strong, and that’s how I like my coffee too, although lately I’ve been drinking it black. My favourite thing to eat with coffee is a piece of buttery shortbread. It is my favourite elevenses. There is nothing quite like coffee and shortbread; they are the perfect marriage.

Yog-hurt. (Cold, creamy, gone.)
I make my own yoghurt. I have done for many years now. It’s always amusing to me when people buy yoghurt. I buy it as a starter and nothing more. Nothing compares to the joy I feel when I come down to the kitchen in the morning and the yoghurt’s done; it’s like some invisible creature came to it in the night and transformed my milk (which is exactly what happens, of course). It’s a beautiful thing; silky, creamy, glistening in the light. Alright, alright. Enough already.

Alm-ond. (Small, sweet, delicate.)
There was an almond tree in the garden of the rambling old house that I grew up in. I was amazed at discovering as a little girl that the purplish-pink fruit was actually an almond. My grandmother showed me how to get the fleshy husk off, and we used a meat tenderiser to whack the hard shell off. All that work yielded a teensy sliver of a nut that my grandmother gave me to eat, and I decided that it was the most gorgeous thing in the world. I was four years old. I think that was when my love for food was born; my habit of marveling at the world and the things in it. It is one of the most awesome memories I have of my grandmother; most of my good memories with her revolve around food.

Happy Anniversary, Blog.

I logged in this evening to find a Happy Anniversary post from WordPress. I Speak Awanthi is two years old.

I suppose I should have thrown my blog a party, as so many people seem to do, but the real honest truth of it is that I didn’t remember.

Two years old. It’s funny; in the past, in older blogs, I’ve never really been able to go back to my posts without cringing a little. Was I really that naive? Did I really say that? Was I really that sensitive? Did that seriously make me angry enough to write a blog post about it? And did I really need to write an I-Love-You-So-Much-I’m-Going-To-Cry post to Whatsisname?

See what I mean? Cringe. Double cringe.

But I’m apparently getting older and wiser, because I can go back two years ago to the very first post in this blog and I can read the things I wrote and they are still as relevant to me today as the day that I sat down and wrote them. This is a good thing. I’m never going to stop learning, but perhaps I’ve stopped cringing.

Perhaps.

There is so much going on in my life right now. There is so much change, and as with most change, it is causing me a great deal of stress. There are a lot of places I don’t want to be at the moment, and one of those places is my life. I am tired, overworked, ill, and barely coping. I am barely holding on, and it is freaking me out. I don’t deal with uncertainty as well as I used to. I miss the woman that I was; the woman who not only dealt with uncertainty, but who decimated it. The woman who picked up her life and moved on – and on – and on – and on. I want her back. I want to stop being her shadow.

One day at a time. One blog post at a time. One change at a time. One hurdle at a time. One anniversary at a time.

Happy Anniversary, blog.

Pity Us

Pity the daughters of beautiful women who by some twist of genetics do not end up looking like our gorgeous fashionable mothers, but looking more like ourselves instead. They will always be the yardsticks that we will never live up to, and many of us may spend our entire lives trying.

People will be unkind and tell us that we do not look like our mothers; even if they say nothing else, the suggestion is implied. You do not look like your mother. You look like yourself.

And in some worlds and in some universes that is somehow wrong; it is somehow a bad thing.

In my case it was extended family who told me almost every day that I didn’t look like my mother, with an aunt going so far as to call me ugly. Although I grew more sensitive as I got older, as a child I was far tougher than my adult self, and I just stared back at her unblinkingly. My lack of reaction must have been disconcerting because she never really used that word to describe me again.

My mother added her own fuel to the fire, although in her case I know that it was not meant unkindly, and was perhaps more unthinking than anything else. One day, as I was adoringly watching her dress as she sat at her dressing table, as she delicately sprayed perfume at her wrists and at the nape of her neck, with a spray on my wrists for a treat, and as she applied red to her full mouth as my eyes took it all in, wide-eyed, she turned to me and said, ‘Oh, darling. I do wish you looked like me.’

From that moment on I wished it too. I would often stare for hours at myself in the mirror, hating every feature, every single thing that made me me. My eyes are large and set wide apart and my mouth full and nearly always turned down in a permanent sulk that is less about sulking and more about the way that it usually looks. I pulled at my snub nose trying somehow to make it longer and straighter, and more like my mum’s pretty nose. I poked and prodded at myself and I decided that I simply wasn’t enough.

This was tragic because I set myself up for a lifetime of disappointment. You see, women are frequently told that we’re never enough. We’re never slim enough, tall enough, pretty enough, hairless enough; our hair is never shiny enough; our teeth aren’t white enough; we simply aren’t flawless enough. We’re not perfect enough. Somebody forgot to mention to advertising agencies the world over that we’re not meant to be perfect, and that it is the imperfections that are endearing, but nobody really says that in an advertisement. They scream at us from the radio and from the television, and from hoardings that we can’t miss even when we’re the ones dodging other vehicles in peak traffic: YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH.

You are not enough.

Most of us will live our entire lives trying to catch up to simply being enough, and we will strive for perfection because it’s what we do. We will strive to be perfect girlfriends, wives, and mothers; we will strive to be perfect at work; we will strive to be perfect best friends. We will even strive to be perfect daughters to the mothers that we don’t look like. We will strive so hard that we will push ourselves to levels of stress and feelings of failure even when we haven’t failed, and we will have breakdowns, and we will cry alone in the bathroom in the middle of the night, and some of us will experience full-on depression for which some of us will seek treatment, and the rest of us won’t.

Because we’re not enough.

But here’s the thing. We are enough. You are enough. Today is the only today that matters, and tomorrow is just another today that hasn’t begun yet. One day, years from now, on a whole other today, you will realise that all of those yesterdays where you felt that you were not enough, you were. You were more than enough. You were a champion. You were a star. You took everything that they threw at you and you asked for more. Because it’s what you do.

You are enough.

So do yourself a favour. Tell yourself you’re enough. And if you’re a beautiful mother of a daughter who doesn’t look like you, you tell her she’s beautiful.

You tell her she’s enough.

Yesterday’s Whisper

I understand that searing desire to speak and to be heard. I have it too. As much as all of me yearns for proof and dismisses outright your beliefs for facts, there are times when I long for your faith. Things seem easier for you, somehow, and yet I know that faith in the unseen cannot be easy. Most of me thinks that you are wrong even as I envy your ability to converse, to ask, to praise, to plead.

In moments of utter loneliness I also reach out to the darkness, only to hear nothing; nothing but my own voice echoes back at me. So I sit here on my perennial fence, looking at you, but refusing to step forward to join you because I think that at the end of the day you are only talking to yourself, asking – yourself, praising – yourself, pleading with – yourself.

There is much in the world that science is yet unable to explain and yet faith is unable to explain it as well; nothing can explain some things and you ask too much of me. You ask me to believe and I cannot believe in something I cannot touch, cannot see, cannot hear, cannot feel.

I watch your conversations as you kneel, rise, sway, mutter, moan, sing, and I envy your belonging, for I belong nowhere, and with no-one. I feel as fragile as you feel, but my fragility is different from yours. Yours resides in your faith and in your community, but mine resides in me alone.

To me your conversations are all yesterday’s whispers, and they are lost in the wind, and gone forever, just as mine are. But while mine went unheard, I envy your belief that somebody heard yours.