Opening Up

I wrote the following post around two months ago but never found the strength to post it. Until today. I felt it was high time I put it out there, especially with the recently begun #MeToo campaign. As distressing as it has been writing this out, what’s even more appalling to me is the realisation that this is just one of the few incidents I’ve been through. That if I had to start talking, there would be just so much to say.

Anyway, here goes.

 

Written on August 1, 2017

Today, while scrolling through Facebook, one click led to another and I found myself looking at the profile of a man I found vaguely (yet terrifyingly) familiar. I went through his photos, scrutinising each one, holding my breath and trying to stop what I knew was coming.

 

When I was around 6 or 7 years old…

There was no official church-space for us back then. There was a home (of one of our church members) where we would gather on Friday mornings for holy mass and ‘Sunday School’. I never liked it much but followed the routine at my mom’s insistence. Considering it was held in a house and me being the inquisitive (not to mention, restless) kid I was, I used to love roaming about and checking out the other rooms when I got bored watching the mass.

One such day, after sneaking out of the main hall (where the mass was being held), I was walking around, smiling at familiar ladies and looking for a relatively deserted spot. My memory is a bit rusty at this point but the next thing I remember is me being in a room. With a guy. Maybe he saw me loitering around and said I could go sit there. Or perhaps, I stumbled upon the room and he was already there.

Anyway, so, there I was.

I was extremely friendly, happy and talkative as a child. Not one to shy away from striking up conversations with new people, I remember sitting down and talking to the guy. To my little six- or seven-year-old self, he must have looked around 20 or so. I could have been wrong, although he definitely was quite older than me.

I asked him his name. He asked mine, and which class I was in (I think I was in 2nd grade). At some point during the conversation, he pulled me onto his lap and we continued talking. Although I found it slightly uncomfortable, I didn’t see any need to protest.

The next part is a little confusing for me. Because I’m pretty sure my memory is not distorted. Yet sometimes, your mind has a way of blocking out or twisting unpleasant memories in such a way that you aren’t entirely certain it all happened the way you think it did. Or maybe they just seem too frayed around the edges and you can’t figure out the complete picture. I do feel confused in such a way, but then, I doubt this distress I feel is baseless.

The next part (which my mind seems to have tried to block out) — at some point, he put a hand into my panty and began rubbing my vulva. This was way too uncomfortable for me to not react and I squirmed to show my dislike. He pulled his hand out and waited a few seconds (maybe to make sure I didn’t start crying or so). He asked me to kiss him on the cheek, as if to lighten up the tension. I said no. By then, I guess he sensed I was upset and didn’t hold me back when I climbed off his lap, made some excuse and walked off.

I felt confused. Dirty. Disgusted. I always shuddered at the mere sight of him ever since then and tried to keep myself as faraway from him as possible.

After a while, I stopped seeing him and my mind, conveniently, pushed that memory off to some deep, forgotten corner.

 

Back to the present…

I knew it was him the instant I saw the profile. I went through as many photos as I could. Each one made me shiver inside; yet, I carried on. I wanted to retrieve that memory, bring it out of its corner. It had been so long since I last thought about this incident that I had forgotten it completely, as if willing myself to believe it hadn’t happened (hence the whole confusion about the memory). But every photo I saw brought it back…in fragments…the terror, the revulsion, the disorientation. Until I was finally face to face with the complete incident that I had made myself forget.

My first thought was, “Wow. This actually happened. Another fucked up experience. I guess I’ll never run out of them!” I felt sad. Disgusted. And then, it struck me. Yes, it is a fucked up experience but it’s not I who should be running away from it. Of course, I don’t like remembering it. But I don’t have to be ashamed of it. I was not the one at fault. And I sure as hell am not the one who should be feeling fucked up. He is. Whether he realises it or not.

Because I’m done feeling fucked up!

I lived nearly two decades blaming myself for all that has happened (and I’m not talking about this lone incident). Nobody I opened up to (except my best friend) ever told me it was not my fault. Nobody pointed out I wasn’t to be blamed. That, even in situations when I shouldered some blame, an equal part of it went to the other person as well…that if I were fucked up for doing something, the other person was just as fucked up too.

By completely blaming myself and considering myself screwed up, I was just punishing myself, self-sabotaging. It was only recently that someone helped me realise all this.

While I do my best to remind myself that I’m a good person, I’m constantly trying to figure out what I am, was and was not responsible for.

I still struggle with issues of self-blame. Especially when I think of past situations, the first thought I have is always to blame myself. I think, “Why did I do it?” I never console myself, say it’s ok or forgive myself for whatever share of blame I might have. I take it all on myself, like an idiot. Well, until sense kicks in and I tell myself, “Hell no!”

I’m tired of it. Tired of people putting the blame on me and asking why I did it, not giving a damn about what it must feel like to go through something like that and then open up about it. Well, to hell with them.

I’m finally trying to relearn and reaffirm some basic life lessons, trying to move on from a past that keeps haunting me. I think that’s what drove me to write this today, after coming across that profile.

If you’re wondering why I’m doing it now after all these years, it’s for the same reason I always write – to let it out and let go.

And also, to reach out to anyone who has been through anything similar to what I have.

Dear person, I hope you know you are not alone. I hope this gives you atleast a tiny bit of strength to get over whatever scarred you, to rise and truly shine. While you’re at it, always remember — it’s not your fault. It really isn’t. Don’t blame yourself. And like I’ve already said, you need to understand what you are, were and were not responsible for. Get help if you think you aren’t able to help yourself. I hope your wounds heal.

Of Smells And Secondhand Books

I’ve constantly marvelled at how everything in life (situations, routine, people, objects) can take on a new meaning when you look at things from a different perspective. Or atleast it makes you consider them in a whole new light, and realise that they might not be what you thought them to be. I had a moment like that, recently.

A few weeks ago, before putting down a book that I had been reading, I felt like smelling it. I don’t know if that sounds weird but it’s quite normal for me. So much so that my sister’s grown used to the sight of me sniffing a book at random moments. Anyway, just as I was savouring the ‘scent’, a thought struck me. What did that smell contain?

I’ve always loved the smell of books, and have a special fascination for that of old and secondhand ones (the book in question was a secondhand copy). But I had never thought of why, or what the smell might be made up of. Until this particular instance, of course. So, there I was, wondering what made a pre-owned book smell so otherworldly.

Perhaps, it’s all the hands that have touched the pages, the thoughts of previous owners and readers…a captivating blend of all the minds that have pored over it. Think of the memories and experiences a book could talk of, but can only exude through its touch and smell! Crazy as it sounds, the idea made books and their smells seem all the more charming to me. I realise I might be letting my imagination run a little too wild, but then, that’s just how I am (if you’re done with my rambling and want an actual, scientific explanation, check this out).

Almost every time I pick up a secondhand book, I wonder about the last person who had/read the book, what they thought about it and why they let go of it. Even bookstores selling used books evoke the same feeling in me. The cramped spaces and shelves overflowing with books make me wonder about the stories hidden under layers of dust. With all those tales, characters and the sheer magic of adventures (all waiting to be read) floating in the air, is it any surprise these places smell so special? Sometimes I fantasise that, maybe, if I listen carefully, I might even hear the soft rustling of books vying for attention — “pick me, hold me, read me”.

This post was partly inspired by the line ‘Try me. Test Me. Taste Me.’ from Chocolat by Joanne Harris, and partly by the secondhand bookstores I so loved and frequented (and now miss like hell!) in Bangalore.  

Back to an Empty House

I must admit, I absolutely enjoyed writing the previous post. For one thing, I love writing letters. And when it’s to oneself, there’s quite a lot of introspection that goes into it, so much that it feels like an experience in itself. But then, working on a great post (if I may say so myself) has a downside. The thought of writing another one that matches up to it or even gives you the same level of satisfaction is pretty pressurising. Pair that up with the sense of laziness that constantly hits me (especially when it comes to facing a blank page!) and you’ve got one sad blog-space.

However, that’s not all. There is another reason behind my reluctance (or slackness, whatever you’d like to call it) to blog more regularly. To put it simply, it’s not the same anymore. The bloggers I used to interact with don’t write much anymore (or they have abandoned me since this place has been gathering dust for quite a while), same goes for the ones I used to ‘follow’ and truly loved. It’s a bit like coming back to an empty house.

What’s more, even the Freshly Pressed (FP) page on WordPress (WP) has changed. And truth be told, I don’t like it! Freshly Pressed was where I used to come across some of the best pieces across the WP-world. From posts that made me laugh (and click the Follow button instantly) to ones that gave me a much-needed dose of inspiration, I’ve found it all in the FP section. Not to mention the secret, vain dream of someday getting featured there. But then, its replacement — the Discover page — doesn’t seem as ‘personal’ as the older version. In fact, the collection seems too carefully curated. Apart from posts from popular blogs, the seemingly random picks are all too eloquently written and rather impersonal. Or atleast there were hardly any that I could connect with, let alone be inspired by.

In short, adding to what I said earlier, it’s a bit like coming back to an empty house in a completely transformed neighbourhood. Which is basically what pulls me back or confuses me every time I fight lethargy and open up the ‘Add New Post’ page.

Nevertheless, sometimes the urge to write just wins (as it should) and a rambling like this is what comes out of it. Hopefully, it won’t take as long next time around.