To my dearly beloved mother,
Sometimes I think you hate me. I have somehow single-handedly stolen away your dreams, and left you with old age and despair. Every time you and dad leave the country now for your three-month trips to India, your three-month sabbaticals in Florida, I have this sense that you’re running away from me.
(You are, aren't you?)
Did you know that you are the US matriarch of our family? You are the one everyone fears the most, the strongest willed of all your siblings, the most successful, the one with the most money, the one who has made everyone cry at some point... a pillar really. And yet, I think there are those who see you as fragile, as if to tell you the truth would somehow shatter your delicate sense of the world. It is not unlike the way you treat Nunima. Is this then, the culture I come from? One of secrecy and fear; a china shop and I am the bull that must stay outside?
You are a woman who survived seven siblings, medical school, the death of your father, marriage to a stranger (who luckily, was Dad), a transcontinental move to England, living apart from Dad -- the one other person in the whole country that you knew -- a brutal residency, racism, having a baby all alone, and then the loss of that baby as he was shuttled to India to be brought up with the extended family while you continued to toil in this foreign, white land, full of boiled, bland food and gray days. Then another transcontinental move to the United States, the culture shock of New York City, another brutal residency, and then you gave birth to me. That is not the history of a fragile woman.
And yet when I came to you, weary from the weight of secrets, and asked you to listen, to hear my pain and hear my struggle and please, just love me anyway, even if it’s not the dream you had for me, even if your fantasies are like clothes too tight that I shrug off, even if the future is unimaginable, just love me anyway. Hold me like you did when I was a child, in your lap, your fingers absently scratching my back, your voice gentle and happy, your hand in mine.
(Remember how, when I was in first grade, you would get me out of school early so we could go to McDonald’s, just the two of us?)
When did we stop holding hands? When did you stop being happy? Sometimes I think it was when Feroze was taken from you, but there was a delayed reaction. Did I hurt you so much by growing up and becoming my own person? Did you fear you would lose me and so you clutched me so tight to your breast that I almost suffocated to death? You pulled, I pushed, and the battle lines were drawn, lines that would last decades. I think both Dad and Feroze have been at various times caught in out crossfire.
Mine was a struggle to survive. I shaved my head and you were ashamed of me. I told you I was bisexual, and you were ashamed of me. I spent a year in a mental hospital trying desperately to find the will to live, and you were ashamed of me. And now, a decade later, I beg you to understand that I cannot fight this anymore. I beg you to understand that I do not do this to hurt you. But I cannot be anyone other than who I am if I am to live a life of Truth. And any other life is not worth living.
(But please, Mom, can’t you love me anyway?)
You won’t even look at me.
When I see you a year later, my voice deep and resonant, my goatee neatly trimmed, you look at me with such disgust. It is a look I have grown used to. It is a look that no longer infuriates me, but instead makes me tired and sad. You do not talk to me, do not look at my face; you leave the room when I enter, sit alone in front of your small space heater and cry to yourself. And all over again I am fourteen, nineteen, twenty-one years old, and want desperately to slit my own throat.
Do you wish you had stayed in India, in those moments? Do you think that America has done this to me? That I would be normal, be your long-haired feminine daughter had you brought me up in India? You used to threaten to send me to India when I was a kid. I had to concoct elaborate escape routes. First I would stop talking altogether, and if that didn’t work, maybe I would stop eating until I was allowed to come home. If that didn’t work, I would be the worst nightmare they had ever seen, and if that didn’t get me a ticket home, then I would refuse to exist. All so I could come running home to you. (Would you really have sent me away from you?)
I don’t think you could have done that, not really. And yet you did it for half my life and are still doing it. Five feet away from you, and the walls between us are so high and thick that it is as if we are lifetimes apart.
I know you hate that I was in therapy, you see it as something to be embarrassed by. Yet years of therapy have taught me a few things. First, that I love you, and I cannot not love you, though I have tried over the years. I have tried to not care about what you think, to not be affected when you take your love away and silence fills the space between us, thick and empty. Second, that you love me, and you cannot not love me, no matter how much you pull away, run away, shut me out. And third, that I want to live, but no longer as a child living for the pride and joy for her parents, but instead as a human being living the Truth of his soul. (You may have shut me out, but god did not.)
You are the matriarch of our family. People fear your wrath. But I am your child, truly, and I am also feared in our family. People fear my Love: the love I have for my Soul, and my refusal to betray that. They imagine that the two of us at war would result in catastrophic explosions, the fallout of which would surely fall on them. This makes me laugh, even as it makes me sad.
We are not equals, in this struggle. You are my Mom and I will always be wounded by your love. I come into the arena with a broken heart. But I think, truly, you also have a broken heart. I see your walls and defenses and your tense brow and all the counterattacks that you prepare to defend yourself against me. But I will not fight you, Mom. I will not surrender, but I will not fight you.
I will do only this:
I will whisper I love you quietly, over and over again, that it might be carried on the breeze above your battlements, through your defenses, and with luck, perhaps it will lodge in your heart. If I say it enough, gently, unarmed and still, perhaps someday your heart will be healed.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
Can you hear my whispers? Mom? Do you know that I love you? Do you think that someday we might hold hands again?