Ten minutes ago I looked up from the Netflix show I was watching and the calendar screamed a date at me. In a few hours, it will be 9 years since I made one of the few impulsive decisions of my life. It is a decision I’ve been punished for over and over again. It keeps coming up no matter how many times I try to finish out the sentence, heal it or bury it. It gets used as a hydrogen bomb by nasty, dysfunctional men trying to hurt me for their low self-esteem. It slips out in the lashing out of friends who find this easier than accepting their own fucked up lives. It shows up in the judgement of relatives, of ex friends and even future colleagues. And it gets co-opted by people trying to prove their crusader status. It just refuses to die.
In 2010 I met someone at an Open Mic, a newish event in the city that happened just once a month, which I began attending as audience and slowly, tentatively, as a reader. I’d missed a couple because of personal issues and that day I’d decided to venture out seeking some joy for myself. I spotted him at the door and remembered him from a previous event. Chances for fun, pleasure are so rare when you live your life feeling burdened by duty, responsibility and imposed labels. How could I let this one pass? I struck up a conversation, pushing away my own natural shyness.
In ten days, we’d walked the beach, attended two concerts, shared a bottle of wine, eaten at a hole-in-wall joint and exchanged hundreds of messages. And then he told me he wanted to be with me. “A real relationship, not this open relationship shit” and “Brutal honesty, no plan Bs, jumping in with both feet” – his words. I told him I’d take a week to think about it. The next morning, 17th of July, I woke up with a single thought.
What was I going to learn in a week that would change the way I felt?
I knew it was uncharacteristic for me to jump in on impulse. I hadn’t been impulsive with my affections even at 16. And after the tumultuous 20s (heartbreak, assault, two recessions, unemployment, MNC politics, sabbatical) I had walked into 30 embracing the future and leaving behind old expectations. The new me I decided was strong enough, not too afraid to, to say yes. And I did.
I was so wrong. In the following week, that very day in fact, he told me things about himself and his family that any honest, decent person would have put on the table BEFORE suggesting a relationship. And then he said I was free to walk away if I wanted. Generous? No. He told me this at the airport on his way to a funeral. I did not want to feel like a monster dumping him hours after I’d said yes, and just before he went to a funeral.
So I told him to set that worry aside, to be there for his family and that we could talk more when he got back. This never happened. I’ve run this over and over in my head. There were so many lies caught out later, so many omissions of truth surfacing only when they absolutely could not be hidden. Always too late, always in situations when I would not have been able to walk away.
I am aware that I fell into the clutches of a monster. It does not matter whether he was himself a victim or not, what the state of his mental health must have been at the time. None of those matter because none of those were my doing. And I’ve spent nearly a decade trying to repair a life that he systematically and brutally shattered. I’ve struggled with so many people rushing to support and enable him, many of them people I’ve loved and trusted. And I keep taking on attack after attack.
I keep trying to leave this memory behind in my past and then find myself having to deal with people trying to bring it back. I also struggle with the weight of this decision. What is the lesson? What is the lesson? I can hear myself screaming inside my head. It’s very hard to remember to tell myself that life is not a school and that lessons are things we tell ourselves to feel like enduring hardship was worth it. The randomness of this horror is too much to bear. So I persist in seeking out the lesson.
Nine years ago today, I went down a path that has taught me only things I wish I did not have to learn. I have learnt to fear men (something that did not taint me even after facing child abuse and assault by a partner). I have found a self that prefers the company of books and silence to a life of being pawed and mauled and attacked. I have learnt that I must look with suspicion towards anybody with even a hint of mental illness, of sexual dsyfunctions, of violent backgrounds, of claimed childhood traumas. Because any one of them could destroy a decade of my life and not even care.
Well, I care. It is my life. Sometimes I think the only thing that saves me from the things I experience, is my ego. Ego rescued me from the devastation I experienced at 20 when I told myself that my life mattered more than a man who didn’t care if I lived or died. Ego decided for me that a rapist was not going to dictate how my body functioned. Ego even allowed me to say to myself with remarkable clarity on the day this monster threw me out onto the street that,
This is happening to me. This IS NOT me. This will not define me.
Maybe it’s bravado. But I’m still alive. It doesn’t make remembering dates like this easy though. I thought I was on safe ground after I nullified the effect of his birthday and the day he proposed (also Valentine’s Day). Seventeenth of July ambushed me.
But another thought creeps in, one that has been at the back of my mind for a couple of days now. In a few hours it will be the birthday of a man I met at a WordPress event a few years ago. I was there to organise an event of Alphabet Sambar, one of my proudest endeavours taken on in the life I built post monster. This man has met me only once but we’ve exchanged dozens of emails and messages over the years. He has a curious knack of not being at the top of my mind at all but showing up just when I need a little brightness in my day. Sometimes it’s a song recommendation, sometimes a painting that his daughter made. Sometimes it’s a message asking how I’m feeling that day, friend? And sometimes it’s a little Bible truism with a reminder that Jesus loves me too. Even my radically non-religious self feels comforted by this.
In a few hours, it will be his birthday. I say a few hours because where he lives, it is still the 16th. The day of the lunar eclipse, an event of prime import to all Cancerians (him, me, so many others). I guess that’s all I need to say to myself. The seventeenth of July is a lot of things. I hope my fortieth takes me into a future self of wisdom, not fear.