I was watching Greenleaf, the Netflix show about Black Christianity. The episode showed a young child born with health complications and having to undergo numerous operations to live and a family struggling to let him go and be released of pain. Every time the sleeping child was shown on screen, I cried. The series also tracks a serial child predator. Nothing gory has been depicted (yet) but these seem linked. The child on the operating table was probably just the story giving its viewers a chance to cry and grieve over the fate of children.
In a life where nothing seems to be real or honest anymore, the only thing I feel moved by, is children. Children in hope, children in pain. I carefully avoided writing about or thinking too much about Asifa Bano earlier this year. I know I was being self-preservationist. That was okay too lately it hasn’t been feeling right.
Last week I was reading a book called Rust & Stardust, a true crime account of the events that inspired Nabokov’s Lolita. It brought up so much and I think that is still continuing. I always thought triggering things took a person back to an experienced past trauma of the same nature. I did not expect to be reliving violence, gaslighting alongside the sexual abuse I’ve experienced. It was a lot.
I remember where the story of my abuse stopped. The actual actions had ended years earlier and with minimal pain. Now that I know other survivors, I know I was lucky — I was not related to my perpetrator, he did not penetrate and my family believed me when I told them what my guitar teacher was doing. I was so lucky that gaslighting was not added to the trauma. Years later, I saw my guitar teacher at the doctor’s clinic. And he looked so old and tired and fragile, I could feel nothing but pity for him. Pity. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells Frodo about Bilbo that
“Pity stayed his hand. Pity probably saved his life.”
(I can’t find the above quote in exact in the book so I guess I’m remembering the movie). Pity definitely saved me from living a life inside a horror movie. I know this because I lived with someone who does that, who can only see monsters in love and has turned into a monster themselves.
Back then, I also remember reading Lolita, possibly around the same time as my run-in with my music teacher. The book also changed my life. It allowed me to see him as just a man, a human being and not a larger-than-life demon. It allowed me to stop being afraid, if that makes any sense.
I was silent for nearly a decade, probably because I really was okay after that and maybe that’s also my way of processing. Ten years later, The Vagina Monologues triggered the memory again, allowing me to take it out and examine the feelings at work there. When I said Lolita had helped me get over it, I encountered a lot of upset reactions. People got angry, people felt self-righteous then remembered I was a survivor too so got self-conscious.
Speaking to Harrish Iyer was one of the saner parts of this journey and possibly how we became friends — because we had each made decisions to not be victims in the situations that we found ourselves in.
When I read the story of Sally Horner, I was horrified at a whole new level. The story Lolita is a tidy, sweetened account in comparison to what happened to the actual victim. I felt I owed it to her and other victims like her to read the book.
It is making me go all volcanoes and lava inside and then the exhaustion of tears. It’s bringing up memories of other traumas I’ve suffered. And the world around is not made for dealing well with it. This week someone I considered a close confidant (who had sat with me as I cried through the book while reading it) told me that I was being paranoid and negative and imagining that the world was against me.
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ALWAYS MAKE ROOM FOR THE FLOWERS This was shot at a 2012 Open Mic at IBar. I was neck deep in a bad life. I had quit a respectable life 2 years earlier. I had wandered into Open Mics that had just begun and quickly fallen into a relationship with someone I met there. Before I knew it, I was stuck inside a cage, tiptoeing around the explosive emotions of someone who did not really like me, hated anyone who seemed like competition. I stopped performing (or reading since that's what we used to do then) because it was just easier than dealing with the punishment. I also stopped going out and meeting friends, stopped talking to people. This was partly because he didn't like it but also because no one in the world was interested in knowing that a human being still existed under the label of 'girlfriend'. I had committed the crime of being single till 30, then dating someone younger than me and living with him before marriage so I was made to feel like I should be grateful I was not getting whipped in the street. My only outings beyond domestic chores were the fortnightly Open Mics where I was grudgingly tolerated so long as I played his adoring audience. On one such Monday, I waited all day for evening to come. It had been a very difficult few days, struggling to cope with his family's 'Hum to ladkewale hain' misbehaviour, his gaslighting abuse and my own financial worries (I couldn't work but all expenses were still split in half). We left in total silence and walked to the road. As he hailed a cab, I said, "Wait" – the first thing that had been said all evening. I turned and bought this flower from a seller on the road. He raised his eyebrows, smirked and then fell silent, probably deciding to save his barbs for his rap set coming up later. I know it's a weird thing to carry a flower in your hand just because. People assume that a woman with a flower has been gifted that by a man (everyone at the venue cooed over how romantic he must be, noting the engagement ring on my finger as well – also visible in the picture). But that night, this flower held my hand like no lover or friend ever has. #nostalgia #flower #memory #abuse #gaslighting #IPV #GBV
This time round, I know what to do. I ended that conversation. I was angry with this person that day but now I am not. They are unable to deal with a world that is so ugly and I do not judge them for it. But I do not need to bear the trauma of their gaslighting in addition to my own.
I also think (and I can only speak for myself here) that we must be mindful of triggers but we don’t all have avoid them. I must face these triggers when they occur — maybe slowly, selectively and in my own ways. To avoid them would be to live fearfully which is not something I want to be, a creature of fear. It also dishonors the traumas faced by people to avoid and thus invalidate them. I’ve had it done to me so many times, I am not about to do that.
Sally Horner died in 1952, Asifa Bano in 2018 but what happened to them, happens to countless other people in hundreds of different ways, every day. Adults hurt children, men hurt women physically and emotionally. I cannot change the world (though I want to think I’m damn well doing my part with XXFactor, SXonomics and more). But at least I can make sure to honour what happens and bear witness to these lives.
Let the tears flow. Let the flowers bloom. Let the children cry.