She stood naked against the cold bathroom wall, silently watching him struggle over and over in front of the dressing mirror. Walking to him, she stretched her arms out towards his neck. She knew he would flinch at her touch. But she couldn’t help herself.
Deftly she adjusted the knot of his navy silk tie. A birthday gift from her many, many moons ago. When things between them were uncomplicated, and the sight of her wet dripping body aroused in him desire, not distaste.
He strode out of the room without a word exchanged. The emptiness of the evening stretched before her. Her mind racing far too fast to be able to pick up a book or turn on the TV.
Her thoughts drifted to her father. The only other man in her life that she hated more than her husband.
She could remember the smell of him – stale, rotten, and old. A mixture of urine and decay lying on the hospital bed, helpless yet arrogant. Still, hearing him moan in pain, she’d bent forward and adjusted the pillow under his shoulder in a blur of empathy and disgust.
We seem to do some things almost involuntarily, or merely because we cannot not do them.
Adjust a knot in a tie, prop up a pillow, straighten a painting hung slightly askew; that last glance at our hair in the elevator mirror just before we enter a party …
These and a million such actions make up our day, which we rarely ever give any thought to. It’s simply what we do. Who we are, and how we like things to be. Adjusting ourselves and the universe around us inch by inch, moment by moment – adapting, inventing, and defining as close as an approximation of a comfort zone as life will allow us to create.
Indeed, there are times when our efforts and intentions just plain and simple fail. When the weather plays hooky – a torrential downpour instead of a lazy afternoon brunch by the poolside, or the noisy little child that howls throughout the entire flight when all you’d hoped for was a few moments of shut-eye.
Adjusting, readjusting. Doing, undoing. It’s second nature as we know it. No big deal.
At some point in the night, she fell into a fretful sleep. Tossing and turning. Shifting between dream and wakefulness and the piercing realization that her husband was still not home.
Their mornings together followed a ritual of a totally different dimension. A façade of politeness replaced the apathy of darkness. A casual exchange of the day ahead made them appear like almost a normal couple – familiar at least, if not friendly.
“Could you please stop by the post office on your way back from work this evening?” he asked as she opened a new pack of coffee beans. His words faded under the grinder’s noise and the air in the kitchen alive with the bitter-sweet aroma of the Kenyan brew. It was their favorite – strong, pungent, and perky.
It’s ironic how couples continue to share similar tastes, habits, lives even though the love and care that once was the essence of their being haven’t left even a trace of its existence. Or do we not discount the currents of passive aggression that flow slow and steady – what is hate if not the absence of love?
“I’m sorry,” she said, with her back turned to him, her face bent over the kitchen sink. “I have a yoga class this evening, so it won’t be possible for me to pick up the parcel.” A mysterious package had arrived for them by certified post. From India, addressed to the Mr. & Mrs. Who on earth could it be from? It had them both equally curious, wanting to know what it contained. But equally, both were unwilling to make a change to their rigidly planned schedules – give in, change, compromise, these were not words they reserved for each other.
Of course, he’d expected her to have some excuse handy and deny his request. Leaving the plate with the fried eggs uneaten, standing on the breakfast counter, he headed out the door.
Yes, they negotiated mornings under a veil of composed pretense, but it did not prevent the inherent breakdown of their relationship from oozing out at the seams.
The energy just wasted, spent on remaining self-centered and stoically unavailable.
The sound of a message interrupted the vacancy of the space. “Hi, have to cancel our class. Mum isn’t feeling too bright, so I want to be around in case she needs me.” There it was just like that – not even an apology, never mind a total lack of professionalism. After all, she was paying top dollar for the wretched sessions, and for crying out loud, her mother wasn’t even that ailing or incapable.
So, what should we call such an action – where someone changes things around, drops something reasonably important merely to be present for a loved one?
Shall we refer to this as an adjustment in schedule, a compromise, or a sacrifice?
Or shall we not think about this at all? Put it down to one of the things individuals do when they feel like it. What when they don’t?
Language has given us precision. The right word for the right thing.
You adjust your seat belt, but you sacrifice your afternoons to read to the blind. And yes, used in this context, they seem totally appropriate.
But ask someone to alter their plans just for one day to run you an errand. Is that then an adjustment to their routine or a compromise to make you happy, or stretch vocabulary and emotion to the extreme? Is it a minor sacrifice?
I just don’t know. What I do know is that adjustment – to adjust, to alter, to shift, to change, to put into order- that is suitable and pleasing seems what we do with most of our innate actions.
So, when does adjustment morph into a big ask? When does it become a big deal?
When hate replaces love or is it when adjustment turns into a compromise that resentment raises its ugly head and everything someone else wishes from us feels like the most begrudging sacrifice?
All just words, emotions, and this only writing and thoughts. But true, thinking about what we do, giving attention to the ordinary is a contemplation perhaps worthy of the minute, of the hour.
Examining the unexamined is where answers rest, where questions dissolve, and the barriers that language generates become clearly visible as signposts on the map of negotiating this journey of life. Without a map, I’d be lost, but if I stick only to the map, where then is the space for wonder, to imagine what my world would be like if I chose the uncharted route.
To center home, what would it be like if I skipped my yoga class upon my husband’s asking, no matter how much my dislike for him tugged at my heart.
What is in the package from India?
Though my childhood was difficult and complex, these challenges forced me to look for happiness in things beyond the conventional givens of material possessions, career and marriage. Decades of philosophical reading, exploring meditation techniques and alternative therapies, culminated in meeting my Guru, Ramesh Balsekar. It was during the six years I spent attending his daily discourses that my innate love for language developed into editing books and doing some writing of my own. Learning from hard-earned personal experience I was finally able to overcome my unresolved issues. Today, this journey has allowed for me to be an emotionally present mother, a caring partner and a dependable friend. Indeed, suffering can be a gateway into becoming a more complete human being.
This series of blogs has been reviewed by Drishya Warrier, Aditi Iyer, and Pratishtha Bagai, of Symbiosis Centre of media and Mass Communication, Pune. We are students that have completed our first year. Through this NGO Internship Project at MHAT, we explored the field of mental health while pursuing our interest in creative writing.