When I learned that she was going to breathe her last soon, that the disease was already in its fourth stage, I boxed the wall until my fingers bled, and then looked up. ‘Are you there? Do you even care?’ I asked the sovereign. Was this karma because I played God when I created characters and destroyed them, using my artistry? Or was this judgement for each sin, consciously or subconsciously committed? I was left with these questions asphyxiating me, and the never knowing, making me smoke, giving me stained cotton lungs.
I smashed mirrors, the shards piercing through skin and bone, wedged, while crimson soldiers of anarchy made their way to my wrist, staining the battlefield of my skin with their nefariousness. ‘Why are you silent?’ I asked him who predetermines. ‘Why do you turn your face away?’ I screamed with indignation.
I loved her. She was the only one who never judged me despite my idiosyncrasies and cantankerous temperament. She loved me selflessly and maybe the fact that I’d never reciprocated fully, birthed guilt, which birthed anger, and with a frustrated and devastated core, I took my rage out on him who’s supposedly omnipotent.
I spent days, negatively praying, and by that, I mean cursing him. So even though I believed, I succumbed to a spiritual nihilism and felt like I was carrying each cross of each broken person in this fractured world. Who are we, but dying candles braving the squalid winds of providence? And couldn’t all this be different? A world without the fall, without suffering, without Adam’s apple, and the serpent’s deception?
Watching her regress from a healthy, functional woman to a mass of tubes and bones impaled my faith with a spear of nihilism. ‘God is dead,’ I finally proclaimed, because I couldn’t handle watching the only person who meant something needing morphine to numb the pain, feeding off poisonous chemicals that kill more than save, smelling like a gangrenous mass of cells, and I drank, drank, and drank some more. I couldn’t visit her, because I didn’t want to see her intoxicated, but not being there made me drink more, and I wished for a way out.
And then something within, reminded me of my egocentricity, and rebuked me for playing the theatrical, ‘I, me and myself,’ card. She needed me, even if her essence was leaving her, and my pain was nothing compared to what she was going through. I learned at that moment what selflessness and humility meant. It meant giving and not self-indulgence, though the stones of tribulation strike you hard, and leave you bleeding.
But a part of me loved wallowing in my misery and did its best to enclose me in a hazy room where my eyes burned, and the walls slowly closed on me. A part of me said, ‘You’ve got nothing left, so, why bother?’ And voices echoed, formed battle positions in my mind, and fought furiously while I looked at the liquor, and thought, ‘One more swig. That’s all, and I’ll be numb.’
But I lifted the bottle and smashed it against the wall. And threw on thrift shop clothes and ran to the hospital. I ran six miles. And sweating, I asked the nurse for an appointment, but was denied since visiting hours were over. ‘I need to see her. I’ve been here so many times before. Just for a few minutes. I love her,’ I said or partly screamed. But I was asked to come back the next day.
And so I went home, and looked at the rum staining my floor, and a part of me said, ‘You fool! You wasted it,’ but another softly said, ‘Visit her tomorrow.’ And though I was an impulsive, reckless rebel, I listened to my inner voice this one time and spent the night fighting the urge to drink.
The next morning, feeling a conglomeration of love, withdrawal, hate and bitterness, I walked to the hospital again. And then I saw her, looking with tears in her years, wondering why I hadn’t visited. I fell to my knees and said, ‘I’m sorry. I love you,’ and she smiled through the pain. I visited her everyday though I knew she wouldn’t make it. I fought the withdrawal, though each iota of the flesh screamed. And finally, I stood in the back, when a family who’d abandoned her visited her, while she deteriorated.
They transferred her to the ICU and one by one, people visited, perhaps trying to make closure, or to pretend that they cared. I was the second last. And there lay the woman who’d given me so much, and showed so much strength, now feeble and unconsciousness. ‘He gives and takes away,’ a part of me said, while another yelled, ‘Why?’
I stuttered when I gave my eulogy, but didn’t shed tears while people cried loudly, people who didn’t even bother to call her for years. Maybe they thought me cold, but I didn’t see a single one of them when I visited the cemetery the next day, and clutched the tombstone and engraved my own epitaph with my tears, literally screaming and howling, while the wind blew away withered leaves, and the sunset bathed me in twilight.
Looking back, I found redemption from my demons because of her unconditional love, but I had to lose the most precious, beautiful person to trudge forward. And that’s life: We live though we’re broken. We die though we’re happy, and through it all, despite the horrors and pain, some inner clock ticks, saying, ‘The only way out is through.’
Inspired by the quote, ‘The only way out is through’ by Robert Frost.
© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)