"Whether we like it or not, we are each other’s only hope."
I ran away from home last September, from a family that has emotionally and physically abused me over years. It was my father who’s been inflicting it over my brother and my mom.
Before I ran, I made sure I have a job I can save up some money with, for several months. I did. Kafka’s letters to his father, Dear Sugar's letters were also in my shelf to be understanding of what storms I could face alone. I saved up. Enough to move into a new place and feed myself. Sure, sometimes I am bad at spending less but I manage to be happy. What becomes a big deal to get through is the part of not having a family around or not feeling at home. I talk to them almost every night over video calls, to assure myself that my mom and brother are alright. I am glad that they have been.
When I am not looking into a book, or a screen, or a pan I am to cook in, or the surface of my guitar strings, when I properly sit alone with my thoughts, I can't help but feel this heavy gulp inside. My friends who often live with me, who are there for me aren’t really my family but are still a family to me. It does help but to what extent, right? Seeking professional help is inevitable, but tell me, Jasmine, what can I do, with my own self, to learn to be alone and happy?
-Somehow from a Pune Window
Answer 6: There Should be Dancing in Your Kitchen
Dear Somehow from a Pune Window,
Sometimes I wonder whether some people in my life deserve all my loyalty or not. Based on how events transpire, I wonder if I should withhold myself from them, or give them more of my trust, or pull myself back, or wait it out till I can see signs of whether these people are really my ride-or-die. This puts me in a very uncertain position and I find myself doing an off-balance, tremulous dance around my own feelings. I know this isn’t a flattering confession, but it is the truth. It is also exhausting. I also know that it doesn’t let me live out my feelings fully, but it’s because I am scared of being hurt. I am scared of being let down. Honestly, I am not sure if I have the emotional bandwidth for all that, so I do this off-balance, tremulous dance around some people. Thankfully, I am the only one who can see it.
I am so glad you were able to extricate yourself from a situation of emotional and physical abuse. There’s a small but growing number of desi people who are able to do this because it requires both, courage and financial freedom. Props to you, Somehow from a Pune Window, you’ve done something that I hope has served you well, and from your letter it seems like it has. It must have been hard to “run away” as you have called it. Leaving voluntarily is not an easy thing to do. In fact, I always think being able to get-up-and-leave is a matter of privilege. It means that you have somewhere to go. Some people also leave without having anywhere to go, but that’s not your case, so we won’t delve into that now. These are hard won battles, so I want you, me, and our Dear Jasmine community to take a moment to appreciate what you have done for yourself. This is the moment. You’re a brave man, Somehow from a Pune Window.
But I wonder why you ask me to help you on how to be “alone and happy”? Is it also because you do some version of the off-balance, tremulous dance around other people yourself? If I may ask you this – after running away and setting up a space for yourself, how much time have you had to grieve, Somehow from a Pune Window? Did you give yourself a large enough period of time to fully fall apart, pick yourself back up, and heal the parts of you that needed mending?
I’m not a fan of the term ‘broken people’ it tends to suggest that some damage has been done to an otherwise perfect piece. It ascribes a negative connotation to the act of being alive, of brushing against the expanding universe, and of interacting emotionally and physically with living beings. We are on a journey through space, we are bound to have scars. And we are definitely not perfect! So, what is up with that phrase? I bring this up because of the way in which grief is looked upon — not as the cousin of love, but as the loss of love. So, I ask you one more time, did you take the time to grieve this final cutting of the umbilical cord? If not, I request you to do so. I agree that it was a difficult space that you absolutely needed to escape, but you did leave behind a family. It is not nothing. It is a huge something.
It is not easy living with people because no matter how much we love them, they smack the starlights out of us from time to time. Similarly, it is not easy living alone, because we have our whole universe hinged to our backs and we carry it around in our own silence taking a heavy gulp now and then. How about I recommend doing a little of both, instead? So you don’t have to feel smacked in the head nor do you have to lug around your universe on your back? After you have spent a significant amount of time grieving and healing, I suggest you stop doing that off-balance, tremulous dance around a few, key people in your life and invite them to be your family. Not officially, but in gestures and words. These can be an old friend, a new platonic friend, a neighbour in your new locality, or a pet.
Build your own kind of motley family, Somehow from a Pune Window. Nothing is stopping you from doing so. Be warned, having a family involves a little bit of work and a whole lot of heart. It involves having to give and not count the cost, to labour and not to seek any reward save that of knowing that you do because you want and because you love. I won’t be worried that you will sell yourself short because you have demonstrated you can draw boundaries. So, make your own rag tag family, and in your time alone, work on your healing such that you don’t need to muffle the silences or turn down the loudness in your head.
While you do this, make a house. Millions of people in our country tend to their houses every single day like dough is made. They mix it and turn it over and over and keep at it with everything they have. Making and keeping a house is one of the toughest and least rewarded jobs on the planet. It’s a crying shame, don’t you think, given that the spaces we live in determine so much of how we feel? So make a house, clean it all up, look up how to keep a house functional, maintained, and decorated. Invest a little bit of your over-spent money into keeping a creative place. Need ideas? Head to Pinterest or Instagram. Don’t get lost by the dizzying lights of the socials, come back, make a lemonade, start over. There is a frustration and a joy in this hard work. Literally and figuratively invest in rebuilding what you have left behind. Put all your efforts towards this, keeping your job, and healing yourself. I promise you, it will change your mental make up and it will change your life. In this house, make space for your new motley family, your belongings, and definitely for yourself. Divide your life into 3 parts: 1/3rd for people who will fill you up, 1/3rd for things you need to function, and 1/3rd for yourself so you can empty yourself out. Be conscious of not letting one become too big and leaving less space for others.
The reason why I suggest this balanced path is because I want you to know that leaving one extreme and going to another might not help you in the ways you wish. Whether we like it or not, we are each other’s only hope. By soothing your own wounds, building a new family, and making a new house, maybe your mother and brother will also find courage to change the terms of their relationships with your father. Sometimes, we need to see our closest people live out certain realities for us to believe that they are possible. Your blood family might be better off if you did that. I am not suggesting you do this for them, I am merely saying this could be a happy consequence. If you reach for a life of healthy, personal connections, seeing you they might be inspired to do so, too. If you discard that shaky feeling and extend yourself in the direction of having a full life, only you will be the better for it. It will take courage, Somehow from a Pune Window, but we all know you have a lot of courage. So take your courage, mould it, and fling it into the direction of wholeness with all the strength you can muster.
Dance the balanced, confident dance around the people you know and invite them to join you. Dance with everything you have, because if you hold anything back, you won’t fully enjoy it. I know this, because I don’t fully enjoy it, too. Dance because if you do, I will promise to do so, too.
Dance, Somehow from a Pune Window. This is the only life we have. And this life is the only song we have got.
Dear Jasmine is a fortnightly column by an anonymous writer. If any of you want to send in questions, please send them to Jasmine here.