When I was a young girl, I remember my aunt telling me about the butterfly effect…. A seemingly inconsequential unrelated event having cataclysmic unforeseen consequences. The cynic in me wasn’t quite convinced but maybe it was just a little girl’s naivete, or perhaps her conviction that whatever happened in her life would always be a consequence of her decisions. That no one would ever hold so much power over her fate,that her life would be influenced in any way by someone else’s whims. Well life’s a vindictive bitch I have learnt, and now , a grown woman, I find myself pitying that little girls idealism.Derision for the idealism that bordered on stupidity.
So even as a child, when The Incident occurred, I told myself it would never affect the person I would grow up to be. I would never let my life or my opinions or my sense of self be determined by someone else’s baser instincts.There were no dark roads,no haunting nightmares nor any fiery pits of hell that could possibly crush my spirit. It wouldn’t affect me simply because I wouldn’t allow it to.
So I buried it in the deepest darkest crevices of my mind, so deep that even a horde of archaeologists would give up before they even scratched the surface . Do not get me wrong, I still had occasional isolated episodes ( still do, if I am being perfectly honest), where i would remember snatches and glimpses … For instance, I remember it being morning, my mum had left for work ( in a hurry and late as always)… I remember playing on the floor… I cant recall if I was playing with my dolls or colouring ( I had adored both, I wanted the entire playhouse and I had Barbie, her sister Skipper and their kid sister Kelly, and I had wanted to build them a beautiful little house and I only ever had the living room set; I did however have the most fantastic set of crayons any girl could hope for,bright vivid colours in all possible hues… I could lose myself in either of the two for hours on end, cocooned in my little world)
I remember him in the background, reading a paper before he called me to go sit with him. I was reluctant to leave my toys but I adored his wife and loved playing with his kids ( She had only sons and was utterly in love with my cute pretty lil self, and as for the kids, they were boys but I was willing to overlook it , especially considering I didn’t have anyone else to play with). Besides he was friends with my Dad and his entire family, being rude was just asking for a lecture on manners and good behavior. So with all the solemnity of a martyr, I tore myself away from my toys to humor the adult.
I remember his penchant for making me sit in his lap. I couldn’t understand it at the time, but i remember that it used to make me distinctly uncomfortable. I don’t think by that point I even liked sitting in my mum’s lap. But adults… What could you possibly do about them? They insist on inane things like exclaiming just how big I got ( I was 7 lady, were you seriously expecting me to become smaller?) You just had to go along with it and smile like you were brain-dead so that you don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers and pray they lose interest soon so you can escape unnoticed.
And that’s were everything went awry. I was pretty sure that he oughtn’t to be kissing me on my lips… No one not even mum or dad did that. I actually distinctly remember thinking that he ought to watch less of those Hollywood movies were the hero and heroine have their tongue down each other’s throats all the time ( We weren’t allowed to watch those and my dad would be livid if he saw us, but as long as the heroine didn’t mind the fact that they were obviously exchanging germs I didn’t think it was a big deal) But I did resent the fact that his big disgusting tongue was invading my mouth with no thought of hygiene, or that the more i struggled to get off his lap, the more enthusiastic he got.
Now at 3 or 4 I had no qualms about running around naked. In fact I reveled in it, if the stories were to be believed.My mother had to run behind me to get me dressed and I would always run to the Aunty living downstairs and it was all so much fun…well until the day,I ran smack into Uncle who was with Aunty and I remember thinking that clothes weren’t such a bad idea after all. It may have been the first time that i realised what embarrassment felt like.I suppose it dawned on me that society gave a lot of emphasis on clothes and the lack thereof. Anyway safe to say any and all naked running around had come to a halt since then.
So it felt weird that this man was unzipping my dress. I could change clothes by myself then and I really didn’t want to at that point. I was wearing my favorite dress anyway ( The one with orange and white polka dots that I used to wear every other day. It stopped showing up in my cupboard after a while, but it still took me some time to realise that my mum had got fed up and threw it away). Nor did I appreciate the fact that he was running his hands over my body , touching places that I somehow knew weren’t supposed to be touched and for some inconceivable reason, he kept pushing me down on his lap and grinding against me.
So, I did the only thing I knew would would work in any situation- I threw a tantrum and said I wanted to go play again. Thankfully our maid or someone walked in and I happily ran off to colour or play house or whatever I was doing at the time.
But I guess I knew even then that something was off… Young as I was I still didn’t think this was the norm in social interaction. And even weirder, I kept imagining scenarios of what would happen if I told. Do not get me wrong, not in one of those situations did I ever imagine that my parents would be angry with me… I had this premonition of sorts I suppose ( underdeveloped women’s intuition perhaps) that it would upset them badly. It would change things between my dad and uncle.They had been friends since college. And maybe aunty might be upset too. What if they stopped coming over? I loved going swimming with the guys. What if all of that went away? And for what… if people did it on TV then it couldn’t possibly be that very bad. And to have everything change for an incident that barely lasted half hour…was it actually worth it? I don’t know if that little girl realised that she was hiding cowardice under a guise of pragmatism or if she just desperately wanted to put the whole thing behind her and just go back to her imaginary world where she was queen and all her subjects adored and admired her, and she would quash evil with an iron fist.
As I grew older, his visits though lest frequent, would make me uneasy. I would be uncomfortable in his presence, sullen , withdrawn, curt to the point of being rude. My parents were annoyed but I was a teenager and prone to mood swings and idiosyncrasies . Somehow they missed all the little tells, the way I visibly became distraught when he hugged me, the way I would find excuses to hole up in my room whenever he came by, lecherous glances he threw my way when no one was watching, the way he held my hand for a little too long and make little circles on my palm before letting go, the sexual undertones that I was just beginning to comprehend, and worst of i all, the greatest blow to my fledgling pride- his all knowing conceited smirk that said he knew too well I found him abhorrent and disgusting and yet his self-assuredness that I would still never tell on him.
I repressed it all of it, except to ensure that one thing alone was engraved in stone – that whatever happened, I would not feel sorry for myself, I would never blame myself, I would never allow myself to feel ashamed for something was forced upon me, and I would never ever allow it to interfere with my future relationships or the decisions I made for myself – sexual or otherwise.
In retrospect, I suppose I was too conceited and too sure of myself that I never anticipated that the mere flap of a little butterfly’s wings would affect my life in any way whatsoever. Pride doth come before a fall I suppose… It was nothing disastrous or catastrophic… in a sad sick way, it was pretty much par for the course for any girl growing up in India these days. The guy who squeezed my ass in a crowd, the guy at the dress shop who was obstinately trying to drape a sari for me so that “madam could see how good she looks in it’, the guys at work- who thought that despite multiple attempts at dissuading him, he could woo me against my will or judge me for whom I chose to spend time with or making assumptions as to the nature of my relationships- painting platonic professional relationships in an overtly sexual light, or the one who thought teaching me to apply a cast for a broken tibia was a great time to press me against the gurney and grind against me and touch me inappropriately , humiliating me in front of my patient and his attendant.
Like I said, it probably is the norm for any woman these days, pathetic as it might seem- and yet it isn’t the incident per se that still continues to disturb me. Its the fact that I feel like a fraud, the self loathing that stems from the fact that I never spoke up, that not once did I scream or shout or scratch the bloody bastards eyes out. I was a self touted feminist- if it had happened to anyone else, if I had known that someone else was in my shoes I like to believe that I would have retaliated- verbally , physically or legally. But the fact that I didn’t, the fact that I never confronted them or ensured that they faced the consequences of their actions, that despite being in the wrong I was the one who felt humiliated- its something I still haven’t been able to get over. The little girl, the confused teenager – them I might be able to forgive, but the loathing , scorn and disdain that I feel for the young woman I have never quite been able to make my peace with.
I am not looking for Prince Charming or a Knight in shining armor to protect the damsel in distress from evil goons and perverts- somewhere deep inside of me is that little girl, the one who was a self styled warrior princess and protector of her realm.She would never cower behind any man nor wait for one to show up and save the day. She would save herself and the prince if need be. But she could have used friends- ones who thought they were doing the right thing by letting her know that other guys thought she was a slut because of how she dressed or talked or interacted with people in an effort to make her change into a make people realise who she actually was; when they ought to have been defending her and telling them just how misogynistic and hypocritical they were to judge a girl because she wears dresses or lipstick or smokes or drinks when they could easily drink her under the table. That a girl’s clothes or the fact that she laughs or hangs out with guys doesn’t necessarily imply that she was promiscuous or ‘easy’ and even if it did it was none of their bloody business nor their place to judge. Friends who tried fervently to keep her from the perverts in her life just as fervently dissuaded her from speaking up. Or worse friends who implied that whatever happened probably happened because of the ‘signals’ that she gave off by interacting ‘ a little too freely’ with them.
They were sympathetic , they were protective and in their own weird twisted way were looking out for me- for which I am grateful; but unwittingly they reinforced my self-loathing, the disgust that you feel for yourself when you know that what has happened is wrong and yet you do nothing about it. The humiliation of suffering in silence when all I had to do was open my mouth.
But even worse is the knowledge that when something of the sort happens, I retreat into a little place in my head, dissociate myself so very completely from what is happening to me and go to a safe place where I can see and feel but I just remain numb. Like my body is physically still present but my mind just simply goes elsewhere so that the sense of violation is just physical, it can’t ( or more accurately, I won’t let it) affect my essence.”Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker”, but somewhere along the way I allowed my failure to speak up as a child to morph into the judge,the jury,the executioner,the undertaker , and the first handful of sand on my grave.And that is why I loathe my self.
Today , at 26 years, I suffer from moderate to severe depression, severe anxiety and debilitating panic attacks. Yet what appalls me is the ease with which people assume that all my problems stem from one childhood incident, an incident I swore I would never let leave any imprints on my life. I have dealt with enough psychiatrists to recognise that gleam in their eyes- I have seen it in my own when I reach a diagnosis- the satisfaction that they have deduced the root of my issues, the gratification that their suspicions have been confirmed.They try to reassure me, that it wasn’t my fault, it was how anyone would have reacted, where they in my shoes. Their ill conceived attempts to bolster my crippled sense of self just simply make the bile rise up in my throat- I know it was not my fault, and I refuse to be just ‘anyone else’.
Even worse is the pity in peoples’ eyes when they come to know and they conclude that they have judged you too harshly for all the things you had and had not done because they realise that you are just a poor little traumatized girl. I appreciate the acknowledgment that my problems are genuine psychiatric illnesses and not just the consequence of being a lazy spoilt brat, but I deeply resent the fact that that acknowledgment stems from the knowledge of an incident that in my eyes holds no more significance t than falling down and skinning my knee. I can just about live with empathy, but pity – I don’t deserve anyone’s pity.I want to believe that I am have more mettle than that.
My depression, my anxiety, my loss of control, my emotional outbursts are just that- mine. Chemical imbalance in MY brain, MY genetics, environmental factors that influenced MY life.I refuse to share credit for my problems with some asshole who tried to screw me over as a child. My issues, whether I like it or not, are a part of who I am – I will always remain a sum of my experiences.But that little girl inside of me, she still believes with the absolute conviction that only a child possesses, that the course of my life shall be decided solely by me.That whatever happens, the good, the bad or the ugly, its still I who has the right to choose, I who decide whats important and what is insignificant.That no matter the situation, no matter who supports me or who doesn’t- the only constant in an ever changing world that I can absolutely depend upon is myself. Even if that ever changing world is just in my head, and everything feels unreal, when I remember nightmares or even exhibit glimmers of psychoses- I am still me. My mind can try to manipulate me but it really doesn’t have a bloody clue who its up against. I thought I needed someone to be my crutch, my rock.I don’t anymore, no matter how ferocious the storm no matter the gales that threaten to uproot everything, no matter the furor , I shall still be me, I shall be my own rock and I will survive.
Physics might contend otherwise, but no fucking butterfly nor its bloody wings are enough to create a storm that wreaks havoc in my life. I am my own storm- I encompass the fury and ferocity of the gales, just as I do the fortitude and tenacity that is the eye of the storm.