Sunday, April 14, 2013

The making

I must have been four and a half years old then. Although my mother says its impossible to have a clear memory of things that happened at that tender age, I strongly disagree. Because I know how clearly I can see that incident in my mind. It still gives me goosebumps.

My brother, who is five years elder to me, wasn’t very fond of me as far as I can remember. That particular day he took sibling hatred to a new level. I have a deep scar at the back of my left hand as a reminder of his hatred. The scar his hatred inflicted on my heart as a child, not even five years of age, never really healed. Why else, would I be writing this now?

Our parents were away at work and our elder brother and sister were at school. The four of us, aged between four and a half to around seventeen, were left to ourselves until our parents reached home at night. My mother worked very hard to make ends meet , shouldering responsibilities that my father should have done but couldn’t be bothered to.

The day of the incident, we were ‘playing’, if you can call it that. I am yet to find a word that adequately describes a situation where everyday after waking up, I’d be in constant fear of when my brother will start picking on me for no particular reason. Some mornings I'd pretend to be asleep till I could no longer lie in bed doing nothing. I’d be constantly afraid of what I may do or say to trigger his hatred filled cruelty. Each day it was something new..I have varied memories of ways in which he expressed his hate..from throwing stones at me as I walked in front of him, to telling me he spit in the water he brought for me to drink, to yelling at me at the top of his voice until I would shiver and cry uncontrollably and cling to him hard instead of running away from him. Because he was the only living thing in that terrifying, big house – too big for a child to be alone in.

I keep digressing as memories flood in. Back to the day of the incident, he lit a candle and we were burning things like paper and other stuff. Him, because it was somehow fascinating to him and me, because I had no choice but to join in to be ‘on his side’ so that he wouldn’t turn his attention to making me the subject of his amusement.

He picked up a small blue plastic car and began burning it. It melted and as I was watching drops of molten blue plastic pull away from the illl fated toy, he held my hand under the bubbling, melting plastic and before I knew it, a big blob of molten plastic fell on my hand.  Its all in slow motion then on, as most painful memories are. I don’t remember whether I screamed for my life or ran crying. I cant really remember my reaction or his, in the moments that followed. All I remember is seeing that huge drop of molten plastic embed itself in my hand, burning through my tender skin and flesh, turning a darker shade of blue than the toy car originally was. The drop solidified almost instantly and was just stuck there in my hand, lifeless. As if it had always been an odd extension protruding from the back of my hand.

I remember one thing clearly - he wasn’t scared after what he had done. If there was any fear or remorse he did a good job of concealing it because  all he said as I cried in pain at the horrific sight of plastic burning deeper into my flesh was that I should let him remove it. I remember yelling, “No, I will show this to mummy today”. I remember saying that because for me it was a daring act of defiance. Everyday he’d threaten me that if I mentioned any acts of his cruel behavior towards me to our mother, he would beat me up even more the next day because surely our mother would go to work and we would be alone again.

Every day at the dinner table as we ate I’d think of telling our mother everything he had done that day to make me cry and he, almost as if telepathically reading my thoughts, would catch that quick nervous look I had on my face a few minutes before I mustered the courage to announce at the table how cruel he had been to me all through the day and as far as I could remember. As my eyes met his, his stern message was conveyed to me with a quiet but powerful force that made me sink back into my chair. My carefully gathered thoughts that had nearly become words and finally become strong enough to leave my lips any minute returned to my heart, taunting me that I would NEVER have the courage to speak up. Mission accomplished, my brother’s stern look would disappear as if it were never there and in its place would be a triumphant grin. A content look of satisfaction that he was safe because I was too much of a coward to rat him out.

I’d finish my meal quietly, unlike any child of that age you may have seen. This always went  unnoticed because in my family dinnertime was far from those happy mealtimes we see in movies where family members love each other and cant hear enough about how each person’s day went. Dinner times were the only times that our family sat together. Yet for us, it was a matter of getting it quickly done and dusted so that we could sleep. Our mother would serve us, quickly and quietly. There was no question of fussing about whatever dish was served.

I realize now how tiring it must have been for my mother, to cook dinner for six within an hour or so of reaching home from work. I don’t remember her ever sitting down to relax for five minutes after returning from work. I guess with four hungry children around, any mother would forget her own comfort and jump right into cooking and serving dinner.  Even as kids, we all knew better than to hassle her with our petty issues.

That day though, I felt it was very important for me to be the center of my mother’s universe atleast while I told her how I have been suffering. I wanted her undivided attention and hoped that she would resolve the matter for me, once and for all.

 After the molten plastic drop solidified on my flesh I ran and hid under our huge dining table and refused to come out from there for my brother to pull it out of my flesh. Whether he wanted to destroy evidence or get sadistic pleasure from watching me suffer the pain of having my flesh torn away with the plastic, I don’t really know. But I swore I’d show it to mummy and hoped he would get  a sound spanking  that day.

I don’t know how many hours I sat there or how I managed to wait until my mother was home. I don’t remember where our elder brother and sister were after they returned from school. Did I show them what had happened? Did they try to help me? I cant remember any of that. What I do remember is choosing a safe moment to come out of hiding to run to mummy in the kitchen. I remember dodging my brother as he pounced on me to have me reconsider whether I really wanted to complain to mummy and face him the next day.

I remember crying my eyes out as I stood there looking up at mummy, holding up my hand for her to see what her son had done to me. I remember being in her way as she rushed from the kitchen table to the stove, with some ingredients in hand that needed to be quickly added to whatever she was cooking. I remember saying, see what he did to me today and just as I came in her way, she yelled at me without looking at my outstretched hand,” Go and sit in the hall room, out of my way..”. I don’t remember whether she told me to ‘sit in the hall room’ or ‘go and play elsewhere’ ..but I remember it stung like a slap. It felt like the confirmation of what my brother told me everyday without fail..”she loves me more than you..she dosent love you..she hates you..she never wanted you..we were happy before you were born... You were a mistake..I am their pet..”.

He had probably been watching from outside the kitchen because just as I stepped outside, he did a little victory dance and confirmed for me, “I told you, she wont care”.

The only consolation was that he went easy on me the next day. I wasn’t the same inside. Something had changed. I was still a coward. I still hugged him when he yelled at the top of his voice to scare me. I still cried sitting by his side when he pretended to be dead. But I never thought about complaining to my mother again.

Maybe this incident and a series of others made me the way I am now..Today I despise any show of helplessness or submissiveness in women. Maybe because it reminds me of the coward I was. Even as a child I hated myself for being unable to gather the courage to fight back or speak up. The anger, even disgust that I feel for women who quietly tolerate injustice or being ill treated is actually the disgust I feel for myself, for the way I was. Even though I was a child, I am still unforgiving about how meek and scared I was and how easy it was to put me down.

Maybe these memories make me react just a little more strongly than most women would, to hear about instances of women being ill treated.

I spent a good part of my teenage years trying to convince my mother that all these incidents werent merely instances of sibling rivalry. She spent all those years trying to convince me that I am super sensitive.. that her son only behaved like any child of that age would behave. She kept telling me that all brothers and sisters fight and I kept telling her that not all brothers would suffocate their seven year old sister with a pillow, hoping she would die so he could be the family favorite again.

Years ago we stopped talking about it because my mother and I feel like we are talking to a wall when this ugly topic rears its head occasionally.

Today my brother and I have our own families. We politely interact as much as is necessary.  Though I can say for sure that I don’t hate him, I still search for an answer when I ask myself whether I truly love him as much as any other sister would love her brother despite all the childish wars that form an essential part of growing up.

I remember something that I said to him ages ago in a rare moment we were talking about the past, “You could have been my best friend, the first person I’d turn to for help when someone at school bullied me. You could have protected me. Instead, YOU were my greatest fear. And you continued to scare me knowing that I had nobody to turn to.”

Today, some seventeen odd years later, as I look at the scar at the back of my left hand, those words still hold true.  That scar dosent look as horrible as I thought it would. The one on my psyche probably does.


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Nithya George said...

yr making me cry girl. we ( me&my sis) too had same equation in childhood but I was yr bros character. but now I feel bad for what all I did to her. but I don't know whether she loves me or not but yes I'm sorry for what all I did .we had a big time child rivalry but I wish I was little matured in that age as an elder sister . though we had a gap of 9 yrs between us. may b I'm really bad so now I'm gettin it back by other sources. :-(

Sangeeta Sudhakaran said...

I guess at that age it was not possible for you guys to understand or think what impact it would have on your sibling in the long run. If you really are sorry and you do talk to her, do let her know sometime. I know it would have made a difference to me. Maybe doing that will clear that space in your life. When we hurt someone and realise it, its good to acknowledge that we did/said hurtful things and apologise if you find it in your heart. God Bless!