Since my childhood, I have found it difficult to fall asleep early at night. But little did I know that this habit would give me scars that will leave me sleepless for several nights. Because of my habit to be awake late at night, I became the sole witness of all the ugly fights between my parents. I stood in the corner of the room, too terrified to even weep, wishing that the night wasn’t a reality when I saw my mother being beaten up, bruised and bleeding. And the next day, I came back from school to find my mother who was on the verge of ending her life. While my father, sitting in the corner, was drowning his grief in alcohol.
I remember trying to sleep and hide under the blanket. But soon the darkness of the night overpowered my innocence, and the shouts, the thuds and cries got recorded in my mind forever. Today when I am about to be 23-years-old, they still haunt me. Whose was the fault? I keep on thinking…Was it my mother’s submissiveness or my father’s habit to be the dominant one? Whose conditioning was wrong? My mother had been taught to compromise and bear all the violence and oppression. She had been conditioned to believe that it is her husband's right to treat her body as he pleases and that such small fights happen in every house. Or was it my father’s, who grew up in a male-dominated family where women had no role outside of the kitchen?
My parents' dissatisfaction with each other slowly unravelled into fights and adultery. Yes, I knew my father was cheating on my mother with someone who was also close to me.
My parents' wedding was a compromise forged on the norms of patriarchy. My father initially rejected to marry my mother. While my mother, who was conditioned to believe that rejection from a prospective groom ought to bring her shame, went into a depression. My father eventually was forced to change his mind; his domineering father didn’t allow him to take his own decisions. Perhaps, if they had the option to marry according to their choice, things wouldn't have taken an ugly turn.
My parents' dissatisfaction with each other slowly unraveled into fights and adultery. Yes, I knew my father was cheating on my mother with someone who was also close to me. I was disgusted and hated my father first for the domestic violence and now for the adultery. Again, my habit to be awake late into the night made me a witness to all this which is certainly a nightmare for any child. I have seen my father in a room with the woman when my mother went out of the town for some reason. I couldn’t believe what was happening and why in my family. The whole idea of a happy family became utopian at a very early age in my life. I couldn’t face my younger siblings and friends because I felt ashamed. I felt a responsibility to keep my siblings away from this reality and which was the reason why I always pretended to be "normal" around them.
Since that day, I started reconsidering all my impulsive thoughts and behaviours towards my parents. I could now see them as two individuals bearing the burden of the marriage that was never meant to happen.
However, one day, I was so bottled up, that I went to my mother and told her everything, all that I had seen happen in that room. My body was shivering as I spoke and even more so when I thought about the consequences. They fought again. This time my siblings also witnessed it. Was I the one responsible for all this? Am I the culprit who brought this havoc on my family? The guilt and fear were too much that I got my first attack of anxiety and suicidal thoughts. My mother cursed my father for being negligent of the fact that he was a father to three grown-ups. I was by her side, all time. But I had no idea how my father was dealing with it. So I sneaked up on him and was shocked to see him sobbing in seclusion. Believe me, seeing your father cry is a strong and terrifying moment. I saw helpless and weak man before me, in need of help.
Since that day, I started reconsidering all my impulsive thoughts and behaviours towards my parents. I could now see them as two individuals bearing the burden of the marriage that was never meant to happen. I could also see in them resilience to get over their personal problems and devote their lives to building those of their children. I agree, my father slipped and committed an unforgivable mistake. But was it completely his fault? It is not easy to live your life with millions of compromises and that too for a relationship in which he had been tied forcefully. Neither was my mother wrong. No woman is bound to sacrifice or bear oppression just because she is a wife. But despite all these issues, they stuck by their duties as parents. Perhaps, they aren’t any close now as a couple but are working as a team to be the best parents for their children. No child would like to be part of a family that has been ripped apart by divorce. Just why should children bear the brunt of their parents' mistakes? And this my parents knew very well and together they tried to preserve the haven of a family that every child deserves to grow up in.
As far as my reconciliation is concerned, I am happy that we still celebrate all the festivals together and with the same enthusiasm. If it takes to forget or ignore the dark issues of the family in order to build perennial happiness and togetherness, I don’t think it is a bad bargain. Although, the trauma of the childhood experience still lurks under my bed, making me wonder will my married life be the same?
The views expressed are the author's own.