Used To

"I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too" - Mitch Hedberg

My eyes are shut tight. I’m trying to picture my special place, as the lady put it.

‘No peeking, Mrs. G’.

I am at a retreat to cleanse my aura and refresh my soul, whatever that means. I was hoping I’d get enough time in the next three days to have a long clean bath, scratch my asshole whenever it itched, fart freely and before sleeping, may be, masturbate in my room with dim lights and music.

I’ve been here since 7 in the morning, trying to “close” my eyes. If anything, I want everything to be open. I want to undress, binge on the bed naked, watch TV naked, all my fat hanging freely with no one to judge except me, of course. I didn’t get away from my routine, from the kids, from my husband and from the responsibilities, to be ordered around by some bitch (who I’m pretty sure is a sadistic evil witch) who not only looks 20ish, tight and pretty, but knows it too. Maybe she’s been sent here to torture me, maybe she is a female Bambadjan. If I had wanted to sign up for hell on earth, I could have done that from home. We do have a monthly book club meeting in the community.

I’ve been here too fucking long. I feel like I’m suffocating. I cannot breathe. Someone, please rescue me. I can’t keep my fucking eyes closed anymore. But I’m scared to open my eyes. If I hear the screechy, annoying No-peeeeeeeeeking-Mrs-Geeeeeeee one more time, I’d have to summon my ancestors and do a human sacrifice.

I gently open my eyes without moving my head too much and turn around slowly. I can’t spot Ms. Bamba. The clock blinks 7:14. I’ve been here only 14 minutes? Not only every single one of them have their eyes closed, they seem calm too. What is happening here? Is everyone conspiring against me? What is wrong with me?

“Oh, plenty of things wrong with her. For starters, she was a sensitive child growing up, in fact, she was too sensitive and cried a lot as an infant. I was always worried she was more like her dad than me” – My Mother.

“She didn’t always give her best. She put in only about 75% effort in almost everything she did. I could not convince her to see my ways, which is the right one as everyone I know says” – My Father.

“SHE’S A BLOODY BITCH WHO WAS NEVER EVER THERE FOR ME. Of course, I was not there for her either but I’m younger so that’s ok. Also, I’m a diva and I think everyone should worship me” – My Sister.

“I’m not sure, I’ve been trying to figure that out myself for several years” – My Brother.

‘Let’s try to focus, Mrs. G’, Ms. Bamba was back and whispering in my ear. My eyes closed instantly. I imagine she must be exhausted from her nose-picking session and eating her own boogers, she needs a break and wants to resume her torture. But I decided to try one more time. I MUST BEAT THESE SUCKERS!

I can think of several other people who will line up far too eagerly to answer what was wrong with me. But when it comes to my family, especially one that I don’t live with anymore, I can pretty much brush them off. My mom was never there when I was growing up. Not just metaphorically, but literally. I would wake up in the morning, she’d have left by then. She would come home late in the evening and I would still be playing with friends. She’d have had gone to bed by the time I came home after playing. If I didn’t want to be like her, she was damn right. But I didn’t want to be like my dad either, I simply chose lesser of the two evils. I really wanted to be more like Mowgli or Peter Pan or Snow White. With no parents. And not getting screwed up.

It’s as if the birth canal is a portal and while you’re being born, you are teleported to a game show and in the rapid fire round you’re asked important questions like ‘Which one do you choose – having parents or being an orphan’, ‘What do you want in life – money or happiness?’, ‘Who would you rather have as a partner – someone poor with character or someone rich with no morals?’, ‘What would you like the most from a lover – guaranteed orgasm or unparalleled foreplay? Funny thing is, they’re all trick questions. You didn’t know you could choose your own answer or both options because you were dumb. But then all babies are. Who the fuck thought of putting new-borns in a game show? They ought to be sued by baby rights activists or something. In fact, there should be anti-baby activists. Who needs babies? They’re bad for health. Have you heard anyone say, ‘Don’t be an adult’ as an insult? If everyone thinks being a baby is so bad, why are there millions, eager to have their own?

‘Let’s take a deep breath now. 1-2-3-4-breathe in. 1-2-3-4-5-6 breathe out’.

I know a woman who was perpetually mad at her child. She would keep yelling, getting irritated and annoyed at her child. Turns out she was angry because during delivery, because of complications, the way her child came, some of her nerves got weaker, a lot weaker, a lot lot weaker. Now every time she pees, all her pee doesn’t come out, she has to scrunch her pelvis, twist herself to shake all of it out. She is a human ketch up bottle without ketchup, well, except on some days. So whenever she had to pee (which was quite often because her bladder was shot too), she was reminded of how her heavy, giant-headed child had ruined her peeing pleasure for eternity and that’s why she was always annoyed at her child.

Another woman I know was mad at her husband. She thought it was the most unfair thing. No matter how soon it ended, both parties had fun during foreplay and both parties had fun during sex no matter how soon that ended. But it was only her that had to go through pregnancy (which didn’t end soon enough)? Why, oh why oh why? It was only her that suffered through the complications, only her whose body morphed into what looked like a series of doughnuts in a kabab stick. He, however, gets to enjoy the outcome without ever having had to carry the burden. Turns out she was perpetually mad at her husband.

If you ask me, I don’t see why someone has to have kids to be mad at their husband. They give enough reasons even otherwise, don’t they?

‘Now, gently open your eyes as you take a deep breath in. 1-2-3-4-breathe in and out, 1-2-3-4-5-6. Finally. I DID IT! I’m awesome. I looked at the clock. 7:35. Not bad. I’ve endured 35 fucking minutes of Metta Meditation. I hadn’t even heard of that name until Kiara brought it up few months back. I didn’t take it seriously because meditation and me are like oil and water, we don’t get along. But Kiara kept saying there’s a retreat, you should go and you won’t believe how it will change you completely, make you a better person, more thankful and grateful and everything.

‘Kiara, is this because you’re tired of hearing me bitch about my marriage, my family life? Because if that is the case, say so, I will stop. I’ve been venting because I thought you were a good friend. But I can see it’s bothersome for you. Let’s just go back to being co-workers’, I tried to keep my cool and say it with nonchalance, like her actions hardly affected me, but secretly hoping she’d feel guilty and apologize to me and plead to me to keep bitching for my own health and peace.

‘Yeah, sorry. I understand your marriage, your love life and everything isn’t ideal, but you’ve been cribbing too much lately and honestly, sometimes it’s too much. I feel tired listening to your sulking and self-pity and want it to stop. I was going to set you up with someone so you can have an affair and may be get it out of your system but then I got a better idea. Here’, she handed me a pass to a 3-day weekend retreat of Metta.

‘Fuck off asshole bitch’, I wanted to say.

‘Thank you. That’s very thoughtful. And I’m sorry for being such a wet blanket’, I said instead and turned to walk to my car.

‘Oh and it’s redeemable any 3-day weekend this entire year. Just have to call and confirm your spot’, she persisted behind me.

‘Okay’, I said as I kept walking. She seemed disappointed. She was perhaps hoping for a bigger thank-you or expected me to swoon over her kindness and generosity. Maybe she expected me to break down or cry because I had once told her that she’s the only person I talk to about my family life. She perhaps thought her absence would make me feel a deep sense of loss and lack of control. She thought wrong. I don’t need anyone. True, I depended on her, but fuck her if she thought I was going to cry over her or beg or try to get her back. ‘Thank you!’, I yelled again as I waved the tickets with my back to her. I liked using a probing tone, a smile with a smirk and confidence, whenever I wanted to seem aloof and in control. Kiara and I stopped making eye contact at work since then.

I got up and started to roll my mat. ‘Oh, Mrs. Geeeeeeeee. You seem to be in a hurry. Going somewhere?’, Ms. Bamba looked at me questioningly.

I looked around, confused. Everyone was still seated. Why aren’t they getting ready to leave? Am I missing something?

‘Ummm-wha-I-don’t-ummm…’, I fumbled idiotically.

‘Somebody forgot to read the schedule for today’, Bamba was incessant. I didn’t know there was a schedule. ‘Sorry’, I muttered as I unrolled my mat.

‘It’s alright’, she said looking at me. ‘We are going to take a short break before we continue. If anyone wants to quickly freshen up, now would be the time’, I decided to use the opportunity and sneak out, when Bamba hollered in my direction. ‘Can someone please pass their schedule sheet to Mrs. G so she can get caught up, thaaaank youuuuu’, I quickly sat back down as my neighbor passed a sheet to me. THIS IS GOING TO LAST THE ENTIRE DAY?, I wanted to scream. No, can’t do this. No, no no no no no. This is not happening. Not at all. I’m outta here. If only I had known. Not too late even now.

‘Hi, I think there’s been a mistake. I was not aware of the schedule or what today and the weekend is about. I would like to continue some other time’, Bamba beamed a smile and said in a drawling, stupid tone, ‘Awwww, sorry Mrs.Geeee. I understand your confusion. But, how about giving this a chance? ‘.

‘Oh sure, but not right now. I’d like to go to my room now’.

‘I’m afraid that’s not possible, Mrs. G. Participants get their room key only after they’ve completed their session and that’s not till tea time, at least’.

‘You mean you will not let me out or give me a room unless I stay through the schedule?’, I was angry and restless.

‘Oh, you can go out if you please, even go home if you wish. But the whole city is booked for golf weekend, I doubt there are rooms available anywhere in the city and are you prepared to go back home 300 miles with nothing to show for? Why not just stay through the session and stay with us, you have a room waiting anyway’, she goaded.

Yeah, right. Room’s waiting, but you won’t give it to me. Nazi Bamba Bitch! I was screaming in my head.

‘I understand it may seem unfair, but you’ll see. You’ll thank us later’, it’s as if she read my mind. I walked back to my place, everyone was back and session was starting. I realized I should have taken that bathroom break at least. Now I’m stuck here forever and I’m going to die of either boredom or blasted bladder.

‘Many of you have been regulars here, some are new’, Bamba looked at me. ‘But no matter how veteran you think you are, each session is like your very first. Focus, Immerse Yourself and Enjoy. Let your thoughts take you wherever they take you. Do not resist, but be mindful’.

Bamba signed at me to close my eyes. I looked around, everyone was already deep in trance. I felt like an outsider, a philistine. Like that time I went to an opera and laughed out loud during the opening act because the singer’s shrill voice set off something funny in my head and everyone stared at me and I felt so embarrassed. Who knew people would shush so they could hear shrieky singing?

‘Let the voices speak. Let your thoughts wander. Calm your mind’.

How the fuck am I supposed to do all that? The voices in my head are mocking me for where I ended up this weekend. I’m thinking about Kiara and how I can repay for her extreme benevolence, how I can screw her up and all the different ways I can make life miserable for her, cause enough grief that she’ll never think about giving me a gift ever again in her life.

‘It may be hard at first. Persist. Do not resist. Accept your thoughts but let them go. Keep breathing. Pay attention to your breath’.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m trying here, Bamba. Shut up, already.

‘Today’s exercise is manifold. Many steps. We will climb them all up. One. By. One. One. By. One’. That made me sleepy.

‘Imagine a stranger…’ That’s easy. I’ve imagined it many times. A stranger. Someone who sees Me, sees me now. Not the Me I was 10 years back or 5 years back, not even last month, but the Me right now. He doesn’t know the beautiful, thinner version of me of 10 years back. He only sees the fat but mystically cute (his own words) Me standing in front of him and accepts me with all my flaws and loves me like the exotic lines of Neruda – your hand over my chest, so close your eyes close as I fall asleep. He holds my face tenderly, gazes into my eyes, puzzled at how he feels so much love for me, for no reason at all. I try hard to picture him, but I’m unable to. His face! I’m unable to picture anyone else’s…

‘It’s not really a stranger. It’s someone in your life, someone you love. Picture them. You may know them but look at them with fresh eyes’.

Every time I try, I’m unable to picture anyone else’s face. Every single time, it’s my husband’s face and I’ve always felt deprived when other women imagine a hunk with great manners and mesmerising charm and I couldn’t manage that, even in my fantasy.

‘Look at them deeply, look at them with fresh eyes’.

I’ve loved him for a long time, a really long time. When I didn’t know who he was or even who I was. Before I knew who I wanted to be or to think about who I wanted to be with. Disconnected from my parents, disassociated from people around, but strangely attached to his wry remarks and goofy sense of humor. The things you feel, the people you like in your teens, is that even real?

‘Think about what they mean to you’.

But so many unreturned gestures, unrequited wishes and gifts, his indifference toward me – why didn’t that keep me repelled? Why didn’t I stay away knowing very well that perhaps he wished that much. But now, I’m neck deep. I’ve won some, lost some. I’ve loved some, hated some. Intertwined lives with a proof of idiocy, two reminders that keep tightening the grip – the offspring.

‘Think about their strengths and flaws’.

That non-reaction when I told him I was pregnant for the second time, the question that followed, “What do you want to do with it?”, making it my choice and years later, “You wanted to keep the baby. I never wanted to be tied down”. Diligently doing my laundry, managing the toddler while working from home, massaging my back and feet during pregnancies, driving in the middle of the night to get me the spicy burrito I craved for, those wonderful orgasms each night.

Yelling at me in front of an acquaintance, throwing me out of the room in the middle of the feeding because I was watching a video, “You are not connecting with the baby”. Pacing up and down as complications rose during labor, staying up late and still keeping the toddler entertained, making runs for ice chips, keeping the camera charged and watching the unreliable monitor and curves all night long, baby’s heart, keeping the home stocked and ready for our arrival. Which one should I focus on? There are too many.

‘Think about the times, good and bad’.

Oh we’ve had plenty of both. The stolen glances in the restaurant, first sly caress under the night sky, the tender kisses that left me in a drunken stupor, the first tight hug and the words uttered in passion, “I’ll always be there for you”. He meant it then. The week after the second delivery when he said “I’m leaving you”, the confusion, the postpartum chemical explosion inside me, igniting a slew of feelings – hatred, helplessness, vulnerability, protectiveness, shame, fear, guilt, depression. I knew he meant it then as well. The humiliation that came flooding after I blurted ‘Please don’t go’. He also meant it when he said “I would have been happier if you’d never come into my life”. Or was it “I wish I’d never met you” or “My life is worse ever since I met you”. My memory must have taken a hit when he was word-bombing me.

‘Think about the pain’.

The vicious venom-spewing during a particularly nasty fight, “Do you ever think about me? You’re forever consumed with yourself. You want me to be your slave. I cannot be at your beck and call, you know” and the final nail in the coffin “You’re not special”. The cycle of depression and inertia scabbed further, “Can’t you do anything right?”. The blind eye at home, but generous compassion for a stranger, “I think that woman is having a hard time, poor thing, you should talk to her”.

‘Think about the pleasure’.

An untold ease in being with each other, subtle exchange of glances, quiet acquiescence during debates, the high in planning surprises, the exuberance in cooking for each other, the electric touch in theatres, the impatient ride back home, the immediacy of exploring each other, the ecstasy of each other’s company.

‘Think about the journey’.

We are neck deep, we are strung high. We are stuck together, we are inseparable. We are at the lowest of lows, yet soaring above. It’s a pain in the neck, but that’s the price you pay for fantastic sights. We stifle each other but only because our thoughts are uncontainable. The view has always been spectacular and the valleys and mountains, adventurous.

‘Now think about how grateful you are. Grateful for it all. The good and bad, strengths and flaws, pain and pleasure, the journey and the adventure’.

Tears kept rolling down my cheek. I was surprised I still had my eyes closed. I felt conscious, embarrassed, exposed, vulnerable. Not so grateful for the pain, not so grateful for the flaws, but then again, sort of grateful for them too. Bamba isn’t all that bad, after all. I was amused at my own thoughts.

‘Take a deep breath. Inhale-1-2-3-4 and exhale-1-2-3-4-5-6. Keep your eyes closed, don’t open them yet. Take a minute. When you open your eyes, pick up the pen and the piece of paper underneath your mat and write something, anything, whatever comes to mind. Alright, ready? Rub your hands together and gently place your palms on your face. Now, open your eyes slowly and gently. Good. Now pick up the paper and pen. And Go!

I used to love my husband. I still do. But I used to, too.

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