I WAS alone in an apartment with a guy I’d just met and who hadn’t yet stopped staring at my chest. We sat a couple of feet apart, smoking pot. Barely concealing my amusement, I asked him if he was a virgin. He wasn’t. I was. I’m almost sure the possibility of rape flitted across my mind in the haze, but it didn’t stay long enough to be of any consequence.
I visited that apartment quite frequently after that. We weren’t friends. We didn’t even like each other. What we did like was sitting together on the balcony watching the smoke lazily drift off. Suited me perfectly… until the thrill wore off. Then I stopped going there and wandered towards the next thing that caught my fancy and jerked me awake. If it came with the risk of physical danger or attachment, the excitement lasted a bit longer. I warded off both with equal ferocity.
Nothing I did was original, earth-shattering or even intentional. I stumbled into the experiences I had. I knew I was average and most likely a victim of the clichéd teenage anguish. My friends — the few I had left — began to worry a little when I started missing classes for days at a stretch. I’d failed in every subject but English and my already teetering attendance was way below what I required to get my hall ticket for the finals. I was 17 and couldn’t care less.
I hadn’t cared for a while. Since a week before I turned 10, to be precise. My father died that day. He didn’t “pass away”, “move on to a better place” or “end all his cares in quiet death”. He died. Crushed to a pulp under a truck. On my birthday, which he’d so carefully planned.
“Oh, you have a dad, too? That’s nice. Too bad he isn’t as awesome as mine but we can’t all have Dada.” Well, I never said this to anyone or even thought it in this precise way but this is how I felt the first 10 years of my life.
What do you do when your superhero arrives home cold in a coffin one day? You stop believing and just be. I was.
Sure I went through the five stages of grief. All at once, over 10 years. But when you don’t think, you don’t admit or effectively deny. You eat, sleep, smile, make insipid conversation and occupy space. I had fits of rage when even my closest friend would be afraid to talk to me for fear of saying the wrong thing. It would pass as quickly as it rose and I would be left standing there like an idiot, facing stunned stares. I felt victimised, sorry for myself and pathetic for feeling all of this. Then I decided it took too much to feel and I stopped. I became numb, dispassionate and somewhere along, I got so lost in it, I couldn’t find my way back.
I broke the monotony by periodically happening upon some slightly self-destructive activity in the hope of resurrecting feeling. It didn’t work. I stopped that too a year ago.
Recently, I spent a night alone with a girl in her house. We had a rather interesting conversation in intervals before falling asleep at dawn, our arms and legs still comfortably entangled. I woke before her and for a moment couldn’t place myself. I caught my breath, gripped by fear triggered by an old nightmare. Then I heard her breathing beside me, and it all came back. My girlfriend was still fast asleep and I was 20 years-and-a-day old.
Last year has put things in some perspective for me. That’s a euphemism, for I was pushed to see it differently by a few people I met who left lasting impressions. I realise I’ll always grieve for the father I knew only in my childhood. I’ll always hope to hear his voice praise, scold or just call my name. Worse still, I’ll never stop wondering: “What if he was alive.”
Anonymous is 20. She is a student of communication studies in Bengaluru.