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“But what is a person’s value? Who defines or measures that? Does it only exist to benefit someone?” A short story about self-worth.
Here is the fifth winner of our October 2016 Muse of the Month contest, Sonali Dyal.
The cue was: “If I had low self-esteem, how could I have done what I did tonight?” – Anuja Chauhan, Those Pricey Thakur Girls.
“Economic value is a measure of the benefit provided by a good or service to an economic agent”, said the professor as he addressed his students.
“But what is a person’s value? Who defines or measures that? Does it only exist to benefit someone?” thought Keya. I walked out of class that day in a reflective state of mind, wondering what the word ‘value’ meant to us as individuals, for ourselves and each other. I strolled awhile till I decided to park myself at a coffee shop, no book or phone in tow. I just wanted to look around, see things and people and enjoy a moment of solitude before I hit the books.
“Why can’t you put on some decent clothes when we go out? At least make the effort to look good even if we step out for an hour. You seem to wear the same shirt every damn time.” His snide comment made me glance in his direction.
I saw the girl with him look slightly flustered and bothered however she did not reply and pored over the menu instead. “Why do you have to go meet those women again? All they do is fill your head with stupid ideas. You always come back with this sense of superiority after meeting them as if you are going to cure cancer”, he commented in a nasty tone. “That’s not true!” she replied, the surprise evident in her voice. “Oh so you know it all don’t you? You can think for yourself? You think you know what’s best?” he retorted angrily.
Something inside me snapped. It felt like the whole world faded away instantly and I was back in that house, standing against the kitchen counter and feeling as part of an interrogation process. My husband’s incessant questioning and taunts would be a daily affair. Nothing I did was good enough and anything I did for my own happiness was considered as wrong, immoral or the fact that my parents had just not raised me right to bow down to every wish. Saying yes no matter what the cost to me was respectful. Saying no and standing up for myself was humiliation to his family and him. How convenient.
I don’t clearly remember when it started but I do know it got bad and fast. “I want to take you away from everyone and everything and have you to myself” Oh how romantic did those words sound. How flattering that a man desires me so much that he wants me all to himself, all the time. I got floored and like a fool gave away my heart and all else. “Marry me”, he said and I did. But what he thought of marriage was very different.
It hit me like a tidal wave. In the three years that followed I lived in a nightmare. Sadly I would wake up every day to the horrors of my life and it would not just be a bad dream but my reality. Not once did he assault me or raise his hand on me but does that make it any less abusive?
“You aren’t even capable of running a house. Not a decent meal when I walk in post work. What the hell were you doing all day? Shopping and wasting time? Or gossiping on the phone with your mother?” I stopped working when he insisted that he made enough for the both of us and that I should work on our home rather than for money. I remember months of negotiations, crying and yelling matches, till I relented. I gave in my papers with a heavy heart and against better judgement.
Why didn’t he understand that I didn’t work for the money? It was a major part of me. I loved the work I did. The financial world drew me to it like a moth to a flame. And he saw that and made me give it up. And for what in return? Emotional and psychological abuse. I did not understand what I had done wrong. All I knew that my gut told me again and again – this clearly is wrong and not how a marriage is supposed to make one feel.
I soon spiralled into depression. Friends witnessed the weight loss, the dark circles and the puffy eyes. “Why do you keep calling me at work? Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk to you. Unlike you, the work I do is mentally exhausting and the last thing I need is you to get on my nerves”. All this only because I enquired about our weekend plans.
Yes I did love him. I really did. He never struck me but then again he did not have to. His words sliced through my soul like a knife. Nights I cried waking up to a tear soaked pillow. His rejection of my love and attention felt like a physical ache. He made me feel like an interference, an annoyance, sort of like a bug who kept whizzing across the room and all he wanted to do was squash it.
Concerns from friends and family grew. “You are not worth anything. You prove it. With your words and actions. Why can’t you just do what I ask? I cannot take a no for an answer. How dare you disagree? You are my wife and you will do as I say”. The girl who loved to travel, take dance lessons and enjoyed visiting art galleries had slowly disappeared. My friends were alarmed at the change they saw in me. But those statements had damaged me far more than I was willing to admit even to myself. He kept telling me I was not good enough.
He left on a business trip post a fight that ensued between us and completely cut me off for a fortnight. All my calls and messages to him asking about his well-being and work while he was away were met with barked snarls asking me to back off and leave him alone. I stayed in bed and cried for days while he was out of town. I woke up the fifth day and looked at myself. “Was I really worthless as he said? I had a great family, good friends, passions and talents that kept me looking forward to life. Why was I allowing myself to let someone take all that away from me?”
I made up my mind there and then. He came back and acted as if nothing had happened. That weeks of silence and telling me to leave was merely a figment of my imagination. But I finally decided to ‘listen’ to him and give him what he asked for. “You’re leaving?” The smirk beaming on his face. He joked with me as if I was incapable of making up my mind about anything to do with my own self. And in that moment I knew I had made the right decision.
“Yes I am leaving. Am finally doing what you have been asking me to for so long. Just because I never left your side you took for granted my presence in your life. You constantly said you need to be on your own and find me meddlesome. You can plead, cry and beg as much as you want now. All my pleas were met with ridicule. My tears were met with you telling me to go to hell and die. Well die I did. Night after night as I cried to sleep and woke up with a face that looked like a punching bag. But not anymore. I don’t think any less of myself. I know who I am and what I am capable of, I choose me. You constantly challenged me and made me feel inadequate. You know I did nothing to deserve this. So you can regret this and want me back but you would never have me again. I am not a possession you own or hold on to as and when you please and to discard when you think you are done. I decide for me.”
His ego took over and he exclaimed, “You are so pathetic. You aren’t capable of doing anything at all. Not now and not ever.”
I looked at him wondering who he was and if I ever really knew him. Where had the love gone? The cold hard look in his eyes told me that the love I felt for him had blinded me. “Well, I said, if I had low self-esteem, how could I have done what I did tonight?”
The last conversation with my now ex-husband was replaying itself in my mind as I walked back to campus. I knew I had done the right thing by taking a stand for myself and staying firm. For choosing life and learning and soon a new career path. He constantly told me am worthless and it took years for me to admit and accept what I already knew –
My worth stems from within. No one can tell me my own measure as a good person. I know who I am. And it’s not how I was all those years.
I chose to turn my pain into power for myself and my life. And to always choose me.
Sonali Dyal wins a Rs 250 Flipkart voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the 10 top winners at the end of 2016. Congratulations!
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