Battling The Flickering Flames

Posted: June 17, 2018

As if they had rehearsed this act before, my family by marriage strategically placed themselves in such a way that I was surrounded on all sides.

The unusual quiet in the apartment felt like it was haunted. Even more unusual was that I fervently willed it to be haunted. That would be an easy answer to all my problems. Except for the two unlucky neighbors who shared the floor with us, the rest of them were avoiding it like the plague. They were immaterial to me anyways. Am expecting company, they can’t be here soon enough.

I opened the windows to let the stuffy air out of the house. The setting sun let its rays cast shadows on the marble floor as if it was extending an olive branch to me. I felt a thin smile spread over my lips inadvertently. I guess they were emoting gratitude as I haven’t lost it all. I’ve taken a major leap in faith and deep in my heart I knew that I’ll do whatever it would take to get my son back home soon. A week has gone by without lighting lamps at home and it was time I aired out the living room. The smell of phosphorous from the match stick and the lamp’s burning oil along with the jasmine fragrance from the incense sticks added serenity to the place. Any minute now and they’ll be here.

Thud… thud… thud! And a lot of commotion at the doorstep. They were impatient to break the door open and I saved them the trouble. The protagonist for the ensuing drama barged in with her entourage.

What were you thinking?! Did you forget the fact that we’re still alive? Some nerve to do such a thing! And to do it without consulting us?!” my mother-in-law fumed.

As if they had rehearsed this act before, my family by marriage strategically placed themselves in such a way that I was surrounded on all sides. The sensible uncle facing my back, the terrorizing aunt at my side, and another long distant uncle pacing the floor as if he was prancing in the labor ward for his wife to deliver soon, and there they were, facing me, my mother in law, Mrs. Gowda, personifying a volcano and my docile father in law, her side kick.

Athai, why don’t you take a seat? Mama, please help the rest of them to be seated as well. Let me first fetch you all some water to drink and then I’ll explain everything.” I tried to find an exit to excuse myself, hoping they’ll catch their breath, now that they have me in their clutches.

We aren’t here for the pleasantries Radha. We’ve got to sort out things here”, my father in law mentioned it gently in stark contrast to his wife. He was trying to help me in his own way and I was thankful for the support, but I had already steeled myself for this conversation.

First you steal my son from me and bury him under the earth. And now you’re doing the same to my grandson, cornering him to his grave. Whatever evil I may have done in my last birth, I don’t deserve such bad karma, to have you as my daughter in law”, there, she said it, the past which had entwined both our lives. I fell in love with her son against her wishes, when we happened to be colleagues, for which she hasn’t forgiven me yet. How much ever I was prepared for such hysterics, settling scores on the past sure stings.

Athai, I know you may not believe me, but I’ve done this in the best interests of my son’s well-being. He needs help and that’s what I’ve arranged for him”, I responded with conviction to her.

Committing him to a mental hospital, is that what you call well-being? Insanity must run in your family, not mine. Also, I don’t care for your education that you often flaunt in front of us. You’ll now listen to precisely what I tell you to do. Go to that mental hospital and get my grandson back to me. And get out of our lives for good. We’ll take care of him from here on”, she was insistent.

I cringed at the word ‘mental hospital’. Is there still such a thing in today’s world? “No Athai, I will not. That isn’t a mental hospital, it’s a residential treatment clinic. And I’ll get him back home as soon as he gets better”, I had to stick to layman terms as she wouldn’t understand what a psychiatric sanatorium was.

You can call it whatever, but we all aren’t naïve to not understand what that hospital is for. Haven’t we heard enough of those deranged loons?”

Deranged loons is how she clusters all patients who need help with their schizophrenia, their anxiety disorders, or their depression. Well, she may have had her share of misfortune when her son, my husband, met with the fatal accident lurching him dead at the street, leaving behind a wife and a new born son, but she had been spared the angst of hearing the news that your teenage son is diagnosed with schizophrenia or research what it was for the first time. I wouldn’t wish that fate even on my worst enemy.

She was baffled by my silence, “Aren’t you listening to me?  My grandson doesn’t belong in a mental hospital.”

How could I explain to her that even Albert Einstein’s son, Eduard Einstein suffered from schizophrenia. It doesn’t involve genetics all the time, at least in the case am aware of. And it isn’t a bad thing to be at a psychiatric clinic. I was at a loss of words. It was the moment I needed help from my own family and none were there by my side.

Sanjay, my handsome son, the one who would have slain the hearts of many young ladies, was now recuperating in a clinic from a suicide attempt. He was a kid who understood his mother’s plight. Even at a very young age, he was surprisingly aware that he lacks for none of life’s necessities, except for a father figure, but he never complained about it. I felt like he acknowledged my efforts to compensate for this void. When kids in other families were throwing adorable silly tantrums to get their way, Sanjay always ensured that he was never a trouble to me.

What I thought of as symptoms of his adolescence turned out to be that he was slowly descending into schizophrenia. Yes, that was what my Sanjay was battling. How distressed I was, when his grades started to decline, when he was irritable at my questioning his often changing social circle. This distress was nothing compared to my gut’s sick when I tried waking him up from his sleep as he held an empty bottle of sleeping pills in his hand.  He was only meant to become a young adult, not a depressed loner terrified by some man in a mere silhouette. Why did I think that he was lying his way to escape his responsibilities of a son? How did I miss the triggers that were ailing my son? How did I miss his apologetic eyes and helpless silence?

I couldn’t bear the guilt. When I was given a choice by the hospital to understand the plight of such patients through a simulation exercise, I didn’t hesitate. I lived an entire day with my ears glued to headphones, which were whispering discouraging statements undermining my confidence.  The deafening silence mixed with strangers’ voices, controlling one’s mind could easily lead into hallucinations. These were the kind of voices that my son was most likely living with for the past couple years. Apparently such hallucinations take place in the same part of our brains where our nightmares take place. Except that I could wake up from it and Sanjay never could.

Athai, Sanjay needs intensive care and he’ll get it at that clinic. So can we please let him be there till the time he needs to heal?” I was almost in tears begging for my inalienable rights on my son, but in vain. I couldn’t reveal to her that her grandson tried taking his own life. She’ll be devastated.

Do you even know what our relatives would think about us when the news of Sanjay in a mental hospital is rumored everywhere?” she said this in earnest.

Are you concerned for your grandson or for the rumors?” I was at the brink of my threshold of patience.

It’s all the same. He is the honor of our family and whatever concerns him concerns us.”

No, it’s not all the same. What he needs right now is treatment and not someone’s validation of his life” I fought back.

So is this what you intend to stick to?” she must have realized that she was fighting a losing battle, that her voice waned off.

Yes Athai, nothing matters to me more than my son at this point of time. If you’d like to help me here, I’d much welcome it. Else I’d prefer that you all leave my house right now” I surprised myself with my insolence to my mother-in-law.

I could sense that they all were flabbergasted. Her subservient daughter-in-law is speaking up and she couldn’t handle it. She motioned them to follow her out of my apartment.

I am cognizant of my vulnerabilities that I would never be able to cure my son’s illness, but I could journey along with him to the abyss where he’ll be terrorized by the stranger in a silhouette. I’ll rather hold hands with him than the so called sane folks of the society. I shut the door behind my in-laws and started packing my things to go live with my son in the clinic till the time he recovers enough to get back home.

Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the May 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.

Image source: pixabay

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