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But I needed him to change his mind. I still loved him, see? And I owed it to you to make that effort. Still believing I could save my marriage, I called Jack’s sister. But what Leda told me, shocked me even more.
2019 is the year in which our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month gets bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry. The writing cue for March 2019 is these lines from Indian-British poet Nikita Gill, who has inspired millions of young people with her words, from her poem poem, Lessons From The Cosmos #2
It would take one million of him
to make even a single you.
The fifth winner of our March 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Rashmi Raj.
The letter lay on the table. The envelope partially hidden under a copy of Advanced Maths. The familiar handwriting caught Rachel’s attention. Those lazy spiral loops, reminding her of a past she thought she had left behind.
She could see Ashton out in the living room, watching Netflix with his earphones on. Gingerly, she sat down at his desk and unfolded the letter.
“Dearest Ashton,” it began; “How many times do I have to write you before you respond to me? I wish I had your number. Or your email. At least then, I wouldn’t have to write to you by hand.”
‘How many times…?’ Rachel wondered; so this wasn’t the only letter, then. And Ashton had known about them. Had read them. As he had read this one, obviously. The envelope was torn right at the top, in his neat hand.
Curious, Rachel went on reading.
“You are growing up too fast; and soon, I hear, you will be off to college. We do not have much time. I don’t know what your mother has told you; but, I love you, Ashton. And I want to see you. That is all I ask. To meet you. Just once.
‘Seven years is a long time. And now you are old enough to make your own decisions. If you think your mother will not allow this, she doesn’t have to know. It can be our secret…”
“What are you doing?”
Rachel jumped in the chair, then turned around to see Ashton standing in the doorway.
She held out the letter.
“Ah,” he said, “you found it.”
“Yes. And there seem to have been more.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Has this really been a secret between you and…”
“Mum, come on!” he said striding into the room.
“I need to know Ashton! All these years, I have been trying to avoid this; and now… Please… just tell me, what you are hiding from me,” said Rachel trying to control the tears threatening to spill.
With a deep breath, Ashton kneeled down next to her.
“Mum, don’t cry. Please. There’ve been three letters before this. That’s all. And I am not hiding anything from you.”
“But… you never told me…”
“Because I know this is too painful for you, Mum!”
“Oh, Ashton, you don’t know … I never told you… You were too young when it all happened. But… you need to know. I always meant to talk to you … I just… didn’t know how…”
“I don’t want to know anything, Mum” said Ashton calmly. “And I didn’t bring up these letters because I don’t want anything to do with them either.”
Rachel looked at her seventeen year-old. Soon to be eighteen, she reminded herself. Next year, he would leave home to study in a college far away.
Where had the time gone, she wondered as she touched his cheek; rubbing the soft skin on his cheekbones with her thumb. And that tender touch took her seven years back when she had walked out of her marriage, with Ashton in tow.
She had since worked hard. Made a life for herself and her son. And he had helped her by being a good kid. Never complaining. Of course, it hadn’t all been easy. There had been days when, still a child, he had asked for Jack. Had gotten upset with her because she wouldn’t let him see his father. And honestly, she couldn’t blame him. The father and son had been close once. Very close. With Ashton refusing to sleep at night, until he had spoken to Jack on the phone, whenever Jack had travelled for work earlier.
Rachel took a deep breath. “You are saying that now,” she said, looking into her son’s deep brown eyes. “But what if… in a few years… you resent me for not having told you why I walked away from your father?”
“You walked away, Mum, because clearly you were not happy with him. I was only a small boy. But I could tell.”
Rachel nodded. When had her son grown so mature? Or was it that he always had been..? But then she remembered reading somewhere, that not all mature children are old souls – most children who act mature for their age, are made togrow up sooner than is necessary… Was it her and Jack’s fault then, that Ashton was so wise beyond his years?
“Have you never wondered?” she asked. “Never thought what might have happened?”
“Mum, it is in the past. All I know, is that we are happy now, you and I; more than we were ever with him. That is enough for me.”
“But if you knew the truth…”
“I don’t want to.”
“There are always two sides to every story, Ashton. What if, Jack convinces you someday, that it was all my fault?”
“How in the world can it even be your fault? Isn’t this victim-blaming?”
Rachel almost laughed. Such a heavy word, she thought; coming from someone so young. But she wanted Ashton to know the truth. Maybe she was also afraid somewhere, that Ashton might grow up and behave just like Jack… Were these things genetic? She didn’t know. But she knew she couldn’t keep it all from Ashton anymore.
“Come on,” she said, standing up. “Let’s make some hot chocolate. We need to talk.”
“Jack and I worked together.” Rachel began, once they had settled on the sofa in the living room, with their mugs of hot chocolate in front of them. “He was a charmer. All the pretty girls in our department wanted to go out with him. But Jack, he had eyes only for me. I was flattered. No one had ever seen me the way Jack did. He swept me right off my feet! Within a year, we were married. Jack’s younger sister, his only living relative, attended the wedding. But she lives in Sweden. So we barely saw her after that. Even for the wedding, she came at the very last moment and left as early as she could.
‘Jack and I moved into our new home. His love was a wonderful cocoon that I was only too happy to lose myself in. Months flew by blissfully, and one fine day, I found out that I was pregnant with you. Jack was ecstatic! We celebrated with champagne! But the pregnancy wasn’t easy, and it began to take a toll on my health. Jack said it was time for me to take a break, quit my job. I wasn’t happy about it, but I needed the rest.
‘The first few years after you were born went in a delightful blur. And then, one day, an ex-colleague called me. He had started his own company, and wanted me to join him. I could work from home and choose my days and hours of work, he said. I was thrilled! You were six at the time.
‘Jack didn’t seem to like it very much, though. ‘Ashton needs you’, he told me. Although, you were spending most of the day in school by then, and I was to be working from home. Somehow, I convinced him to let me at least try it.
‘As days went by, our office, which had begun from a small room, began to grow and expand. We started working out of a co-working space. I would go there to work three, sometimes four days a week. My mother babysat you on those days. And whenever Jack could, he came home early, or worked from home.
‘The year you turned eight, I was assigned a big project. Jack was working late those days, and was travelling frequently too. And when neither of us could make it home by bedtime, my mother would tuck you in. Jack wasn’t really happy about this. He expected me to be always with you at least by dinner-time. But I reasoned with him again. It was going to be only for a few days, I said.
‘But it went on for months. And some days, my boss, would drop me home, or we would share a cab together. One night, Jack got home late, just as mother was tucking you in. You were crying and asking for me. You had hurt your knee falling down at school that day. But Jack didn’t know that. Mother hadn’t informed either of us of it during the day. Jack only heard you crying for me, my mother trying to console you, and failing.
‘Something snapped in him that night. When I walked in later, he was waiting for me; and before I knew what was happening, he slapped me right across my face.”
Rachel looked up to see Ashton’s jaw tighten at the mention of the slap. She went on.
“That night, Jack and I had a fight. And then we had one almost every night after that. He never hit me after that first time. But he didn’t really need to. His words, his behaviour, more than made up for it. He hurled all kinds of accusations at me, from being a heartless mother, to a ‘loose’ woman.
‘We didn’t need the money; that was true. But I needed to work for myself. I liked what I did. And I was good at it… But Jack felt betrayed.
‘Jealousy is a terrible thing to allow an entry in your mind, Ashton. Before you know it, it consumes you. Jack was convinced I was cheating on him. That I didn’t care for you. But I needed him to change his mind. I still loved him, see? And I owed it to you to make that effort.
‘Still believing I could save my marriage, I called Jack’s sister. But what Leda told me, shocked me even more. Jack had always been like this, she said. He expected girls to behave a certain way, and a certain way only. He had even hit her several times when they were younger, when he had seen her with other boys. Even with the boys their parents had approved.
‘That was when I finally saw Jack for what he really was. And then I made a decision. I didn’t want you to grow up in a home like that. I had to leave. Leda had told me how physical Jack could get and how he would become an animal when he was enraged. I hadn’t yet experienced that; but that day wasn’t far; and I didn’t want to wait for it to come.
‘I left. With you.
‘Jack was furious when I filed for divorce. He contested custody. But you were too young. You needed me. And between me and my parents, we could take better care of you, than Jack could. The court awarded me custody. And then Jack left the country.
‘But now I know he is back. Right here. And that worries me.
‘When I walked out, Ashton, I made a decision. That I will raise you right. I’ll teach you not to treat women the way Jack had treated me or Leda… I wanted you to know that a real man respects a woman for her choices. He loves her for them. He stands by her…”
Ashton placed his hand on hers, and looked at her steadily.
“Mum,” he said, “I am glad that you told me this. And trust me, you have nothing to worry about. I am not my father. And can never be like him. Because I wasn’t raised by a jealous man who thought it was his job to show women their place. I was raised by a mother who taught me how to care for, to love, and to respect women.
‘You don’t have to worry about him meeting me. Because it would take one million of him to make even a single you, Mum. And I am proud to be yourson.”
Rachel smiled through her tears, as Ashton reached out and engulfed her in a hug.
Rashmi Raj a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
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With over 200 published stories, Rashmi is a lawyer-turned-writer, who has always given
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