The Defensive Landmine
Although, most days, all I want is to go back to being a kid, I did not grow up in the most amicable environment. My parents, shackled by an unhappy marriage, conjured a battlefield in the middle of our living room where, on the worst days, they threw high-pitched grenades at each other. I remember hiding behind the curtain with my brother and watching them, not knowing what to do. Later on I turned into a mediator, only to eventually learn that some relationships are beyond saving. What I remember mostly from these arguments from my childhood is my father’s hoarse, loud voice. He has a harsh tone by default, and I never managed to disassociate his voice from the fights regardless of not having the slightest memory as to what they were about.
Yet, he is also the only person I would run to for comfort. Every time I cried he would hold me close, make all kinds of childish promises and tell me silly but hilarious stories. Nevertheless, to this day, I have not managed to overcome the fear I have for his voice. I have never managed to win an argument with him, as I could not focus on the words he said, or speak out what I truly believed in. Instead I would end up in tears halfway through the conversation, to his bewilderment. This situation, at the same time, lead me to a fear of confrontation in general. I cannot think of an instance where I successfully spoke up for myself, without tears dripping down my face and my voice losing its flow. When people are being mean to me I stare at them, with an unwavering smile, and the moment they turn around and step away, I burst into tears. There is a possibility that I would remember the incident after some 40 years and still cry about it. Yes, I am a crybaby — let’s get that out of the way.
When I was about 5 years old, my parents sent me to an elocution class with my brother. Since he is older, we did not get to be in the same class. I remember sitting somewhere in the first row, keeping to myself, avoiding any sort of eye contact. One day, a couple of girls — probably my age or slightly older –walked to me before classes started, and told me something which in grownup’s tongue translated to, “Bitch, we own this class, you better do as we say”. I stared at them, failing to form a comeback, wondering why this was happening, when this boy came to my rescue and sassed back at the girls. Once the class started, he went to the teacher and told him about the girls, to which the teacher replied, “Well, isn’t that good!” I refused to go to that class again and never explained myself to the parents. When I was about 10, an older cousin of mine, cornered me in a bathroom at another cousin’s wedding, and chided me for something I had not done. I could not bring myself to argue, because I knew I would break into tears if I opened my mouth and I was not ready to give her the satisfaction. More than 10 years later, I still dislike her.
Throughout school, there were people who caused me an immense amount of emotional trauma, but I never confronted them. There was always somebody, who took advantage of my inability to say ‘no’, and those who emotionally blackmailed me to get things done. Although it never taught me any confrontational skills, school was not bad. Last year was my final year at the university, I had managed to evade all activities related to ragging and was glad that the end was near. One morning, we were supposed to be present for the shooting of the batch-photo; I had an exam on the same day, but decided that I would go to the shoot as well, since I had time. I got to the university on time, but there were technicalities, and I was getting agitated with the fear that I might be late for the paper. I walked away from the location where the shoot was supposed to take place, for a couple of minutes, to find my friends and bring them back. As we walked back, this girl approached me, and started reprimanding me for getting late, and not having the ‘decency of arriving on time’. I assumed she was messing with me, so I kept smiling at her. But in that moment, I felt like I was five again, being cornered and getting picked on by people who believed they were better than me. I could not imagine why this was happening, or why would somebody be so mean to anybody! But I smiled. The moment the photoshoot ended and I was on my way, I started falling apart. I could not get myself to go sit for the exam, instead I went to the Independence Square, sat under a tree and cried for a good half an hour, followed by timed sobs that continued for a few more hours.
I felt extremely weak, for breaking into tears for something so trivial. I am not a kid anymore, I told myself. That’s when I decided that I should confront; that I should not let people hurt me all they want and not do anything about it. I told myself that if I do not start now, I never would. So I texted her, a medium through which I have learnt to confront people to a certain extent throughout the years. The text message I sent her –which I constructed for at least an hour — was extremely defensive and, by my measures, quite mean. I cannot stress on how ashamed I am of that message. She replied back, and told me that it was all nothing but hearty jest, making me feel like a complete moron. Let me pause on this girl for a moment. She and I used to have this running gag, where we would say mean things to each other. She was someone I considered a friend, admired a lot, found inspirational, and she is an extremely nice person, whom, I know for certain, would not hurt anyone intentionally. So, it was all me, victimizing myself and being a defensive landmine that kept people at bay. Although we made up, things were never the same again.
But I do not regret the text message from that day, because it was the first time I properly expressed to a person, how their actions made me feel. It made me realize that I am not a victim, but am merely victimizing myself. I have turned into an utterly defensive person, due to my inability to speak up for myself. The more I hide my experience and emotions inside, the more they ferment, leading them to reek and burn, once the bottle breaks open. There comes a point when the free-pass for blaming others for everything that goes wrong in your life expires, because, finally, it was your decision to take a stand and you chose to cower behind your fears. Another thing I have come to understand is that I tend to believe in a world where people are constantly nice to each other; and no matter how many times this ‘bubble’ of mine had been burst, I still want to believe.
So, here’s to de-meaning and demining! And to a better sense of humour, of course.