It is a time of challenge, new terrain, of facing fears and of chasing freedom. It is also a time of reflection. What went wrong with this marriage? What could be done? Am I being too hasty? Am I not being urgent enough? Perhaps hindsight is better at explaining these things than the present is.
It would, perhaps be easy, if it were like fiction with clear victims and villains and slots for heroes to grow into. Many imagine that I am too rigid about abuse. There are others who think I should have put my foot down long ago. I have come to this point over and over in different ways, only to back off at the last minute.
It would be easy if the person I am leaving was not someone I had loved dearly and perhaps still do, when not facing the overwhelming discord between us. Perhaps it would be easy if I were convinced that he does not love me or my son. But that is not true either. In his own way, he does love us. There has never been any doubt about that.
It would have been still easy if I could claim that he had made no effort to address problems in our marriage, or that I could claim to be free of guilt on everything he accused me of. But that is not true either. He has made an effort to do more for the home in his own way, to care for our son in his own way. I have been severely depressed for years, and I am quite certain that all my intentions apart, I do less for my son than I could have, if I had an enthusiasm for life. But there doesn’t seem much to look forward to, in our marriage, and the hostility taints every moment of being home when he is present. If it isn’t the hostility, it is the potential for it.
Is he emotionally abusive? Yes. There is no doubt about it. All the boxes are checked. Blame, control, cycles, ultimatums, threats, character judgments, deliberately unfair assessments… I am tired of taunts about food. Whether they are that I am fat, or that I will eat anything good without giving the child or to simply tell me to eat fast just as I am about to begin. Or they are about me cooking “once a week” and me blowing a fuse and marking his next three meals with comments about him being fed for three weeks to follow. The classic wisdom is that this will not change unless major conditions in which it happens change.
It is also a self-perpetuating cycle. The more I am accused of something in a manner I believe seeks to manipulate me, the less energy or interest I have in compromising on it, providing more points to be accused about. To me it no longer remains about whether I am right or wrong, it is the complete absence of tolerance for any dissatisfaction he chooses to blame me for. It is deliberate lack of straight answers to necessary questions so more questions need to be asked which get replied with taunts. It tells me that in his view, me feeling hurt is a desirable goal. This is not acceptable to me, even when I am wrong, which usually, I think I am not.
The one thing I have come to accept is that continuing as we are is of no use to any of us. I need space to live freely in my home without expecting insults hurled at me or being forced to toe demands. If I cannot have someone I can share concerns about my son with, at least I deserve to be free of accusations that make them worse. If I cannot find someone to share the challenges of caring for him, at least I deserve to be free of blame for every challenge he faces. Without that, there is only so much one can endure and remain sane. When I find myself ignoring my son because I am too emotionally drained to be attentive to another, is the time when not only myself, but my lack of ability to find personal space is also harming my son’s interest.
Nisarga deserves to live in a home where he isn’t constantly witnessing hostility. He deserves the affection of both parents without it turning into snide remarks about how his mother is too busy to care for him.
I think Raka needs this space too. He sees our relationship as entirely different from how I see it. He sees me as a neglectful mother, who doesn’t give him food, water, daily baths, attention or affection. The idea that my son asks for my attention while I am writing some article for publishing to him is proof of my ignoring him. He sees me running the expenses of the home as escapism and throwing money at the home to compensate for real work. I believe that alcohol is ruining his ability to think and interact. He thinks that since he doesn’t drink in the day or fall in gutters, it isn’t alcohol that is the problem, but me making a problem out of it. Yet in the last year or so, we have had no conversations without him being drunk, or there being a specific reason for him to interact with me. It is as though a point came where he completely stopped listening or even seeing me and filled in the gaps with my short comings, both real and imagined.
If there are a hundred ways to react to a situation you don’t like, he is guaranteed to choose the worst possible reaction. It doesn’t matter if it is counterproductive. It is common to hear criticism for behavior from when we married (8 years ago) for “forcing” him to eat something he didn’t like in the first meal I cooked. I don’t remember this meal, but I can’t imagine myself as a new bride deliberately being nasty to anyone, least of all my husband. He gets furious today about the “stinginess” of a long dead uncle he met before we married. In many ways, the tendency to anger constantly is also being worsened by a genuine inability to organize his thoughts with regard to subjects or time. A handicap, that will lose him the two people he cares for the most in this world. Yet one that cannot be fixed on my end.
He has anxieties about our son’s future, much the same as I do. While I turn to chasing down everything I can to fight it, he chooses to blame me for not doing enough to make him “normal”. At the root are his fears. Feeding those fears are the beliefs of his mother, who does not understand Cerebral Palsy and refuses to accept it as an “excuse” and firmly believes that Nisarga’s problems are because I don’t feed him or give him water. She actually repeated half a dozen times to make sure everyone in a family gathering hear that I never give Nisarga water to drink. Explaining over and over is no use. When she meets him, she tells him about these things I am doing wrong which are the cause of Nisarga’s condition and the husband …. believes, even though he has met the doctors. The doctors may be right, but I am making things worse for sure, if his mother has spotted problems, right? After all, did she not raise two sons to adulthood without problems?
I am not able to change these perceptions. It is painful after devoting myself to this child. After learning methods of therapy because they are good and not available in India. After researching for hours on end, till a specialist examining Nisarga wrote on the case paper that my observations are astute and important to consider and another tried to get a medical institution to take interest in the therapy I am using with him – which has shown the few results we have, when all other methods fail. No amount of information makes him reassess these toxic beliefs, even though he says he puts the son into my hands because I understand these things and he doesn’t.
This being our only child, he has no real idea of what is normal beyond his own childhood and he doesn’t obviously have memories of being so young he wasn’t even walking. It is near impossible to explain to him that a child waking up in the middle of the night isn’t the parent’s deliberate neglect of his sleeping comfort, but something fairly normal in children prone to gas. It is impossible to explain that I do need to earn the money I spend on the home, and it isn’t a case of having plenty that I flaunt so that no one can complain about me having fun working.
From my perspective, it is rather absurd and would be funny, if it weren’t for the deadly payload of hate attached. From his perspective, well cared for children sleep through the night and good mothers hover around their children and don’t put jobs first. I am not able to make him understand that I actually am able to give my son more time than I could if I were doing a job, because he’s around me even when I’m working and we do interact all the time. It is difficult to explain that when I am very busy, I would rather invest time for him to learn something than to give him a bath and ask the maid to give him a sponging before getting him ready to go out. You cannot explain to someone who hasn’t cared for a child through all moods that you cannot simply “not feed” a child and have him act as cheerful as Nisarga is. He’d scream the house down!
He fears, and in his fears he lashes out, uncaring that I have enough fears of my own with regard to the son.
Perhaps with us out of sight, he would be able to appreciate the changes in Nisarga and his individuality more than statistics of what must be done to be a real mother. His fears are very real and based on what he knows. I believe that he would like discovering that his son is okay instead of permanently seeking what is going wrong and obsessing with it so bad, that it sucks all affection out of the environment.
It is going to be tough for him too. He loves us in his own way, and losing us is going to be very very hard for him to bear, even if he is not able to express it. Yet, heeding that unverbalized torment has not led to more appreciation for me after I decide to leave, so I have no answer for it other than accepting abuse to be an adjustment to keep a dead marriage beating, which I will not. Not anymore. I cannot do the same things each time and expect a different result. There has to be a change in what I do to get a result different from what I got and I have run out of things to try without exiting. I have even run out of things to pretend I am trying in order to avoid exiting.
Perhaps, living on his own, and being solely responsible for the running of the home for the first time, he will see for himself what I failed to explain to him. The home is a deadline of its own. If you want to have all your comforts working then those bills being paid is top priority, or you are risking the child living without electricity because you hover around him instead of figuring out the bills. Perhaps that may be what he needs to find forgiveness for this crime he perceives that I have done. The maid doing work, and not me, is proof of my laziness, and the money to be earned to give the maid to do it must be paid by me, because it is “my” work, but strangely, the money is called my exorbitant habits, and the work is not my contribution to the home either. Perhaps he will see that running a home means that there are things that must get done and more important than doing them yourself is making sure that they all get done.
Yet, ironically, this is also the man who has no problem with me being a woman and powerful. I bear the brunt of his out of control anger because of proximity, not gender. He has embraced a completely unconventional person like me without reservation, even as he is himself rather orthodox. My heart also breaks for the freedom I could have had as a woman, except this time the unfairness is not about me being a woman, but it is still there.
There are many unknowns. I have no answers yet for questions like how Nisarga will endure the summers without an inverter to run fans, when he doesn’t even do well with fans. I have no answer for how he will drink water when all he drinks is cold water in the summers. I am quite aware that I am taking Nisarga away from a home that is very comfortable to live in physically, even if not emotionally. And all my insecurities eat away at me.
But I feel certain that there is no alternative to finding that clarity by walking the path that leads to it. For all of us.
Do I want to leave him forever? Or for a while? I don’t know. Do I want to live close to him forever, or do I want to head to my beloved mountains when I can? I don’t know. What do I expect? I don’t know that either in terms of our relationship.
I am taking baby steps, and the results of this one determine what the next will be.
One thing is clear, something has to change, if we are to be happy – either on our own or together.
It is that twilight of a love that seems to have lost its ability to make any impact on reality. It hurts because it is there and prevents clean breaks, it enriches by being there to ensure that the decisions are not of bloated ego or spite.
Who knows if it lives or dies? Who knows where it leads?
It is time to find out.