Thoughts after reading A Handbook For My Lover

We are used to reading about a sanitised love. A love that is packaged for consumption. Especially on social media. The messiness cleaned out and removed. Vulnerability wiped away. Gore hidden from the naked eye. It is one of greatness. But not a greatness I understood.

Something felt not right. Incomplete.

I recently read Rosalyn D’Mello’s A Handbook For My Lover. I hesitantly picked it up at the literary festival. The cover wasn’t appealing enough for me. I was just coming out of a heartbreak (I might say this for years), I couldn’t imagine I had any heart left for an erotic book on love. It sat in my unread pile and collected dust. I flipped through it and closed it in a hurry. Not ready, I muttered. I picked up my old copy of Anais’s diary to reread. I realised deep and painful was what I needed. (This was before I knew Rosalyn was a fan of Anais. Talk about coincidences.) I began the book; it felt like a walk along a long, difficult and tedious path strewn with emotions, chaos, love, lust and sex. I savoured every word. Re-reading pages. Photographing bits that sounded like my thoughts. I will admit it triggered a lot of memories and forced me to deal with a lot of my own pain.

I confronted you about my strange condition. You said, with the air of a professional, that I was exhibiting an early symptom of that disease called love. I was confused. Last I checked I’d bulletproofed and bubble-wrapped my heart so that I’d be immune from such infections. I told you flatly that this had to end.

Several times while reading the book, I heaved sighs like an old lady. I would shut the book and stare at my spinning fan instead. I was overwhelmed. I have trouble talking about what I feel. I hesitate, use vague words, beat around the bush and never say the messiest things loudly. And here was a book that addressed that mess head-on. A vulnerability in my drowning confusion.

When I sat down to write this, I noticed many excerpts of the book online. But the parts that stuck with me aren’t among these. (We all do relate to books in very different ways.) This book and I travelled a journey when I was ready to dismiss the excruciating missing, the irrational love and the vulnerability of feeling exposed as my own foolhardiness. I couldn’t manage the composure I was exhibiting anymore; silently falling apart on the sidelines of a failed relationship.

If I had to say it publicly, I wouldn’t be able to. But I miss him. His shaved head, his grizzly peppered beard, his confident gait, his quiet vulnerability, his reassuring touch. I don’t want to hide it. I don’t want to be ashamed by it. Mostly, I don’t want to feel it. I try not to be shamed by the world’s need for aesthetics in love and my complete lack of it. Cause the truth is I don’t have a liking for that. Everyone speaks of composure in both love and heartbreak. Yet, my love is messy, chaotic, contradictory and non-linear. It cannot fit into neat packages to be presented as examples to be replicated. It defies even my own demand for clarity and sanity. My love is all over the place; it splatters on the walls of my life and it parades its non-conforming arse. It’s painful and surreal. It is one where there are no straight answers and great depth. It is quirky, weird, abnormal. Add another exclusionary adjective of your choice. Yet, instead of taking pride in it, I often felt shame. My heartbreak was no different.

And here was Rosalyn, speaking of her love, pain, lust, emotions and fears, and her and his imperfections so brazenly. It was real; I could run my fingers over it and recollect rather than imagine. I don’t know if the word to use here is brave. It could be called that. For me, A Handbook For My Lover was what I needed.

I have finished the book now. I feel an emptiness that the loss of a great friend leaves. I have been intensely mourning its finish and still returning to the book. I didn’t want to forget. Both the words and how it felt.

It is a recommended read for those of us who can’t help but feel a bit too much.

To Periyar and beyond

I enjoy travelling. Part of what I hope to do more of every year is travel. Both with people and alone. There is a sense of calm I feel when I am away finding small spaces of belonging. Sitting under trees. Falling asleep in a chair. Drinking beer staring into fields. Falling asleep while reading in a hammock. Walking around aimlessly. Talking about books, the world, life. Looking at sunsets with a twinkle in my eye. But what I like most is the things I learn about myself while travelling.

Recently, A and I went to Periyar. I was a little anxious about travelling cause my body has not been in the best shape. But I went packed with my regular medicines, pain killers and a can-do-it spirit. It started off rocky with me taking a train ride with a baby kicking and screaming throughout. Something I seem to attract on train/bus journeys. Yay, babies. Then it spiralled into a strange sleeper bus ride with no divisions between two seats and a uncontrollable driver who made me turn to stone all night and A sit up with her nose out the window. But we reached. One piece et all.  Promptly after reaching, we drowned ourselves in the smaller things in life. Dew drops. Butterflies. Organically grown strange looking fruit. Picking pine cones fallen on the ground. Our day was spent unwinding from the journey (two consecutive ones for me) and just relaxing in the chair, which by the end of the trip was the space my butt had memorised. By evening, we realised our plans to visit the actual park seemed vague and close to non-existent. Frantically, we looked up a few websites and I used my limited Tamil to book us on an early morning, full day trek. This task wasn’t easy and left me decently sceptical about our trek. Will we actually go? Will they feed us to sloth bears? Did I just confirm tickets with a man who has none? Will we be sitting at the park in the morning ticketless?

We did make it to the trek though. Not without me knocking on a strange door, picking up tickets from a burly man and getting an early-morning view of said Mallu man without his shirt. Yay, men. And we were off for the trek. With a few unplanned, havoc-ridden detours. The trek was chaotic to say the least and marvellous to say the maximum. We ambled behind two couples (one French and one Brit) who were nearly twice my age but so fit. They assumed A and I were a couple and threw our way a few well meaning questions with the undertone of coupledom. It all started well but went on to get difficult and off the regular route. The search for the elephants was on and I was sure if we found any, I would just lie down and let them eat me. By the time we spotted the elephants, my knee had decided to wage a full blown war. We didn’t chase the elephants like the rest of them. We sat in quiet reflection under the canopy of trees. The tall, lush trees were a delight to gaze at. The nooks with streams of water were places to spot A spotting butterflies. Watching the Malabar squirrel jump gracefully from one branch to another made us wonder how we were more evolved than that elegant fellow. It was a place to be present and lost at once.

We waddled our way back to flat land and I spent the next day recouping from fat knees and A from angry toes. I spent most of my time in a chair reading Atwood and giggling to myself. We also ate delicious fish at our organic farm stay, consumed Papaya like I have never relished it before.

As movement returned to our knees and toes by evening, we made early morning plans to go boating. The boat ride was magnificent (words fail to describe) and one didn’t need a fancy camera to take breathtaking photos. We did spot more elephants, wild boars, deers and several lovely birds. Many of our co-passengers were not half as enthusiastic as us.

It was a lesson in many things for me: a) Indians like to boat. b) They can call women with short hair – ‘Saaar’. c) They wake up early to go boating, stand in long queues, push people around and then sleep on the boat. d) Periyar lake was one of the most beautiful bits of nature I have seen. e) People can get super dressed up to come boating. I mean some of them looked like models.

After we finished our hour-long boat ride, we walked out slowly through the park. Enjoying the birds, the monkeys, the silence, the sound of trees talking to themselves and big plus, very few humans. The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful.  We took an auto ride where autos should never go to see views that were underwhelming. Plus though was that I got marriage and travelling advice from the driver. He did take us to a waterfall. Maybe waterfall should be in quotes. Cause there was really not much fall and very little water. Like all waterfalls, this had a tragic story of lovers committing suicide.

We ended our crazy auto ride with a tour of an organic, ayurvedic farm. The woman might have been the best salesperson I have ever met and a really tough school teacher. She snapped at A and me for giggling and not listening to her. We left amazed at her ability to sell products with a strong message that all illnesses will henceforth be cured. Amen.

As our trip began to come to a close, I began to feel uneasy again. Being away suddenly meant more calm than getting back to the routine. I was ready to run. Again.

The trip was an important reminder for me to look after myself; love myself more; be still to notice the smaller things; glance at the skies everyday around sunset; just keep swimming. Being still for a few moments everyday made me see that I had a lot of unresolved emotions. These things take time to heal. I was being impatient and wishing for it to end. But processes needed to be followed and slowly, I would see the end.

I am always glad to travel with my INFJ partner because she doesn’t react drastically to my breakdowns; and she is more giving than I will ever be. We are always greeted with some chaos on our trips. They never fail to make us laugh, reflect on life and bring us closer together.

Till our next trip and our next overwhelming chaotic life lesson, then.

Love, loss and chaos

Do you remember the date? I do. It was a dark day (or not) for me and a patient one for you. I was unhappy and masking my pain – like I always do. You were unhappy and forthcoming about it. I stayed up all night to fix the mess that I was in. You stayed up with me.

Grumbling. Teasing. Smiling. Laughing. Nudging. A rainbow of emotions.

I remember the links you sent; so typical of you. Videos, funny ones, were your famous escape route. We fought like we usually did, despite the videos. I don’t think I told you then that I had fallen for you.

But you knew. You mocked my resistance, laughed away my timidity and silently smiled in the cocky knowledge of it all. I sensed your impatience, waiting for me to come to terms with it. It would be long before I strung any words together affirming your assumptions. You threw a metaphorical party. It was more than wonderful.

I never told you this but the date stayed with me; long after you did. After all, it was the first time I acknowledged it. Even to myself.

I struggle now to reconcile the deep, love-filled memories (because they are worth remembering) with the emptiness of the current overwhelming feeling of loss. I know better than to dismiss it all. I know that hate or anger won’t help me right now. I impatiently wait to wrap my brain around the chaos. But this is all a lesson for me in patience, isn’t it? I don’t want to say it is a cruel one. I am tempted to rush into that narrative of pity and ‘oh look how bad things happen’. Not this time. It is just one that I needed to learn.

Chaos and loss take time to heal and settle. I need to take on this world one day at a time. With my best tough, brave face on.

It gets better.