Written by Nandini Sethi
“I’m so sorry, we did everything we could,” the doctor said remorsefully, looking at me intently for any signs of shock, or any other reason he may have to ask for another hospital bed, as he was used to doing in his 30 years of practicing medicine.
There was no blur or haziness, the world didn’t come to a stop, and no drama ensued. I merely nodded, watching the doctor’s face intently, understanding where his surprised expression was coming from. Behind me, everyone else in the family had different reactions – Sweetie was quietly crying, Tina was on her knees, sobbing, and Manav was praying to a God he didn’t believe in. All of us had different equations with him and each other, but at the end of the day, I was his wife, and I got the priority to see him first. When I looked back at everyone, silently asking for their approval, I felt empathy but was not able to express it like them. Not a single drop of tear rolled down my cheek that day.
Neither did it the next day as we busied ourselves with religious rituals and customs, accepting condolences and nodding along, feeling nothing but numbness all the way down to my toes. When I looked around, I accustomed myself to the many faces present that day, familiar and strange ones, as they sobbed and cried to the tune of the bhajjans, feeling a little conscious at my lack of expressiveness.
The tears didn’t come the day after, either, as we sifted through old photo albums and clothes, discarding all that was not needed. As we flicked through pixelated pictures, I took a long glance at the red jacket he proudly wore all throughout our honeymoon. It was his favourite jacket. Abruptly, I flipped the page over. At the picture of our entire family laughing and dancing about, everyone around me burst into sobs and silent cries, unable to swallow down the magnitude of the helplessness they were feeling. That I was feeling. But no tears came.
When one month passed, I got used to pitying stares and worried glances from everyone around me. I didn’t blame them, neither did I ask for them to stop. I would do the same if they were in the same position as me. Humans are wired to show sympathy. But the tears didn’t start then either.
One afternoon, I opened the windows of our bedroom to a the warm winter sun filtering in, wondering absent-mindedly when the unforgiving summer sun grew to be so subtle. Quickly, I got about my day – packing lunch boxes for the kids, making the beds, clearing out the trash, getting ready for work, and finally making it to my monotonous 9-5.
A long time had passed since the incident, and the memory of it was already beginning to become hazy at the edges for everyone. Everyone who didn’t know him personally. Once again, I can’t blame people, because I would forget too, if I were put in their shoes. Humans are wired to move on. So when my bosses began overworking me, I relented, wanting any semblance of normalcy as soon as possible.
But then suddenly one day, I didn’t. When I woke up to another day of an unforgiving summer sun, wondering mindlessly how time flies so quickly, clearing the trash, and making the beds, I wished people didn’t forget. I wished for empathy, because I was sick of pretending to feel normal in front of everyone. At this point, sympathy was better than forgetfulness. So, I decided to take the day off.
No one knew where I was: my colleagues waited for me to make it to office and my family suspected I would be home soon. The truth is, I didn’t know where I was myself. All I knew is that I was at a height, somewhere far away, but not too far from my obligations and responsibilities, watching intently the outlines of mountains with a steaming hot cup of tea in my hand, clutching on to a red jacket I wasn’t ready to part ways with. And only then did the tears begin to fall.