I love not having Internet on my computer. No, seriously. I needed this no Internet break in Kolkata. Because I finally started reading a book that I’ve had with me for a couple of years. It’s been shared with everybody, all my friends have read it, loved it and I finally got the chance to enjoy it too. It’s called The Bitch in the House and it’s edited by Cathi Hanauer.
The book is a compilation of 26 essays by women writers who talk about their lives – partners, work, motherhood and everything else. They share their anger and frustration and thankfully also their hopes, experiences and life lessons. Right from the first line of Hanauer’s precise foreword I was hooked. “All day long, I stomped around barking orders, irritable and stressed out. I was angry at the cat for waking me, at the car for having no gas when I got in it (late for something – always late), at the toy I’d just tripped on… and at Dan. Because he’d used up the coffee filters or Cascade without putting them on the list; because he’d finished his work and had time to check out the New York Times and Salon while I struggled to find time for mine; because I was always more anxious and frantic than he was. Of course, I’d fallen in love with him partly because of this very calm, but now his ability to relax when I never seemed to felt unfair, oblivious, even rude. I resented him and this chaos I found myself in – even as I never stopped being grateful for the elements that created it. Two healthy children, a nice home, an interesting job … what could I possibly be mad about? And yet, mad I was.”
I know how that anger feels. It is draining. It leaves you no energy to do anything productive. It feels like there is a huge stone on your shoulders that you can neither carry because it is so heavy, nor let go because it may hit the person next to you. I was amazed at how could someone feel exactly the way I felt as she talks about here.
She goes on to say how she found solace in the words of her friends who confessed to having similar feelings. And I was comforted by her words. I was reminded again that often all one needs to know is that you are not alone. That there are others who understand what you are going through because they are going through it or have gone through it already. That you have help and there is a way out if you keep nibbling away at it. Because ultimately it is the uncertainty of not knowing what’s going on and whether there is an end that stumps most of us. I remember that after I left grad school, I was depressed for several months because I had no clue who I was anymore or what I would do with myself. I started seeing a psychologist and the only thing he told me in the several months I saw him, were stories of people in similar situations and how they changed their lives.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend some time with three very different women. Circumstances not entirely of our choosing brought us together late one evening and in between trying to get out of our situation, we talked. We are all married, two of us had arranged marriages and two of us chose our partners ourselves. The other three apart from me live with their in-laws and I am the only mom. Only one among us works; the conversation moved to why we don’t work. One woman mentioned that she wanted to work, but had to spend so much time in the kitchen because her traditional in-laws expected freshly cooked food four times a day, that she didn’t have the time to do anything else. Another left her job a while into her marriage upon her husbands insistence that she should dedicate more time to her family. She believed that it was really because he didn’t want her to have an income and be independent. She rued her decision as she was having a tough time dealing with a demanding mother-in-law. I later discovered that she has also had multiple miscarriages. The conversation then moved to living and dealing with in-laws. We discussed the different expectations that in-laws have from us, versus from their sons. Each one of us had our ways of coping with this and surprisingly I found that the youngest among us was the most fearless in her approach, albeit a trifle immature in her actions. The oldest was also fearless but she had a strength which came from independence and experience. It was all very cliched, but then daily life often is. I’ve found myself becoming so isolated these days that it was nice to have some bitches to bitch to.
There are days of course when all this bitching leaves me angry at myself. When did I become such a weakling? There are women who go through worse in this country, who work harder and endure much more sorrow and injustice, what could I possibly be upset about? This line in the book summarizes my whole dilemma, “… that made me sad and at the same time so ashamed of my sadness. The two feelings together choked me.” I feel as if I don’t have the right to be sad because there are people in this world with worse things happening to them. Then suddenly one night as I was enjoying some quiet time after putting the baby to sleep, realization hit me. I have to be sad too; because if I don’t feel the sadness how will I ever bring myself to do something about it?
(Continued in part 2.)