Taking Up Space / Arathi Devandran

I like lying on the hardwood floor, staring up at a slowly swiveling fan, hearing its dull whirring, and letting it lull me into a state of being. To me, that is meditation. My partner finds me on the floor often (usually after a long day at work), sprawled in the darkness, a single candle burning, the fan switched on, my eyes glazed. Some days, he joins me, not saying anything; together, we lie, and stare. Other days, he quietly closes the door and leaves me be.

This is how I slowly reclaim my inside space, watching one swivel of the fan whirring above my head, at a time.

***

My mother used to do this, too. Except she would be reclaiming her rest. She said she slept best on the cold floor, because that is how she began, in her own home.

I used to scoff at her as a child, nesting among my multiple pillows and a thick fluffy duvet. You have no idea what you’re missing, I used to crow.

It is a sign of my mother’s grace that she did not say the same back to me, then.

***

My mother takes up a lot of space. It is impossible to ignore her. She has a big, colourful personality that crowds out silence and awkwardness. Her smile is beaming, bright; I have seen many young women gravitate to her life and her person and wonder, what are they seeing that I am not?

My mother is good at claiming the space that she deserves. Maybe she knew then, that as a mother of a daughter, she had to lead by example, to always fight for her place at a table because otherwise, she would end up by the curbside, sidelined. My mother is good at keeping her space too, the space that she has worked hard to reach, retain, all these years.

When I was a child, I remember we went shopping together, my mother, my father, and I. We were in a store (I cannot remember which one), and a little boy came to me and held his nose, scrunched his face and yelled Ew! Smelly! My little self was appalled and confused; what was he referring to, me? Did I really smell? My mother had witnessed this entire thing; she grabbed my hand, marched me to where the boy’s parents were standing and full of rage and righteousness, demanded that they educate their son to be a better human being and issue an apology.

The parents tried to laugh it off, claiming he was being a child, he did not know better; my mother rose to her full height, still quivering, and said that this is how racism began, when parents like them refused to take responsibility for their children’s mental and emotional growth. The parents mumbled something, grabbed their child, scuttled away.

My father, ever the peacemaker, was trying to calm her down. My mother ignored him, looked at me, and said, never let anyone behave in a way that demeans you. She was still shaking with anger.

That day, I learnt that the world will try to reduce my space, squeeze me into a box so small that it could then label me and put me away, removing my right to be, to exist.

That day, my mother taught me, to hell with the world. Be angry if you must, be you.

***

When we lived together, as I was growing up, I increasingly felt that my mother took up so much space. She took up space first with her big personality and loud voice, then she took up space as she shriveled with illness and malaise. She was always crowding me out, leaving me scrambling at the edges, the walls. Growing up, I felt myself constantly overcompensating by putting myself in places where I was always surrounded by space.

I starting looking for spaces in absence.

I went to cold mountaintops where there was more nothing, than the living. Swirling snow, bursting lungs, chapped lips, just me and my guide and a shaggy black dog that took pity on my unprepared self.

I went to countries far away from home, sitting in trains, airplanes, boats, buses, taxis alone. I walked alone, for miles and miles, sometimes meeting strangers like me who were seeking, sometimes no one at all.


Eventually, I moved away from home and lived alone, a tiny room, floor-to-ceiling windows where I could watch the sun rise and settle and dip, where I could see thunderstorms arrive before I felt and heard their presence.

All this time, looking for my own space, a space that was undefined by my mother.

***

Years have passed and now I am in the middle, somewhere between having my own space and making peace with the space that will never be mine because my mother’s name and emotions and thoughts are imprinted all over it.

I am better at claiming my space, firm handshakes, exuberant yeses, confident nos.

Arriving at the middle has been…nice. Quiet. Some days more of a returning than an arrival. As middles go, it is not a bad space to be in. In fact, it may even be one of the better ones.



Arathi Devandran curates personal experiences, snapshots of the world and the stories people are willing to share with her through prose and poetry www.miffalicious.com

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