I have been thinking a lot about community recently.
In March, after an extended trip in Asia, I came back to a silent, dusty home. My husband had decided to stay back in Malaysia, where his father’s condition was worsening. He needed to be there for his family. I needed to be here, in this far-away country where I had moved to for work, work which had become a strange, stiff container of sorts. Our dog was being with his regular sitters; I had decided to only bring him back home after I had a chance to give the house a thorough clean, and also, grab a day or two to myself where I could disintegrate, and then stitch myself back together again.
As I was slowly moving through the house, opening the windows and airing the rooms, my phone buzzed. It was one of my best friends A, who was checking in on me. How are you, she asked. Not the best, I texted back. I’ll be there soon, she said. I can’t wait, I replied.
You see, A was coming to visit me while she was in the country for work. I sighed, then went back to pottering around my house.
In a few days, A arrived, dragging her suitcases, looking harried and harassed, as was usual for A. She gave me a tight hug. I nearly started crying then. How’s M, she asked. Still unwell, I replied, as I took her bag and brought her up to our apartment.
Our dog had not been well, exhibiting his usual signs of separation anxiety from his favourite person (not me), and I had been texting A all about it.
[A is great with dogs.]
He was not the only one who was anxious. I was battling terrible jet lag, and heightening anxiety, and M’s illness was chipping away at what little composure I had. I had been looking forward to A, not just because of her sparkling wit and personality (which only came through occasionally) but because she was a bosom friend, and I could lean on her and she would not buckle.
She entered the house, put her bags to one side, and immediately tended to M. I sat on a little stool and watched. The knot in my chest lessened slightly.
A stayed with me for several days.
Because I had to go into work, I could not take A around and show her the sights and sounds of the little city I lived in. But I texted A during the day, and met with her for every meal. She had a penchant for one Michelin star restaurants and so I brought her around to some of my favourites. Thankfully, she enjoyed the food. We bickered over nothing, and she mostly cuddled Milo during her nights in. She introduced me to the John Wick series and Black Pink and cooked me Thai red curry. Mostly, she let me cry and laugh and yell and rage, and I settled into her love with a silent sigh.
When A left, I cried bitterly. I told her that the house felt lonely and lifeless without her, that my thoughts and worries were taking up all the space around me, that I was miserable and terrified.
I thought for days afterward about my reaction, one that seemed largely incongruent with my acerbic, caustic personality.
I kept saying and texting it over and over, it was so good to have A with me. It was so good to have my friend, my family around me.
The immigration story is always touted as a fabulous one. You leave your boring home and the baggage that comes with it, you set up a new swanky life in a fun city, you make tons of new friends, you have your own space, you travel trave travel, and add cool hashtags to your Instagram stories.
That’s one side of the story.
Then there are the days where your partner is sick with the dreaded virus, and it’s just you taking care of her and the dog and buying groceries and cooking food and working late into the night and thinking about your sick father and your mother all alone and putting up a brave front and praying, praying, praying. There are the days when your ceiling caves and the pipe has leaked water onto all your coats and jackets and it’s New Year’s Day and you were supposed to make pancakes for a New Year’s breakfast but instead you are hauling soggy coats and destroyed shoes into the spare room and hoping that the ceiling doesn’t crumble on your head as the water drips, drips, drips. There are the days where you are walking back to your car and you casually turn and look at the bike garage where your and your husband’s bikes are usually kept and it seems like one is missing and you move closer to inspect it and realise to your horror that your husband’s bike has been stolen from within the compound, and oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness.
That’s another side of the story.
You write the story, one ridiculous hashtag, one devastating phone call at a time.
You read through what you have written – some of it sounds so fantastical and you wonder whether it really did happen to you or whether you made it all up in your head. You look through the pictures of the shadows the flowers cast on the wall behind the large monstera plant, and you look at the candle sputtering on the mantel. You stand by the balcony door and watch a large storm roll in, the dog is terrified and whimpering in a corner as the rain lashes down and the wind tears through the streets, and you cry thinking about the homeless caught in this weather.
You read through the notes you made during your Tarot sessions, and you fold the sheets that you mass bought in your first week in this new home because your bed was arriving the next day and of course you needed new sheets.
Finally, you curl up in the guest bed in the second room and play Ravi Shankar on your portable speaker, and you close your eyes. You hear W’s words, where she reminds you to own every inch of your story, however long or short.
You take a deep breath and sink into your savasana.
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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