Hermit Heart

A single blade of grass poking its head out of the barren earth. A desolate leaf falling to the ground.

There are two kinds of loneliness. She had been both, at different times; she had been both at once. A hopeful individuality competed with an ache in her chest she couldn’t shake off no matter how hard she danced. Freedom came with a price tag called companionship and she was swimming in debt.

She had never been part of a ‘we’. There is no ‘me’ in ‘team’ but her upside-down world turned it into an anagram for her; so that she happily ate chicken while riding solo.

There were empty spaces in between her fingers that yearned for foreign skin to fill the gaps. Her books had no roses in between them. She used the ticket stub of the first movie she went to all by herself to mark the pages of her favourite book. She complained about her mundane days to the songbirds. She wrote a letter about her victories and mailed it to the Sun.

The air was cold when she was abandoned on the edge of a cliff by someone she once gave her heart to. She wrapped herself in a blanket of soon to be forgotten memories of October skies and wrote a love poem to the wind. Winter kept her warm.

She met only a few others who threatened to spill their charm into her cupped palms. She drank in just one. His eyes were mossy and she slipped, heels over head. They spoke a language no one else understood, a perfect syzygy. They met in uncharted lands, in between the dust of faraway memories. They froze time with their words and painted the lilies red. A bubbling fountain of joy and whispered promises erupted in their lungs and spread into their stomachs. They waltzed together, bare feet on the grass in the moonlight. But when morning came, he was gone. She watched her heart flutter in the wind — like a crumpled piece of paper on which she once wrote a half-baked rhyme and threw away without a second glance.

Now, she walks alone on foreign shores. She slathers her thirsty skin with a manufactured limerence. She falls in love with two dimensional people who have other names in the three dimensional world. She pines for a boy she once saw at the grocery store. She falls for words that lose all meaning when their speaker swipes left. She shops online for butterflies in her belly. She develops feelings for every moving creature, every static figurine with a human face and the heart of a machine.

Her worst enemy is the girl who greets her in the mirror. She talks about her nemesis to her best friend, who wears her skin and shares her brain. They stay in on weekends and read together. They sleep in on Sundays and watch the same animated movie she has been watching since she was seven.

Time was a slow-action poison; but time healed her incurable cancer. She wanted to be a part of someone but she also wants to be apart from someone.

She loves being alone; but she hates being lonely.

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I think, therefore you are.

There were eight hundred and three scenarios I’d imagined, occasions where I’d see you again; watch you running towards me, by my side, past me, around me, through me, behind me. Eight hundred and three. I’d counted patiently, woven each one with rich detail, from how I’d look to how you’d appear, down to the dialogues we’d exchange in each case: replete with witty quips, playful banter, carefully crafted body language, subtle flirtation, overt passive aggression. There were eight hundred and three ways in which we’d meet once again. Because once wasn’t enough.

Fate dropped you into my cupped palms and gave me one chance to look at you, one chance to see your magnetic eyes, behold your body, memorize the lines of your face and the warmth of your November smile. I had just one opportunity to gaze at the way your pupils dilated ever so slightly when it scrutinized my frame. Once, only once did I see your smile directed my way. Just one time I heard you laugh at something my mind created and spelled out for your sole pleasure. That one time on a rainy Friday morning, my heart stopped as the clock froze at 8:03 am — your hands melting into mine, your fingers finding a home between my own soft digits, your name sealing itself on to my tender heart. Once wasn’t enough to hear you croon songs of love, songs of pain, songs for me and songs by you. Merely one time I’d been lucky enough to have you as my own, have you in front of me, have you concentrate all your energies towards me, have you give me all your attention and time and devotion. You were whole only once. One only once. Now you’re split, broken into eight hundred and three fragments.

Eight hundred different ways in which your eyes sparkle and three in which they dull. Eight hundred and three ways in which I hear your unfamiliar voice addressed to my unworthy ears, and just as many ways in which my mind records every word you say for careful scrutiny of meaning in posterity.

My brain is an empty vessel of mediocrity and simple thoughts; you are the only idea it elevates to a realm of imagination that requires an overuse of every one of its nerves. You make me nervous. The signals that originate in the limbic system spread towards my limbs, tingling my toes and fluttering my fingers. My heart thumps a tune that sounds not unlike your voice. Every fiber of my being has known you without ever knowing you.

There are eight hundred and three sides to me you haven’t seen and eight hundred and three ways in which I let you in to my museum of madness. In eight hundred ways I win in this game you started, in two I concede defeat and in my favourite one, the eighth hundred and third one, it’s a tie and everyone wins.

Your face is inches away from mine. There’s an unexpected quake in the distance but Mother Earth smiles. You invite me to swim in your eyes that aren’t pools of blue but hues of a colour you can’t find in rainbows. I drowned in your rainy eyes that clouded all logic from my own. I inhale love and you breathe out smoke. In scenario 632, you’re my swashbuckling romantic protagonist, saving his girl from a deadly fall off an impossibly high ravine. (Don’t worry; I won’t tell anyone that it was you who pushed me).

Eight hundred and three ways in which we’d meet again. How different can each situation be, you ask? The core elements remain the same. Girl meets Boy. Everything is Illuminated. A few wicked games for the audience. Why do they call it a happy ending when there’s nothing happy about you turning around and walking away? I look back eight hundred and three times, and watch you recede as my heart breaks in eight hundred and three pieces.

I Shut My Eyes And The World Drops Dead, but you’re real, I didn’t Make You Up Inside My Head.

The eight hundred and three versions of you make me happy, happier than the one version of you that everyone thinks is true. The eight hundred and third form you take is more me than you. Truth and fantasy collide head on, no casualties save my heart.

Seventeen brave knights tried to win my dark maidenly heart one summer. Each of them wore coats of mundane tints and pigments, trying to shadow your colourful countenance that I’ve painted with eight hundred and three palettes. But I’d always pick you over seventeen boys; I’d ignore seventeen hundred for you every time, in eight hundred and three dream worlds or even in one real one.

They called the moth that loved the flame stupid and self-destructive. But, I understood, because I’m a pyromaniac just like her, burning myself in the blaze of your fiery gaze. Fight or flight? I half run, half soar towards Neverland. My Wendy holds your Peter in one, two, three, through eight hundred and three lifetimes.

Two intersecting lines meet at one and only one point, this is true. But, one multiplied by eight hundred and three equals how much I love you.

Make it write.

How many times was she told she shouldn’t? How many of those things were actually those she couldn’t? Did they know how they broke her, when she wouldn’t?

We’ve all been told to not do something, because we’re not particularly good at it. I never learned to swim, because I drowned too many times trying. I thought I was a bad cook because the first batch of tea I made was too bitter. I wouldn’t dare to sing because my voice did something funny when it hit those higher registers that my vocal chords couldn’t surmount. I almost gave up dancing, the only exercise my limbs didn’t protest against, because my body wasn’t nearly as flexible as my ballerina peers.
But, the worst act of quitting I succumbed to was when I abandoned writing. I stopped before I even began, because I had been told so many times by so many people to stop doing so many things I loved, that I didn’t want them to tell me I was bad at this one thing, too: the one thing that made me happier than anything else I’ve ever tried.

When I wrote, I wrote in secret. I have scores of poems, notes, stories, even plays ­— both unfinished and otherwise that I haven’t dared to show anyone, even my closest friends and family members. I wrote for no audience, save a creature I fashioned out of the cheap threads of my imagination and called my muse. For his amusement alone I wrote, to him alone I cried when my work was criticized. I wrote to him, of him, for him, with him, forming a dysfunctional relationship that has sustained my art through the years. His silent approval is all my fragile ego can handle.

I have checked none of the boxes on that universal list of qualities that everyone expects a writer to possess. I had no major tragedy that should have altered my life and made me stronger than the Average Jane. I AM the Average Jane, who lived in the average middle class suburban household in a city where I lived sheltered from the awesome experiences it offered its other citizens. My imagination is no casino machine, no bountiful spring, no exploding firecracker that lights up someone’s darkened sky. My fantasies are as mundane as the ticking of a slow clock, the drip-drip-drip of a leaky faucet, the yawn of a lazy dog that the quick brown fox jumped over. My vocabulary lies on the wrong side of the scale of eloquence. My style is imitative of the manner in which a railway announcer speaks: apologetic of both delays and the annoyance caused by having to lend one’s ears to his voice.

I have, however, decided to put an end to this pity party. Chaar baj gaye, lekin, ab kar chalna tu shuru. This blog is the emotional and artistic equivalent of me finally learning to swim. I’m jumping in to the shallow end of the pool (cluck cluck, I’m a chicken), sans any flotation device to keep me from sinking to the bottom. I will try not to let my terrible insecurities and anxieties about being liked and appreciated by every shiny flower and tadpole make me press that backspace key. I’ll write and I’ll be.

I should, I can, and so I will.