The writer of this piece requested anonymity to safeguard her privacy. We thought to share it because it is sure to resonate with many of you.
‘Free.’ Yes, I am that, after a long, long time.
Free to sip my morning cup of coffee and water my plants in peace.
Free to take a different man to bed each night. Don’t gawk: I’m talking Sherlock Holmes, Shel Silverstein, Satyajit Ray. Ah, the luxury of curling up with a book on a fluffy pillow…
Free, too, to do as I like with the hours in between. Be it skipping off to stuff loaded golgappas in Old Delhi or catch the latest, silliest flick in town.
It hasn’t come easy, of course. 18 long years was what it took me to say that simple word: “Enough.” Enough of waking up with an ache inside my heart. Enough of going to sleep with a dull headache. And truly enough of trying to unlearn beautiful words such as ‘peace,’ ‘companionship,’ and ah!, ‘freedom.’ But when it hit, I felt strong enough to buy the strongest, largest lock I could find and hang it on my front door, shutting him out of my house, my heart, my life.
Today, for the first time in all these years, I am the one who flicks open the envelope that informs me I have a hefty phone bill to pay. Though I know I can ill-afford those thousands it is asking me to shell out (thanks to a teenage son whom I have been telling he might as well surgically attach the instrument to his ear), I stare back at the document quite defiantly, even managing a smile.
I smile because I realize that I am, for the first time in four decades, face to face with my reality in all its beauty and all its scariness. I no longer keep the tap running as I brush my teeth. I am learning the vocabulary of ‘open funds’. And I actually managed to put away 10% of my earnings in a Fixed Deposit last month. I am, today, the master of every penny I earn. Free to save, free to spend, free to give away. I am, let us admit, down to bottom dollar, but the good thing about being there is that the only way you can go now is upward!
Has it been easy? Frankly, no. Breaking up with a spouse after 18 long years is by no means an unemotional or happy affair. And I would be lying if I denied the ‘funny, familiar, forgotten feelings’ that start walking all over my mind from time to time. But the wonderful thing is, we haven’t let it become bitter and ugly. Now that the initial bitterness has worn off, we both realize we are happier. In some part of our hearts, we know we are there for each other. Even today, when I read the success story of an average writer who has made it big, I shoot him a mail, asking him to complete that novel he has been writing, because very few can write like he does. When we traveled together recently for unavoidable reasons, he gently advised, ‘Mind your right side—you have an injury there.’
Ex-spouses who aren’t divorced but not enemies? Ever thought about it? I hadn’t either, but now that I am one half of such a relationship, let me tell you it isn’t half bad a deal. Our child is now an adult, and we are still on the right side of 40. Life stretches ahead like a winding mountain road—don’t know what each bend holds, but the promises are lovely—the clues are sprinkled all over like zesty red blossoms, pine cones and river stones.
Is separation infectious? I hope not, but strangely, I find that some of my close friends who I thought had been in blissful relationships have begun confiding in me. As their tearful stories start tumbling out, I realise that I have been rather fortunate to be able to break free. Having a child early in life actually turned out to be the best decision I never took, because today, our son is a friend, and I do not have to hang in a dead relationship ‘for the sake of the child.’ Another poser: how do these women break out on their own if they have never stepped out into the world on their own, never held a job or tried to build a nest egg? Financial independence—it is the first step to independence of any kind.
As I write this, I’m sure many, many of you are wondering if I did the right thing by giving up on a relationship after all these years. 18 years together, and now this? Doesn’t it get lonely? Is it fair to ‘abandon’ each other after all this time and at this stage in life? I frankly don’t have all the answers. All I know is, a whole load of negativity and compromised living has made an exit from my life. I am living for the moment, planning for the future, and trying to remember all that was good and beautiful about my past. Sure, there is always the anxious auntyji who will ask, ‘Arrey, where is he?’. For such, I have invented the excuse that he is out of the country indefinitely. As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody and buys you some peace, I guess it is okay to bluff.
I am certainly not recommending separation or divorce. I will still say that if a relationship is making you chronically depressed, angry or afraid, give it the best chance you can. Love unconditionally. Compromise—if you genuinely care. And try to talk: because communication really is the key to a healthy relationship. But if nothing at all works, and if, day after day, year after decade, you find yourself losing your very sense of identity, ask yourself: can you break free?
Write in to KLOSET with your thoughts. Feel free to agree, disagree, advise, admonish. Let’s make a beginning. Let’s power ourselves to speak up.