I stiffened when I saw this scene. Natalie Figueroa is not a likeable character. But I found myself relating to her words. I really don’t understand transgender women.
I have never been truly content being a woman. This does not mean that I want to live in a man’s body. I hear transwomen make references to being able to dress prettily and gossip with girlfriends as experiences they’ve missed. I guess the transmale counterpart to that would be to shave and have boys’ nights out. I have not felt incomplete for not having had those experiences.
For me, bodies are just real estate for our actions, our minds and our intentions and I’m sitting inside a physical space that has less currency and less value than the real estate of a man’s body. I am fairly certain that who I am, would not change depending on the kind of body I’m in. But the world treats this body with less respect and power than I’d like.
I am not saying I don’t enjoy the nice things about living in a woman’s body. I love dressing up and I enjoy the natural grace that comes from being in a smaller, curvier body. But these are fringe benefits that I can perfectly well live without. They are my way of making peace with inhabiting a physical space that I’m not happy about, compensation prizes if you will. I cannot think of anything that I would miss deeply about being a woman, were I to wake up as a man tomorrow. Because who I am, has nothing to do with the body I live in.
This is also not about who I am attracted to. My physical/sexual side has been drawn to men, so far. But the only reason it has stopped there is because there hasn’t been a pressing need to go beyond. As a woman, there are enough of opportunities available to me to engage with men. The heavy social/emotional burdens of exploring sexuality with a woman haven’t felt worth the effort to me. In that hypothetical world where I’d wake up as a man, I can’t really imagine that flipping over to the equivalent model (being a man drawn to women) would be particularly difficult. That should tell you that my sexuality doesn’t drive my body identity either.
Anybody who possesses a man’s body, to me, is someone who won the luck of birth, similar to babies born to affluent parentage rather than poor families. I really don’t understand why someone would want to give all that up to live permanently in the squalor, the permanent fear and the degradation that a woman’s body is subjected to.
I think about Nadika. We’ve been friends for years and I’ve related to her as a cisman. Then she came out as a transgender person. I don’t relate to her any differently since then, except trying to figure out the right language to encompass her life. I feel empathy for her unhappiness and her struggles, I really do. But I feel it without truly understanding, in the way some men are sympathetic about period pains. Nadika’s freedom story gave me some insight but not really understanding. It made me think that maybe how relevant gender/sexuality is to our identity, differs for us all.
I am not a man trapped in a woman’s body. I’m a person trapped in a woman’s body.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —— — — —
I’ve received and given a few strange gifts in my time but the most unusual one was Reema’s birthday present to me this year. For context, Reema showers me with gifts of books, food, makeup and pretty objects year round so she managed to take it up a notch even further for the special birthday gift. She gave me my first menstrual cup.
So what’s a menstrual cup? It falls under what our world likes to call ‘feminine hygiene products’. In a nutshell (or a silicon cup), it collects period blood. Menstrual cups fit inside the vaginal passage, somewhat the way tampons do. Except tampons absorb the blood while menstrual cups collect it so you can take it out and empty it.
The benefits of this method are multifold. Tampons end up being blood soaked fabric bolts, which lend themselves to infections. The menstrual cup is made of silicon which as we all know gets put into people to enhance their curves (so presumably, it doesn’t react negatively with the body internally). Tampons are thought to contain bleach and other chemicals which could irritate the sensitive insides of the vaginal tract. No such issues with the menstrual cup. Of course all of this is academic, because I’ve never used a tampon, having been cautioned by the doctor who detected me (as a foetus) to avoid them for fear of infection.
Why menstrual cups over sanitary napkins then? After all, sanitary napkins have evolved (barring the ‘Have a Happy Period’ glitches). They’re more absorbent, don’t require itchy elastic belts, don’t slide out of your panty and are even flatter (no unsightly bulges on the back of your pants). But any woman who has used them knows about rashes and chafing, the inconvenience of having to find a place to change every three-four hours, the trouble of discarding used napkins in a private as well as hygienic and environmentally-conscious manner (don’t flush them down the toilet, yo!). Not to mention they’re an ongoing cost, EVERY DAMN MONTH. Anybody who thinks this is a trivial matter has never bought a sanitary napkin in their entire life. Menstrual cups are supposed to last for about 10 years.
None of this however, prepared me for the thought of sticking a strange foreign object into my body, especially in the time of cramps, low blood pressure, nausea and fainting. Oh Reema, the things you push me to do! But in Reema we trust and nothing she has introduced me to so far, has ever been regrettable. I did some reading up on menstrual cups online myself. I also asked my gynecologist about them. She didn’t seem too keen on the idea but she didn’t give me a firm no either.
“Maybe not because you’re putting a foreign body into yourself, you know?”
were her exact words.
As circumstantial luck would have it, for the first time ever in my perioding history, I fell short of sanitary napkins this month. My period arrived early, I was busy and then too exhausted to go down and buy some. I probably might have delayed the trial infinitely and the little silicon cup would have lain unused for years.
- You may not be able to sterilise it by boiling the cup in your kitchen, owing to social/cultural norms. My mother won’t even let me stand in the kitchen while she’s doing her puja and I’m on my period. I doubt my ‘dirty’ menstrual things would find any place in the kitchen. I got around this by using a face steamer. The basic plastic variety you get for 100 bucks at the chemist, that lets you steam your pores or sinuses. Silicon bends easily so it flattened into a corner of the steamer cup.
- Inserting the cup is THE BIG CHALLENGE. I followed the instructions to fold it into a ‘C’ and I struggled for over 45 minutes before giving up. Then I tried again after I’d had lunch and this time I managed to get it in. The next time I put it in was difficult too but it took me 20 minutes. I imagine at that rate, I’ll be able to slip it in easy-peasy in another two periods or so.
- Figuring out how to position yourself during insertion is part of the challenge (I wonder if reading the Kamasutra would help). I tried squatting over a toilet or just the floor, as they recommended but nada. The only way I could get it in both times was when I sat on the floor, one leg splayed out and the other raised so the foot was resting on a chair or the toilet seat and slouched back about 45 degrees from the ground.
- On my second trial, I realised it slid it much easier when I angled it slightly to the left. I guess that’s just my body structure but it’s important to remember that our bodies are all different and none of them conform strictly to biological diagrams. A couple of degrees to the right to correct, made it very painful so I moved it back and it went right in.
- I put in the menstrual cup twice during the period, the first time for about 3 hours and the next time for about 5 hours. The instructions say that you can easily go 12 hours before having to empty the cup out. The first time I was freaking out worried that it would get lost in there. So I yanked it out in the early evening. Just in case it didn’t budge and I had to see my gynecologist, I wanted to ensure I’d be able to catch her. You might want to do this as well. All the literature assures you that the cup can’t possibly get lost inside you. But this is an intimate, big thing you’re doing and you need to do it at your own pace and with whatever support (emotional and otherwise) you need.
- The second time was sort of funny. The first time, I had put the cup in and sat in one place working. The second time, I decided to walk around to see how it felt. It was strange, very strange. After about 15 minutes, I had a sudden feeling like I needed to shit. But it passed in a few minutes. I guess the cup may have been resting on one of my internal organs and shifted slightly. Does that make you a bit sick? Yes, well, you’ll have to deal with it to go through this. A little later, I felt the urge to pee. When I went into the toilet though, nothing would come out. It was the strangest unpee I’ve ever had. It wasn’t like having a urinary infection where you burn as the urine passes through you. It was just as if I had a full bladder but nowhere to let it out from. I stood up and jiggled the cup around a bit and it started to come out. And immediately after that I was able to pee right. The stem of the cup must have been resting against the urethra blocking off the pee passage. Gross I know, but such a relief. I thought my urinary passage had closed up and I might have to pee through my mouth or something.
- There was no pain really but inserting the cup was an arduous process. If you’ve ever had a gynecological examination, you’ll know that the vagina isn’t like a straight tube where stuff just slides in and out. It has all sorts of angles, it’s bumpy and it expands and contracts. And finally it’s all soft flesh with hundreds of nerve endings so you feel every little poke and pinch. Taking out the cup was not painful either, just very awkward. Squat a little, tug on the stem of the cup hoping it doesn’t break in your hands, rotate or jiggle a little all the while feeling that strange tickly-rubby feeling that isn’t altogether pleasant and then WHOOOSH suddenly it’s like you sneezed and you can breathe again.
- The literature actually said to insert it so even the ‘stem’ was inside but I didn’t dare shove it up that deep and risk losing it to the vast unknown (isn’t it interesting how the insides of our own bodies are as scary and unknown as outer space?). So both days I had a little vagitail. But it’s not long enough to get in the way or even irritate your skin. Only you know it’s there because, well you know and not because it causes pain or discomfort.
- All the literature warns that it will be messy. I’m not sure why since it wasn’t more or less messy than changing a sanitary napkin after a hard day. You can’t really do it without getting some blood on your fingers. And if you’re on a heavy flow time, there’ll probably be a splotch or two of blood on the floor in the time it takes you to change. Get over your grossed-outness if that scares you. It’s your body, it’s natural. And finally, menstrual fluid is not shit or urine. It’s not really ‘dirty’ in the same way. The vagina is self-cleaning so you’re really not going to catch any germs from getting some stuff on your hands. Wash well with soap and water afterwards and that’s quite enough.
- I used a sanitary napkin along with the menstrual cup both times I tried it. I think both times and especially the first, the cup didn’t really unfold all the way, leaving a little way for leakage. It was better the second time, which might be because it fit better but also because my flow had reduced. But Reema suggests using a pad along with the cup for the first few times. I guess I’ll figure out a comfort level with going pad-free after a few months.
- And finally, a good intimate wash is worth investing in – to clean yourself and the menstrual cup. I used V Wash, which is available at all chemists. Regular soap irritates the skin so get the special one for yourself.
And before I knew it, the period was over! One article I read, said that using a menstrual cup actually reduced cramps for some obscure biology-based reason. Reema says it also reduces the period cycle by a full day. Apparently menstrual discharge takes a full day to seep down from the uterus to the vagina. If you know your dates, you can insert the cup even before you see blood and it’ll catch it all midstream. Ergo, you’ve saved time on the externally bleeding cycle.
If I have anything else to report on my next few period cycles, I’ll write more. If you’re looking for a menstrual cup, here are some places you can buy it online for India: Amazon, PrivyShop, ShyCart, Mooncart, SilkyCup
Write to me at ideasmithy at gmail dot com, if you have anything to share or ask about menstrual cups and I will answer your question if I’m able to. I’m not a doctor or qualified to give any kind of medical advice but I’m happy to share my experience and listen to yours.
We met for coffee recently. He was my first boyfriend and I, his first girlfriend. We were both 19 when we met and it was instant him-and-me at first sight. We’ve kept in touch and we catch up for a coffee and a chat on each other’s lives every couple of years. We’re exactly the same age, just a day apart. Each time we meet, we have a few more life milestones to talk about. So each conversation marks a checkpoint for me, on how far I’ve come, how my life has diverged and turned but stayed true to who I am (which I continue to discover with each turn).
He is charming but in an easy, non-agenda based way. And it’s easy to be around him. Each time we speak, I feel like he sees me as who I really am, beneath all the trappings and notions I’ve acquired over the years, because that core essence never really changes. It would probably seem more sensible to call him an old friend rather than an ex-boyfriend since he has been more of the former than the latter. And given that the term ‘ex-boyfriend’ comes loaded (especially in my recent experience) with associations of angst and pain and unpleasantness, it doesn’t seem like it fits on him.
But perhaps for that very reason, I choose to hold on to that label for him. It makes me feel a little soothed from the toxicity of my love life — the manipulation, confusion, betrayal and mayhem that ‘love’ brought me, since him. It’s always pleasant to remember that I did have — do have — one man in my life with whom romance happened minus poison.
One of the things we spoke about was the way our love lives shaped up. I guess that’s part of turning 35 (since we didn’t meet last year), this stock-taking of life. In between laughs and onion rings, I told him that I had at some time, dated two classmates. Usually I pause for effect and then clarify that both men knew and each time the guy asked me out. This time, I just said, “Not together.”
He said, “I know. You’re not capable of doing that. It’s just not possible for you. You would be in much more pain than either guy in that situation. That’s how I know you’d never do that.”
This pleased me so much. It still pleases me. I love having someone in my life who knows and believes this about me and it makes me realise what a thorny, paranoid world I live in. I also know that loyalty and fidelity are very important to him and it makes me feel very good that he respects me, on that account.
This pleasant sensation felt unfamiliar till I realised that I haven’t cared about a man’s respect in a very long time. I would feel pained if I thought he didn’t trust or respect me. His opinion of me, matters to me. And I haven’t felt that way about a man, a romantic partner in a very long time.
Along with this came the realisation that respect has no currency in my relationships now. The people I went out with after him, did not care whether I respected them or not. It did not bother them that I thought badly of them afterwards, unless it caused problems in their daily lives. And since I have never really been the vindictive sort, my low opinions of them stayed just that — inconveniences that they shrugged off. That disregard and complete indifference to my respect really hurt. I realised that my respect held no value for the men I was around. They literally didn’t give a damn whether I thought of them as good people or bad.
For many years it was very important to me that the people in my life, even those who were once a part of it and not anymore, knew that I did right by them. In recent times, I’ve come to not care about it. I don’t think my last ex (the one I was engaged to) cares a bit about whether I cheated, whether I lied or whether I maliciously did harm by him or not. Would it matter to me if I discovered he had done any of these? I know already that there was lying and there may have been some semantic cheating. Simply for my own peace of mind, I will myself to not care. This means I must also stop caring about who he thinks I am. And that is how respect loses currency in relationships between people.
The magnitude of this realisation was staggering. Now, I approach men, especially those with whom there is even the slightest romantic context, by first putting respect out of the equation. I will myself to not care about what they think of me with such platitudes like ‘there’s only one thing they’re all thinking about and I’m covered on that front’. I don’t allow a man the right to assess me on things other than appearance or frivolous things like achievement, success and vivacity. But on character, I don’t let it even come into the conversation.
And in turn, I am quick to throw my own respect out of the situation. I practically pore over a man’s character in a bid to find flaws and reasons to not respect him, the person, anymore. It feels easier to not respect a person at all than to respect them and be disappointed — and worse, realise they don’t care.
I don’t really know where I go with this insight. Knowledge of what is, doesn’t give you the ability to change what is. There is plenty to prove that my way of doing things keeps me safe. After all, a staggering majority of men I know see me as a collection of visually appealing bits & bobs that could give them something they want. The minute the possibility of that diminishes, most of them lose interest and don’t care to even pursue a conversation, let alone treat me with courtesy or respect. Why should my respect even be allowed to them, when they don’t care either way?
But then I put my onion ring down and I look at the man across the table from me. Once I thought I loved him and that he loved me. I’ve known love to be cruel, selfish, controlling and untrustworthy and he has been none of those things. But in a single conversation with him, I feel the kind of peaceful serenity that I have never felt with the other men who have been in my life. Mutual respect must have something to do with that. It’s very tiring holding it back and having it withheld. I don’t know whether it’s better to be exhausted and safe or whatever the alternative to that is.
I was at dinner with three male friends yesterday. We were at a tiny, local restaurant known more for its cheap, tasty food than its ambience or refinement. All around us were people in groups talking, laughing and eating. The proprieter sat at one of the tables counting money while the waiters buzzed in and out of the kitchen door, mingling their words with the diners’ conversations. The place was so tiny, that we could practically hear the rumbling of stomachs from nearby tables. Yes, that kind of place.
I only became conscious of it about half an hour into the meal. The friend who was wedged in next to me would keep going,
“Shh! Shh! Softer! Don’t talk so loudly!”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard this. I have a loud voice and a personality to match and when I’m excited, it tends to rise. In addition, I live in a very noisy part of a very crowded city. Most of my conversations have to be conducted at a high volume just to cut across whatever cacaphony the restaurant/cafe deems is ambience music, the bandwidth my phone service provider is able to give me at peak hours and horns blaring on roads where one’s importance is expressed by how loud and often you can honk. Wait. I don’t need to explain. I’m loud. Period.
His relentless shushing had its effect and I fell silent for a bit. It is like being slapped hard on the face everytime someone turns to you and tells you (politely) to SHUT UP. And the noise around me immediately crowded in to cover any possible space that had opened up by my falling silent. That’s when I realised it. The others at the table were talking just as loudly. The people at other tables were talking loudly too. We could even hear the horns from outside. But I was the only one being made to shut up.
It took me back to many, many years ago. I had a boyfriend/friend who was a lot like me — gregarious, popular, enjoying attention and revelling in it. He was fun to be around. He said I was fun too. But when we started dating, something new came up in our conversations. It was the word SHHHH, alternated only by SHUT UP. It even led to some truly terrible fights.
Fast forward memory. A friend telling me that I should wear more muted colours, and oh, lower your voice please, it is considered very ill-bred to speak so loudly.
And finally back to present where I realised that the man who had asked me to SHHH had gone silent. I realised he didn’t have a lot to say. But he wouldn’t let me speak either. I tried again, this time a bit more watchful. Entering conversations, starting one with the person sitting across. And there, as I had anticipated, it came again.
“SHHH!!!! Everyone is looking at us!!”
“Where?” I asked him, “Who is looking at us? Who can hear us in this bedlam?”
He fumbled at that, obviously taken aback as he realised we weren’t sitting in the Queen’s court. Before he could come up with an answer, one of the other men added,
“THE OTHERS ARE LOUDER THAN WE ARE!”
Our man nodded but offered up a feeble,
“But…if someone complains…?”
Now here is the thing. I don’t like being apologetic for my existance. I find it hard to respect people who are apologetic for theirs. And it’s infuriating for someone to be apologetic on my behalf. It is obnoxious and degrading.
I don’t think this man any more than the boy I dated all those years ago, realises he is doing this. I chalk it down to yet another one of those sins men commit against women, while talking loudly about how much they respect women — mansplaining, interrupting, gaslighting and just not taking us seriously. Shutting women down is yet another of those things that men seem to do instinctively in our culture, without realising they’re doing it. This man is a nice guy and my friend. But he did not dare to or care to shut down any of the others at our table or at the other tables. The guy I dated had no qualms being the OTT foghorn himself but he had a big problem with his girlfriend being the same.
I am not arguing for obnoxious behaviour. I am displeased when a stranger complains or asks me to be quiet because I’m disturbing them in a public place. But I apologize and comply with their request. Because that’s a stranger and in a place like a library, bookshop or a movie, I have no call disturbing them. But shutting me down in a raucous environment, especially when the same muffling isn’t happening on the men around, is not acceptable.
I am a woman with an opinion and a loud voice. I don’t feel the need to apologize for that. And if it embarasses a man, he probably has no business hanging around me.
Empowerment begins with taking responsibility for yourself. Reema points out some common misconceptions around women and fitness regimes. If you’re a woman, take charge of your body. It has been your prison for so long. It’s high time you make it your personal vehicle into a better life.
1. Get yourself a gynaecologist you trust. You probably already have a trusted hair-stylist. This is just as important, if not more. Visit them for routine check-ups (and not just pregnancy scares or UTIs). Ask them how you can care for your body better. There is a reason there’s an entire branch of medicine devoted entirely to women’s bodies. Use it.
2. Monitor your menstrual cycle. This doesn’t just mean knowing when your next period should happen but also tracking how your moods, your energy levels, your blood pressure and your blood sugar fluctuate during the month and during the period. PMS is a real thing but if you know your body’s downtimes and special-requirement phases, you’ll be able to plan and work accordingly.
3. For the love of whatever God you believe in, if you are sexually active, use protection. The consequences of unprotected sex and all the so-called solutions are too horrific for you to put your body through. Emergency contraceptives are harmful if used often. Sex without condoms can spread STDs (not to mention pregnancy). You’d treat your car nicely, even if it was second-hand. Why settle for less with your own body?
4. Eat right. Nutritionists, doctors and the Internet exist for good reason. I won’t preach about smoking, drinking or drugs, if you enjoy those. But remember your own body is a factory that produces potent, mood-altering chemicals. Be prudent about mixing intoxicants (see point 2.)
5. Find a fitness regime that matches your body type, your schedule and lifestyle. I’ve tried yoga, aerobics, swimming and the gym and I find my body’s needs have changed and evolved over the years. Exercise in some form has always helped, not just to keep me slim and flexible but also sane and grounded (endorphins, watay drug!). A body that is kept physically active enough to balance out its 18-hour mental activity, is better looking and more productive.
Remember that women’s bodies go through many more changes and far more dramatically through the course of our lives than men’s bodies. We also live lives of greater pressures and scrutiny than our male counterparts. Keep yourself prepared to meet the challenges of being a woman, by having a healthy female body.
I’m a vain peacock in the most obvious way possible.
I love my hair. Unlike skin and other organs, it has never given me reason for worry. It’s straight, silky and has stayed black longer than most of my peers. It echoes my personality remarkably well (distinctive, shiny, healthy). It’s malleable to all my commands. So I’ve had several different hairstyles over the years.
As with most things about my personality, my hair preferences wage war with popular notions. Most Indian men like long hair. This preference is less about aesthetics and more about conformity to the Indian demure little woman kind of beauty. It also fits the Saadgi concept. I’m always surprised by the fear women show in trying out a new shorter hairstyle. So what if it doesn’t look as good? It’s hair, I say, dead cells, it’ll grow out soon enough. I know because I have gone short and lived to tell the tale. And I prefer short hair. It’s fun, low maintenance and lends itself to more variation than long hair.
Here’s something I got from watching America’s Next Top Model: Short hair and/or completely slicked back hair shows confidence because a person can’t rely on wild hair to mask facial blemishes or imperfections. The TV show Glee pointed out the distraction value of hair in an episode titled ‘Hairography‘. Given my dark skin, most people probably think I should be hiding behind long tresses that at least fit the popular standard of beauty. And why not? Hair’s primary use in beauty tactics, is as a concealing device or distraction measure. It is never celebrated for itself.
Anyway, earlier this month, I decided single or otherwise, I wasn’t going to use my hair as bait to trap men. If a man liked me, he’d have to like me with whatever hair (or not!) I had. Besides, it’s part of my body. I don’t think anybody, let alone an unknown man from the distant future should have any say in what I do with it. So I went under the scissors. And I’m very, very excited with the result! I don’t know if I’m more or less or just as attractive to members of the opposite sex but it doesn’t matter. Not in that angry I-don’t-care-about-what-men-think way but in that I’m happy because I’m doing something that delights me. Look at me fab!
Fun fact: I got my hair chopped off at Mad O Wot, which run by Sapna Bhavnani. Look at what she posted on Instagram a little later! :-D
Let me start with this bromance joke that absolutely cracked me up:
Do guys in a bromance get each other flower
“Dude, here I got you some broses”
“Oh man bro, you read my mind I got you some daffodudes”
I’m in a bromance. It’s with another woman. No, we are not BFFs. We are not almost-sisters. I loathe these terms and I’m pretty certain she does too. I don’t need to ask her that. I assume, reasonably confident that my assumption is right and also that I don’t overstep when I assume.
We are not lesbians. She’s happily married (to a man) and I’m actively single. We’ve each been these things long before we even knew each other. We haven’t known each other that long so no, this isn’t one of those chaddi-buddy things either. We do not talk everyday or fill each other in on every last detail of our full lives.
We took an instant liking to each other at our first meeting. We ‘get’ each other and we also get that the other one gets us without the explanations, caveats and defenses that need to come up with other people. This is true whether we’re talking about digital marketing, lipstick, books, astrology or family.
Each of us has dozens of friends, shared and otherwise. We’ve hung out in groups and we don’t stick to each other on those occasions. But yes, most other people realise we’re closer to each other than we are to most of the others — that knowing nod or nanosecond eyecontact that signals ‘this is bullshit’ passes easily between us.
So what makes this a bromance rather than a regular friendship between women? Well, for starters, there is no such thing as a ‘regular’ friendship. Especially not between women who are the more emotionally expressive and collaborative, relationship-building gender. Yet, associations between women are laden with as many labels as there are for women. The bitchy besties, the babe and the ugly friend, the two peas in a pod, the ‘married to each other on Facebook’ types, the Veronica and the Betty, the girlfriends, the list goes on. I’ve been in some of these relationships and I know she’s not any of them.
What’s a bromance? It’s a close association between two men, much closer than their usual friendships. It also acquires the pseudo-romantic tag since this is a pair that is comfortable being public about their closeness to each other. Notably bromances are usually between straight men who are not otherwise known to be very expressive in their sentiments, especially to other men.
Other than the fact that neither of us is male, we fit all those criteria. She’s more my ‘bro’ than any of the other labels. We’re both macho girls in some way, turning our noses up at the princessy kinds of women. It’s not quite kosher for us to be sappy. Yet, it feels totally okay to get her an impromptu gift or to receive an unexpected ‘Random hug because I miss you!’ from her.
Women frequently ‘explain’ their relationship with other women in conversation. It’s usually, “You know my best friend was telling me” and “Rita, my office buddy was saying” or “I borrowed my younger sister’s dress. I notice myself dropping her name in conversations with other people without bothering to explain. It’s not really easy to explain and to be honest, I haven’t really thought about it till now. Isn’t that rather bromantic too, a closeness that just happens without your planning it and that you can take for granted (without taking the other person for granted)? This is something traditional female friendships rarely do. Ergo, we have a bromance.
Yes, let me be the first to admit that I’m the kind of feminist that enjoys yanking things away from the traditionally male bastion and going “ME TOO! NOW I’M GONNA HAVE ONE TOO!”
Now I’m off to get her some of those broses.
I picked out a book by one of my favorite authors. I have all her other books and each of them has been lovingly thumbed through at least 5 or 6 times each. Every single one except this one. It usually gets missed because it’s a bigger size than the others, an unwieldy hardbound edition size but with a paperback cover. So, it has to get jammed against the side of the bookshelf, away from its natural place along with the others by the author. Why do publishers like torturing us?
The first time time I read the book though, I didn’t like what it did to me. Which is not to say that I didn’t like it. One of the main characters spends a long part of the story being tormented by an abusive, manipulative man. It was torturous to read because it relived my own nightmare of 2002. The lies, the subtle put-downs, the unwillingness to acknowledge the relationship to friends, the indirect questions to friends about other boyfriends when the back was turned, the withholding of approval, the taunts, the backhanded compliments, the jealousy. Everything was so familiar it made me want to throw up several times through the book. Such is the power of a good story, when it forces you to face things in your own life.
I picked up the book around three years later again, knowing that I had been avoiding it for this reason and determined to make my peace with it. It wasn’t any easier the second time round. I decided that it really wasn’t a great book anyway. After that however, I chanced upon another book by the same author and devoured it. And then I was hooked and in quick succession I went through all her other books, discovering my favorites and setting aside the one that I didn’t like all that much. This last one gave me an uncomfortable twinge because it made it clear to me what a book I didn’t really like was like and it reminded me that I was avoiding the first book for other reasons altogether.
I’ve managed to ignore that feeling for good while. Life has brought its share of dramatic highs and lows and I have managed to keep myself sane without tipping over into any vices like alcohol, smoking, drugs, random sex or overspending. Some of it comes from not trying to escape but some of it also comes from not deliberately picking at old wounds.
And now, ten years after the book came to me, I find myself in need of comfort reading again. Marian Keyes features prominently on this list, along with JK Rowling, Kamila Shamsie, PG Wodehouse, Neil Gaiman (only The Sandman!) and Fables (the graphic novels). I sift through my book collection and rearrange them for the order that I’ll want to read them in the next few days. I only notice Last Chance Saloon when I am putting it back. The neat pile of Marian Keyes’ books – the entire Walsh family series as well as standalones looked like something was missing. Last Chance Saloon with its larger-than-normal size, its slightly browner page edges and lavender cover – you can imagine the extent of my escapism that I didn’t even notice it as it was lying on my table a few minutes ago.
I frown, considering. I was really looking forward to Anybody Out There? which is one of my two favourite Marian Keyes books except I know by now that it needs an appetiser before starting. Rachel’s Holiday which is my other favourite, has just been devoured and is being put away at the bottom until my next comfort-reading need. But this time was a bit different. Rachel’s Holiday is the book that showed me the inside of an escapist’s head. It stayed with me when I went through the difficult relationship, whispering what I knew about addiction as I lived through betrayal, neglect, lies and fights over excessive gaming. It gave me some balance even if it didn’t ease the heartache when it helped me realise that I was in relationship with someone who was refusing to deal with adult realities. This was the first time I was reading Rachel’s Holiday since then. In all my readings so far, I’ve only related to Rachel even if I never fell into addictive substance abuse. I could relate to the fear, the confusion and the desperate chasing after anything that would make the pain go away. Maybe a lot of my bad relationships came from the same place that addicts addiction does. But this time round, I could relate to Luke, to Brigit and even Mammy Walsh. There’s only one thing worse than living the damaged life of an addict and that’s living the life of someone who loves one. Needless to say, reading the book was an intense experience this time round, in a different way.
I look back to the large book on my table. I’ve not even wanted to touch it since I realised which book it is. My abusive relationship of 2002 is an old festering wound that comes back to haunt me in dark times even now. My more recent bad relationship of 2011 – I can’t say that that is worse or better. Two different men, both damaged and flawed, both hurt me intensely in very different ways. But with the second, I was older and more aware of my need to heal and how I could. I have been. Still, my hand stays clear of the book.
Then I take a deep breath and let myself open up to the memory of this book. It was a gift from her. She always loved reading what I thought of as trashy romances. One day, she handed me this book and said,
“Read this. I think you’ll like it.”
I did read it. I am nothing if not dutiful and obedient to the people I love. And she was my best friend. I felt sucker-punched by the book when I read it, like it left gaping holes inside me. When I handed it back to her a few days later, she said,
“It’s for you. Keep it.”
She must have known. Of course she did. She was always perceptive. And she’s the only one who knew the extent of my abusive relationship.
This makes it harder for me to even look at the book. I cut her out of my life in January this year. I still haven’t had a chance to process everything I feel about that though my reasons are crystal clear. It feels too soon. My way of dealing with things is usually to go numb when stuff happens and only pick up the terrible memories much later to deal with them emotionally. That’s why my poetry, my breakdowns and my terrible choices happen much after something awful has happened. But, maybe that’s my way of escaping and it’s not doing me any favors. Besides, I’m not as young as I once was and maybe I don’t have the luxury of prolonging my problems as I once used to.
Surprisingly, my hands don’t even shake as I shut my bookshelf and pick up Last Chance Saloon. Wish me luck. A storm is coming.