When Escape Is An Elusive Picture

I've forgotten what it feels like to be an actual person. An adult. Someone who puts on pants and walks into the real world with conviction, plans, and a desire to contribute to something in the larger scheme of things. I've got no plans; on some nights, I have an unaccountable knot in the pit of my stomach. The reason could be that I'm starving myself but also because I haven't done anything I've enjoyed doing in months. Can I blame the pandemic? I sure can. Looking for excuses is my forte. Sort of!

My biggest fear: I'll end up like my father. My father is (was) a bright man. He used to be up before everyone at dawn, solving crossword before getting on with his day. As a child, I often visited his workplace to find him adored by his co-workers; he cracked chucklesome jokes with his bosses who'd come from their international trips with books and toys for me. He read a great deal — first edition copies of Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy rubbed shoulders with Phantom Comics, Tintin, and everything by Ian Fleming. He was great at what he did, and people say they see bits and pieces of him in me. That I've inherited something from him, but dear god, I hope it ends with his golden-brown eyes and books.

His life was quite decent. But for years, he traumatised my mother, which I only began to notice when I was in college. It wasn't a pretty sight. Later, when his career went down south, he began weakening ties with everyone around him. Not a pretty sight at all. I dreaded going home after work, which then seemed like a safe spot although I hated my job.

The thing about growing up in a dysfunctional (what a charming word to describe my parent's hollow togetherness) family is that you're always seeking an escape. Even if your mother is fending for herself, protecting you from the atrocities of an abusive father. You want to run away and seek refuge in a strange city where nobody knows you or gets you for who you are. That way, you could be someone else, pretend everything is great, and hope that folks back home aren't killing each other in their dreams.

Life would automatically fall into place when you move to a different city and get an apartment. Great view, bar hopping with absolute strangers who'd eventually become friends you cannot do without, a job that hundreds (okay, at least 10) would kill to have, and even when loneliness would come crashing like waves at the shore of your feet, you'll be okay. You should be okay. I mean I should be okay. Should being the conditional clause here. But the only downer: I didn't escape. I stuck around until more terrible things happened: my mother's death. My father behaved like it was a shared loss much to my chagrin.

While wondering why people are the way they are, I also wonder why my father was such an arrogant prick! There could be plenty of reasons — inflated ego, privilege — but is there ever any logic behind how each one of us is wired? A character that often reminds me of my father is Bernard Berkman from Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale. He is so overbearing and self-centered that you want bad things to happen to him. Like terrible things such as loneliness and indifference. Unfortunately, those are things you can wish upon a fictional character, not your father.

This movie also reminds me of how much I disagree with Tolstoy who wrote that all happy families are alike, and all unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways. Aren't all dysfunctional families alike in a way that, no matter what (and who) caused the hitch, the children end up in muck, for the most part? That even when you've moved on with your life, you are still a mental casualty, reeling from godsend malice. No surprises here: we've got no safety nets.

In the movie, when Walt and Frank are dealing with their parents' divorce, I cannot fail but notice how Walt (the elder son) empathises with his father while the younger son prefers to bask in his mother's company. Walt is harsh with his mother and blames her for splitting with his father, like a baffled teenager who cannot see things for what they are. I guess I grew up like Walt too — admiring my father and taking his words and opinions quite too seriously. In due course, I removed my rose-tinted glasses and saw things for what they were. Like Walt, I couldn't tolerate my father's company any longer.

Naturally, moving to a different city seemed like a fantastic option — easier said (and imagined) than done. Work kept me home and when I quit my job during this pandemic, I have nowhere to go. Escape is an elusive (and hazy) picture for now. So, on days when I feel a little less of an adult or an actual person, I think of what I've endured and I conjure exciting possibilities that the future is yet to offer. And amidst a whirlwind of thoughts in my head, dear god, I hope the only things I've inherited from my father are his golden-brown eyes and books.