Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sometimes, Peace Means Letting Go

Sharing my story published on Peace X Peace - a women's media organization based in Washington DC, US.

“With my attacker dead, I decided that there was nothing I could gain by telling his stories. Instead, I could try helping his family…”
Sometimes, to make peace, you get to move on

One evening I was at the dentist’s clinic. I sat listening to him as he showed the x-rays he had earlier taken of my teeth and gum; there were several small cavities, one of my front teeth was almost dead, and, there was a big cyst in my gum.

“I can fix this, though we will need multiple root canal surgeries,” he said, before adding, “But I am really curious about how you got that cyst. You must have had a bad fall, a bad injury. There was internal bleeding.”  “I don’t remember,” I said.

We left his clinic with an elaborate treatment plan in hand.

My best friend, who knew me well, was walking beside me. I could sense her curiosity and her eagerness to know yet another story of my life. But it didn’t come.

I came home, had dinner, and went to bed. But all night through, between the sound of passing vehicles and barking dogs, I kept hearing the doctor’s voice: “There must have been an accident.”

Yes, accident it sure was, but a deliberate one; one that broke my gum, but saved my dignity, my life.

I was in 8th grade then. The family next door was celebrating the homecoming of their eldest son – a soldier in the Indian army. Handsome, smart and quite flamboyant, he was a favorite of the entire neighborhood. When he came home, all the neighborhood kids would crowd around his house, sharing the happy vibes that he sent around.

This time, there was another reason for them to be there. It turned out that the young man had been an apprentice dentist and was good at ‘tooth jobs.’ Now all the neighbors were eager to have him take a look at their children’s mouths and fix their cavities.

The ‘doctor’ had a special room with heavy curtains –  a rarity in that small village of ours in the hilly northeast region of India where everything happened right in front of everyone. There was a Victorian armchair on which he had the patient lie down while he sat on a stool, almost hovering over.

Whenever I got a chance to peep, I found that the doctor’s hands were almost resting on the chest of the patient. But I would be shooed away quickly.

One day, it was my chance to be on that armchair. My tiny frame was almost buried in it, making it almost impossible to move, let alone stand up.

The doctor was “at work” soon. I felt his hand on my chest and soon his fingers were fiddling with my frock’s button, while his breath was on my mouth. I tried to scream, but his gloved hand shut me up. In the panic that followed I kicked my legs up, jumped, and while making a dash to the door, hit the door panel, hard.

I could feel the numbing pain not just in my swollen gum, but also in my heart and in my head. But I was already this unwanted, ugly child who was lucky enough to be alive. Over a dozen girls had gone into that room and reported nothing – how could I say anything? And who would listen? So, I suffered in silence.

In the years that followed I grew up, left my nest, and went to high school. Though my life didn’t become a bed of roses, I eventually found my voice and called a spade a spade.

And yet I have decided never to tell anyone about that man who had perhaps molested many children and would have molested and maybe even raped me, had I not fought back and escaped.

Why did I decide something like that? Because, by the time I started voicing my thoughts, I learned of the death of that man. A heavy drinker, he had died of liver cirrhosis. Now his wife and his two young daughters were struggling to survive.

With my attacker dead, I decided there was nothing I could gain by telling his stories. Instead, I could try helping his family; I could see that his daughters – who already had suffered a lot because of his alcoholism – were not taken advantage of by a creep because they were poor and fatherless.  As the editorial head in a community media organization, I contacted the family and extended an offer for them to earn a living by making videos.

It wasn’t easy.  But I had two options: to talk about a bad guy who was now dead, or to invest my energy in preventing more of such cases in future.

I chose the latter. And I am happy. Sometimes, you need to let go to make peace.

Follow me on Twitter @stellasglobe

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