It was a routine day for us. Early morning Adam had come back from the bash held last night. After prancing on the doorway till three a.m. we had given up. Ever since his passing the higher secondary last year, this had become a normal occurrence. To say we were used to it would be a lie -- because the same panic and anxiety gripped us every time. Our hearts missed a beat whenever we heard a telephone ring disturbing the stillness of the night -- echoing the despair -- the hollowness that persisted during those periods of waiting -- waiting for our son's arrival.
With his first nocturnal endeavor, I remember we had become so frantic that John had made hundreds of rounds of the neighborhood, and I had called up all of Adam's friends I could think of. We had screamed at him and John had even beat him up when he finally came home, but, of course the relief that our boy -- our son was safe -- was overwhelming. Then there would be days when he would come in drunk. And we had our suspicions that he was taking drugs too. Just like the late arrivals, his habits were dealt with once -- we both raised hell -- scolded him, beat him, cried -- tried so much, but to no avail. It was a nightmare repeating itself day after day. Each day dread and fear strangled us -- not knowing what would be coming next. We were like two zombies -- two dead bodies going through life's monotonous activities -- John going to the office -- me doing the housework just to get a feeling that everything was normal and our world was not shattering into tiny pieces around us.
It had all started, I clearly remember -- how could I forget -- that dreadful day when he got his results. For months we tried to get him into a college. He hunted, we hunted like mad hound dogs, but no use. In the end both of us took out all our frustration on him. It somehow seemed easier to blame it all on him -- Oh! Of course our negligence was unaccountable.
And then our Adam started going through this sickening metamorphosis into this tall thin stranger with sunken blank eyes who hardly spoke and who we hardly saw. It was like he had withdrawn into his own world and built walls around himself which no one could penetrate and no matter how hard we tried our pleading voices just came back to us reflected by those walls. A heart breaking transformation for which I don't know who is really guilty.
The day Adam was born, John and I had been ecstatic. We had made so many plans for our son. We had thought our son would rule the world. He would lead and make us proud. So many expectations and so many disappointments. Fate also had it's cruel hand into the ironic joke played on us by destiny. But was it fair on our part to burden him with what we wanted him to be? Why didn't we ever care to find out what he wanted?
Doubts and questions concerning our role in leading Adam to his doom assail me and gnaw on my conscience. Anyway we still live on, trying to exist through this living hell, knowing it's of our own making and that our son is destroying himself as a consequence. Battling with our ghosts has become a part of our morbid existence.
Finally the persistent pealing sound of the phone broke my contemplation. Probably it was John calling up. I picked up the receiver expecting to listen to John's steady voice: my fellow sufferer in this moral trauma. But all I remember is a distinct authoritative voice.
"Hello, is this Mrs. White? I am Officer Murdock. I am afraid, Ma'am, that your son has been found on Forty-nine Street and Rose Avenue, lying on the pavement and we think he has taken cyanide."
The receiver dropped from my hand and I stood in shock, unable to move, unable to think, unable to feel. And then I started laughing that hysterical laugh which echoes and echoes and is reflected, with all it's ugliness, back to you in the hollow vacuum of infinity.
John found me like that when he came home. I don't know how he calmed me down. Somehow he dragged me to identify our son's body and bring it back home. He lay there on the cold slab as handsome as ever as if in deep sleep. My boy. A part of me. He lay there dead. And then the tears started coming and wouldn't stop. I couldn't eat, drink, sleep or do anything.
Adam was cremated and all the time as a feeble effort to defend myself from this impending gloom all ready to engulf me I kept pretending that it wasn't happening to me. It was happening to someone else. I was just a bystander almost as if watching a movie. At first it seemed unbelievable that we would no longer be seeing Adam's lanky form and would not hear his mono-syllables.
Finally, after days, I built up the courage to venture into his room. It tore my heart to see everything lying in it's usual place as it had lain for the past nineteen years. Everything was there but not the one for whose presence my heart yearned.
Then I started going through all the albums of Adam's childhood days. Once, when I had sat there motionless, staring at one of Adam's toothless snap, the whole day, John couldn't take anymore. He snatched the picture from my hand and tore it into pieces. I clawed at him, screaming between heart wrenching sob, "Don't take my baby from me! Don't please...please!"
John had held me then until I calmed down.
On the outside I must have looked normal but my heart was a dead weight in my chest. Poor John, he was stuck with me. He couldn't even go lick his wounds. No, he had to attend to his grief-stricken wife who had, by now, become a basket case -- a nervous wreck. Then we started these therapy sessions. The obscenity of it used to make me laugh. Hah! it was a sham -- a pseudo-commercial farce. How could the chirpy beautiful blonde with her eyes full of sympathy, behind her horn-rimmed glasses, with her fancy phrases, really understand how it was to be a mother and to lose her only son, her heart mercilessly wrenched out of her body and know all along it was her own fault?
Time has passed. We both still manage to exist, just exist, for the sake of living alone. Guilt is a heavy burden to bear. Had we supported our son, encouraged him during those bleak moments of his life---
These thoughts assault us day after day. But we still live for each other. Sometimes I feel like just ending it all, but, no. John is still there. It's as if we are two battered driftwood being pulled into this whirlpool and falling into this dark abyss. We are not even groping for some overhanging support as if it would be a sin if we tried to take in the last gulps of breath.The strong torrent of water is all set to drown us, envelop us in it's arms of gloom. It's leading us to this bottomless destiny as it awaits our arrival in anticipation of new victims in the hands of fate.
But regrets are after all regrets. Life is still going on and on and on.
© 2000 Shachi Rai, all rights reserved
appears here by permission