Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Law of Bouyancy

Owl spent New Year’s Day of 2013 at a women’s shelter in Delhi. She was interning for a paper in India. Somehow she had been charged with putting together a video about how the women of Delhi celebrate New Year’s.

Had Owl ever put together a video before? No. Could Owl speak Hindi and interview these women? No. Did Owl have any idea how she was going to complete the assignment and not get turned into butchered meat? Fuck no.

Owl was depressed. While she was pretending to be a functional human, inside her head there was a mini Owl hiding behind a teddy bear bawling non-stop.

Owl and her boyfriend Peter were in the midst of a rough patch. By which Owl means Peter was going through a family slash life crisis and needed space. Owl is totally great at all types of emotional support except for giving people space. Owl is like a creeping vine who loves getting up into everyone’s business and talking it over while munching biscuits. Owl can give people space for like three minutes before she’s back offering donuts and a long chat.

Except Owl was in Delhi and Peter was in America so Owl couldn’t exactly pop around the corner with donuts. Peter wanted space, and thanks to the Atlantic Ocean and mad expensive plane tickets, Owl had to give him space.

The only thing Owl could do was pine.


Owl loves pining in movies. There’s a montage with Josh Groban crooning about a broken heart in the background. The piner goes to the gym, stays up late working, gets slender and gets promoted. All through this, the piner is very private, does not break down in public, and emerges like a blade of indomitable steel. It’s heart-wrenching and empowering and Josh Groban is mad sexy. Owl was totally pumped.

Owl was going to pine like the movies. She signed up for a gym membership and begged her boss for extra assignments. At night she wrote tortured essays while listening to Josh Groban and admired her emotional stoicism.

Things started to go off script after a couple of days. Owl went to the gym. The gym instructor told her she could stand to lose a kilo. (Bitch! Owl was on a starvation pining diet and was a twig. A twig!) Owl tried to stay up late working except it was the holiday season so the entire office was out and there was no work to be had.

After a week, Owl was totally done with the pining thing. Except, unlike the movies, where the pining is a snappy entertaining three minutes before the plot trots along, Peter was still crisising. Ergo Owl was still pining.

Owl realized she was stuck pining for the foreseeable future, and the gym instructor had taken to calling Owl before dinner to inquire about Owl’s diet. (Bitch! Owl was not fat.) Owl began to panic. And so when she got to work on New Year’s day, and her boss told her to go film a women’s shelter, Owl asked no questions, dug up a cameraman and went.

Delhi in the winter is cold and dusty. The sunlight is pale, the streets shrouded with dust, the air crisp. The buildings of Delhi are made to siphon off summer heat. The floors are stone and the windows don’t quite shut, so the cold hurts. It bites into your bones, it stings, it stays.

The shelter was little more than a room ringed in iron bunk beds covered in thin mattresses. Each woman had a bed for herself and her children. In each bed the women stored their lives: clothes, spare utensils, talismans from the past.

The cold crept in through the open doors, settling into the floors and walls. The shelter had no heat and Owl shivered in her jacket. The women themselves were bundled into sweaters and saris. At first they clustered around the camera, convinced their moment of fame had come and that they were going to be on TV. Websites meant nothing to them.

Gradually they lost interest as Owl and the cameraman circled around getting footage. The cameraman translated Owl’s questions, and in a slow grinding conversation, Owl extracted the details of their lives.

One woman had been thrown out of her house by her brother-in-law. She had nowhere else to go, so she was here at the shelter, glad she was indoors rather than outside. She had grand plans for the day, she was going to buy sweets to pass out to her friends, going to pass them out to her brother-in-law even.

Another had epilepsy. There was no medicine, so the women sat around her in a circle, while she shuddered and shook. They sang and beat drums, their voices bouncing off of the walls, as if their voices would ward off all illness.

There’s a woman here who speaks English, a shelter worker told Owl. A pale woman with a streak of white in her black hair, and heavy hooded eyes stepped forward. She was a refugee from Afghanistan, she said. Her husband had been part of the Taliban, so she had taken her son and fled. She pointed to a boy who was running with a group of children. When she called him over, he bounced up, happy, buoyant.

He was beautiful, large almond eyes, clear pale skin, pointed chin, dimples even. In another life, he’d be the sort of boy whose face was plastered in advertisements, the boy grinning around a mouthful of ice cream: isn’t life just grand?

“How do you like India?” Owl asked.

“In India I go to school, I eat, no one is knocking on the door trying to kill us,” he said. “There is no Taliban.” He paused. “India is better than Afghanistan,” he said and lifted his hand to sketch out better—the bare airy room, the singing women, the pale sunlight that fell like spilled water on the floor.

Better: no Taliban, food, a little bit of school.

Owl went home. She gave up on pining cinematically and focused on better. Owl Skyped and emailed her friends when things got rough. Sometimes they told her stories, sometimes they sent her pictures. They had no magical panacea, but they were there, and the sound of their voices took the edge off of Owl’s depression.

Owl still pined. In truth, it was a long time before things were better. Sometimes better was just getting out of bed and making it through the day without crying. Some days better was getting out of bed and crying in the grocery store. But, you know, whatever, moving target. And slowly, things got better.

This year Owl spent New Year’s at home, reading poetry and deep-fat-frying snacks. Peter had to fly back to lab on New Year’s eve, but he and Owl spent the tail end of December baking things, cleaning things, and making really atrocious jokes. There was no gym instructor insisting Owl was fat, and there was no pining.

Happy New Year. May whatever plagues you, sort itself out, and may everything good bubble up to the top of your life, in a delicious mad froth. Gravity dictates what goes up must come down, but buoyancy dictates, whatever goes down must come up.

1 comment:

  1. I tried to comment on this post multiple times but Google was being the biggest bitch the past few days. This is such a lovely and heartfelt writing, I had butterflies in my stomach just reading through it all! I hope you also have a lovely 2015!