New Skin

By Sonya Rehman

I wonder how long this will last. This being suspended in the sludge of the past and the present, this strange rebirth, this being thrown into the deep end where only the strongest stay afloat…

Time sputtered and squeaked to a halt as we – each of us – switched into survival mode. The shock, the unceasing fear of what we were in and what the world was plummeting into – the ceaseless spin and the gradual numbing, deadening of hope, inspiration, soft emotions that were such a privilege to sink into ‘when things were normal.’

And now what? What are these new identities emerging from within…do you know who you are anymore? Do you know what you want? Or is the future too uncertain, too traumatizing? Do you fear wanting, visualizing, manifesting a future since the lockdown? Perhaps we’re still processing the terror and the grief that grew and grew and grew, long, sinewy, stubborn branches, obstructing, choking, gutting, ink black rivers, blotting out, coating, covering – the brutal genocide of joy, normalcy, naïve human-ness…

It first began a few weeks into the lockdown, last year. It came in snippets, and then in waves. This sense of a merging of timelines of the past and the present. An old memory, suppressed for decades, which would dislodge itself from the subconscious and find its way to the surface, bobbing away in the sea of one’s waking life, a memory, a pattern, a fleeting thought, hoping to be noticed, analyzed.

What would trigger it? Moments such as glancing above at the bright blue summer sky and feeling like I was a child again – that surreal sensation that would last for a split second. At that moment, I was both the adult version of me and the child.

A memory of the city by the sea, an excited walk from our apartment in Clifton, Karachi, with our neighbour, Adnan, who lived right next door to us. My brother got along with him very well and I found Adnan quite cute. He had high cheekbones and eyes – set a little far apart. The face of a dreamer, a tad impractical. He was a gentle, soft-spoken child and was the same age as my older brother. In my five-year-old mind, Adnan was the boy I was destined to be with.

The scene changes, we’ve just left the beach, and my brother and Adnan are goofing around trying to climb a rusted, wrought-iron boundary wall. My brother, shaggy hair in his eyes, the same azure sky above us. Laughter. He slings his arm back around the wall and slips. One of the rusted spikes has pierced through his back. Gleaming red floods the front of my brother’s T-shirt. Adnan pulls my brother up and half carries him back to our apartment block. This is the first memory I have of fear and the first instinct I have to quickly become a Big Person to protect the ones I love.

And then there are brief awakenings, nothing earth-shattering, nor astonishingly spiritual, but almost like a gentle nudge from an old, forgotten friend. A prod to be more present and aware of a pattern or a thought process that has been running in the background of my ‘programming’ for as long as I can remember.

A step-father who tried very hard to be a good father, but who was too caught up in boyhood, still, to be a man – deeply rooted – an unshakeable figure for two young children. The memory of him, and the last birthday card I got from him, a few months after The Divorce, a pop-out dog, paws stretched out, and Rs. 1,000 carefully tucked away in an envelope. I was 10-years-old and I felt nothing. Tearing up the card, I felt nothing but relief. And safety. This was one of my very first awakenings, a realization of my overarching lack of trust in men. And the absolute terror of the male gaze. It’s crippling. It turns me to stone.

Have these memories revealed themselves to me because of The Great Reset, when time turned into tepid soup and when everything – literally everything – was turned on its head?

Did I exacerbate the inner workings of my mind and my heart by naïvely pursuing the path of self-awareness by lapping up countless books of teachings, video interviews of some of the greatest spiritual thought leaders and practitioners, including understanding the mind from a purely clinical, psychological point of view? Was it a mistake? Because I’ve been pried apart – most of it by my doing – and some of it by the world’s undoing, of my carefully constructed identity and my place, my space, in this infinitesimal planet, in this endless, endless thread of eternity…

And now what? Old wants, desperate needs, dreamy desires, grandiose goals seem so ridiculous in The Now, in my shoes. Have I regressed or have I progressed? Or am I somewhere in between?

The Gurus tell you to Just Be – but even that doesn’t feel quite right. Or is that really all there is to life, is that the golden teaching, to be, to be, to be? Is that the jewel we continue to compel and fool ourselves to consistently overlook?

Is then, man’s search for meaning just a battle of his ego, his wanting to complicate a simple world, and his greed to remain in a cycle of longing, seeking, a wretched emotional excavation to finally realize there is no prize, no gold, nothing, no THING

Do you too feel like you’ve lived a thousand lifetimes in these (almost) 24 months? And where now does one traverse to from here? Is there a road map, a manual, a wizened guide with a glowing lantern that I should look out for on The Path? Shouldn’t there be some movement? Some new destination to turn to? Abandon everything and run towards?

I’m turning 39 soon and I’m sitting here thinking, for once, growing older doesn’t alarm me as much as the thought of regretting more time and opportunities lost. But I’m stuck. I’m here. I’m not here. I’m here. I exist. And then I cease in the present to observe and revive a past that should, perhaps, be allowed to fade away. Think about the future you advise? Yes, yes I would like that. I would like very much to think about the future minus my rose-tinted glasses.

But it seems so otherworldly from the present, like another planet, a fantastical dream, an alien concept. And for now, this now, there is a sense of comfort in just being. Maybe, just maybe the discomfort has been in shedding a self I had grown too accustomed to. And now things must change. I must change. I’m changing.

Photo: Sonya Rehman



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