The First Winter Without –

by Ujwalla Bhandari

… anchor – 

My heart has been falling for months. The runs to and from closet to mirror to door to train to work to the end of the day serve to keep it in the air like a ball that an inept juggler is juggling. I’ve been struggling since home ceased to be a place I can go, and turned, instead to rubble. The trouble is masked by the facts – people sell their homes, the city is practically one endless construction site, we needed more space, the family was broken. I flip these thoughts over like totems to keep my heart afloat.

What takes me by the throat is the winter I love, setting in, warming the tea on the stove, as if to compensate for the loneliness of my ambiguous loss. Because of course, a woman who marries for love, leaves her home anyway. She loses her say about what is irrevocable, loses woman to wife, with the haze of her girlhood tugging, from time to time, at her heart. Her falling heart. Can I really fall apart that my house is gone, when I have been gone from my house for years?

The tears come for me when I realize the house was where my loneliness stopped being scary, and somehow felt safe. The walls of my room seemed to say, hey: we’re holding you, feel what you feel. My bookshelves revealed me to myself, mirrored my musings, made them real. I could trace my becoming on the spines of all I read in all those years of solitude. Whatever the mood of the world outside, the chaos or the mess, I could step into the best kind of quiet, and exhale the day away. I could keep the world at bay, and stay in the nook between my bed and the wall, burrowing into the call of isolation. People were always confusion, but at home, they were far away. It was only ever those walls that let me in, truly, that built themselves around me. Home was a place that found me, and I was lost a lot.

… love – 

And then there are the memories attached to you. In my doorway, in my chair, in my bed. Your love first found me there, too, those years, and the first thing I did was introduce you to my sanctuary. I wonder if you were wary of my heart on my sleeve. This strange reprieve from games; me, a girl who was no one, whose mind had been burrowing inwards for years; whose layers spilled into your arms as soon as you opened them.

I have craved to belong everywhere I’ve loved. For a time, we belonged together in that little haven: talking, laughing, planning a life. The ring you put into my blanket-fold for me to find, and exclaim, the glistening promise of togetherness that it signified. Our love story unfolded in my safest place. 

I craved to belong to you, belong with you, belong in love. I thought love would catch my heart and hold it. But now I know, love is about letting go. Sometimes love is a fault line; a door to safety, or an invitation into a storm. I never know how warm your hands are going to be, but the warmest place to hold them was always that home. The one that won’t be there anymore, whose last walls are coming down as I write this.

… truth – 

Ignorance is bliss. I think there are still things I omit from the narrative. The thirty-one years I spent at home were dotted with blanks of things too dark to remember. It was the scene of many crimes, from a child’s hungry eyes. An unrelenting loneliness grew miles and miles of distance between me and anyone else who lived there. But I felt as though the walls cared; the plants the ceilings, the floors. The doors closed when I needed to disappear, and opened when I wanted to run away. And there were many days when I didn’t know which – freezing or fleeing – would quell the screaming inside. In spite of it all, the ball of pain I was for so many of those years, the sight of a bougainvillea rain, pink strewn all over the patio made everything disappear. The years of ache, too, were softened by the abundant happenstances, the little quirks of the house; its creaks and creatures and its many, many blooms.

There was no winter that didn’t bring warmth – a coal fire always lit on the coldest days, as people who’d hurt one another sat around the maze of their feelings, and poured each other wine. We were broken and we were fine. And the house contained us in all our seasons. Being home was a good enough reason to exhale the weight of being misfits in the world. Hands curled around themselves, somehow only ever approximating belonging anywhere – this, us around a fire at home, is an image of the closest we came.

… a Past that speaks to the Present – 

The person standing over the stove in her husband’s house is a stranger. Seasons change and I try to reach her, crossing the bridge of space and time, from a girlhood we have shared. I am still 19 and idealistic, reading on my bed, in my room, in the house of our dreams, that, in this parallel universe of before, still stands tall, adorned in its vines and flowers. I send her the image of where I am, nestled in a nook that has held us both. She is letting the winter have her, resigned to the falling of home and heart. I try to reach through the lonesome fog, to the yearning in her, to the loss of self that she has endured at the hands of tradition and circumstance. You didn’t know when you left, that there wouldn’t be a home to come back to, I remind her. Even if the bricks fall, you can always go back there in your mind. I imagine that she hears me; that’s the single tear that gathers in the corner of her eye is the bridge from me to her. We’ve always favoured winter, for it has taught us how to stay warm.

I watch from Before, and want to hold her; this brave & broken eventuality I know will be me in a Future where our house has been razed to dust. It’s cold, but I will her to savour the tea, the quiet morning, the weight of the book in her hand. I will her to let herself mourn home; everything it was and wasn’t. I will her to feel me there with her, a part of her, that can witness her – witness the loneliness away. As a fragment of her self, I want to offer a sunbeam of belonging, to warm the skin of her soul. I want to remind her of what we know in our bones – that the lonely can grow roots again and again:

for this feeling;

this longing for home –

is home.

Author bio: Ujwalla has felt in poetry ever since she can remember. She sees the creative word as a language that captures interiority with a kind of magic that evokes the depth within its readers too. She is fascinated by the power of this resonance. She works by day as a psychotherapist in New Delhi, with the resonance of words at the heart of her practice. 

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