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It took me a long time to understand the feeling I’ve had since I was a child—that feeling of being complete yet empty, of being trapped yet at ease. The walls of the world enclosed on my individuality, preventing me from swimming to the surface as if a constant weight held me down. As if gallons of water enveloped my body, sinking into my lungs, restraining me from pulling myself upwards. But I couldn’t imagine life without this feeling. Underwater, there were no dangers from the outside world—no cries from those I have wronged, no wicked words thrown mercilessly at my feet from the glares of passing strangers, no violent encounters from monsters that nabbed at my pocketmunny. This serenity began when I was a fetus in Ammu’s—my mother’s—womb, a life form barely existing, naïve to the misfortunes of life that soon awaited me. Luckily, I was not alone. I trudged through life constantly having someone by my side. Someone to care for me, know what I am thinking, and understand how I feel. Someone who I saw myself as, a chamber of reflections that lived with me day by day. Estha was my safe haven. He was a layer of skin that I had found comfort within. When we were together, we were a whole being. Parallel extensions of each other. Us.
I had a sixth sense. I could feel when Estha was happy, sad, mad, lonely, depressed, or even confused. When we were kids, I would feel Estha’s fright from his lucid nightmares of our father beating Ammu over incidents we were too young to understand. Before he woke up, I would prepare a glass of water and a lemon soda to bring to him to calm him down. I could also sense Estha’s presence without seeing or hearing him, the air would alter and the rainy grey-blue skies that caged Ayemenem would disappear. Our emotions were woven into a complex array of notions no one but us could understand. Ammu described us as bewildered frogs engrossed in each other's company. I wasn’t particularly sure how long our attachment to each other would last, after all, we were two parts to a whole set. Two parts. Eighteen minutes apart. Two entirely different creatures with opposite genders and a set of entirely different organs that allowed us to physically live on our own. Yet, we were so emotionally drawn to each other. I feared to flee from Estha. I feared to be alone in my mind. Without him, it was just a hollow, empty mind. At least that’s what I thought.
Somewhere, on the edge of my consciousness, laid the curiosity of who I really was. The concept of “identity” became intricately complex and that feeling of emptiness began to develop throughout my young adult years. I started to notice the differences between Estha and I. A task I once deemed impossible, something my younger self would not ever do. Estha spent his days doing household chores, washing his clothes with crumbled blue soap, and going for long walks. He was reserved, quiet, and unmotivated. Estha saw the sinister aspects of the world, while I was still bright eyed and bushy tailed. I existed in a version of reality that was simply my own, always curious of my surroundings and creating bizarre scenarios in my head. Ayemenem was a sleepy town that harbored secrets and judged every move of its inhabitants. Living here restricted my creativity and forced me to envision life half empty. I longed for change.
My decision to apply to college was not an easy task. I broke all Indian society normalities by pursuing a secondary education as a female. “Rahel, you need to get married and bring us children!” “Do you realize how much you have disrespected this family?” “Why can’t you be like Estha?!” I did not want to end up like my family, who lived off of the remains of an unsuccessful business and were trapped in a smutty home. My decision of attending college is fueled by how I am slowly understanding the level of my intelligence, the way my brain is wired, and most importantly, how time allowed me to emerge from an idea that once depleted my identity in its entirety.
The older I became, the more I realized that identity is not a sudden discovery, but something that we evolve into. The cage that circled around Estha and I began to disappear and the warmth I once only received from him began to appear elsewhere. I was no longer lost without his presence and started to learn about my individuality. Unlike Estha, I had plans to find my purpose, my value of self. Then. Him. Her. To reach a level of self fulfillment is something that takes time, and is something I might not achieve until I’m a dieable viable age. But I am afloat. I finally escaped the anchor that submerged me underwater and blocked my peculiarities from radiating. Reborn. I am robust, influential, and my value is hidden in my differences. The layer of skin I once found comfort within was replaced with a resilient fresh layer, ready to face the uncertainties of the world on my own. Her.