I don’t exactly remember when HE moved in. It must have been pretty early on. Out of the graveyard of memories though, two particular ghosts rise up.
First day of kindergarten. I was an enthusiastic four year old, tightly grasping my dad’s hands as we walked inside the compound, so assured of the bubble of security his hands lovingly offered. I recall entering the giant metal gate, its forest-green paint peeling in spots, feeling as though I was stepping into a brand new world, a realm yet to be discovered. A skinny middle-aged man wearing a blue khaki uniform, and sporting a tightly fitted blue cap, was taking his role as gatekeeper very seriously. His feet, imprisoned in military style boots, appeared quite uncomfortable. Slung to his side, he carried a black wooden stick, waiting for the opportunity to suppress any indication of mayhem. There was nothing there to faze a four year old though, just new pieces of information to be observed and stashed in my memory box.
The next thing I remember is a heaviness weighing on my chest; a sentiment that something had gone terribly wrong. I had noticed that I had been left in the care of a lady I had never met before. To compound this confusion, my dad was waving goodbye. Overwhelmed by feelings of distress, I started wailing, tears streaming down my cheeks, snot bubbling out of my nostrils. How could this be happening? And why??? Why was I being left in this alien place, with strange kids running around and screaming, pretending that everything was alright in the world? Where were their parents? How could they be so excited, so nonchalant, knowing that they had been abandoned here, with no indication of an imminent return home?
That is when I noticed HIM. HE was standing in the corner, sporting a little smirk and applauding my meltdown. HE offered a thumbs up, grinning in support, convincing me that my reaction to the situation was not only valid, but that it needed to be expressed even more vociferously. I agreed. I felt comforted. Somehow, HE seemed to know what I needed to do. HE seemed to understand…
Just another ordinary evening. I must have been five or six. My parents were out for a few hours and I was left behind, with my nanny. I liked my nanny, and it was not the first time I was home alone with her. However, during the course of the evening, from some dark hole, HE crawled out and showed his face again. I quickly realized that I had met HIM before. In accordance with my polite nature, I must have said hello and mumbled my name. With the confidence of a door-to-door salesman, dressed to impress, wearing an impeccable suit made out of strands of irrationality, HIS opening sales pitch was “What if your parents never come back? What if you are left here…alone…forever?” He had announced himself again, loudly and boldly, and the argument HE was presenting had a powerful magnetism to it. I was hooked. HE had found another meek convert, and swiftly made himself at home.
Thereafter, our relationship evolved on HIS terms, somehow convincing me that I needed HIM. Without HIM, I would suffer greatly, or even perish. In the face of the unknown that did not contain a resolution, HE took on the role of advisor. Without ever providing any tangible answers, HE reigned supreme in my world; HE was King, I was his servant.
Age 10. Spending the winter at my cousin’s house, transitioning from sleeping in a dimly lit ninth floor apartment to sleepless nights in pitch black darkness, convinced that I was going blind; awed by the beauty of my first love, confused by the intensity of the emotional response the whole experience elicited, and racking my brain for ways to strike up conversations with her; HE was there.
Age 14. Enrolling in a new high school full of unparalleled educational opportunities, but confronted with saying farewell to the innocence of childhood friendships, and nervous about how and what kind of new relationships I would foster; continuing my passionate love affair with the game of soccer, but doubtful about the extent of my own abilities as a player; HE was there.
Age 19. Relocating to a completely foreign land, 6700 miles away, packing as many valuables from my fledgling life into two suitcases, leaving everything else I had ever known behind; my heart breaking, not knowing when I would see my family or home again; diving into the unfamiliar in search of the American dream; HE was there.
Age 23. Graduating with a Master's degree in business, apparently in prime position to sink my teeth into a piece of the pie; caught between the longing for an estranged place that I once called home, and the perceived necessity of continuing to forge a new life in alienation; unsure about how I could maintain legal status in my reluctantly adopted nation; HE was there.
Age 26. Contending with the ambiguity of the time frame needed for processing and approving a permanent residency application; clueless as to when I would be allowed to work and earn a living; moving across the country with my spouse, to a city where we did not know a single soul, all in search of a little sunshine and tranquility; HE was there.
However, during these years, I was also becoming more aware of a lingering feeling in my heart. With increasing frequency, I noticed that some things just did not add up. HE was a parasite; sucking the life out of me, with incessant recitals of fantastical stories, about the dread lying in wait, ready to jump out from some corner of the future. In an attempt to find some clarity, I volunteered myself for the position of private investigator. Silently operating in the darkness, looking in every crevice, peeking under every boulder, searching for any clues, I was determined to know who HE really was. My secret inquiry could not uncover any records of HIS birthplace or childhood. However, I was discovering written accounts of HIS power and influence throughout the ages, and how a few spirited individuals and groups had been able to drive HIM out. There was hope. It gave me the courage and the will to continue exploring, to continue testing his credentials.
Despite HIS hold loosening progressively, HE still had quite a grip on me…because I believed in some of HIS stories. How could I not? HE had convinced almost everyone else about his timeless wisdom. HIS stories about death in particular, despite being purely speculative, had somehow been given so much credence. I knew I had to find out the truth for myself, even if it meant confronting this supposed doom and gloom merchant, face-to-face, and asking him the right questions. Once I had embraced this realization, help was right at hand.
I will never forget the time I finally recognized HIM for who he truly was. One evening, TRUTH showed up on my doorstep, with LOVE not far behind. Both were wearing elaborate masks of death. At the tender age of 29, they waltzed into my home, disguised as cancer, manifesting as a large tumor in my chest. The initial diagnosis did not offer a quick remedy, creating the required receptivity in me, and ample space for my new friends, to speak clearly and directly. It soon became apparent that their only purpose for paying me a visit was to help me wake up; to help me smell the stench of my uninvited guest; to help me bid farewell to my lifelong companion, who had done nothing but enslave me.
Gripped by the inevitable demise of what I had for so long called me, I was encouraged to see the light, and to unplug the life support I had so willingly offered to him. By giving up on me, I realized I had given up on him. He had no armor in the face of my new companions, who had been waiting in the background, patiently, for so long. The perfect moment had arrived for them to rescue me. BEAUTY was there, so was WISDOM, BLISS, PRESENCE, ETERNITY; they were all there. His defenses were down and he had been left completely vulnerable. Fleeing empty handed, his fading shadow drifting into the distance, he looked frail and powerless, shamed and exposed. I was finally free.
However, it turns out that he is quite irrational. Even now, after tasting such demoralizing defeat, I occasionally hear him knocking on the door, surprising me with a few unexpected rasps. I don’t engage with him anymore though. In accordance with my polite nature, I’ve stayed courteous. I do open the door. I give him the customary greeting. He continues to be surprised that I do not react to his visit. I let him in, and ask him to make himself comfortable. He’s been around for so long that he knows the place inside and out. He picks his spot…I don’t have to give him the grand tour. He doesn’t talk as much as he used to, but he still somehow expects a response to whatever gibberish rolls off his tongue. Over the years, his voice…his stories…they have gotten old. He has a difficult time, it seems, accepting the demise of his influence. He still tries to tweak his arguments, desperate to find another elaborate approach, to give them some sense of novelty, but deep down…he knows it is hopeless.
Over the years, via uncannily similar stories recounted by others, I have learned that he has always been around…he is quite the survivor. He feeds on whatever attention is thrown his way, sometimes even in the form of worship. In our time, we too have gotten used to silently cowering in his presence, paralyzed by his hold, not even attempting to call him out for who he truly is, unable to stare back into his eyes, unable to call him by his name. Now that I think about it…he never really introduced himself by name to me either (not exactly polite, especially when you have been an uninvited guest for so long). I’ve been told he usually goes by the name…