A series of 6 short stories, sleepless explores memories from childhood through the musings of a woman who is coming to terms with growing up and growing old.
Read the entire series here.
“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”
Haruki Murakami / Kafka on the Shore
From time to time, random moments and memories from our lives float towards us; sometimes gentle in their embrace, sometime sympathetic in their understanding of our past and our mistakes, sometimes forgiving, and sometimes filled with anger, hurt and pain. What would we be without them? A new person with a new skin? Or a hollow frame that echoes without sound — without music.
It has been months since I have woken up at night. My mind seemed to have settled, exhaustion finally taking over in full throttle to ensure that the 3.00 am trip to the bathroom was neither needed nor necessary. Yet, here I was, two months later, awake in bed at 3.10 am, listening to the soft hum of the air conditioner. All good things come in phases. I sighed and pushed myself out of bed. This was going to be a quick trip to the bathroom and back in bed. No wasting time.
The bathroom was warm — a welcome change from the cold blast of the AC. I always preferred summer over winter. I can bear heat and humidity. But the cold goes deep into my bones and even multiple layers of woollens don’t help. I was glad it was over and was looking forward to 10 months of sun.
As promised, I made it back in bed in record time and snuggled under the cotton blanket. I tried to will myself to sleep, letting my body relax, feeling with weight of my legs, then arms, back & stomach and finally my head. And just like that I was wide awake again. So much for mindfulness.
I decided not to fidget and lay still, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the next sleep cycle to kick in. I let my mind wander as it usually liked to, not reining it in, not thinking, but just allowing myself to flow with what came up. I felt my body immediately relax.
I had read a book to my daughter before her bedtime called — We’re going on a bear hunt. The book was about a family with three kids going through streams, marshlands, meadows and forests to find a bear. Every time they reached an obstacle, the father would say, “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we have to go through it!” The children would cheer and they would continue their journey. I loved how that single phrase encapsulated the spirit of living. Whatever it is that comes your way, you have to go through it.
Is that why random memories pop up in your mind, in the middle of the day or night when you least expect it? If you avoid it, it will just come back again. If you go through it together, your memory and you, then eventually it will fade away or find its place and settle down. We most commonly categorise memories as romantic or traumatic. I always wondered why we didn’t have a word for memories which were neither. The random ones that just popped up to say, “Hello, this happened a few years ago — see,” and then vanish.
Why do we romanticise good memories and blacklist the bad ones? We place them on a pedestal, give them gold, silver and bronze crowns and hope that when we are weak and faltering, they will appear like genies to guide us, saying, “You are better than this. Look at when you were young, you made it then and you will make it now.” The truth is we are many people over the course of our lives — children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged and old — all different people. Our thoughts change, our personalities grow, our beliefs evolve and we move from one person to another. Yet, when the storm approaches, we dig into our memories to find strength to fight it. We go through the storm and hope that we will make it. When we make it out, survive the storm, we realize that the person in the mirror is someone new. Then we go back to our memories, desperate to find our old selves, wanting to become some version of the past.
Our memories are there to remind us that we have changed. They are a celebration of our life, our experiences and our learning. They are moments of strength and weakness alike. They are gentle and compassionate. They are also cold and harsh. They encapsulate our dreams and hopes and unfulfilled wishes. But they are not who we are. They are just figments in time — reminding us that we have lived.
I love my memories deeply. I don’t share them easily. For the past few years, I have lived a day at a time, not lingering, not stopping and now allowing for nostalgia to take over. But with the lockdown, things have slowed down. There are no more plans to make, play dates to plan and meetings to organise. In the quiet everyday life of cooking and cleaning, with a relaxed and relatively empty mind, my memories have found me again. And as I relive them, sometimes with relish and sometimes with anger, I realize that they must be given the space to exist, to resurface once in a while — to remind me of who I was and how far I’ve come.
As I gently drift back to sleep, I make a promise to myself. Don’t reign it in all the time. Let it surface. Let it flow. Allow yourself to visit your old selves once in a while. Smile at who you were. Your memories are your oldest friends.