I am afraid of heights, yet I went zip-lining in Sonoma. I loved it and I want to do it again. I am scared of getting so drunk that I don’t recall my actions. Yet I have done it few times. I dislike spiders, bees, cockroaches—most of the insects, and every animal from four-inch to four-foot height. When I see them, I run in the opposite direction. But the biggest fear I have since childhood was telling anyone about my parents’ actions and my past.
Since my childhood, my father had drilled-in my head that I am a bad child; hence, he and my mother had to beat me. I was told that good daughters don’t tell outsiders the things that happen at home. If I opened my mouth, my father threatened to send me to jail and my mother promised to disown me. They said that people would believe them, not me. I was told that telling another human that my parents’ beat me, would be the ultimate betrayal. That I would bring shame to my family, especially to my father. My parents didn’t give me ‘discipline beating’ that my aunts and uncles gave their children. These were kicks in my stomach and whippings with leather belt and slippers.
I would have scratches and bruises on face, yet I would pretend nothing was wrong. My high-school bus-mates, classmates, schoolmates, and my teachers would shun me. Nobody ever asked. Some of my schoolmates, who were my neighbors, would laugh and imply that they knew my parents’ beat me at night. But I never admitted it. If any of my neighbors sympathized, I would not badmouth my parents. I feared if my parents found that I was discussing their behavior, I would be beaten more and thrown out of their home. To cover-up, I invented lies.
When at sixteen my parents threw me out of their home, I lived in a working women’s hostel. I lied to everyone that due to my father’s job, my family had moved from New Delhi to Bombay. My mother lied to our neighbors that my parents had send me—a high-school student, to a working women’s hostel because I wanted to live in a hostel. And because I was a modern girl. I never told anyone the truth, not even to my high-school best-friend.
After high-school, I studied my undergraduate degree in Kolhapur, which was 36-hour journey via two train rides from New Delhi. It was a five-year course and I was the only student whose parents never visited or telephoned. I feared that my college-mates would think less of me if they found out that the seemingly confident me was routinely beaten by my parents. So, I would lie. I would tell others that my mother was too ill to travel and my father had an important job. I shared my secret with my college boyfriend. But, I feared that he would tell others. And I feared that my parents would find out that I had told him. I feared that my father would stop giving me money for tuition fee and living expenses.
Even when I was working and earning money, I feared sharing the truth. I would lie depending on the situation. When I worked in Bombay, it was easy to explain the reasons for my renting a flat. After all, my parents actually lived in New Delhi. Also in Bombay, people were not inquisitive. Everyone minded their own business. Whereas in New Delhi, my colleagues wanted to know my family history. They would have asked me why I didn’t live with my parents when my parents lived in New Delhi. At that time, only bad girls or immigrants rented a flat in Delhi.
Was I to tell strangers that my parents have beaten me since the day I was born; that they threw me out of their home at sixteen; that when they asked me to move back to their home, I complied; that on my twenty-seventh birthday my mother almost killed me; that during Hindu festivals I stay in my apartment and cry; that even though for five years I lived four miles from my parents’ home, they didn’t bother to know if I was dead or alive.
In my New Delhi office, I would lie to my coworkers that my parents lived in Bangalore. If I accidentally met my neighbors in a market, I would lie that because my work hours were erratic, I didn’t live with my parents. Years ago, I learned my mother lied to her neighbors that I didn’t live with my parents because I had started my business. That l lived in my office. At that time, I feared if I angered my parents, my father would not sign my passport application forms. I feared my parents wouldn’t give-me-away in my marriage.
I was afraid of sharing the complete truth with anyone. It is only few years ago during a phone conversation that my best-friend of fifteen years, learned the entire truth. On the onset of our friendship, I had confided everything in her, but one thing. I had lied to her that my mother was not my real mother. That my mother died in birth, and the woman I call my mother is my mother’s younger sister. I had lied because I couldn’t completely betray my patents. I had lied because I thought my friend—who had two children—would not believe that I didn’t do anything to deserve my mother’s wrath. I feared that my friend would side with my parents. I feared that she would think that I was such a bad child that my parents had no other option but to beat me and throw my out of their home.
Once I moved to America, I didn’t have to lie about my past or my family. No one here cared about my family history. Despite the freedom and physical distance from New Delhi, I feared angering my parents. I didn’t depend on them for money, but I was afraid that I would need my parents’ signature in some document somewhere in the future. So, for years via phone, I maintained a relationship with them.
Seven years ago, my boyfriend and I visited New Delhi to get married. The night before my marriage, my mother threatened to not give-me-away. Somehow, my boyfriend pacified her and I got married. I returned to US. In a way, I was free. But I still felt under my parents control. On a whim, I took a writing class. For the first time I wrote and read the truth in front of strangers. My classmates and instructor called me a ‘survivor.’
I felt as though I could lead my life without worrying about ‘what would my parents think.’ But, life threw me a curve-ball. I needed my father’s signature on one of the documents for my Green-card application. My father had one condition for signing the document. I was to phone (to New Delhi) him weekly. I kept my promise because I feared the future. What if there was another document that required his signature.
Three years ago, on my GP’s recommendation, I started seeing a therapist. I learned the word ‘physical abuse.’ Slowly I broke all contact with my parents. I kept on writing and reading in open-mics. I felt safe. My parents don’t know that I am actually hanging their dirty laundry in front of strangers.
Two years ago, I bought a domain-name to start my website/blog. But I was afraid of the world judging me. Mostly I feared ‘what would my father say.’ Now, few months ago, I have finally started posting my life on this website. I plan to make a Facebook page and link it to this website. Almost all the people I knew in high-school, Kolhapur during my undergrad, during different offices in Bombay and Delhi, and most of my parents neighbors are on FB. I know once I post on FB, it is a matter of time that someone will tell my parents about my writings. Nowadays at night, I have a consistent dream. I see my father paying $19.99 to find my address in America. I hear him ringing my doorbell. I see him standing outside my door. What worries me is that I don’t know how I will react. Will I close the door? Or would I say, “Sorry daddy?”