Going through the private ceremony of unwrapping my bandage and putting ointment on it every day, twice a day, was my way of restoring order to my life. I was caring for my arm until I could recognize it as a part of myself.
My great-uncle went into cardiac arrest on September 17th, 2017, at 8 p.m. sharp, shortly after stepping outside of the warehouse where he worked for a quick smoke break, and died at the hospital roughly two hours later with my maternal grandmother at his side. Apparently, he lost consciousness during the ambulance ride and never regained it—a one-way trip that my family is still footing the bill for. I learned all of this information over the course of one anxious, fifteen-minute phone call from my mom nearly two weeks after it had happened. Two weeks. Four-hundred miles away, and for three-hundred-thirty hours, I lived in obnoxious bliss; I’d only just settled into college. That stretch of time—so minor, in the grand scheme of things—is still muddy in my consciousness, half-submerged in self-hatred and familial trauma and all the other awful unseeables that can distort one’s perceptions. “We didn’t want to worry you,” my mom had said, bracing herself for outrage that never came (I was too stunned to lash out). “You’re so busy with school and all.”
How was it possible that someone else’s preventative measures could make me feel so much like an afterthought in my own life? In the absence of another’s? The man I’d lived with for twelve years quietly rotting while I slept on my best friend’s floor, made small by the dark and my own unknowing. Just like that, like clockwork, like a real college student, I started failing my favorite classes. The whole of the incident is a wreck that I am only now beginning to crawl out from.
This all goes to say that writing about my own bitter realizations is still very difficult, but returning to Mayukh Sen’s own pouring-out in ‘My First Kitchen Burn’, and re-reading it obsessively, helps to ease the sting of the resentment that I am trying to unload. It soothes me to know that I am not the first (nor will I be the last) person to resort to ritualistic practices to assuage my own grief and feelings of failure. Sen captures it well. For many in the aftermath of loss, this kind of overcompensation becomes a balm. Immediately after finding out that my uncle had passed, I began to chant his name compulsively in my head for unusually long stretches of time. In the middle of the library, my mouth would shape the words with tender care. I also started watching Law and Order: SVU again, a show that we’d enjoyed together often when I was a child. He was the one who’d instilled a nostalgic affection in me for police procedurals, something I still fall back on in times of great distress. Glory be to rote distractions and all the tiny comforts they bring, and to every wasteland-wound that has made of itself an oasis for another kind of hurting.