Thursday, December 18, 2008

Trapped

You know that annoying feeling you get when you can’t string together your words into a sentence that makes sense? I've been feeling a lot of that lately. The inability to communicate. The inability to write. The inability to make coherent sense. And it is frustrating. I sit here in absolute silence, my cursor on the blank white screen blinking at me and I blinking back at it. We have nothing to say to each other, and it is beyond annoying. For as long as I can remember, I have relied on writing to let loose the endless stream of thoughts, feelings and emotions that remain buried within me and with this dry spell I am going through right now, I feel...what's the word...trapped.

Just then I hear a loud moan escape from the floor beneath me. It sounds deep and rumbling, almost like a grown man trying to stifle a scream. The first time I heard it, I almost jumped out of my skin. I then proceeded to arm myself with the heaviest Bible I could lay my hands on just in case I needed to shove it into the face of the ghost who liked to moan. After walking all around the apartment armed with an assortment of religious paraphernalia, both a cross and an om pendant swinging on the necklace around my neck, looking like the high priestess of some ancient religious ceremony, I finally established that the moans were actually coming from the apartment beneath mine. I let out a big sigh, relieved I didn’t have to share living quarters with a ghost, and concluded that my new neighbors were in fact weirdoes.

Over the next few weeks, the moaning got much more intense and a lot louder. I even heard doors slamming and loud banging on the walls. I woke up one morning to the sound of a piano being pounded upon. Noisy keys irately played, without a tune. As the encore presentation with the grand finale of shouts and bangs came to an end, I stormed out of bed. Enough was enough. I decided I had heard enough of my noisy neighbors and picked up the phone and dialed the apartment manager to let loose a barrage of complaints against my neighbors. “We’ll see what we can do,” she reassured me. Days turned to weeks and nothing ever happened. The banging and the shouting and the pounding and the slamming continued as it always had, and instead I purchased a barricade of pillows to bury my head under to drown out the sounds at night.

Then one day the unexpected happened. As I stood at the door to my apartment, fiddling around in my purse for my keys, I heard the door slam beneath me, and then footsteps. My neighbors were on their way out while I was on my way in. This was my opportunity! I could finally see them face to face and tell them what an awful nuisance they were being. With a long speech prepared in my head, I rushed down the stairway just in time to see a short, fat, bald man waddle out of the apartment downstairs. He was even shorter than I was and with small arms and small legs, his odd shaped head looked almost too big for the rest of his short stature. He rushed up to me in his awkward penguin walk and stopped abruptly right in front of me, peering at me from beneath his small slanting eyes. “Who are you?” he finally snapped at me.

“I…I…I live in the apartment above” I mumbled, caught a little off guard by his demeanor. “How old are you?!” he continued the interrogation in the same rushed breath.“Huh?...Um...29” I replied. “What’s your name?” he rushed on without pausing for me to reply. “You have two dogs”. A statement more than a question, lifting up two stubby fingers on his small hand. “TWENTY NINE. TWENTY nine. Twenty nine.” he repeated to himself and wagged his head and hypnotically pondered over the numbers. I stared at him not knowing what to say.

“Bobby!! Bobby! Come back here!” all of a sudden I heard a woman say. A woman in her fifties with graying hair and a gentle, kind face rushed up to us. She looked at me apologetically, trying to gauge the situation, ready to explain or apologize, whichever was in order. “It’s okay” I said. I smiled at her and walked back up the stairs to my apartment as she grabbed him by the arm and led him back to his apartment. I now knew. I finally understood. And subsequent conversations with his caretaker by the stairway confirmed what I already knew. My new neighbor had Down’s syndrome.

Down’s syndrome is a genetic disorder, a chromosomal defect that results in varying degrees of physical and mental abnormalities. My neighbor, a grown man of 35 years suffered some mental retardation as a result of the disorder. While he was perfectly capable of walking, talking, feeding and dressing himself, he needed constant supervision in order for the state to allow him to live in an apartment of his own. The kind old lady in the stairway and a few other caretakers rotated on a schedule to take care of him. Bobby, I have learnt, loves walks by the river, obsessing over numbers, finding out people’s birthdates, and playing on the piano. He is absolutely terrified of dogs and no amount of reassurances from any of the caretakers will convince him otherwise. He loves to sing in the shower and I often hear him shouting loudly, out of tune in the bathroom. And on days when he is frustrated and unable to communicate, he moans and shouts and bangs on walls and slams doors.

Sitting by my laptop, unable to string a sentence together, I hear the familiar moans from the apartment beneath me, and I feel sorry for Bobby. In my trivial frustration over being unable to compose a sentence, I realize his much deeper agony over the inability to communicate. Hidden amidst every moan and every shout I hear a painful plea, a desperate need to be understood. He bangs and pounds against the walls, he slams doors, setting loose the emotions trapped within him, the only way he knows how. And even on a day when I can’t seem to find the right words to express my thoughts, Bobby shows me that I’m grateful to be able to write them down at all.

~vagabond~ © 2008

21 comments:

Inner Vision said...

Beautifully written… you kept the interest going in the post and I enjoyed reading every bit of it. Very well written post…thank you

kunal said...

beautiful..

bindu said...

It is very sad. I can't imagine what it must be like to not be able to communicate. I read somewhere about this Indian single mother in the US who has developed a way of helping her son with Down's communicate. She was offering to teach others too. When I read about Helen Keller I feel the same way. How trapped she must have felt! It's an apt title.

~vagabond~ said...

@Inner Vision:
Thanks...I am glad you enjoyed reading it. :)

@Kunal: Thank you. :)

@Bindu: It is a sad situation indeed. There are just too many things we take for granted about our lives everyday.

Dust Unsettled said...

You are right in saying that we take too many things for granted. It's such encounters that make us appreciate and feel grateful for what we have. Nice post.

~vagabond~ said...

@Dust: Thanks. And yup...sometimes people do come into your life for a reason, to teach you some life lesson. Encountering someone like him makes me take a second look at my own life.

Cuckoo said...

Very well written. So many people unexpectedly come into our life and teach us a lesson.. to be patient and to feel fortunate.

Anil P said...

All happiness is relative, isn't it.

It's just that we need to be lucky to know it.

Beautifully expressed post.

~vagabond~ said...

@Cuckoo: Thanks :)

@Anil: Thanks...and yup, you are so absolutely right about happiness being relative.

ashes said...

I have the same feeling now that you had at the beginning of the post. Cannot string together, and don't know whether I am feeling sad for Bobby or glad for myself or impressed by your writing.

From the first paragraph, I had thought it would be about writer's block, but the interesting read and beautiful composition was far from it. On the other hand, it is at times like these that you count your blessings, though at the stake of someone else's misery, and that is what pains me all the more. That you realise that you are blessed only when you see someone in a hardship that makes you feel low of yourself of cribbing about your state. Life is full of ironies, isn't it?

~vagabond~ said...

^ Thanks..that was such a nice compliment. And yes, life is full of ironies. Sadly enough so.

Lakshmi said...

very well written..we learn so much from people ..

Zeba said...

Haha...amazing how you can write so well when you absolutely don't feel like writing. Great!

~vagabond~ said...

@Lakshmi: Thanks! :) And yes, you are right...every person that steps into our life, no matter for how short a period has something to teach.

@Zeba: Glad to see you back! And thanks for your compliment. :)

alok said...

Life is so full of strange things; we never know what could be our reason for the happiness or where we can identify ourselves as lucky. There are so many approaches to one single thing in life.

Well written. I agree with zeba, now I am amazed with the fact “how you can write so well when you absolutely don't feel like writing.”

Rahi said...

does down syndrome differ from the usual mental retardation. I have seen mentally retarded people and they are not even able to eat on their own. or is it just that the patients learn to do their daily chores over time.

btw, i thought it will b a ghost post since u talked about picking up the heaviest bible. remember u said that on my post about ghosts.

~vagabond~ said...

@Alok: Life is strange, indeed. I'm flattered that you think it's good writing...to me the first paragraph rambles on and my thoughts are going nowhere.

~vagabond~ said...

@Rahi:
I am not an expert on the subject, but from my understanding of Down's syndrome, there are variations in the extent of mental retardation caused. Not everyone suffers from the same limitations. There are some Down's syndrome kids that grow into adults that are perfectly capable of looking after themselves. And then there are some who need constant supervision. So it varies, is my guess.

And I did think it was a ghost at first, thus the heaviest bible. LOL.

Ashutosh said...

Gracefully expressed... :)

~vagabond~ said...

^Thanks, Ashutosh...and welcome to my blog. :)

Winnie the poohi said...

Touching! You have a way with words! you really do!

I dunno what i will do if i cannot communicate.. the asylum wud be full of ppl like me!