October 30th, 2009 - Rashmi Vaish
It’s almost the start of my third winter in New York’s North Country. The temperature is already down to a low of 41F. The leaves have all but fallen from the maples, poplars, black walnuts, and smattering of still unravaged ash in the woods horseshoed around our house on this little hill. The approaching end of autumn also means the St. Lawrence River across the road is in fuller view. On the other side in Ontario, Canada, lies the Du Pont factory. At night its lights, too, will be visible again, a startling swipe of sequins against the velvety black of my windowpane.
I am still a little apprehensive of the long, harsh winters, but I am learning to love the deep, sounding silence of snow; the quiet unmotored wake of the river; the unbroken north wind that sweeps across the frozen water, reaches for my face, and cradles it full-palmed as it presses against the length of me, insinuating itself through my clothes straight into my bones.
I am almost 35 years old. I have broken up with a life in journalism twice, once in India, once in Queens, New York. It was about a man, both times—our marriage and his career took precedence. I chose to plunge down cascades, and I have now surfaced in calm waters, learning to flow in a slow, purposeful drift. On my mind is the family I am trying to build, all the things I know I want to do, see, be, learn. But I don’t know yet that the flow will end soon, that I will be thrown unwilling, entirely off course, into weltering waters I never imagined.
Over the next ten inclement years, my neck and back will break in three places, turning my body into pain’s roaring Colosseum. I will perform the last rites for my daughter, grandmother, and mother, one by one, the bruising reach of Yama’s hands nauseatingly familiar with each death. The narrow-gauge tracks of mitochondrial DNA that course through me will run aground in me, a decade-long struggle for motherhood derailed once and for all. In each of my most tortured days, ricocheting between big disappointment and small betrayal, I will wage a lonely, futile war against the pillars of my own personal spiritual world, Shiva and Shakti, both of whom will stand immutable as always till I spend all my rage and self-pity so I can finally see to heal: sometimes it takes the warm embrace of friends, sometimes the fellowship of a choir, sometimes the steadying hand of a partner, but mostly it takes hacking through the thicket of scars and reaching the clearing of your own self to realize that you have always stood firmly rooted in the light of grace.
Through it all I will learn that the price of leaving my janmabhumi—taking on the mantle of emigrant, immigrant, outsider, pardesi—is to always navigate a shifting sense of home, a place that slides tectonic across cities and continents, unstable, impermanent. Perhaps home for me is neither a birthright nor a piece of stamped paper, but a place that exists in the light spaces where my heart connects with others’, where we hold each other in love and recognition. Nations fall away. Geography is transient. I am as much at one with the swirling currents of the Holy Ganga in Haridwar as I am with the lapping of the freestone stream of Jakey’s Fork off the Wind River in Dubois, Wyoming, or the deep channel flow of the mighty St. Lawrence.
But on October 30th, 2009, I know none of this yet. I am at my desk, gazing out at the patch of the St. Lawrence visible to me in the twilight. The pressure cooker whistles. The sharp wood notes of cumin, ginger, and coriander hitchhike their way through the air ducts, filling the house with the warm welcome of dinner. The cats purr, knead, settle down.
It’s the calm before the storm.
And I’m going to be alright.
Rashmi Vaish is looking forward to graduating with an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in July 2020. She found herself enrolled in a master’s program despite swearing that she would never go back to school. As a result, she strongly urges everyone to “never say never.”