The closer you pull me, the farther I run

When you have lived alone for a long time, it is the little things in the company of family or visitors that make you realize how obsessively you guard your independence. You want your spice jars lined a certain way, but every time you open the cabinet, something is misplaced. It's not wrong, and everything is still there, but you know that the large jar with cinnamon sticks and black cardamom is supposed to be in the left corner, and the small bottle of thyme should be in front of it. It isn't annoying that they are all in the wrong place, just disconcerting, like someone else lived your life for a second and changed things around on you. 

You look up from what you're doing and are momentarily surprised by things that are not familiar to you: a ring on the table, argyle socks on the floor, small colored bottles of medicine arranged on the kitchen counter, a dupatta draped around a chair, wallets lining a ledge in the living room. It is especially disorienting in the morning when you realize there is activity in the house, people moving around, doors closing, water running, pot clanking, kettle whistling. You lie in bed for a few seconds and try to assess how you feel, really feel. You have forgotten what it is like to have people around you - people you love. It is a strange state of mind you are in - unsettled, continually surprised by the realization of being once again

You try to be careful in conversations, but you fail. Invariably, you are abrasive and harsh. Sometimes even critical. Your baby brother marches out of the room because you try to correct his behavior. Your mother mutters that you need to ease up under her breath. Your sister-in-law drags you aside and asks you, "Are you nuts?" She is floundering to help you, and you are floundering, period. 

One morning you realize you have not had a meaningful conversation with your husband in over a week. You roll this fact around in your mouth like candy, taste it, decide you will deal with it later, and swallow without biting into it. 

Your father calls you five times in the space of 48 hours. That number is higher than the frequency of you finding his voice at the other end of the line in the last 10 years put together. You observe this distantly, scientifically, and decide not to be upset about it. He is calling for mundane things - to ask your brother how his visit is going, to talk to your mother so he can find keys or cameras or something equally unimportant to you, he says things like "Where are you lost?" You smile into the phone, make sure he can hear it in your voice, and tell him about his granddaughter whom he has never met. You pretend that he loves you and you him. 

You realize that your mother has aged and your brother is on the cusp of adulthood. When you left him behind, he was only five years old. When you close your eyes, you see him standing at the airport, waving, smiling, you hear your sob catching in your throat, you feel your heart tightening, breaking, in that moment when you left the one person who meant the world to you - your baby brother. Now, when he talks about girls, casually, as expected by his age, you physically shake yourself out of the shock, take a few moments to respond, try to adjust to the fact that he is a teenager. 

You try to find dark corners of the house and quiet ones, too. You carry your daughter there. For a few moments, it's just you and her. She looks up at you with her shining eyes and plops down into your lap, or rises up and gives you a kiss. You cover your face with your hands and say in a sing-song way, "Where's Mommy?" After a few seconds you move your hands away and say, "Here she is!" She cackles with delight and you laugh with her. She is so tiny, but she personifies the monumental change you have gone through. You are not the eighteen year old girl who flew from Lahore International Airport on the surprisingly wet afternoon of February 1, 2003, wearing a navy blue shalwar kameez, with tearful goodbyes and hugs and promises to come back soon. You don't even like navy blue anymore. And you hate crying. You tense up when people hug you. You like matter-of-fact, no-nonsense greetings. Maybe you have become cold and distant, but you like it this way.

Here, in this semi-lit room, with your baby and her kisses, you feel like you're home. She loves her mama, you, now, here, as you are. Everywhere else, you find reminders of the person you were, the daughter your mother is still searching for when she looks into your face, the sister your brother waved goodbye to ten years ago, the best friend your sister-in-law had when she sat with you for hours in your room and you planned to be together for the rest of your lives no matter what - promises of childhood and naivete that destiny has in fact brought to fruition. But you are not that girl anymore. And you don't know where she went and how to get her back. You have decided already that you don't even want her back. She weakens you. She feels too much.

You love all of them fiercely. But they loved her and still do. In her place, you feel like an imposter. And so, you run away, and keep running and running and running and running.