I am Not Always Rational, or Always Nice, But I Am

by dhaaruni

I don’t know whether I liked “Nobody Is Ever Missing.” I loved certain phrases so much they’re engraved into the bedrock of my skull but at the same time, the book made me uncomfortable. I want this phrase to be written on my forehead so people are warned when they meet me- “I don’t have a smoother version of me tucked into other people’s memories.” The ebbs and flows of my youth and adolescence have convalesced into an amalgamation of ideas that seem borderline grotesque when considered individually but fit righteously into this construction of myself that I have cultivated. I have come to accept that people are held together by blood and bone and sinew but also by less concrete concepts, love and hate and fear and despair, and that was difficult for me to come to terms with when every bone in my body was screaming for reason. I want the world to make sense, I want it to correspond to my passions and set opinions about what it ought to be like, and adulthood for me was letting go more than I ever imagined that I could.

It was a well constructed existential novel but more than anything, “Nobody Is Ever Missing” resonated with the parts of me that I shut down because I’m not supposed to be that way as a young woman and even as a person. I want to pack up all my stuff and run away sometimes, live with my dying grandmother in India and somehow pay her back for what she did for me as a child when my mother was too young and I was too precocious for my own good, or just leave every semblance of academia that I’ve ever known. Elly is similar to me, well educated and seemingly has done everything right but she isn’t right in some ways. She dwells, she has a form of melancholy normally reserved for elderly white men with salt and pepper beards telling young people how they ought to think, and she’s sorry to her husband for hurting him but not sorry for the actions that she took because she knows in her heart that it was the right thing to do.

The New York Times called it the “novel of the post-wounded woman” and I don’t know if I agree. I loathe putting something in a box as if it can’t be enjoyed by anybody who doesn’t fit into that precise box. I personally can be labeled as post-wounded but at the same time, I am not interested in being defined by my pain and what I have done to overcome it because honestly, there are far more interesting things about me. But the part of Elly that I most resonated with is that she is a wound dweller in the same way that I am, which isn’t a characteristic of post-wounded women but of people, both wounded and not beause it’s just a major part of our humanity.

“I am or we were (or still are) the kind of people who can never quite get away from our losses, the kind of people who don’t know that magic trick that other people seem to know—how to dissolve a sense of loss, how to unbraid it from a brain.”

She plans out what to say to her husband, she thinks about him almost obsessively and she does what I do, she plans out what she’d say to him even though she’s never going to say those things. The issue is that it’s seen as inherently “crazy” when women are this way, even if we don’t act on these sentiments. We are supposed to get over things, to let things go, not for our own comfort and well being but for that of others because it makes people uneasy when women dare to want so much what that they supposedly do not deserve. She asks her husband rhetorical questions, which I characterize as Love, because that’s what love is to me, caring so much that we worry about what the person is doing even when they’re ostensibly memories of the past. It’s not so much about permanent echoing affiance of infinite second chances but a simpler relationship, being a part of each other’s origin stories and accepting that status and keeping the other person’s secrets no matter what.

Are you sleeping these nights?

Is your life livable?

Do you eat—do you eat anything at all?

Do you believe anyone cares if you are alive at the end of the day?

And where did our want go?

And who set fire to our wanting?

And who invented want and why?”

I don’t know whether I’d recommend this book to anybody because the level of unease and simultaneous profound affection I feel with the novel makes me feel almost protective of this book; I almost think that it would give too much away of my own personality if I allowed others in my life to read it. But it’s important, a young woman on an existential journey of the sort that women have never been allowed to take in literature or in real life, up until now. And that deserves to be documented.