There’s this part of Elastic Heart where Sia sings “I want it, I want my life so bad, I’m doing everything I can,” and there’s a sense of yearning there. There’s this moment where her voice almost breaks. I don’t know how else to explain it, but when I think about my life I climb into that moment, I climb into her wavering voice, I climb into the fraction of a second where it all starts to fall apart.
Sometimes, all I know is that I’m very well-versed in that feeling: the guttural, desperate feeling. The banging on the door with ripped up knuckles feeling. The screaming underwater feeling. Sometimes, I dream I’m trapped in a confined space, and I can’t move, and I can’t breathe, and I can’t move, and I can’t move, and I can’t move.
I get this feeling, this foreboding feeling. I feel it in the roots of my teeth and behind my eye sockets. It’s all connected. Like the fibers covering the skeleton. I want to cut my skull open, show you the tiny hooks in my brain. I don’t know how else to describe it. There’s a wrongness that sits in the pit of my stomach and the back of my throat. I think too much, and I feel too little, and then it flips on me: I feel too much, I think too little.
I get this feeling. This overwhelming feeling. It’s all connected. Like with Sia’s voice. I climb into that moment, where it all falls apart. But my heart isn’t elastic; it’s made of tree bark and year 12 science class razor blades. It’s made of soft mushy things. It doesn’t hold its shape, slips out from between the cracks. Sometimes I reconceptualise it. Turn it into a different idea; my heart isn’t full of rooms, it’s an open road, it’s full of potholes and quicksand. The road disappears into gravel. It’s a special type of gravel; every stone is a stone you got stuck in your shoe.
When I was eleven, we went to the big Shiva temple. There were sharp rocks all over the ground, and I took my shoes off and walked across the sharp rocks because my parents taught me to remove my shoes before we enter the temple. My heart is like the rocks from the temple. It’s not so much that I think that they’re holy, but that I cut myself up trying to do the right thing by them. My parents I mean. Or god. Both.
When I was a girl my sister did the Jaya Parvati varat. She fasted for days, grew the mother plant and prayed to it. On one of the days, you had to stay up all night. I would fast with my sister and set up the mattresses on the floor of the sitting room. We played board games and watched Dracula. I remember when I would wait all year for the day we’d stay up all night. I wondered if I would do this too, one day, start some ritual contract praying for the husband of my choice. When my first ex broke up with me, I realised I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t pray to find love.
My heart is like the light switch in the movie, black and white. Nosferatu turns it on and off and on and off and on and off again. When my second ex broke up with me, my mother told me to turn my heart to stone. But my heart isn’t made of rocks, or electricity, or feeling; it’s made of band-less hair ties and pencil sharpener razor blades. I’m projecting. My heart is a site of confusion, frustration. It weighs 100 tonnes and sinks through my body; you can caress it through the thin skin on my back. I get this feeling, like the elastic heart, but my heart isn’t made of elastic. The hair ties snap. The razors tumble out.
I come from a long line of unhappy Gujarati women. A chain of hands that clasp each other desperately. Like the song, that moment. I try not to make too much eye contact with my cousin; I see her mother in the bags of her eyes. My mother breaks down crying at the table. She carries with her a family tree that sustains itself on the tears of the women who appear inside it. Us women, the life force.
I come from a long line of unhappy Gujarati women. When I found out I couldn’t have kids myself I was glad to think that the line would die with me. Beyoncé talks about wearing your mother’s lipstick the way she wears disappointment; here we wear red vermilion in the parting of our hair. New jewellery, old story, heavy embellished saris. We sit cross-legged, cover our heads when we pray, pray for strength that we don’t wear our mother’s disappointment when we have enough of our own.
Family teaches us how to be good girls. Negotiate our very existence away. Compromise our lives. Sacrifice our happiness. Step into flower garlands like lowering your head into a noose I always thought if ever got married I’d play that song from that sad movie “Mubarak Mubarak.” Everyone plays it at weddings, but it’s not a happy song. Perhaps that’s why they play it in the first place. I would.
I get this feeling, and it’s bearing on me like the song, like the hooks in my head, the flowers, the noose, the razor blades, the vermillion. My heart is a vessel for the holy fire. I can feel it in my eye sockets; it’s burning in the back of my throat. They teach us to be good girls. I lie awake wondering if I’ll lie like a corpse in our bed.
My mother told me to turn my heart to stone, but I come from a long line of unhappy Gujarati women with stone hearts. Generations of heartache etched into the lines of their skin, decades of exhaustion in the droop of their shoulders, a sisterhood of strength holding up the hard lines of their backs. These women, who carry their mother’s guilt in their own tear ducts, wear their disappointment like a full face of makeup. A circle of women banging their heads against their stone hearts waiting for them to crack open. I climb into that moment. My heart is made of excuses and dark matter, sharp rocks that haven’t weathered into stone just yet.
I get this feeling. Like the other shoe is about to drop. I’m suspended there in that desperate moment. That desperate moment where her voice almost breaks but-
And here’s the kicker: