Emak (grandmother) said, "you will know a man by what he reads." Engkong (grandfather) read Ian Fleming, 007, until he spoke like an Englishman. Engkong's infidelity to Emak made her disintigrate into bitterness, and I lived it with her.
Sylvia Plath was the next woman during my formative years whose literary work I read for her truth and honesty. Plath's writing created a massive explosion inside my brain as I read her dark poetry, and later found out she died from self harm because of an aftermath of infidelity.
The college boyfriend who I wanted to marry left me for a sorority girl. "Playing the field," meant a lot of things for college men, and I was heartbroken.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje became a film during college, and I saw it in the theatre and was mezmerized by the cinematography and acting. It deserved the Oscar, but I feared the book because of my life experiences and knowledge about infidelity. Ondaatje's book felt like ammonition to fuel those who hurt me and the women who died.
The charred body of the English Patient was the reason why I didn't read it, for two decades. I hated Ondaatje because I felt he glamourized adultery. The hatred stemmed from my own anguish, as it created the worst fear of my outcome, that I would one day be burned and charred, alone, awaiting hell. It didn't matter to me that I didn't commit infidelity, but it was symbolic of what happened to a soul who sinned.
Graduate school and life were full of struggles, as I faced bullying from other women, mostly because of men. I felt objectified for being me and for receiving attention from good looking men who were merely friends. Rumors and jealousies turned into malice and racism, that culminated into sexual assault. The pain from the abuses almost led me to self-harm, and I couldn't read anything, for over a decade. I was so broken, that dignity and confidence left and shame was in my blood.
The fears of Ondaatje's work became a myth and superstition inside my mind. "If I read The English Patient, I will never have a loving relationship or a lasting marriage. And, I will die of self-harm because of it, and be burned in hell. Forever." Those fears I held on to became a tree of bleeding scabs, with pus, infected, and falling off from life. No one cared, especially because I felt the whole world wanted my failure and the men and women who hated me only desired my self-harm. Malice and abuses became post-traumatic-stress-disorder and depression, and The English Patient was my biggest fear.
Nightmares played inside my mind, that my life would be a constant begging for mercy for ice cubes, from someone who hardly cared for me and was only there to hear my stories of pain, not joy.
Opening the book at Barnes and Nobles also opened Pandora's Box, with the word "dangerous" flying out of it. I felt shamed because for a very long time, I was afraid. I had to read The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje before my life became my worst enemy. Took me two decades to accept this, and flaming fires of misunderstandings to lead me to this.
But, there was a sense of relief when I read the first page. A comforting passion for literature from a sinner to another. For once, I didn't judge the book, and I didn't judge Ondaatje. It felt as if Ondaatje spoke to me about empathy, that he had gone something as difficult as mine in his life.
Myths and superstitions, assaults and PTSD, fears and doubts, adultery and heartbreak, all didn't seem to matter when I read it. The book was sovereign, as all works of art will always be. Art and literature were reflections of life through creativity out of the belly of the artist. Ondaatje's writing were of musical prose, symphonies as a matter of fact with lyrics that entertained me. Wisdom, gentleness, raw honesty, poetic, and brilliant literature was in front of me. It felt surreal, not fearsome. I was wrong....for a very long time.
It wasn't enough to have seen the movie, although the acting was brilliant and the soundtrack was breathtaking. I had to read the book, to prevent my life from being burned alive and living out the myth that hurt me for a very long time. Upon reading The English Patient, I felt a humble soul speaking to me, about sins, mercy, amends, and penitence . Ondaatje and I may never meet, but his writing gave me a profound education.
All works of art will always be sovereign, and a brilliant literary work, especially. It was to my advantage that I read The English Patient, and it was to my fault on the self-righteous fears. I judged, because I was the object of judgement and I judged Ondaatje and his book as if I had the right to judge him. My victory would be in healing, from the past and through more reading and writing, not fearing or judging. I feared out of trauma, but Ondaatje's work was nothing to be afraid of, and everything worth the theatrical easthetic.
I no longer hold superstitions over any literary work, and two decades of obsessing over The English Patient proved to an end on suffering. I dared to read and write about my deepest sorrows and foolery. Without remorse. Myths and superstitions on any literary works and in life suits only satan and demons, not the fairy godmother. If anything that was difficult, it was the rhetoric of infidelity, but adultery on the pages of a book won't dictate the sentence of anyone's future. Besides, the characters in the book were spirits with solitary lives who were searching for meaning during the World War, much like most of us who perhaps suffered or still struggling during this Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020. To think that pages on a novel could hurt another human being would give too much ego to fiction, and not enough value on reality.
I won't be a panel on any literary boards nor would my opinion matter to anyone. However, for this one soul, reading one of the most prized work in literature might have changed the course of my life because I casted out the fears I had for a very long time. Love was far fetched then, and it still is now. This might conjure ridicule, but I wished you could walk in my shoes over the two decades.
I wrote this out of honesty, and reflection and not in 15 minutes. I won't know if anyone would be reading it, but I knew I wrote my truth.