How Khalil Jibran Ruined My Childhood

I suffer from an overactive imagination. And I say suffer because my brand of whimsy is less rainbows and butterflies and children’s dresses made out of curtains, and more midnight panic attacks that my parents are trapped inside a painting. That nightmare was a particularly persistent one, revisiting every fortnight or so for three odd years. There was also the one where my parents were trapped by an evil witch on the top storey of our oldest house (we’ve had four so far). I was standing at the bottom of the staircase, trying to get upto them, but the witch wouldn’t let me! I was essentially trying to climb up an escalator the wrong way, and I kept falling down. And with every minute that I tarried, my parents grew younger and younger, and very convincingly so, might I add. My virtual, visual side effects would put Peter Jackson to shame. So the clock ticked backwards in high definition,  my parents shed their years before my eyes, and I tried in vain to get the them before they got to 38. Why 38, you ask? Well, because if my mother become younger than 38 years, it would mean she wouldn’t have been around long enough to give birth to me. There’s a horror story clincher for you. If you have no baby, you have no kid waiting to rescue you.

That’s the sort of suffering I’m talking about. If I didn’t dream in multiple time dimensions, with metaphysical impossibilities colouring my nightmares, I would probably have gotten a lot more sleep from ages 5 through to 17. Oh actually, scratch that, my last late night REM movie was actually a few weeks ago. I was woken up, at an ungodly hour, by my sister who was off to work, at said ungodly hour. Shaking my shoulder, she snuggled into the bed, trying to hide away from her work. More than half asleep, and more than half grumpy, I mumbled into my pillow, ‘Kingster, I just dreamt I was outside Teacher N’s house (our college counselor, who was supercilious and unhelpful throughout our final year, and then promptly took credit for our admissions). And she was in the garden, waiting to begin class, but we couldn’t get in. There was no gate, and no door, only a six foot brick wall surrounding the garden. So we looked and looked, and finally we found a small hole in the wall. All my classfellows climbed in, one by one, effortlessly. I was the last one left. And I got stuck. A plague on all their tiny asses. Anywho, there I was, literally stuck in Teacher N’s wall, while everybody else was already in, laughing at me. I was embarrassed, and disappointed, and confused. But I squeezed myself back out, and I started to climb over the wall. It took forever, I fell more than I rose, the class started without me right in front of me, but I didn’t give up. And then I did it. I climbed over the wall, and into the garden.’

I raised my head up a few inches, pried open my eyelids, and staring blearily in her general direction, declared, ‘You just have to climb over the wall, Kingo. Climb over that wall.’

She laughed. Raucously. Then she patted me on the head, and went off to work.

I like how God Man makes sure I’m never bored. I even have stories to tell from times I was literally asleep. No wasted minute. Experience wise that is. Achievement wise, I have wasted most of my existence.

If you were to think that my imagination works only at night, for a few hours, you would be severely underestimating the workings of my mind. I am capable of working myself up into a state about a completely imaginary problem when I am wide awake, surrounded by fact and reason. And I am capable of staying in that state for years. Queue the Khalil Jibran incident of 2003.

Back in 2003, I was 11 years old, and apparently had no recognition of my mother’s handwriting, or of the existence of a writer called Khalil Jibran. What I did have, was an old copy of The Love Story, which had belonged to my mother in college. On the very first page of this family heirloom, in an old world cursive, was an inscription.

‘Love possesses not, nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love.’

And underneath this beautiful, hand written message was a name. Khalil Jibran.

Now, I don’t know whether it was the suggestive name of the book, or the fact that the message was written in deep blue ink (the kind one associates with Mont Blanc pens and moonstone cufflinks), or the fact that Khalil Jibran sounds like the name of a Pakistani man. One of these things, all of the these things, kicked my imagination into overdrive. I was convinced that my mother had had a passionate, and completely non-physical, romance with Khalil Jibran in college. They had gazed wistfully at each other across the classroom, he had composed sonnets about her beauty, she had looked down at the floor and smiled softly when she passed him in the corridor. He had cradled a copy of The Love Story close to his chest, hoping she would look over and see it as a declaration of his intentions. She had. And then, on that fateful day, when he heard of her wedding, he had gathered the shattered pieces of his heart, pulled out his Mont Blanc pen, and signed over his book and his heart to her. He had slipped her the book in their last class together, whispering his Congratulations. She had looked down at the floor and smiled softly.

At 11, realizing your father isn’t the only love of your mother’s life is pretty devastating. What was even more worrying though, was the idea of Khalil Jibran resurfacing. I know he didn’t seek to possess her, but he could also mean that he would love her even if she belonged to someone else. Well, she belonged to me! And I would be damned before some two-bit college Lothario, shuffling along with his paperback novels and old fashioned ink pens would take away my mommy! So I prayed, and prayed, and prayed that Khalil Jibran would loose his way, that his ship would sink before he got back to Lahore (Oh, yes, he went away on a ship to make his fortune as a writer). I was extra nice to my mother, and just in case she didn’t notice my behaviour, I made sure to tell her, frequently, how good her life was. Great house, nice husband, precious daughter. Who would ever want to leave this little heaven?

It sounds amusing in retrospect, but at the time I was constantly living in fear of being ripped apart from my mother. And that time lasted for a good 3 years. I was 14 when I came across The Messenger. Thankfully, instead of being paralyzed by the fear that Khalil Jibran had now made it, big time, and would be returning for my mother, I opened the book. And realized Khalil Jibran was not Pakistani, and most certainly was not my mother’s contemporary.

This life I live in my head. It exhausts me.