Mammad’s Shrimp Moment

The other day Mammad Agha came to see me.  We have been friends for a long time.  I know his family from back home.

That day,  Mammad looked different somehow.  He seemed quiet and introspective.

After a short hello and how are you, he looked me in the eyes and asked, “BN jan, have you ever thought how many personalities you have?”

I honestly did not know what he was asking me.  “I have only one personality. The one I was born with. How many personalities do you have, Mammad Jan?”

“I have two. I think.” He said.  He then took the more comfortable chair (my chair), leaving me no choice but to take the lumpy one which is reserved for visitors.  Once nicely settled, he continued:  “One is the one that people see, you see, BN Jan.  I call it Mad .  The other is the one that I go to bed with every night.  His name is Mam.  This second one is the one I have known the longest.  He is the real me.  He is the weak one, the one that is easily hurt, the one that wants to cry when he sees something sad on the television or in a movie. Mam is the child in me that never grew up, the vulnerable and timid one.  He is unsure of himself and always doubts everything he wants to do or say.  Mam was not always such a big pussy.  I remember him when he was brave, outgoing, and gregarious.  He enjoyed people and people enjoyed him.  But something went wrong long long time ago and over time he became deflated.  He stopped to grow. He started to withdraw.  Like quicksand everything was sucked in deep into his belly.  He became shy and unsure of himself.  Became a loner.  “

“So when did all this split personality thing start Mammad Jan.”  I asked.

“This is not a split personality, like cybil, BN Jan.  Mam and Mad are me. They are both part of me.  Together they make  Mammad. He said and continued:

“The underlying problem had started much earlier.  Whenever I go back and try to find out when this thing started, one single image comes to my mind.  It is like when you feel sick to your stomach and want to throw up, just after the worst case of diarhia.  You keep thinking about all the meals you’ve had in the past three days, and every time you burp, you smell and taste the shrimp you had for yesterday’s lunch.  You can’t prove it, but you know in your heart it was the shrimp that has put you in that dire situation.

Well, my shrimp moment was when I was ten or eleven.  I was sitting in the living room with ten or fifteen adult members of the family.  They were discussing something important about another member.  I can not remember what the topic was.  Then they decided to go around the room so everyone could give their opinion as to what this person should do. Knowing that my turn would soon come, I started preparing my answer.  I had it all sorted out in my young mind and could not wait to amaze everyone with my sage advice.   When my turn finally came, I swallowed and started to say something when my father interrupted and  told everyone that since this was a serious adult matter, that I was only a child and could not have a mature opinion on the topic, I was to be excused and not heard.  I remember I felt devastated.  I had my face down and did not know whether to cry, shout, or run away. I felt small and unworthy.  Yes, this was my shrimp moment and decades later I can still taste it.”

“Soon after that painful episode Mad came into being.  He was born of necessity to shield and protect Mam.  He was just a facade, just a show, only to protect the part that lived behind its protective shield, feeling scared and uncertain.  Is it not a shame that life of a person may take a one hundred and eighty degree turn just because of few words uttered by an unknowing parent?  Is it so hard to understand that as much as it is important to set boundries for children, it is also important not to set limits within those boundries.  Not to thwart their natural growth in intellect, reasoning, and self-esteem?”

“From then on I have lived a double life.  A life within a life, a man within a man.  Always running away from people, always thinking they were better than me.  They knew, acted, felt, loved, looked, and deserved better than worthless me.”  Mammad lifted his head and looked at me.  His face glistened with sweat that was pouring down his brow and cheeks.  I could see pain in his watery eyes.

“Yesterday, while I was at the soup kitchen, helping to dish out lunch to the hungry, I got to talk to a man who is a regular,” Mammad said.  “It was after lunch and he and I were sitting at the dining table having coffee.  The man looked at me in the eyes and as if he could see all the way inside me, said:  ‘Man, I see so much pain in you.  What are you doing to yourself.  Why are you hiding your true feelings?  Your beautiful self?  Do you think you are the only one with a wounded spirit?  There are millions like you, hiding like Russian nesting dolls, running away from their real selves, stay under the society’s radar, scared to reveal who they really are.  Do you think the workaholic who rather spend time at his office than with his family  is different from you?  Or the guy who has a ton of jewelry around his neck or wrist, or the funny man who can not say a sentence without telling you a joke, or the guy who drinks like fish?  These are all different types of shields that people build around themselves so they can hide behind them.  You and they are nothing but sissies hiding from real life.  The truly happy people are those who do not build barriers between themselves and the outside world. You can become one of those. Kick down the barriers, free yourself from being a slave to your past, your fears, your limited vision.  Be brave and let everyone who knows you hear your story.  By telling them you will shatter the ugly armor that is imprisoning you.’ “

I looked at my friend’s face.  There was no sweat.  There was no sign of pain.  What I saw in front of me was a man who looked liked a liberated man from a long term prison.  He held a widest smile I had ever seen on him.  He looked me in the eyes and asked: “Now do you want to tell me your shrimp moment, BN Jan?”

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