As I pick up the pen to write, why do my hands tremble so? I ask myself questions that I’ve disallowed my mind to wander towards for years in the past. I look outside the window at the barren trees that have been stripped off their leaves by the cruel East Coast winter that so resembles my life, and feel my heart ache. Memories, of oh so long ago, seem to flood my mind. These memories are from so long ago and yet are as vivid as if it were just yesterday. For time immemorial I had kept those memories locked in a box and thrown the key away into a bottomless ocean. But lifting a pen to write seems to have unlocked that lock and let the flood gates open.
I used to write journal entries from the age of seven, and went on writing them until one fateful day. It was the 26 of July 1990. I close my eyes, and see a bloody face which has been completely disfigured. I open my eyes and take a deep breath. The image of the bloodied face makes my hands tremble even more. I shake my head and feel my eyes well up with tears that threaten to overflow. I close my eyes and let them fall. My tears roll down my cheeks. I raise my left hand to wipe them, but decide to let them be. I want to let them be. I want to feel sad. I don’t want to pretend as if everything is ok, because it is not!
I shake my head at my thoughts, and uncap the pen. I look down at the paper and observe the lines on the page with imperceptivity. It’s the new journal I bought on my way home this afternoon. I need to let out my feelings before I collapse with the weight of it, and who else but my journal can I share it with?
Tuesday, 4 March 04
The dryness in my throat and the constant flowing of tears remind me of the decree the judge passed this afternoon. I weep at the death of my twelve year old marriage. I weep for the fate of my children. I weep for my long lost love. I weep and weep. I weep in the hope of lessening the burden of my pain, and I hope it works.
I’ve tried everything I possibly could, to sustain my marriage. It hurts to see that none of my efforts paid off. Not just my efforts. I would be lying if I say that Sahil didn’t put in his bit. In fact he was the one who’d put in most of the efforts and made the maximum compromises. We both wanted it to work, if not for our sakes, at least for the sake of our children. Diya and Armaan, both too young to understand the implications of their parents’ divorce.
Sahil and I were married for twelve years. In those twelve years we were close and yet very distant. Ours was a marriage of convenience. It was, at least for me. We, of course, liked each other a lot and cared for each other. But that spark that one looks for in a romantic relationship was always missing between us. We’d been friends in B-School. After Aftab’s death I started to lean a lot on his shoulders, and thus began our story.
Aftab was my first and perhaps only love. He was my best friend’s brother. I’d known him since I was a child. Aftab and I fell in love when I was thirteen and he was eighteen. We both knew from the very start that we were meant to be together forever. It was almost like a fairy tale love story. It was a very special relationship. There was so much love and trust between us, that even today, after fourteen years of his passing on; I can’t fathom people in relationships being possessive and jealous. He was my pillar of strength. He’d help me through my toughest times and make them feel like a cake walk.
When I had to take up my Bachelors in Arts instead of Science because I wanted to major in Psychology, he was the only one who stood by me and promised me that come what may, he’d always support me. After my bachelors, he was the one who helped me with my MBA entrance tests, and B-School admissions. Whenever I faltered and didn’t feel upto doing something, he’d always be there for me, listen to me, and guide me to do the right thing. He was my conscience keeper. He was everything to me. My days used to start with him, and end with him.
Aftab and I were to get married soon after the completion of my Masters Degree. I was counting days. The thought of waking up each morning next to him was the only thing I looked forward to. I, being an only child, and my parents having separated when I was ten, made me a very lonely person. The only security I had in my life was Aftab. I knew he wouldn’t let me down, ever. I trusted him more than God. I guess that was the mistake I made, and God got pissed with me.
One fine day Aftab left without a word or a final farewell. He died in a car crash on the way to a picnic with his friends. My world came crashing down. After being in a relationship with him for close to eight years, I couldn’t believe he was no more. Every morning I would wake up thinking he’d come, plant a kiss on my cheek and say he was sorry for playing a joke on me. And when he’d do that, I’d get mad at him for making me so sad. Alas, that never happened though. He didn’t come, and after three long months of waiting for him, the truth began to sink into my head.
Those were really tough times for me. Having lost Aftab I couldn’t find my bearings. I had become like a Zombie. It was then, that Sahil became an integral part of my life. We became close friends, and he supported me emotionally to help me get over Aftab. The emotional dependence between us was quite strong. I, to date, believe I was the dependent one. He helped me live through those times and taught me to laugh again.
Sahil mistook my gratitude towards the compassion he had for me to be love. Sahil was always trying to convince me to move on. Little did he realize that moving on didn’t come so easy. Whenever I was with Sahil, the pain of not having Aftab dimmed quite a bit, and I assumed that my wounds would heal themselves over a period of time.
When Mom used to tell me about familiarity breeding feelings, I would always ignore her words thinking it to be the ranting of a crazy woman. In my “I don’t care and I know it all mode” I didn’t realize that Sahil had started to think of me as someone special. It was only when Sahil confessed his love for me that I stood there looking shell shocked.
My first reaction was, “How could you? Don’t you know I can never love anyone else but Aftab?” I said it in such a matter of fact tone, without realising that I was trampling all over Sahil’s heart. I said this, and walked out in a huff, without once giving him a chance to explain himself. He stood there, looking so heartbroken and crestfallen.
It was only when he didn’t come to college over the next few days, the height of my insensitivity dawned upon me. I called his house. I was told he’d gone out and would be back later in the evening. I went to his house later that evening. One look at his face and I knew I’d done the worst thing in my life by hurting him so much. Back then, I didn’t know I was capable of being much more insensitive, now did I?
We went for a long walk that night and I explained to him my fears of not being able to love anyone again. He convinced me that it wasn’t important for him to be loved by me, but he wanted me to give him a chance to make me feel loved. If I loved him in return, it would be a bonus. To me, this seemed unrealistic, and I said so too. To me, a relationship is like a transaction. If you give, you have to get in return. I told him how pointless being in a one sided relationship seemed to me.
We talked a lot. When I didn’t relent, he finally turned to me and asked me a straight question, “If I die tomorrow, will you cry?” I retorted with a tight slap when I heard him say that. I still don’t know why I reacted so badly to what he’d said. But my reaction brought a smile to his face instead of anger which confused me completely.
I shook my head and was about to walk away in a huff, when he drew me close to him and said, “See, you can’t even bear the thought of my death, and yet, you call this one sided! How can you?”
“I care about you Sahil, but it’s not the same as being in love! Why can’t you understand?” I was totally frustrated.
But my words didn’t change his feelings one bit. He quite adamantly said, “I don’t care if you don’t love me today. I know I can make you fall in love with me over a period of time. Aarya, at least give it a chance.” “Let me think about it.” is all I said. He walked me to my house in silence and we didn’t talk about this for a very long time.
We met in college everyday, and life went on. We had our final exams. We were engrossed in projects, studies and revisions. After our exams, we got placed in reputed organisations. Sahil and I met on weekends. We hung out together. We had some quiet times and some fun times. But all in all, if we didn’t meet on weekends, I’d miss him. I then began to realize that my Mom’s words were indeed true. Familiarity breeds feelings!
When Sahil was given an option to get transferred to the US, I felt as if God was taking away from me, once again, someone I had begun to depend on. It was then that Sahil came to me with the same question he’d asked me almost a year and a half ago, however, this time around, he popped the question with a diamond ring. He asked me to marry him, and in an attempt to hold onto the companionship I shared with him, I said yes instantly.
Sahil wanted a big wedding, but I didn’t. He respected my decision. We had a small wedding in an Arya Samaj Mandir in one of Mumbai’s popular suburbs, and a small dinner party just for close friends and family. Sahil left for the US within two weeks of our wedding. After my visas were done, I quit my job in Mumbai and joined him.
We lived in Edison, a small suburb in New Jersey that is filled with Indians. I had no friends, and couldn’t even look for a job because I was on a “Dependant Visa”. Because we were just married, we’d decided to wait a while longer to have babies. I started to do part-time assignments and fill my time. Sahil was always very concerned about my ambitions and aspirations. He was always a considerate and caring husband. He’d let me do what I wanted to, and always gave me the space I wanted and needed from time to time.
I began to appreciate Sahil and respect him as well. In the second year of our marriage I landed a job and got my own work permit. Our life sailed smoothly. Both of us got regular promotions. That made it possible for us to move out of Edison and move into a much better town called Morris Town. Morris Town is a quaint little town with a very Victorian look. We bought a four bedroom house with huge lawns and a back yard on mortgage; we both had our own cars, and were doing pretty well for ourselves.
After the first three years when we didn’t have kids, every time we’d travel to India for vacations, our parents asked us about our plans to have kids. And every time we’d tell them, there’s still a lot of time for us to get there. We’d tell people that we wanted to enjoy our freedom and time together a little longer. But in reality, we were drifting apart. Sahil had become a SVP in a large corporation, and I was a Senior Manager in an equally large corporation. Both had demanding jobs, and because I enjoyed my space so much, Sahil had learnt to adapt to it by then.
With long working hours, separate activities and interests, and separate social lives, we hardly found time for each other. In the name of marriage, all we did was eat one meal of the day together, sleep on the same bed in one room, and made love occasionally. We didn’t even laugh together anymore.
For the life of me, I still can’t fathom why we didn’t have a common friends circle. We had a few friends from college in the US, but they were all spread out, and in the name of common friends, we just met with our old college friends once a year.
After five years of being married we finally decided to have children. We tried to, but with no luck, and so began our regular trips to gynecologists. At first, the doctor got us to do a battery of tests. Everything was normal, and yet I wasn’t able to conceive. We started trying even harder, and with every delayed cycle, I would get a pregnancy test done with a lot of hope, and every time my hopes would be crushed when it turned out negative.
After trying for a year and a half, without too much success, I suggested that we adopt. I was tired of the medical circus I had to go through every month, and didn’t feel like humiliating my body anymore. Sahil was very supportive, and backed my decision. On our next trip to India in 1998, we adopted Diya. She was just a month old when we got her home on Aug 28, 98.
She filled our lives with so much happiness. Diya was the one to bring Sahil and me together again. We began to spend more and more time together because Diya was an absolutely adorable child and we wanted her to have our love, attention and affection. We immersed ourselves in Diya. I stopped working from the office, and started working from home with an arrangement of going to office only once in two weeks. I absolutely felt that my first responsibility was to Diya. I’d stay home, cook, and spend time with Diya. Sahil began coming home earlier than he used to. Now we did two meals in a day together. We felt like a close family.
My respect for Sahil had doubled over the years because he was always so understanding and accommodating. It’s just so sad that I couldn’t feel passion for him. He tried in all ways possible to create a spark in our marriage, but I guess I’d closed the door to my heart with Aftab’s death. Every time he tried to reach me and increase the intimacy levels of our relationship I would recoil and withdraw.
Over the next one year, we talked about adopting a second child so that Diya didn’t have to grow up alone. On our next trip to India, we brought home Armaan. We now had two children, and to everyone around, we seemed like a picture perfect family.
People always told me how much they envied what I had, be it friends, relatives or colleagues. I always smiled when they said things like this. At first even I started to believe that what I had was enviable. I had an amazing husband, who respected me, supported me, and understood me. I had two absolutely adorable kids, and if people didn’t know they were adopted, they’d have sworn that Diya and Armaan were our biological children; such was the resemblance between us.
Everything went well for the first two years. It was only on Diya’s third birthday the friction between Sahil and me started on a vocal level. That night, after the party, I cleaned up whilst Sahil put the kids to bed. After I was done with my chores I went to our bedroom and was cleaning up to get into bed.
Sahil came to me and began rubbing my shoulders. He complimented me at the party being a big success. I smiled. When he lowered himself to kiss my nape, I almost shoved him off. I still can’t understand what made me do something so derogatory, but well, I did it. That pissed him off completely. The intimacy between us was at an all time low with two small children. From making love once a week it had gone to making love once in three months. He had a right to be pissed, but I didn’t look at it in that light, now, did I?
I saw a bottle of wine and two glasses sitting on the dresser. I turned away because I knew this meant he wanted us to make love that night. It was always his way of trying to celebrate our togetherness. Most women would have thought of this as a beautiful gesture, but I didn’t. I got into bed, pulled the comforter upto my chin, switched the lamp of my side of the bed off, and pretended to fall asleep immediately. How I wish I didn’t do that! But now it’s too late. I fell asleep about an hour later, because a lot of thoughts were swimming through my head.
The next morning, I woke up as usual, and went down to get chai and the breakfast ready. Diya then went to pre-school, and I needed to leave Armaan at the baby-sitters because I had a meeting that morning. I got busy with my routine stuff, and didn’t even realise that Sahil didn’t give me my daily morning peck on the cheek, or that he was in a sullen mood. I pretended as if nothing had gone wrong the previous night. I got the kids ready, and served the breakfast on the table. It was only when I went for my second cup of chai into the kitchen that I saw Sahil bent over the sink with his eyes closed and tears rolling down his cheeks. This is one form of Sahil that I hadn’t seen before, and was really upset. I didn’t know what to do, so I chose to ignore it.
Sahil didn’t eat breakfast that morning. He stood by the kitchen sink for a long time. I’d dressed, packed the kids up, got them down to feed them breakfast and Sahil was still standing there motionless, as if he were paralyzed in that position. I didn’t have the time to attend to him at that moment, and so I chose to ignore it again. I fed the kids, pecked him bye on the cheek, the kids said bye to him too, and I dropped Diya at the play school and Armaan at the baby-sitter’s.
The baby-sitter used to pick Diya up from play school and I’d pick up the kids together from the baby-sitter’s in the evening. That evening when I went to the baby-sitter’s, I was surprised to find out that Sahil had picked them up in the afternoon. Which meant Sahil had taken the day off? He was so quiet that morning. Could it be the calm before the storm? I decided not to read too much into this and breezed into the house with a smile on my face. The kids were playing in the garden with the neighbour’s kids, and Sahil was sitting on the coffee table reading a book.
I went and gave him a peck on his cheek and asked him about his day. He didn’t answer for a long time. And so I started an animated narration of how my day was and what I’d done all through the day. He was quiet all along. When I asked him if he wanted some chai because I was going to go inside and get some, he held my hand and gently pulled it gesturing me to sit.
He looked me straight in the eyes; the look in his eyes reminded me of the day he’d confessed his love to me for the first time. “Have I done something wrong Aarya? Am I a bad husband? Am I a bad father? What is it? Why do you always turn your back on me? Don’t my needs count at all?” He said this in a very soft voice filled with immense sadness. I lowered my eyes, I couldn’t meet his gaze. I was so guilty from within. I was hurting because I’d hurt him. And yet, I didn’t understand that the only reason I felt guilty or hurt so much was because I loved him. I’d refused to allow myself to feel love for him.
“I’m sorry Sahil. I really am. I don’t know what got into me last night. I was probably tired from all the party arrangements.” Even I found what I was saying hard to believe.
“It’s not that Aarya, and we both know it! It’s been eleven years since Aftab has gone, and I’m still fighting with his ghost for your attention and affection! How long do you think I can go on like this? How long can I share the person I love the most, with a ghost? Tell me Aarya! Tell me!” He said this in a soft voice so that the children wouldn’t hear this. His words stabbed me in the heart, and felt like an accusation. I shot him an angry look and stared straight into his eyes. In a very sharp tone I said to him, “You knew exactly what you were getting into. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! You were the one who made tall claims of not wanting my love in return and shit like that! And now, all of a sudden, you feel cheated! You’re trying to say, I’m cheating you!”
“I didn’t say that Aarya! Don’t put your words into my mouth! I just said I can’t take it anymore! If it were a person I would have fought him to get you, but how can I fight a ghost! Don’t you think I deserve at least some love for the amount of love and care I shower you with?” He almost looked like a love sick puppy with pleading eyes at me. I turned away and said “What do you want from me? Am I not a good wife? Don’t I make sure you’re clothes are ironed, you’re well fed, the kids are taken care of?” Don’t I do what a good wife is supposed to do?” With this I got up and walked into the house to make chai.
After that confrontation our relationship started to deteriorate big time. Sahil spent most of his time out, and whenever he was home, he would spend all his time at home with the kids. He took the kids out when I was not around. We grew more distant with each passing day. There were times when he gave me chances to get close to him, which I chose to ignore. To me, in my subconscious, reciprocating to Sahil’s emotions would mean cheating on Aftab’s memories.
Weeks turned to months, and months into a year. This time around, when we went to India for our vacation, we were very irritable around each other. We’d snap at each other all the time. Even his parents and my Mom began to notice this. My Mom tried to talk to me about this, but she didn’t get too far because I shut her out. By the time we were back in the US, Sahil and I could hardly see eye to eye.
Within a week of getting back to the US, Sahil announced that he was renting an apartment in New York City and moving out. He didn’t see any sense in coming home each day to a wife who didn’t want him. I asked him, what about the kids, and he said, he loved them dearly, and would spend all his weekends with them. When I asked him if he would ever see the light of the day and decide to move back home, to which he just said, he would see the light of the day, the day, I realised a new morning had come and stopped living in the past.
I could see history repeating itself. I was ten when my parents walked out on each other, and I still haven’t come to terms with it. Our kids were so much younger. I couldn’t imagine dealing with it. I asked him to reconsider his decision, to which, he simply said, I was the one who had to reconsider the decisions I’d taken almost twelve years ago. Sahil said to me in plain words, that I was the one who chose to ignore someone who was alive and right in front of me, to be faithful to a dead lover.
I didn’t say anything. I just went quiet. After twelve years I could feel warm tears fall from my eyes onto my cheeks. When Sahil saw me crying, he didn’t know how to react, because he’d not seen me cry in a long long time. Sahil was my best friend, and I’d shut him out so often, that now, he didn’t want to be there for me anymore. I felt as if I’d driven him to abandon me and I hadn’t a clue how to make things right.
He drew me in his arms, and let me cry on his shoulder. I don’t remember how long I cried, or that I fell asleep crying that night. The next morning when I woke up, Sahil was gone – lock, stock and barrel. At first I was hysterical but calmed down soon enough.
I woke the kids, got them dressed, fed them, and dropped them off at the baby-sitter’s. I cancelled all my appointments, meetings and deliverables for the day. I just sat on the rocking chair in our bedroom trying to hang onto every memory I had created in that room with Sahil. With each memory I recalled, I cried even harder. By evening, I was exhausted from crying. I had a long bath, got dressed, picked the kids up, and took them out for Pizzas that night.
Over Pizzas, I explained to them in the best possible way that their Daddy wouldn’t be staying at home anymore because it was difficult for him to travel everyday. But he would definitely come and take them every weekend. Diya was such a bright child even at the age of just four and a half years. She instantly asked me, “Mammy, are you and Daddy getting divorced like Dave’s Mom and Dad?” Sometimes children are wise beyond their years, and it’s then that you regret your bad decisions that would hurt and haunt them in the future. I shook my head and lied to her.
From next morning on, I made sure that their days were as normal as possible, and that they didn’t miss their father too much. I began working more often from home. On the weekend when Sahil came, we shook hands, exchanged customary greetings like strangers; he’d pick up the kids and leave as quickly as possible.
This went on for a while, and then one day, Sahil came home one weekend to pick the kids up, but only this time, he had another agenda as well. He told me that he’d been seeing someone, and that they were planning to move-in together. He was seriously considering a fresh beginning and wanted a Divorce.
I knew it was a matter of time before Sahil would find someone who could appreciate him for what he was and give him the love he truly deserved. I felt a pang of jealousy, but suppressed it. I told him that was fine with me, and asked him about what were his plans for the kids. He said, I could keep the house, and we could continue the same arrangement with the kids.
I agreed. Today, after a year of filing the “Petition for Divorce” we, Sahil and Aarya are no longer married.
Over the past one year I have more than a million times wished I could retract my steps and express to Sahil the way I felt about him then, and even now. Unfortunately, I’d missed the bus. I threw away, with my own two hands, a beautiful marriage to a wonderful man. I threw away the chance of my kids growing up with both their parents in the same home. I threw away my chance at being loved by a man who truly loved me.
Today, for the final hearing of our Divorce decree Sahil had come with his girlfriend Amanda. They were sitting in the other side of the Court Room. I stole a glance at him, and I could see his eyes filled with happiness. I was truly glad that someone saw him for the great guy that he is and loves him.
After the decree was final, I walked out of the room without a second glance. I didn’t want to look at him; I knew I would cry if I did. I didn’t want to show my weakness in front of him or Amanda. I’d heard Amanda’s name from the kids several times, but hadn’t been introduced to her. Not that I needed or wanted to be introduced. I heard Sahil’s voice call out to me from behind. I turned and saw him standing there, with his hand entwined with Amanda’s.
I felt stung. We’d never done that in twelve years of being married, but that was in all probability because I would always push his hand away. I pushed those thoughts away and smiled. They walked towards me, and he released his hand that was entwined with Amanda. He introduced Amanda to me. We exchanged customary greetings and I was about to bid them goodbye when he said and did something that truly touched my heart.
He gave me a warm hug and said, “Aarya, though we’re not married anymore, I’d like you to think of me as the same best friend you had in college. If you ever need me, at any time of the day or night, feel free to call me. I will always be there for the kids, but more importantly, I will always be there for you.” I wanted, so badly, to tell him that I love him so much, and that I want to make “us” work somehow, but I didn’t.
I withdrew from his embrace, pecked him on his cheek the way I always used to, and said “And the same goes for you too Sahil. If you ever need me, you know I’m there for you too.” With that, I turned around, and almost ran out of that place for the fear of being seen with tears in my eyes.
So here I am, sitting alone in the study of my huge home in Morristown whilst both the kids are away at the baby-sitter’s, pouring my heart into you, my dear journal. Please keep my secrets safe, and help me release the pain I feel within. Help me pour the hurt from me, into you, in the hope that I feel better soon.
Today I feel like a part of me has died, just the way it did when Aftab died. The Decree of Divorce was like a final nail in the coffin of my relationships. I feel the same pain I felt almost fourteen years ago when I saw Aftab’s bloody face on the hospital stretcher in Navi Mumbai.
This poem is for Sahil, my best friend and protector, for all the lovely moments we’d spent together.
There have been long days in my life before,
But not a one like this;
So dark, so lonely, so painful n harsh,
that the ones before seem like bliss.
I was sitting in solitude,
N thinking about the past;
Memories that I want to forget,
But in my mind they seem to last.
In anticipation that the sun will shine,
N the darkness pass away;
I wait for you to walk in n smile,
N make my heart sway.
But alas my waiting is all in vain,
'Cause you never come;
I wonder about our love,
N what it has become.
The long day has still not ended,
for I am still waiting;
I’m waiting for you to come,
Come home to my love n back into my life.