Let's call her Mrs.Roy

 

               

In my mother's head, my 30th birthday was some kind of Cinderella clock, but instead of my coach turning back into a pumpkin, it had her imagining that my youth and my eggs would soon shrivel up, wither away or die. She was thrown into disarray by a looming specter of "lonely singletons addicted to morphine and men for the lack of anything better: marriage. When it comes to a woman's life trajectory, my society, with its dogmatic paternalistic mentality, relies heavily on relics and risk aversion- something that I had bent every now and then. 

 The man I had broken up with had vamoosed after 16 months of a serious-confused relationship, he being serious and I being confused. One winter afternoon, standing on the 9th-floor terrace cafeteria of my office in Bangalore, I texted him with dramatic depth, "Talk to me or else I will jump down from this building." The knife cuts on my arms and palms, which I thought would give me an advantage, had failed. He dismissed my call and me with equal disdain. It is still a mystery why? Had he come to know how self-destructive I was, or my extreme possessiveness and controlling attitude had ruined the tender garden of love that he nurtured, or had he been enlightened by some occult forces that I was illegitimately involved with two other men at the same time: his best friend and his colleague. How did he get to know about my shenanigans in Chikmagalur? Is it normal to lock your lips with three men during a weekend getaway? Experimentation is good before you commit, I was convinced. I was doing just that with sensual stirrings and secret defiance that drove me to such disastrous decisions (then, it seemed perfectly moral.) But he, the one who pushed me to the brink of suicide, was special. 

Let's call him the suicide guy. He was the kind of a guy with whom it is easy to fall in love but difficult to stay in love, especially if the woman is ambitious. A tall guy with an eager smile and ingratiating manners, Mr. Suicide worked for an organization that sold laptops. I worked for the same company as a marketing manager monitoring market trends, creating advertising campaigns, developing pricing strategies, and targeting strategies- all of it to ensure we got our paychecks at the end of the month. That's where, and that's how our lives converged- they call it Sales and Marketing for a reason, isn't it? So, my discomfort with him was that he was a level below in the hierarchy and more of an underdog, even though he deserved much better. He had spent his entire life in Karnataka, and he was unwilling to leave the womb that birthed him. I abhorred his complacency and pushed him to level up and become more deserving. Your history could be humble, as in his father being a clerk at a government office, living in a small ancestral house in Shimoga; your future trajectory is determined by who you choose to be. That's where we collided. I refused to scale down; he refused to scale up. The day he purchased an expired- over-the-counter cough tonic.

"Grow up. Who buys expired medicine? Common sense, right?"

"Oh! I didn't know."

"Phew! This is what a frog in the well looks like. It's basic stuff, Shimoga." I hollered every word a drop of acid. One day, overcome by I-don't-know-what-because- I- chose-not -to -care, over piping aloo parathas, I blurted- I don't feel safe with you. How can I marry you? The sinister part- I expressed this in front of my parents, who were visiting me then. He remained silent. Two months later, he vanished. They all vanished. The absence of his otherwise impinging presence made me desperate. I thought he would be loyal and stay. But he wasn't a dog. Did I want a dog instead? Maybe. Maybe not. With no one to pick me up at the airport, drive me around the city, fill my lonely weekends with movies and dinner dates, call me to check if I need Meftal for my cramps, I suddenly felt out of control. The fact that he had left- I didn't want to believe it, I wasn't ready to believe it, and I was convinced I loved him. The episode reminded me of what I had experienced two years before when I met him in Mumbai. 

 

Let's call him the Mumbai guy. Let me start with the looks because, meh, that's where it starts. Tall, reasonably fair, he was the kind of guy corporate sales is made up of, the kind that meets C-level leaders and talks them into big sales. Office romance can be tricky, but experimentation has been my forte. I met Mr. Mumbai first thing in the morning when I stepped into the branch office, and a few minutes later, I was looking for his extension number.

Two days later, we were strolling on the beach, the waves of the Arabian sea calm and quiet as if promising the stability I had been looking for. At the end of the week, my father had his educational qualifications, caste, gotra, the political family he hailed from, etc. Then, my Mumbai stay got over, and I flew back to Delhi. The problem- while work resumed, life got stuck. 'His calls' became the center of my universe, the absence of which led to absolute collapse ending up in wails and sobs, 41 missed calls in fifteen minutes, and making it way too obvious that I was the hookworm feeding on him for my own life. I would conspire a cut, call him frantically to explain the bleeding only to hear him say- "Oh! Oh! Wait. Let me catch the next flight to Delhi."

Alas! That never happened. 

Did he see through my lies? Did he see through the masquerade I was trying hard to pull? In eight months, my neediness wounded the relationship like a dagger in his throat. In eight months, the gewgaws fell, both sides I surmise, and he announced in a text message- I don't think we can be together. Please don't call me.

I roared like a wounded tigress, a cocktail of tears, revenge, and rejection spreading through my veins. Sprinting back, I groped at his feet, reasoning that it is just the way love works. He backpedaled and made a hasty exit. My body convulsed in pain, similar to what I had felt two and a half years back when he marooned me and swam to his family ashore.

 

Let's call him the Married man. Then, I worked for a telecom company as an assistant marketing manager, and he was Sr. Manager-Customer Service. Overwhelmingly charming-God clearly doled out two scoops when the rest of his kind were lucky to get one- but also self-effacing and unassuming; his enchantment wrapped me like a shawl- Pashmina, of course. He had a soft smile, his lips never spreading too much or opening too wide, yet I felt blinded by it, the kind that beacons and beguiles, the kind that announced after the first meeting that I have known a complete stranger my entire life. An emotionally fierce entanglement, restaurants visit, drop off kisses, reclining the front seat for some fondling, the relationship continued for close to a year, followed by a dramatic entry of his wife and their child in her arms begging me to find eligible suitors and leave him. The frenetic and fiery I-love-you were snuffed in one blow, and I lay scattered like melted wax. 

 That night, drunk in rejection, I scribbled furiously, the Reynolds nib leaving dark impressions of the alphabets several pages underneath-

"I don't think I will ever fall in love again. People say you should rise in love. Huh! Little do they know that you can only fall in love, fall to such depths that you do not know you are capable of, fall to never return to what you were…fall with such magnitude that it fractures not only your physical being but also your heart and bursts the soul asunder.

 

As I flipped back the pages of the diary, I found a similar journal entry written in cursive a year before. Mr. Married man was a rebound relationship I had fallen into unknowingly after having broken up with- let's call him Mr. Lays since he worked for Frito-Lay as a channel sales manager and lived in the men's hostel right above the girl's hostel where I was a paying guest, in Defense Colony, New Delhi. A perfect nest for love stories to blossom. 

Two months after the Yes-I -Love-You-Too, he witnessed the most traumatic episode my body went through at the age of 21. Right after I graduated from St. Stephens, my body started giving me red alerts. The hints had been lurking for months which I dismissed as a not-so-usual monthly menstruation mess. But when I felt the lumps in my left breast, several of them, one right around the areola, it immediately sent my family and me to  Apollo hospital. After an FNAC and several other tests, the balls were labeled- malignant tumor requiring immediate surgery. The following days, sunup to sundown, I gazed at my breast in the bathroom, wondering at the sudden squall in life. After vacating the hostel, I shifted to my older sister's accommodation in East Delhi. After much jugaad (read a letter from UP's health minister), we secured a date for the lumpectomy in early January at AIIMS.

On the day of the surgery, Delhi wrapped in the dense fog made visibility poor. The trepidation that gripped me before had transformed into a strange sense of peace- similar to when it snows, muffling all the voices, coating every tree, every discreet branch, and twig. Mr. Lay had talked me into it, "I am with you forever" silenced the bewilderment within. 

A few months later, after several rounds of radiation, I was in his room and bared my not-so-perfect self. The sutures had dissolved long ago, but the deep incision mark was a painful reminder of what I had undergone. He cupped the imperfect organ tenderly and helped me put on my silk top and the beanie. Later that day, he assisted me in my exercise and repeated- I will be there for you forever. He seemed like a prince from a fairytale I read as a child, but the unfortunate part was, I wasn't a Snow White.

 What happened in the next one year is the part that dystopian fiction is made up of, where everything tumbles down, like a barrel, thrown off the Niagara Falls that shatters upon hitting the rock. I was ready for love; I wasn't prepared for marriage. His parents were not prepared to delay his wedding and my parents were not prepared to see me torn. Words and promises vanished in air -puff! And it was all gone. He was soon married to someone from Lucknow, and I was admitted to a private clinic for irregular heartbeat and a subsequent nervous breakdown. I was angry at love for giving false hopes; I was angry at him for giving up on me but angrier at myself for failing to have it all. The rebound was a necessary correction to process the tornado of pain I had unfortunately found myself into and start looking afresh. 

 

Years later, after my failed suicide attempt, my life bore semblance to a necessary correction to start looking afresh, this time padded with seven vows around the holy fire, red vermilion, and black and golden beads around the neck. All this while mourning the first idea one has about love. Our relationship was bumpy, to say the least- let's call him Mr. Husband. There were cracks and potholes; my past eclipsed my present,, and soon all of it turned into one colossal canyon, and I firmly placed my past in between, making it inaccessible for me to feel for him. He was the kind of man who found joy in pushing shopping carts overflowing with aluminum, plastic, and glass in the predawn hours at the beach and dropping it at the recycling center for free. He would ensure when we cooked, there was enough food for that 'other person' who may be fighting survival, spending the night on the street, feeling the terror of not belonging anywhere. "I like to take care, "he would say when questioned. He could endure silence for long, and I would burst into wordy expressions to correspond to the unrest of the spirit. Navigating the terrain, though initially distressful, I created a workable mechanism to proceed:  I stayed in the past, not expecting much from him; he stayed in his present oblivious of the game plan. In these seven years, I stalked my past on Facebook and LinkedIn followed their wives on Instagram, and wondered if I would be lucky enough to bump into them in Minnesota, where we had relocated after the wedding. I fantasized about them using the foot massager around my lady garden and would explode into ecstasy. A fictitious world may not be so bad after all. Don't we all have our version of escape? So, what possibly was so sacrilegious about these minor transgressions? I didn't see any, except I soon found myself on Lexapro, and then, it happened- Snapped from my stupor, I arrived in the emergency department with severe pneumonia. Struggling to breathe, the doctors checked my medical history and put me on steroids. Two days later, I was intubated and sedated, and transferred to the intensive care unit that night. The endotracheal tube passed through the vocal cords and engulfed me in silence. Whatever little food my body needed was served intravenously.

Every day felt like being exposed to an Arctic blast, the tube acting as a noose around my throat. Mr. Husband camped outside my room; I am not sure how he felt at that time, but I remember he witnessed my incontinence and assisted the nurse in emptying the bedpan. It wasn't a surprising pivot since 'he liked to care' or was it, love? Maybe Duty. Or Pity? I settled on pity because why would anyone love me. My thoughts and my breathing trudged with labor.

Once the fever broke and my body stabilized, the doctors removed the tube leaving me struggling to talk. When I gathered some strength and voice, the first thing I did was formalize an advance directive- Better in the grave than intubated.

"But what if it could save your life and that,"

"And what am I supposed to do with THE LIFE? What can I give you, give myself with this life? Not even a child." 

"And what about us?"

"No love loss. I am sure. But I shall not get intubated ever." 

"You don't have all the answers." He looked out the window above the kitchen sink where the sun had offered itself in mild warmth before settling for the night. Little did I know then that talking about death and experiencing finality are two different things. From the vantage point of youth and good health, it is easy for us to say that we would rather die than live with significant limitations, pain, or dependence on others. I neither had youth nor good health, and I was disillusioned enough with life and felt ready to kick the bucket when I needed to. Ten years later, a seemingly innocuous tooth pain, which I tried self-treating with Ayurveda, in six months, transformed into jaw bone cancer, and this time, with such ferocity, the oncologist put the survival chances at a slim 10%. For Mr. Husband, I overheard during a chemotherapy session, 10% was more than enough to channel all resources to get me back to life, even it meant having me intubated. That sent me into an emotional tailspin. Was he not done with me yet? 

And then the chemotherapy failed, sending torrents of unbridled anguish my way. Why did it hurt? Was I not done yet? Were we not done yet? 

 I was under the knife again and soon intubated. The doctors did a procedure to reverse the normal- cut a hole in the windpipe to help with breathing and liquid food channeled through my nose. It's unclear what happened in those five months because I vacillated between consciousness and unconsciousness. For the most part, I wasn't able to register the action, the anxiety, the hope, and the desperation around except that whenever I opened my eyes and flitted around, I found him, always. Weeks later, when the bandage was removed, the calmness on Mr. Husband's face made me cry. Our families had flown to be with me, there is nothing that changed, except a deep sense of relief that I was alive. Surprisingly, it felt good to be alive even if mangled and disfigured. Something within wanted me to give myself a chance and a chance to him. I didn't feel love, I am sure. But I wanted to understand his version of it and respect it and maybe even return it someday.

 

A month later, sitting by the flickering hearth as Mr. Husband cut the basil in the kitchen, I scribbled on the back of an old invoice - Thank you for being this husband I don't deserve, but due to some stroke of fate and good luck, I was blessed with. I don't know the prognosis of my health, but what I know for sure is that I don't feel betrayed that you did not honor my advance directive; rather, I am relieved you didn't. I would choose to be intubated or undergo any aggressive medical treatment that can prolong my time with you and what's between us which you have created more than I have. 

Yours,

Mrs.Roy

 

To read the story on Momspresso, click on Let's call her Mrs.Roy


Image courtesy-Pixabay

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