He was my husband. The man I loved over everything. The man I loved over my parents and sibling, my friends and even my career. I loved him for his immaculate perfection and even loved him over his own flaws which were as magnificent as everything else about him. I suspected that I loved him over life itself. This man who made the sunshine brighter in my life since he walked in. This man who made me forget everything I preached about being an evolved, independent woman. I never forgot anything he did for me or to me. How could I? Weren’t they the things that made me fall in love with him to begin with? ….
I could never forget the day I first met him or rather saw him. It was a weekday and I had been invited to attend a war. That is right- a war, nothing less -and I had no choice but. It was my cousin’s engagement. A family event that had blossomed after many years of nurtured conflict. There was, of course, the hope that it would mend many bleeding hearts of old. To me, it was a disaster waiting to blow up.
And it did….
I watched as my two uncles nearly come to blows with each other while the third almost called the cops. All this over something as petty as the flower arrangement. A quick glance around the room reflected some horrified faces, some curious ones, some shedding embarrassed tears while a few distracted anomalies still found their phones far more interesting in the cacophony. While a few relatives tried to pry my uncles apart, I spotted a man standing right behind where all this action was happening. He was casually leaning against the wall, his hands folded across his chest, watching all this drama with the calm of Buddha. He was a new face- a very handsome face- but new to me. I wondered who he was? He was dressed more causally than the rest of the family but to me, he still stood out. At that very moment, they managed to push my uncles apart, both still red-faced and spitting venom at each other while sweating bullets. The forced separation meant a rolling halt for them and one of my uncles rolled all the way back right into Mr. X’s waiting arms. I watched him steady my uncle and politely ask him if he was okay. Then I watched him signal someone for water and hand it to my uncle. My very flushed uncle seemed to explain explosively to him the wrongs of the situation and he seemed to listen attentively, the calm on his beautiful face not leaving him for even a split second. Feeling incredulous, I watched him say something to my uncle that had him calm down- even spare a smile to this stranger- at the end of it. And that was it. While the various members of my family raged against each other, I watched this man be a shining example of civilized, well behaved human behavior and I fell. Promptly. Except I didn’t know I fell. At the time, I was just unquestionably impressed and had to find out who this man was. I spotted him at the buffet table alone and made my determined way to him…
My cousin’s old roommate he said. He smiled when I asked him if he was a South Indian. He laughed when I expressed relief that he wasn’t. I didn’t have anything against South Indians. I was one and now it made more sense to me why he seemed so different than our chaotic frenzied lot. Besides, I found North Indians so cool, I had finished lamely. I am sure my pupils were dilated. He laughed again. I was hypnotized.
Families everywhere are complex, he said with that warm smile again. And I fell again. I had no hope after that. This man was my destiny
And that is how our story started… or rather… my story…
We never officially asked each other out but rather fell into it. He had a traveling job and often returned to the city only on the weekends. It was a far more exciting schedule than I anticipated. Every Friday morning, I would have a spring in my step, a plan in my head and excitement for the evening to follow. My heart would skip a beat when my phone rang, when the voice asked me to come over. We cooked, talked- well, I talked mostly, he listened- traveled, shopped, and well … ssh now … I can’t tell you about everything else, can I? I couldn’t believe this divine being was with me, he liked me, he spent most of his free time with me and he wanted me! Oh, those dreamy weekends! Always intense, always exciting! I lived in a cloud!
But then… clouds… clouds pour rain, don’t they?
When it actually happened, it hit me just like a sudden torrential downpour. Fast, rapid, and hard.
Another Friday evening and here I was. We weren’t doing much. Tired from his flight back, he was sleeping. I was watching him sleep, a smile on my face. His phone rang out. A message. Really, I didn’t pay any attention to it. It rang out again. And then again. Annoyed and afraid it would wake him up, I picked it up to silence it. And then…
It should have been reflexive. Just a flick of the button to mute it. But as fate would have it, I happened to see the screen. And the message across it. A message so vulgar it had no business being there. A message so uninhibited that the explicit visual it brought before my eyes burnt me instantly and yet I felt my heart go ice cold. I read it again, my hands felt numb but were shaking, and yet the phone was still in my hand. Yes, she had addressed my man. Yes, she was talking about…. things he did with her that he had no business doing. He couldn’t have. I looked at him in disbelief, feeling pin pricks on my entire body. He looked innocent. He looked tired.
No, he couldn’t have. She was lying. I looked out of the window, was she?
The seed had been planted.
He woke up and instantly noticed I was quiet. What happened, he asked. I shook my head. He sat close, took my hand in his. Repeated his question. More gently this time. I started shaking my head then stopped. I mumbled some crazy story about work. He heard me out patiently and started giving me options to work it out. But I wasn’t listening. I was nodding and appeared to be listening, but I wasn’t. I was looking at him. Peering into his soul. Trying to spot the deceptiveness. Trying to catch the scoundrel. Suddenly I stopped. What was I looking for? I felt his voice disappear even though his lips were still moving. There was no guilt, I thought, no sign of him having done anything so dreadful. He was still holding my hand, still talking to me like it mattered to him. Clearly, everything I had seen was something else. But what? I knew the person who had sent the text. He had told me about this lady. He worked with her. She was married. They had connected on spirituality.
I swallowed. Nothing about the text was spiritual. I must go, I told him, feeling sick to my stomach. He tried convincing me to stay. I wouldn’t budge.
He dropped me to my car. Made sure I was okay. Asked me to call him after I reached home. I did. But I didn’t sleep all night after that. I sat by my window, turned to stone. I didn’t even notice it was sunrise already. Or when it was mid-morning. I awoke from my stupefied state when he called. He sounded worried. What happened, he kept asking. I have never seen you like this, he said. I knew I had to ask. I hesitated. I didn’t know why. Then I asked.
There was a silence. My heart had stopped beating.
Yes, he said finally. What, I whispered. He was silent. It can’t be, I said. He still said nothing. It was his silence that finally undid me. Tell me the truth, I told him, my shrill pitch hurting my own ears. I thought he wouldn’t speak. But he did. His voice was calm. Like the Buddha.
It is the truth, he said. I have cheated on you, he said. I bit back a sob. Not just once, he added for good measure, I have done it many times and with different women.
You are lying, I whispered. No, I am not, he replied with the same level of calm. I was angry. Very angry. My rage was boiling over. But…
His lack of guilt, his lack of remorse threw me.
Why, I asked finally?
Because I am not serious about anyone, he said. If women approach me, I give in, he said.
Give in, I spat, what do you mean give in? Do you not have any morals? Is this lady not married?
She didn’t mind, he said. And neither did I, he said.
I felt dumbstruck. I felt all my rage being stonewalled and not have an outlet. It felt unreal. How could I be going through so much and he wasn’t affected at all? At all?
I think it is good you found out, he said finally. I wouldn’t have liked hurting you or lying to you, he said. Let’s just call it off now and stick with the good memories, he said.
Nothing seemed to shake that calm off his voice. Me, on the other hand, I felt like someone was violently grinding me in a cement mixer.
This can’t be it, I whispered. This isn’t true, it can’t be true, I heard myself sobbing.
He didn’t seem to be affected by my broken voice.
The sooner you accept it the better it is for you, he said. I had never heard a colder voice.
His lack of emotion and my surcharge of them proved to be a bad decision maker for me
I can’t do this over the phone, I have to see you, I snapped at him.
He finally sounded exasperated. Look, I don’t know how to get through to you, he said. It really is true and the way you are reacting I think we should not push it any further.
Push it any further? I couldn’t believe my ears. Please, I heard myself say and hated myself for it but then I heard myself say it again. When had that liberated woman in me turned into this?
Okay, he had finally said begrudgingly. But once again, he agreed to meet me only the next day.
I didn’t sleep through yet another night and walked around like a zombie through the day, counting the minutes down to his arrival.
When he finally did come, I did the unthinkable. I begged and pleaded with him to not break it off. Let’s work this out, I heard myself saying. C’mon, you can’t just break it like that, I heard my voice again. I heard myself cry many times too. He was stoic through most of the meeting but finally gave in and held me close. Okay, he said. I held on to him for dear life.
Then the story really began….
I told myself I was proud of myself as I started working on the “relationship” while I kept a close eye on him and how often he turned to his phone. My weekends turned into a “grab his phone while you can” saga. I learned to scan his messages really fast and return the phone to the same state that he left it in. But what was this? He was still talking to this woman. Why were they exchanging kiss emojis?
I couldn’t tell him what I knew. I knew how easily he would say he wanted to break it off. So, I sulked. I cried. I went into a bad mood through the week. The next weekend I hoped he wouldn’t disappoint. He did. The next work trip he met her they had dinner together. I asked him why. He said he didn’t think there was anything wrong with dinner. I lost my appetite for most of the week I saw her last text to him. She had asked him if him having a girlfriend meant she had to free her heart for someone else. My chained rage was about to unleash…
He had saved her in his phone book without a name. It was a nickname. I had to find out who she was. I memorized her number and looked her up. I stalked her on all her social media accounts. I found out more about her than I did about him. I discovered most of everything she told him about her troubled marriage was a lie and told him about it. He seemed shocked. If he was surprised with my stalking, he didn’t show it. The next time I snooped, I found her blocked. I felt at peace. For a short while.
His phone bothered me. I kept a close eye on it. I saw messages pop up but there was added security. I could no longer access it. But deception is the mother of deviousness. The more I sensed deception, the more devious I became.
He was right. My heart sank the next time I got access. There were more women. Not just online as well. There were vultures everywhere. And he wasn’t fighting them off.
If I cried, he would sigh. If I fought with him, he would walk away.
I fought more battles. I developed a high level of anxiety. I was always worried and depressed. I tried harder and harder to please him. Every time another woman dropped off, I felt victorious. But it was like peeling an onion. And I was getting very exhausted. I was about to give up… it had been 3 long years. …
He was extra loving that day. I was untouched for a long time. I knew none of it was real. He said he had no more women in his life.
I didn’t say a word. No women I knew of, he meant. I never knew when I would find the next one. His voice dropped an octave.
I never expected you to fight for me the way you did, he said. I probably would never have tolerated what you did, he said. So, I have put a stop to all of it, he said.
I felt like a warrior. A Queen. And I lost my tenuous balance and fell again.
Will you marry me, I asked with no great joy but only fear. I felt him smile and hold me close. I had apparently won.
I married him, the great love of my life. Through the rituals, I felt my heart panic and tell me repeatedly something was wrong. I paid no attention. I had fought for this. I had fought with all of me for this. It wasn’t wrong. It was- infact- finally turning into a right. I was right. When you didn’t give up on relationships, they bloomed. All you needed to do was to have patience and put in the work.
My heart whispered, it not just work. Why are you the only one working?
Shut up, I hissed as we exchanged rings. We were finally married. Each other’s forever. Life would now begin. My great romance would begin…
Marriage didn’t really change me as I hoped though…
I still kept a close eye on him. I couldn’t help it anymore. It was muscle memory now.
He was still on his phone. Who now? I thought automatically.
There was one more woman. His first love. His only love, he told me.
She was the story behind all the other women. He had chosen ambition over marriage and lost her. And lived to regret it.
So did she. They had their affair. Planed to elope. Divorce.
But she had a child. Her husband’s. And all their plans went for a toss when the husband found out. He used one magic word. Custody.
They had to abort their plans. They continued their emotional affair, convinced they loved each other while they destroyed their partners.
I cried. I said he never really loved me. He thought over it and responded I was right. He had only ever loved the other woman. There was a note of pride.
He didn’t bother hiding it anymore. She came first. You pushed me, he said. I wasn’t even interested. I told you many times, he said, but you just wouldn’t listen.
What are you saying, I said horrified at the thought of a long loveless life. What had I done?
I am saying you just don’t listen, he said. You asked me to marry you, he said.
Please stop, I asked feebly.
You think you are the first person to ask me to stop, he mocked. Many before you have done so and many after you will do so, he laughed. But she and I belong to each other, he said, we will always be together
What about her husband, I asked?
He shrugged. He didn’t care about the husband. She didn’t mind. They didn’t think an emotional lifelong affair was an affair.
I couldn’t beg anymore. I watched him for a few more months as he spent all his phone time with her happily morning, noon, and night with no effort at being covert anymore. Weekends were even more special with extended video calls. He seemed to have forgotten me or at least made a note of me as another piece of furniture in the house. I resigned myself to my fate.
Then the day arose…
Her children wished him for Father’s Day. I was making dark coffee, my daily salvation. He had them on video call. I heard him laugh and talk to them with more love than I had heard in the last few years.
I felt something go off in my head….
This man, my sun, and my moon. This man- the eternal love of my life.
This man , who now lay at my feet…. bleeding to death. I felt everything. I felt nothing. I smiled at him and raised the knife one last time. I was following him of course.
The last question in my mind when I brought it down was… was my love more toxic than his? Or was it hers for all of our lives?
Can you tell……?
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