It’s 4:20 a.m. on Wednesday. Quarantine is on day 40 or thereabouts. I turn over and grab my phone from my bedside table with a groan. I glance at the first few items on my Instagram feed, check a Twitter notice, then scan through my Gmail inbox indifferently. During these last several weeks of working from home, I’ve developed the horrible habit of reading my work email in bed. During this time when they’re both in the same area, the unneeded routine blurs the lines between home and work.
But this morning, when I’m still lying down, I get an email with my ex-name, girlfriend’s “P,” in the subject line, which makes me do a double-take. P, who I’ve been dating long-distance since she moved to Australia in February of last year for a brighter future. We’d met five months prior and swiftly created something I was confident could endure the distance. From our first meeting, P energised me physically; our emotional connection flared to a comparable intensity as we both opened up—she about her failed relationships, her difficulties with commitment, and I about my academic stress, my anxiety that nothing lasts. We developed the strongest physical and mental attraction I’ve ever known. It made me feel as though the “wait” had been well worth it, according to whatever personal or cultural schedule I follow. N unexpectedly ended our relationship in an email on the first day of my new employment in February, as she relocated to Miami.
I force a few hard blinks, attempting to shake the lingering drowsiness. Since we started sheltering in place, I, too, have had vivid, sometimes-indistinguishable-from-reality nightmares. Perhaps this was just an odd prolongation of the previous few restless early morning hours. I check my email. It’s a message from a woman I’m not familiar with. She apologises for the unwanted touch and says there’s something essential she wants me to know. If I’m willing to talk to her, she’ll talk to me.
My mind is racing, as it often is. It doesn’t take much to figure out that this is someone with whom P has had dealings. We split up, but I was having trouble moving on. We split up in the sense that a relationship requires two people to agree on something, and we didn’t: This wasn’t what I wanted. She’d stated that she needed some time. She felt as if she’d lost herself and didn’t have anything to contribute to a relationship at the moment. We’ve been in touch just infrequently enough for me to remain trapped for the past two and a half months after she terminated things.I took the initiative and persevered in seeking to speak with her, demanding to understand what we had meant to her as much as it did to me. She assured me that it did, and that it was genuine. She urged me to believe her, that her life was as mundane as mine, that she was through with the work, and that she would be returning to Mumbai soon. Maybe things would be different when she returned early next year if we stayed in each other’s lives. Maybe if I stayed close but attempted to give her the space she needed, she’d see that I was the missing piece in her life. Perhaps if I kept asking, I’d get something more fulfilling than a hazy promise that she’d call soon if I persisted. Coronavirus limitations thwarted my plan to keep busy and occupied with birthday parties, ski getaways, SoFar shows, and college basketball until March, leaving me with nothing but unstructured time ripe for overanalysis.
However, it’s possible that this email is about something else. Is she okay in any of the other possible scenarios? Is she in any kind of trouble? Is it true that I’m in trouble?—seems more comforting. It’s evident that I’m going to drive myself insane until I reply after a jog, a shower, and an attempt to start my work day. The only way to get further information is to respond. But a part of me that is as insane attempts to justify that if I don’t answer or wait as long as I can, I will be able to suspend myself in this realm where I will remain unconscious of facts I don’t want to know.
After finishing my afternoon calls, I transfer the message to my personal email account and reply. I tell her that the email took me off guard and that I’m not sure what this is about. Close the window—none of this is real if I can’t see it—pour a glass of wine, and try to distract myself with the next episode of my current Disney + binge. I barely make it through the 53-minute episode when I receive a text message that I want to react to, and since the programme is stopped, I assume I’ll check to see whether she’s responded.
She’s done it. I attempt to take in all of the emails at once. The phone screen flashes words I’m terrified of—”relationship,” “nearly three years,” “cheating”—and I stop skimming and slow down. My cheeks flushes, and my heart thuds.
It turns out that everything is far worse than the scenarios I’d imagined throughout the previous 13 hours. My mental gymnastics haven’t led me to the conclusion that P has been unfaithful to me for the whole 18 months we’ve been together, having had relationships with at least two other guys. That this lady contacting me has had her son for three years, that he is the reason she is currently in Miami rather than in Mumbai with me, and that she has another guy in Kuwait. That I’m now responsible for whatever shock, bewilderment, and sadness they’re going through. It’s only fair, she says, and that’s the only part of this missive that makes sense.
My mind wanders back to the beautiful morning walks we made to the coffee shop near my house, and the Starbucks runs we did when we were staying with mom. We could brew coffee at home, so these excursions were superfluous, but she persuaded me to partake in this simple pleasure because it was something we did together. We toasted with tequila on those nights, first with cinnamon-sprinkled orange slices since the bar was out of limes, then a couple more times because it was delicious. While we were walking, she placed her head on my shoulder. I now imagine her experiencing times that made comparable good memories for, and with, someone else, as vividly as I recollect us in our commonplace memories. My hope for a future reunion dwindles, as does the pedestal that supported us during the good days.
I agree to meet with the woman the next evening. I’m not sure what to anticipate from her voice, which is smooth and lovely. Should we begin at the beginning? Is it okay if I ask some questions? What’s the plan for piecing together all the ways we’ve been duped all this time? Using the “start at the beginning” method, it becomes clear that the falsehoods are much too many to be tracked. She’d spent time with her son on quick excursions she told me she was going to visit friends or days I didn’t even realise she’d been gone. Absences that included two of the previous three weekends before she surprised me with the news that she’d taken the job in Miami—an opportunity she’d mentioned just once in the previous week and that we hadn’t yet talked sufficiently for me to consider a serious possibility. We said “I love you” for the first time that day. I specifically said that, and she agreed. We decided to give it a go. Isn’t it only a year? By Thursday morning, I was standing outside her parked car, furiously holding her and fighting back tears with the kitchen aid coffee grinder she suggested I could have. She was gone in less than three days after her stunning announcement.
The months after her departure were marked by high highs and dismal lows. I scheduled a flight to Bahrain, where she was spending two weeks for work, only a month into our separation, and why wouldn’t I join her? By the third day, she had returned to our hotel room to inform me that she had to fly out the next morning, cutting our week together in half and leaving me alone in a hotel room in a country not famed for its female hospitality. I was heartbroken, but I rationalised that she didn’t have a choice. The disappointment of being left behind was countered by the excitement of reconnecting with my sister for her wedding weekend in less than a month.
Later that summer, the non-refundable flight to Baltimore I’d purchased only a week before to coincide with her training course became something I’d save for an expensive, unexpected weekend in Chicago with friends, knowing I’d see her a few weeks later and that this time together on the East Coast would have been merely “bonus.” But now I’m wondering whether a profession I didn’t understand was just a convenient excuse for an escape plan to meet and spend time with other women—which just adds to the loneliness and sadness I felt at the time.
Each day apart seemed like a success because it meant we were one step closer to being together. Each phone call or text tiding me over, convincing me we were getting through, I lived for seeing her name light up my phone. People gushed about how gorgeous she was when I shared images, and it reminded me how fortunate I was to think the same way. In Mumbai, I began to visit and get to know her mother. She gave me the keys to his car, and every few weeks I drove it around the neighbourhood to keep it from sitting dormant for too long. I did these things because it was something I wanted to do. They appeared to be actions of showing up when I couldn’t physically be with her. She constantly expressed gratitude, and it was genuine. It felt the same way when she informed me I was included in her daily appreciation prayer. She complimented my “large brown eyes,” piercing my Gujju humility; she supported me professionally and appeared committed in my work and “limitless potential.”
Despite this, and despite the lack of a single triggering incident, I found myself worried in ways I didn’t expect when I didn’t hear from her on a regular or predictable basis, when I assumed he should be waking up or completing work, and much more agitated when calls and messages went unanswered. But she’d eventually show there, and we’d catch up on the day before, the day ahead, and whatever book we were reading together but apart, and exchange I-love-yous. It would appear fair that she had fallen asleep early, had to rush to work, and had to remain late. To get beyond these fears, I told myself I needed to relax, trust what we had. I didn’t have any nightmares regarding infidelity or other emotional obligations. My concerns originated from the difficulties of distance, particularly the fear that being separated for an extended period of time would cause her to forget what we had. It’s clearer now than it was then that our lives were like pathways that had to be twisted and rerouted in order to connect.
The last time I saw her was on a brief visit in September. I handed her off at the airport, where she was scheduled to fly to Miami for another work-related trip. I shattered when she went for a few weeks. I texted, texted, texted, texted, texted, texted, texted, texted, texted, texted, I deleted WhatsApp because it was too terrible to see she’d been active and had not only failed to answer to my agonising pleadings, but had also failed to read them. It didn’t make sense; perhaps she couldn’t use her phone because she was doing something on this trip that was risky enough to prevent contact. The shortness of one of the few texts I got during this time, stating that she loved me and that we’d chat soon, seemed to support this theory. And there was a part of me that believed you couldn’t end a relationship without having a dialogue about it.
Now that I think about it, it should have been the end, but I wasn’t prepared. I say that knowing that even if the split had occurred at that time, the circumstances would not have been terrible enough to move me ahead with the clarity and commitment I have now that I know the truth. I should’ve pressed for answers to my inquiries about what occurred during that period of near-total stillness, but the comfort of knowing we were back on track by mid-October won out. I reasoned that it was best not to press someone who acknowledged to going through difficult times to open up; we’d get there and deal with it later. It was the same fear that prohibited me from ever learning the story behind a certain tattoo or how she felt about specific occurrences in her past, beyond dismissals that it wasn’t something she wanted to discuss. Back in Miami, she expanded on an email she’d sent a few weeks earlier, during our near-blackout period: she’d heard in Seoul that she wouldn’t be returning to Mumbai after a year as planned, and she wasn’t sure we’d be able to make the distance work. I was almost expecting a phone call verifying that anything had changed for her. We decided to keep trying when she indicated she still wanted to be with me despite the introduction of ever-greater uncertainty.
The list we’d established of prospective timeframes for seeing each other got shorter as fall gave way to the Christmas season and then the new year, for no reason I understood or defined. I tried to remain hopeful now that I knew she’d be spending the next year in Miami as we imagined about travels we’d do and how amazing it would be to ski together in Japan. I discovered a new place to live. I took a step forward in my career. I’ve moved into my new place. When she stopped in Mumbai on way to Miami, I began to concentrate on the few days we’d have together. We needed the time because it had been so long since we’d seen each other.
But there was no definitive schedule until a few days before P intended to depart Miami. I pondered why I wasn’t more pleased about seeing her and decided it was because I was bracing myself for disappointment, considering how her employment demands had thrown us off in the past. She contacted a day or two later to say she needed to be in Miami sooner than scheduled. It’s evident to me now that she had no intention of coming. Less than a week later, she called it quits.
When April rolled around, the man in Australia unexpectedly stumbled across emails showing a relationship with the man in Miami, as well as a message exchange confirming my participation. He addressed P, telling her that it wasn’t appropriate for everyone touched by her actions and decisions to remain in the dark.
Invoking the cliché “Sometimes we learn something about the past that transforms everything we think about the present” seems like revealing I have a framed “Live, Laugh, Love” print in my living room. But there’s something appealing about the way time cements past events while allowing interpretation to be changeable.
As I continue and finally close my chat with him, stoic astonishment replaces my previous emotion as his narrative verifies a pattern of lying that I don’t understand. I don’t need to contact the Miami man; the truth is clear enough at this time that I can avoid verification of a few more falsehoods. I’m not sure if I should say anything to her. A part of me wishes I could send her a short message stating that I know everything and that she has harmed me more than I can fathom. But I’m not sure whether something so brief represents and portrays what it’s like to feverishly and dizzily ascend a tiny staircase of chronological weeks and months, only to arrive at a cliff of betrayal from which I’ve already tumbled, unsure if anything said and shared was genuine.
I am grateful beyond words that the man who contacted me thought it was important to tell me the truth. It would have been simple and logical not to include anybody else, especially given his ambiguity regarding my identity. However, it saves me from ruminating and fixating on a person and a relationship that will always be a part of my past but never define me. It’s devastating to realise that someone to whom you’ve given your trust, vulnerability, and love isn’t who you think they are, but with that knowledge comes the clarity to understand what I’d neglected to prioritise for the majority of our relationship: my needs and instincts. This was not my fault nor anything I should have anticipated. But I regret attributing all of the tight communication, all of my worry when I couldn’t contact her, all of the times I thought I overreacted, to a flaw in my own. Although hindsight is always 20/20, I will never doubt my intuition or apologise for feeling sincerely, freely giving, or talking honestly again.
My own experience, which I hold up as a beacon for my future self and anybody else who could benefit from it, does not imply that everything that happens in life is a sign. It’d be tiring and unreasonable to live as if we don’t have agency or as if every emotion, every experience, is a piece of a jigsaw that can only be put together once you’ve gotten some distance from the time period they collectively represent. Perspective is valuable, but it is not something that can be rushed. Despite the fact that it feels as if life has come to a standstill, as it has for several weeks while we battle with a worldwide epidemic, life goes on, and we go with it.
It’s easy to believe that it would be better if I had never known about all of this—or, more importantly, if it had never occurred. Or think about how different things would be now if we could travel back in time and mend or reverse anything, or alter someone’s opinion. The psyche is strong in that retrospective sense, but it is perhaps even more so when we direct it toward the future and channel our hurts and lessons into the persons we will become. That’s how I choose to recover on good days. And each good day offers a little more serenity, a little more steady strength, and a little more hope for a future that is ours to create.
Next blog will be out soon.Desai Thoughts MEdia.
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