Earlier this morning, I asked her to pick up the dog and anything else she could tuck under her arm and leave. Packers, shippers and lawyers would take care of the rest.
She looked at me, unblinkingly, with a bitterness whose taste isn't unlike a childhood memory of when you were intentionally cruel to someone. You want to rid your system of this memory, but it's made its home in your head. You want to spit it out of your system, but it catches on to your clothes, your skin, and nothing can wash it off.
It was a sunny morning, leaves glistening in the light after the night's rain. Through the window, you could see in HD, the wet mango leaves and the stubborn dust that'd attached itself to each lamina. The tracks of water on these leaves hadn't scrubbed them clean.
She turned around, slowly, and slipped her feet out of her sandals. There was a reverence to this moment for both of us. The culmination of years of searching for each other, followed by the onset of a realization that hang on, this is great and all, but we can't live with each other. One of us was a manipulative wench, and the other, an asshole of vedic proportions. The implosion was imminent.
She slowly lowered herself to the floor, and picked up her sandals, gripping them tight so the blood seceded from her knuckles. Her lower lip quivered, and a tear escaped her eye. It's always been these little things that scratched at my scabbed core of love. Like blowing at kindling. The return of fondness would start with a warmth near the throat, and set the worms of logic crawling for cover. In that instant, I’d again be mesmerized how, at once, beautiful and sad she could look. The heart would be called to action. It’d quickly shove aside the furniture to make room for her again.
If you've ever loved, then you know the thrill of the woo, that feeling of triumph at the conquest, the giddiness of the honeymoon that follows and the plateau of everything else after. I didn't have any of these. I'd first met her when we were kids. The crush followed shortly, though I didn't let on, not least because she always seemed to have one boy or another to link arms with.
Instead, I said mean things, pretentious things, that were calculated to complement my general supercilious air - to show her how I was beyond these puppy loves, how my world was one of books and numbers (not prodigiously so, just enough to give an air of precocity), and how, most definitely, I couldn't give a hoot about her or her latest arm-link.
We kept in touch over the years, her more than me. It was easier for her, most definitely. After all, what did it cost her to call me? I figure the thought process was simple for her - a hmm-wouldn't-mind-me-some-snappy-repartee-for-the-next-five state of mind. A bit of 'remember when you said/did, and then I did/said'? All good fun, and a neat way to see her through her drive to class, in another college, another city, another country. For me though, it would be another sleepless night, sifting through the mental recording of each inflexion in her tone, each lilt in her laugh, peeling back word after word of our conversation in the hope that there, in that word right there, lay her permission to me that said 'go on, make a pass at me.'
I never found it. I remain, to this day, very thick.
So I did as best as I could, always cordially replying, and keeping her on the periphery of the crowd that I felt amenable to the idea of me. On occasion, I'd be so bold as to send her an innocuous (but hope-laden) invite to come visit but this would be met with a smile, the likes of which ruffle your hair, and thank you, with a peck on the cheek, for being so sweet.
She had no idea, absolutely none, as to how heels-under-head I was about her.
Years later, when circumstance and that most unlikely of collaborators, the uni, decided I'd been matadored enough, I found an opportunity to tell her how I fancied her. I expected she wouldn't be put off by the thought, but not much more. She smiled, I like to think, coyly. We’d both come from recently upended worlds, and there was a sense that the serendipity that brought us to this moment would also act as a guardian for this relationship, should such a thing come to pass.
It's still hard to believe we’ve been together a year. She likes an eco-system of spontaneity, of adventure, uncertainty and non-conformity. I've struggled with these every day while I've been with her because I possess none of these attributes. I loved planning for the future, putting money away for when we’re toothless, and re-watching Rajkumar Hirani movies. But I'd lashed myself to her. Tightly knotted ropes around her. If it meant the odd pretence, really, what was the harm? Non-conformity? Sure. Uncertainty? I could dash out doses of that too. I couldn’t afford to let my façade slip. If it did, I know I’d be pushing her away.
Thankfully, I'm the finest actor I know. I'm propelled less by my passion for the stage than by the conviction that if I take off the mask, if I show her how different she and I are, it'll blow out the flame. I made sure to talk a great game. We’d make a series of contracts for how long we'd be together, each a month long, to be renewed at expiry. This uncertainty would create a playful volatility, and that she liked. I’d plan trips to the exotic and the remote. I’d make up stories about my past. I’d frequently hide a bunch of gandhis under a mattresses, and scatter the rest to the winds. I could be quite colourful when the need arose.
Heroes are sculpted out of the same plasticine as the rest of us, but with a lot of tempering. And I was convinced that there was a higher purpose to our fights. To make me a better man, one more responsible, and generally nicer. A small-time hero. Where my mother failed, this woman would succeed. This tempering would naturally be difficult, and repetitive. This is all the explanation I could come up with as to why we fought the way we did.
Even in our better moments, her each gentle rib would start on me like spirit on an ember. And this was vexing, when you considered how much I loved her. Like squeezing sand, all of this simply made it harder for me to hold on to her.
I remained scared to show her the unending future that I dreamt about spending with her. Because it hardly made for good literature, this business of thick, horizon-to-horizon love, let alone a good story.
Which brings me back to this morning. I found her reading my journal. One that she knew was mine, and personal. Where I'd filled the pages with my architecture of the unending future, the dream one, from the accents of the bedroom in our retirement home, to the steps she needed to take to cash in my LIC policy. Most damning was probably the chapter on choosing a school for our kids.
She looked up at me from the journal and said "You want kids?? You’d said you didn’t care. I'd made my stance about this clear, hadn't I?"
I didn't know where to begin. I'd been very precise, very detailed in my writing. The soul, as it was, was fairly bared in those pages. No sleight, no concocted story could fix this.
I suppose I panicked. I made it all about the invasion of my privacy, the audacity of it all, and how was I to trust her again. She protested. She said that that wasn’t the point, that she only chanced on my journal and was curious about whether there was a writer in me. These things have had a way of escalating quickly between us. We both said things we shouldn’t have, she more than me.
I asked her to leave me. Either way, it’d only be a matter of time even if I didn’t. She knew I was mostly fraudish. I asked her to leave, hoping she’d return, knowing she wouldn’t.
She wiped the tear, and stepped forward lightly with her right foot, and turned her shoulders away from me. Her grasp of physics, of torque, potential energy, and levers, had always been intuitive. As she swiveled in my direction, I busied myself estimating exactly how deadly the force with which the sandal would fly at my face.
I should've ducked instead.
I had no idea, absolutely none, about how much this woman loved me.