My First Love Part 2
Love. This one word changed its definitions time and time again in my life. When I fell for Karthik in my high school days, love was all blossoms and shiny stars. When he gave me a heart-ache; love was pain and grief. When my friends caught me at the time when I felt I was falling off the cliff, love was platonic and resided in friendships that I cherished. When I returned home after college, love was a constant my family had preserved for me.
When we are children, the only kind of love we know comes from family. Even as we make friends, we are only looking for playmates. Before we can understand friendship for what it actually is, we become adolescents and we start looking for our forever, our happily ever after. It becomes the sole motto of our life. We start feeling that it is the only kind of love that matters. We give in everything we have and we also expect everything in return. And somewhere in this give and take; grief enters our way. All those dreams shatter, all the castles collapse and all we are left with is the pieces of our broken heart.
This is when we retrace our bonds. Our friends and family help us gather these pieces one by one and restore whatever is left of our shattered heart. This is when life announces, ” welcome to reality!” And I am sure hardly anyone would want to differ from me because this is what happens.
This is what happened to me. And now, my first love, my blossoms and shiny stars, my forever and happily ever after is standing right in front of me but I don’t have the courage to go and include him in my life.
The fact that I am getting married not out of love or a hope to find love but because I am supposed to or because I am too scared to live alone, says a lot about my deprivation and lack of faith in unconditional affection. I have constantly walked on thorns hence my expectations of roses are long gone. All I want from life is bare roads now, no matter how steep they get!
After spending three days holed up in my room, comprehending, thinking, overthinking and reliving the days of my heart ache, I have finally decided to call him.
As I unblock and dial the familiar number, I automatically wait for the old caller tune. Though I am greeted with a usual dial tone, I am glad that he has grown up.
“Hello!” he interjects.
“Hi, umm, Niyati here…” I am hesitant.
“I know. You haven’t changed your number,” he observed.
There is a pause. A silence which is not awkward. We both can palpate the warmth of the memories this silence is trying to keep in check.
He finally clears his throat.
“Umm… well, if you’re free this Sunday, we can meet,” I say.
“Sure, what time?”
He hesitates for a moment and I remember how he never was a morning person.
“Still find it hard to wake up early on Sundays, huh? How about 5 in the evening?” I suggest.
“Old habits die hard,” he says meaningfully, “Five is good!”
“Great. See you then!”
And I am about to cut the call when he uses my nick name. The nick name he had given me.
As if realising his slip of tongue, he waits for a moment before he continues.
“We didn’t decide where…”
Caught in the moment, I name our usual cafe from high school and badly regret my poor decision making abilities as I keep the phone.
Though I am pretty nervous about Sunday, deadlines at work bring it soon enough. As usual, he is late. But today, I don’t really seem to mind. At least, I have some time to rehearse my lines when he comes.
I close my eyes and try to gather my thoughts into words. I take a deep breath in and open my eyes to find him sitting in front of me slightly smiling.
Congratulations Niyati, for successfully embarrassing yourself in front of him!
“I’d never thought it would be this hard to talk to you, ever. Not even when I told you about my feelings in the physics lab,” he said.
“You remember?” I don’t know why but I am astonished.
“Who forgets their first love, Niyati?”
He was right. But what could I say?
“So, why did you deliberately meet me for this arranged marriage thing?”
“I told you. I just happened to see your picture and I couldn’t stop myself. It was like life was giving me a second chance. I had to take it. We fulfil every criteria set down by our parents for us and better than marrying a stranger, isn’t it better to wed someone you love?”
“You’re using present tense for love, Karthik!” I pointed out. High school was a decade old affair!!
“Does love really ever go away?”
He had a point, again. I liked his honesty. He didn’t give me any shitty answers. He didn’t say that I never really stopped thinking about you. He didn’t say I always hoped to meet again. He didn’t give me any rubbish and that gave him a plus. About love, he was right. We might have moved on but the root emotion cannot change.
“Fair point. But we are still strangers!”
“Really? After everything we’ve had?”
I couldn’t help but laugh here.
“Really? You consider that part of life? I don’t think I’ve retained anything of that time and it is not possible that even you have! After junior college, life has shown its true colours to us. We have seen bad days, worse days, and we have survived them. We have changed after every set back. And I don’t think we are the same people anymore!”
“Some things don’t change ever, Niyati!”
“Like your genuine eyes!”
I looked away and rolled my eyes. This cliché doesn’t work anymore. Somebody tell him. When I looked back at him, I gave him a pointed and annoyed look.
“Try again!” I challenged him, now that my brows were lifted and my eyes were having a no nonsense expression.
He just calmly smiled at me.
“Again. Same thing. They are as genuine as they were. And I am a better person to judge that, not you. When I first fell in love, it was because your eyes communicated things your words could not. I understood them then, and I can understand them now; because they have not ceased to speak for you!”
I didn’t buy that. But I didn’t argue any further. It would’ve been pointless.
“You may think we are not strangers, but for me this meeting is like meeting any other guy for an alliance. I thought a lot about you, about us and I have come to realise that I do cherish the beautiful part of our life when we were together. In fact, that’s the only time when I was truly and innocently in love. But we were too young then and a fall out was bound to happen. I don’t want to go in the details of who did what or who was more at fault. We were both immature, stupid and equally to blame. But now, I don’t know if you’re the same person who I loved in my high school. In fact, I probably don’t want the same person to be my life-partner. So, I am going to see for myself if you are what I need in life without clouding it with the past. I will ask you the same questions I ask any other guy and treat this whole thing as a pre-arranged marriage interveiw!”
“Whatever questions you have, ask away. I am ready to answer everything honestly. But for me, right from the day I saw your picture on that website; I was sure about you. Even if you’re not like someone I have imagined to be my life partner, I don’t care. Because I am ready to make every compromise, to make every sacrifice and every effort this relationship would take. You were the first person who made me feel what it is like to love and I can adjust with anything else to have that feeling back.”
My first instinct would have been to laugh. His confession sounded like a dialogue from a movie. Too good to be real. But the way he said it, the way his eyes testified his words, the way his voice had the right amount of intensity; I could not help but see honesty there.
Yet, I wasn’t going to soften up. I need what I need. I am not ready to adjust, compromise and sacrifice certain basic things just because I still feel deeply for that person. I am just not ready and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
I squared my shoulders and sucked in as much air as I could and fired my first question.
“I am not very keen on cooking, so will you cook for three days a week?”
“I could do four!” he said without even taking a pause.
I was shocked because mostly all my meetings ended here, at the very first point.
“You’re saying this because right now you’re ready to agree to anything I say!”
Well, that’s what it looked like. He had said he was sure about me. I needed to know his thought process more than his answer in this case because this question is my test for chauvinism. If you ask a guy what he feels about the emancipation of a woman, he would give you a nice rote learned speech on how women should be treated equally, how they should go and work outside, how they should do whatever they wish to do. But when the real time comes, he wouldn’t look beyond the patriarchal circle he has always been living in.
When a guy is ready to accept cooking as a responsibility, it shows that he is not just talking about equality, he actually means it. But if he associates cooking and maintaining the house as a role of a woman, he would panic. He would show extreme willingness towards helping her if she is tired, he would even say that he’d hire someone for the job, but he won’t be ready to accept this as his role too.
He will also call you petty and lazy; but in reality he is just incapable of realising the true meaning of equality. It is the fault of how he’s been raised, but I am not ready to deal with the lack of parenting in my spouse.
“No. It’s fair enough. We both will be having challenging jobs outside so we both should share the responsibilities at home. And since you’re not keen on cooking, I don’t mind Sundays,” he said with a genuine smile and a sparkle in his eye as he probably imagined all his Sundays with me.
I might try to run away, but his light was rubbing on me.
“I kept Sundays for dining out!” and I had an infectious grin plastered on my face.
He smiled saying, “yeah, I like that idea too!”
“So, next question?” he asked after a momentary pause.
I squared my shoulders again, “I don’t care about your past, but I would really mind if that past is a part of your present or is likely to affect us in future. So I need to know if you have any exes that still affect you in a way they shouldn’t or any kids that may one day ring your doorbell asking for shelter. Trust me, I don’t need that kind of baggage in life! Having said that, I do have friends who are guys and I will be friends with them always, but I can assure you about the exes and the kids’ part…”
“I don’t mind if all your friends are guys. I will have faith in you until you choose to betray me. And no, I have no exes that would bother us in future. I have had some failed relations, but I have no kids whatsoever. And I am sorry I was a jerk in this matter when we broke up.”
I ignored his apology. That was one hell of a bad stroke but that’s past and I don’t want the past to cloud my judgement of the future. I had not said these things to bring old things up, it was something I generally asked and told every guy I met like this.
“Okay, do you drink or smoke or burn weed or do anything that puts a human off his knowledge of self?” I found it better to shoot the next question.
“No, Niyati. I don’t even drink occasionally. You know how I feel about that. It’s not changed.”
Maybe he was a little offended. What was he expecting? Rosy questions?
“Okay, I am done. Your turn to ask questions.”
“That’s it? You only had these questions in mind?”
“Yeah, why? What did you expect?”
“You didn’t want to ask about how I would balance your family and mine? Or if things didn’t work out will I leave them and live with you? Or any such thing?”
“That depends on how I handle things, Karthik. Not something I expect my partner to do for me. That’s a whole different dimension!”
“Well, I’ve met a few girls before you. None of them asked me what you did or the way you did. And they all had these questions to ask that you didn’t bother asking, I am pretty confused!”
“All the guys I met refused to cook thrice a week. We’re exquisite people probably!”
He laughed in response.
“You didn’t ask anything?” I prompted.
“I have only one question. What made you like this, Niyati?”
“Like what, Karthik?”
“Like this. So hopeless. So full of doubts. Covered in a shell of ferocity, you are so vulnerable inside. Why have you become like this? Like you’re at war every second of the day. Like you sleep with one eye open. What happened?”
I didn’t know I was tensed until I felt my entire body relaxing as I exhaled a deep breath.
Right there, the person sitting in front of me, who claimed to read my eyes, was indeed getting me like I was a book to read. He did not know my story but he understood that I had one. He understood that my struggles had lead me here. But most importantly; he understood. He passed every test I had laid down for him, he understood me and as a bonus, we both shared some mutual affection for each other.
I wasn’t going to let him go because of my insecurities. If he could look through my facade for all the vulnerabilities I hide inside, he would definitely be by my side to fight them away.
Life is not roses. I am still not expecting roses. I am still hoping for roads. But when they get steep, I’d know he would be holding me, not letting me fall. And I just have to hold him in return. It’s so simple.
He was waiting for my answer. He was waiting for me to tell him what made me the way I’d become. He was also waiting for me to tell him if our long gone dream of a forever would become a reality. And I was just looking at him, relaxing, cherishing and savouring the moment.
“It’s not just one thing, Karthik. It’s a decade of fighting with life. A decade of getting attached and betrayed. A decade of loving and losing. A decade of fighting all alone. All those ups and downs that came my way, or in the way of the people I love have all contributed to the person I am now. I still don’t know how you’ve saved yourself from being robbed of your optimism, but I think we have a life time ahead of us to tell all the stories.”
Here, I said it.
He smiled. He smiled like a million dollar light bulb!! And the way he smiled at me made me realise that he has got enough light for the both of us and maybe sometimes, just sometimes, your first love is also your ever after!