Bleeding hearts: Bigotry vs. Catharsis

* * *

I buried him today. 

Not the physical kind. But deep in my thoughts never to surface again. The first time I spotted him, checking me out at a kid’s birthday party in March, electricity ran between my thighs. And a sharp pain shot up my holy grail, a part of my body that hasn’t seen much action lately. And for the purpose of this story, I refuse to spell out his name. Because this is what should happen to people who can’t even be faithful to the most forbidden act in a marriage – Infidelity. 

Before I met him, I had always assumed that this sort of a thing between two people from different marriages only happened in the movies. You stay committed to your spouse no matter what, and offer yourself no other ambivalent definitions to marriage in the form of affairs or flings. 

The Indian movies showed the woman who is having an affair, usually a steamy intimate one, getting caught red handed trying to adjust her saree back in place or the man jumping into his pants zipping them up at a quick pace all the while keeping up with his mad rush to the door. 

American movies showed explicit scenes like a couple caught in bed or on the other hand, had subtle depictions of the wife finding a lady’s underwear in the back seat of her husband’s car. 

But, if you are looking for such salacious details of my “hookup”, you might be disappointed. I was simply thinking of it but NOT doing it. Heck, I wonder if you will find this half as exciting as massages with happy endings.

*

One Saturday evening at a farewell party to one of our friends in early June, we even took it a notch higher with our boldness. 

As we gathered at a friend’s club house in Norcross, I waited for his family to show up. As I saw his daughter Diya run up to greet Maanya who was in my arms, I felt heat flushing to my neck and face. Eventually, I spotted him hanging out with my husband and a few of the dads on the upstairs balcony. As soon as our eyes met, I saw him moving quickly toward the door that led to the stairs. I walked inside hurriedly and into the foyer area where he could have a view of me if he was headed downstairs. 

In few seconds, I could feel a heightened sense of the cologne he wore as I heard hurried footsteps on the stairs. When I turned sideways to see who it was, I saw him standing at the bar just beneath the staircase and pouring whiskey and ice cubes into a glass and glancing at me. Hard liquor drinker, I thought. 

I turned around and walked towards a big formal dining room full of high back cushioned chairs. I sat down in one of them which was well in his line of vision and adjusted my fancy saree and ostentatious gold jewelry for a long time with an in-definitive purpose but which might have seemed quite definitive to onlookers. 

As I sat there, Maanya and Diya came running towards me. As they crashed into my lap, the timbre of his voice came closer to me. That voice that has left me sleepless in melancholy most nights. I saw him setting his glass on the counter and put both hands in his pockets and walk towards us. He gently knelt next to Diya and asked, “Baby, are you having fun?” He was eye challenging me the whole time he said this. 

I smelt his breath and his skin which was only inches from me. Watching his face, I realized that it meant much to me that I could make his face so bright. I forced myself not to drop my eyes. I felt a debilitating compulsion surround me. It gave me all the reasons I should be in this for him. After all, his gender needs a little consolation, a little assurance to his ego, my heart repeatedly told me. The girls eventually ran away and he returned to the bar to finish devouring me. 

I took out my lip gloss from my purse and applied it and sat there for a long time with upper teeth pressing down on my lower lip while pretending to check out my phone with shaking hands. 

If I had his phone number I wondered if I would have the courage to ask him what kind of infractions he was up to in his head at the moment. If he had been mentally removing my saree, I could have assured him, I would not suffer. And the libidinal restraint that we were showing at the moment felt impressive to me. 

I have no recollection of what Maanya wanted from me that time or what I had said to both the girls. For that matter, I do not have any solid memory of that part of my life when his thoughts consumed me. 

*

After those first few times, I returned to parties with more commitment to this affair than to my marriage, and many more times just to fill in on this intense tremors that I felt inside me. There was also the deep desire to feel his attention which was equally powerful.

When I wasn’t around him, I thought of him everywhere, in crowded office meetings, parties, while mindlessly browsing the phone, and even while cooking dinner in the evenings. 

I must be better than all those men and women who made love to many but ended up really loving only one or two in their lifetime. And this relationship was more sacred than the bond I shared with my girlfriends where we spent a lifetime of pure jealousy comparing our kids and their academics, yet at the same time professing that we were all best friends. 

It’s easier times to cheat, but very difficult to keep a secret. So, I stayed away from my girlfriends and alienated them in the fear of wanting to boast to them about my straying. As a woman, I can’t afford that. And this is not a secret login to a harmless website like those AshleyMadisons. 

*

Whatever they say in researches and surveys that happy people cheat is most likely true. This is a story of how I began my second marriage with my husband when my first one to him had died, so he deserves some footage in this story. As an Indian husband he tons of relational entitlement. He is OK with anything about life. Did I mention he is amazingly boring in bed? Without this information, I run a risk of being judged without sympathy. Wait, and he is super insecure about his own merits. 

But, in his defense, in my future, I won’t be seeing us breaking up over money. He might be removed and unemotional, but extremely attentive when it comes to our 4 year old Maanya. He is my bank, my baby daddy, a person who gives me an identity as a wife and mother and my most familiar territory. In short, my marriage to him is country-life-simple.

When I met him in the promise of an arranged marriage, his looks had an edgy intellectual intensity about them. But as with any package that is unwrapped, I eventually found out that collectively, we were going to have zero ambitions and our lives would make even the most mundane lives seem exciting. The spark and then the raging fire of the honeymoon phase has fizzled down pretty fast in the last 8 years. 

*

Today was the kids’ annual Holiday party. A few of us had still managed to arrive in sarees. This is the part of the Desi parties that always amuses me. Whatever happened to – When in Rome, party like a Roman? 

We began the party with the kids’ gift exchange and had scheduled the adult White elephant game for a little later when we were done with feeding the kids and propping them up in front of a movie. As a few us moms got busy with the kids, I saw Anjali walk in bringing her 2 year old daughter and a big rush of the freezing December air along with her. She was at least a few years younger than most of us and dare I say, a stunner? And so I could never feel that connection with her that I had felt for many others of my mommy group. After all, meetup dot com, where I had joined this mommy group could only hook us up with promises of friendships that started a little more like a mass blind date. 

After the kids ate, a few of the dads volunteered to line the kids up at the chair where the Secret Santa took holiday pictures with the kids and gave away gifts. I didn’t spot Diya’s dad for a long time and wondered if he was visiting his family in North Carolina for the holidays. But eventually, I overheard his wife bragging about how adorable her husband looked in the Santa’s costume. So, I had not gotten a chance to see his handsome face today. 

As a few of us cleaned up and gathered all the White elephant gifts on a U shaped dining table in the formal dining room, I looked up across the other hall where I could see Secret Santa hanging out with the kids. Anjali was placing her daughter in his lap and was taking a picture. After she helped her daughter down with her gift, I saw Anjali playfully sit in his lap while he squeezed her back and mouthed something to her. She squealed in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. What must it be that he had quipped, a euphemism for prostitute? 

I walked up to the door of the room I was in and stared around them in disbelief and could only see little kids running around in that hall. No adult supervision! I saw him get up and dust off his outfit and walk away with her towards the door that led to the backyard. This time it was my eyes that had to burn through her shiny mini skirt.

In morbid brood, I yanked Maanya out of there, not giving her a chance to get her gift that year or get a picture taken with him. I walked home in the bitter chill after texting my husband that I had a bad headache and that he should enjoy the rest of the party without guilt. 

*

I want to tell Anjali that men are assholes and he will get over her in about 9 months, just as long as his attention lasted for me. Call me insecure, but when someone can be unfaithful in his infidelity, doesn’t he deserve a tart’s company? Who else would wear a mini dress and sexy boots to a kids’ holiday party? What if she has always been involved in the business of making men happy? 

For my part, I really have no despair. Why should I? Even if I lose the stare I still keep my house, my husband, my job and Maanya. Moreover, I no longer have to worry about my fear of falling in love, or the fear of disappointing my family. I never wanted to hurt my parents, my child and my husband. This was merely a fling. I’ve always kept up with the sparkling hyphenated immigrant persona – the good mother, good wife, and good girl, always doing what was expected of me. And what’s more, I still get to keep that image of mine intact. 

* * *

3 Comments

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  1. I know that you dabble in fiction, but your woman protagonists are getting a bit stereo-typical…be it the woman who was ‘raped’ by the man’s eyes in the italy dalliance or the woman who was being ‘mentally disrobed’ in the above story; they seem to hanker after the unattainable, turn resentful when realization dawns, seem to have neither the moral compunction to reign in their impulses nor have the courage to be a contrarian/non-conformist….!! Who are these woman representative of…..and why are the readers supposed to empathize w such vain/vacuous/vapid creatures.

    One last piece of advice, any work of literature becomes engaging not by word gimmickry, but how effectively, precisely and concisely the story-teller is able to deliver the message. For e.g.: you had used the word, ‘edifying atonement’ and I had to simply chuckle.

    • Hi Madhu! You absolutely made my day, thanks so much for the critique, really cool of you to do that! :)
      OK, so this is what I can think of right of the bat, but I will write more as I think more :)
      1. “your woman protagonists are getting a bit stereo-typical”
      I will keep that in mind when I come up with plots, thanks for that! I need to know what I can do differently, so this really helps!
      2. “they seem to hanker after the unattainable, turn resentful when realization dawns, seem to have neither the moral compunction to reign in their impulses nor have the courage to be a contrarian/non-conformist….!! Who are these woman representative of…..and why are the readers supposed to empathize w such vain/vacuous/vapid creatures.”
      I am writing about women who are what you call “non-conformists”, sure, but I don’t think they need sympathies from anyone, they are just indecisive, wishy washy and not of great strength of their will. If as a writer, I am making you hate them, I feel I have done my job in conveying the personality of these women to the readers. Some readers might hate them, some might identify with them, and some may even sympathize with them. That’s a reader’s prerogative.
      3. “you had used the word, ‘edifying atonement’ and I had to simply chuckle”,
      Great point you bring up here, that, I might be sounding like I am trying too much to convey the message in a high strung word play. But, I could have easily used words like “suicide to cleanse myself of the guilt” or something to give away the exact feelings of the person as the poem closes.
      Instead, I want the reader to have to think and come to his own conclusions about the person at this point.
      And my take is, why not use high quality literature to convey the same profound meaning?
      Let’s talk more!
      Thanks so much for your time, it means a lot! :)
      Rach

      • If you have read Jhumpa Lahiri, then u will get my point as to why one doesn’t need fancy words to nail the point. Her english is considered ‘eighth grade’ level…but hey, that didn’t stop her from having the coveted ‘pulitzer’ feather in her cap.

        I get your point reg regular woman and not necessarily write about someone w gravitas, but then again you contradict yourself as you seem one of the very few vocal advocates of feminism. How do u sell feminism if all u write about are a minute cross-section of our sex who are empty bimbettes , who by the way are seen as commonly in the male of the species as well…!

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