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One of my many mementos is a note in my grandfather’s handwriting. “There is no problem that doesn’t get resolved in the bedroom,” it says, when translated from Telugu in which it is written. I had found it inside an envelope of cash that held 10,001 rupees that was my wedding gift from him and I remember blushing thoroughly as I read it for the first time.
Beds feature prominently in our lives. This is where I give my husband unmistakable signals on how the night is going to end when I wear my old PJs into bed and start browsing book-marked articles on Instapaper. This is where we get some action while listening to Hiphop and Kenny G, mine and his favorites respectively.
Its where I passed out after drinking wine for the first time in one quick swig as we toasted for our wedding. He had just brought me from the airport to our home and as I was about to enter into the apartment behind him, he asked me to wait outside for a few seconds. He then ran inside to bring a plate with red water (red because it was mixed with Kumkum that Hindu women apply on their forehead as a dot) to ward off the evil eye and welcome me into the home. As I stepped in, he showed me around the apartment and we toasted sitting at the corner of our bed. After I passed out, he waited in horror for the next two hours until I finally opened my eyes.
Those early days as newlyweds in 2002 were filled with long exclusive attention spans for each other in bed. We would sit and pluck on red roses from the vase on our night stand as warm sunlight poured in through windows. One afternoon when he was at work, as I cooked raw eggs in the microwave it gave out loud crackling sounds before the turn table came to a stop. I cried over the phone and half an hour later he was assessing the damage in our kitchen. As the smell of rotten eggs permeated our apartment reminding us of my cooking “skills”, we hugged and binge-watched, years before binge watching was even a hash-tag, episodes of Friends and Seinfeld all evening into the weekend.
One weekend in 2003, as we were about to turn in for the night, he asked me if I wanted to see the pictures of how his week had gone by. He had just come home from a week away in Cincinnati on a GE warehouse inspection trip. I eagerly opened his laptop and he proceeded to show me 200 pictures of UPC codes.
When we moved to Pittsburgh in 2005, for his new job in ALCOA, I had watched him sit at the corner of our bed where I held our new baby boy, and fly off in rage over a telemarketer because he could “Possibly pronounce Ben Roethlisberger just fine, but not his last name, Somayajula.” After he ended the call, we fought because I was concerned for the humanity of the guy on the phone.
During fights, as he went after my dad’s bald head, I took swift jabs at his mother’s teeth or lack thereof. When I would scream, “Are you a man?”, a classic argument of every filmy (Indian movie) wife, “I have a son to prove my manliness,” would be his reply. Often times, he would challenge me that he is better than so many other deadbeat Indian husbands, at least he did the dishwasher once every few days and knew his way around the kitchen.
Around the same time I read that according to Dale Carnegie I was digging a marital grave for myself, I wrote this in one of my nightly journals in 2007:
As of Feb 1st, 1764 days = 152,409,600 seconds is the amount of our time together.
After our two children started sleeping in their own rooms, we had hoped that our bed etiquette would return to the “normal couple” mode. But as we upgraded to smart phones in 2009, we found ourselves fighting over who was clocking more time on them. When I would find WhatsApp on his screen, I would go nuts but, if he was reading WSJ on his iPad, or reciting the Dakshinamurthy stotram for his voice recorder app, I would swell up with pride.
On a busy evening in 2013, he declared that he had to rush to the library before it closed to return 3 books so we won’t be fined 30 cents for being late. It’s a matter of principle he declared that night half-awake in bed. Half asleep myself, I gave him a long lecture about him wasting his potential as a Brahmin. On less stressful evenings, he would have begged me to remind him to do his sun salutations (one of the tenets of Brahmins) in the morning. But he replied, “Maar doonga” (Hindi for I’ll kill you) if I didn’t stop teaching myself from those “Unlimit yourself” Deepak Chopra videos.
These days, during our evenings in Johnscreek, Georgia, I find myself swimming through an ocean of social debris before I can get to him. After homework and dinner, we drag our exhausted selves into bed. We tell each other that we will raise our children to realize their full potential so they won’t move back in with us at 21 waiting for a muse to strike or their life’s purpose to reveal itself. After these chats, I feel the urge to tell my 12-year-old how supportive his father is really of him, in spite of him visiting all those adult sites late in the night when he thinks we are in deep sleep. I don’t know if he realizes this, but I am equally dismayed when my husband assures me I have no idea how wild his own teenage years were. One night, as I reached for his left hand with my right, he told me how he is afraid of me and my outbursts. He told me that men were egoistic and they can’t help it. I turned towards him to take his face into my palms, and even in the darkness, the scar on his nose reminded me of how badly I had scratched him 10 years ago. It also reminded me of the number of times I have slammed the door of this same bedroom on him so many times.
On a recent Saturday night, we both sat nudged between our two boys and watched a 10-year-old movie Akeelah and the bee. It’s not to say that we don’t tell each other our fantasies. It’s just that our definition of transgressionary intimate moments has evolved.
I go to bed sometimes after waiting for him to come back from a gathering at a bar. But before I sleep, I call him so he can answer my call and feel proud to be loved in front of his guy friends. Some nights, I lie next to him secretly hoping he is too tired to scold me for hearing audio books through my earphones so late into the night. After all, he bought me a text to audio converter app, Capti for 25$ so I can listen to blog posts instead of having to read them. Full disclosure, many mornings, I wake up looking at him still sleeping and wonder if I might be capable of slapping PBJ for the kids’ lunch everyday if he’s not supervising.
Our bed time is also where while showing me interesting articles to read, he taught me the concept of word play and puns and, that the name of the restaurant, “What the Pho?” was a clever name for a Vietnamese restaurant where the national food is pho. “Why distribute the news on WHATSAPP when we have the media to do it? Why do we have to stay connected to local friends via Facebook?” Are some of his questions to society that I later shamelessly recycle as my own in front of my girlfriends.
A few months ago, one morning, I read out an article from my phone notifications that Paris was being infested by rats, and he quipped, “Time to call Pied Piper.” When I rolled back in bed and told him how an ideal marriage should be according to Chaganti Koteswara Rao, “We should know each other’s thoughts even before they are vocalized.”, he waited for a few minutes and sighed, “Well, good, but should I tell you now that I want tea or just wait until you can sense my thoughts?”
I miss our arguments, because these days, he gives up easily. I miss the times when he waited for my mom (in India) to wake up and then call her for clarification about the meaning of a Telugu word we were fighting about. These days he just uses Google. I miss not having the energy to take revenge on him by not dressing up in a sexy Saree and bring his tea in bed. Years ago, I would tease him that was how couples were in movies from his mother’s generation.
In the kitchen, last week, I read the draft of this essay and ask, “Isn’t this us right now at this juncture? Conditional Loving and Dutiful Spooning?” “I think it’s more needful than dutiful.” He said as he sipped tea and stared ahead. Because, I trust his judgment more than mine, I correct my notes and make him his bread toast “covering it with butter like a Muslim woman in a burqa,” just the way he wants it.
Life now is dramatically different from the first day since he had insisted that I wait outside the front door of his apartment. Now, on some nights before turning off the lights, I let him read me jokes that his school friends send him on Whatsapp. The last time the joke was on a Patel, a prostitute and a hand job.
My grandfather’s note lies in a folder called, LIFE 2002, the same year I got married and came to America for the first time. On the top of the folder is my husband’s picture with a crown (cut from a magazine) glued on his forehead. I have this tucked away in the night stand next to my bed. When I lie down to sleep tonight, my husband and I will dissipate the feelings of the day that’s gone by in the tight corner between our tangled legs. We will make up in bed by spooning hard.