It has taken me nearly a month to write this. A month ago, almost to the day, a good friend of mine sent me this story. He can appear nonchalant and very controlled, but he feels things deeply, and he warned me that the story had left him in floods of tears. "Read it," he typed in the IM window. "I'll wait." I'll be eternally grateful that he did.
Forewarned, I clicked on the link with trepidation and read. And wept - initially, for the same reasons he did: the tragedy of true love lost, rent asunder by the apparently unresolvable tensions of the Muslim-Hindu divide. For the pain that never died, the dark tunnel that never ended that drove her to suicide. For the children who lost their mother and the others left behind. But when I wept again - and I did, more than once - my reasons and emotions were more complex...less sure, more textured, perhaps a touch darker.
Even as I read the story through the first time, swept along by the current to the inevitable tragic ending, noting the beautiful descriptive language along the way, I recognised the tightening in my solar plexus - the twisting tension that signals emotional dissonance, that tells me what I'm seeing is NOT what, or all, I'm getting. I looked more closely. On a second reading, the tragedy no longer seemed inevitable. His mother loved her, and his father even gave the couple his blessing before he died; her parents liked him, but family honour won the day and they arranged a match. Unsurprisingly, torn between her beloved and a seemingly inescapable loveless marriage, she sank into a deep depression.
Parnesh acknowledges this inevitability: "Such conflict - a constant strain on her heart - would tear the strongest to pieces." But he forgets this when they're arguing because he's pushing her to choose him. Suddenly, she is "emotionally fragile," and the depression becomes a character flaw, not the result of an unbearable situation. He creates of her a burden, and of himself a martyr:
"But there were also other demons, mood swings from exquisite contentment to deepest depression. She fought these with my help, and, increasingly, the help of medication. There were nights of tears, of comforting, of visits to doctors. And one dreadful night, a pointless argument, a threat from me to leave, an overdose. I was frantic and rushed her to hospital, promising, and crying, never to hurt her again...But I, too, despaired as the realisation slowly came that it was beyond my abilities to help. I struggled to help, not to give up on her, to continue fighting the depression that, though infrequent and kept in check by medication, would surface now and then."
Parnesh, of course there were mood swings. One moment, she was with you and wanted nothing more; the next, the spectre of an arranged marriage loomed over her and you were threatening to leave. Where could she go but between those two extremes? There was no way out, especially when a heinously irresponsible GP thought *DRUGS* were the answer to a clearly situational depression. Medication at the beginning, perhaps, so that therapy could take hold. She needed someone to talk to: a strong, compassionate counsellor to show her a third option - walking away from her parents and walking away from *you*. The way out of the trap was learning who she was and what she wanted. You and her parents fought over her as if she was a prize doll, not a living, breathing person with emotions and a story of her own. None of you thought about what was best for her. She needed someone to help her work that out for herself. No one did.
Then, Parnesh, you show narcissism and ability for self-deception beyond belief to state, "But my love, though severely tested, did not falter." Indeed. Considering that love is action as well as feeling and words, I presume that was demonstrated when you...pressured her to choose you and forsake her parents instead of supporting her? When you decided that she was defective because she was depressed? When you said goodbye, went to Cambridge and left her? When she rang you *the day before she was dragged to her arranged marriage, begging you to say you wouldn't leave her, so she could come to you and you said you couldn't promise that*? Tell me, Parnesh: WHEN DID YOUR LOVE "NOT FALTER"?
As you can see, I'm very angry. Knowing I was too close, that the story pushed too many triggers, I sent the link to another good friend who has excellent insight into people and relationship patterns. He found it odd that you couldn't promise not to leave her, and thought that your choice was revenge for her initial rejection of you. He wondered, and I did too, if your obsession with her wasn't born of that first 'no'. Was this, in fact, simply an infatuation born of the chase and the drama of the unresolvable, rather than love? Thus, when the going got tough, there was nothing to make you unselfish, nothing to make you care for her more than you cared for yourself, nothing to make you want what was right for her.
But I want to give you the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe you loved her, but that you didn't know how to show it, that you felt helpless and lost too. You tell us you heard news of her over the years, that you shut it out. She rang you last summer to tell you of her life and to hear about yours...and you said you sensed an "unfathomable sorrow", that she wept.
Then, a few months later, she died by her own hand.
I have worked on a suicide prevention hotline. I have had a friend commit suicide. I have been suicidal. Over and over again, from so many angles, I have told people that someone's suicide is *not* their fault. I am about to say something to you that goes against every fibre of my being to say. It's one of the reasons I waited so long to write this entry, because it verges on the unbearable to say these words, but I feel I must: because of the choices you made, the support you didn't give, your hand was on that bottle with hers. I'm sorry, but the four words, "I'll never leave you" would have written a completely different ending for you both.
How do I know? Sit down, Parnesh, and let me tell you a story:
Once upon a time, twenty-two years ago, a young Pakistani woman and an American boy from the Midwest fell in love. She was about to enter her junior year of college, and they had two years of unshadowed bliss. Just before her college graduation, she made the heart-wrenching decision to break up with him because she felt it was unfair to her parents. After a month of misery, she decided she couldn't live without him, and asked him to take her back.
Shortly after her graduation, as expected, her parents presented her with a prospective groom. She took a deep breath and told them about her American boy. They agreed to meet him on the long weekend of 4th July, 1987. After that meeting, her parents took her money, cards, and car keys and forbade her to leave the house without them or meet anyone except for a few high school friends; I believe they even took her house keys, vetted her mail, kept a close eye on the phone bill.
But love wouldn't give up. Those close friends rang him for her. Box by box, she shipped her belongings to him. Then one day, in the middle of August 1987, one of those trusted friends picked her up and drove her to the Greyhound bus station, where she bought a ticket to the Midwest and a certain welcome but an uncertain ending.
They married in February 1988; her parents relented and they had a Muslim wedding that summer and moved back East, where they've lived ever since. They're celebrating their 19th anniversary with their 3 gorgeous sons, and he still thinks she's the most beautiful woman he's ever met. She still thinks he's not half-bad...
Her parents? They adore him; apparently, her mum takes *his* side in their arguments now.
And so, yes, "life being what it is," nothing is certain. Neither was going to Cambridge, but you did. Love, too, is a risk. You have to step off the edge of the cliff in trust to win. Had you given her that reassurance, the ending to the story of my cousin and her husband could have been yours.
You live in my city and walk along my river. I have chastised you, tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, let you be the focus for issues you brought roaring to the surface. What would I say to you if we met tomorrow?
You say, "But she remained always in my thoughts, as do memories of the long journey to the confluence of the North and South Thompson, and those wild and distant places we once visited. I can no longer travel those roads. And never will. Sometimes even the vaguest wisp of the familiar brings back her world. But no matter how much I hide from any evocation of her, she is always there..." I would tell you that you *must* travel those roads, you must turn around and face the memories, the evocations, face the darkness and forgive her and yourself. You can never hide; you will always be found. Meet the demons at your chosen time on your terms. Never regret loving her, and never stop.
I'm not sure I know what else I would do, my feelings towards you are so mixed. Do I want to yell at you and shake you until your teeth rattle? Yes. Do I want to comfort you in your grief? Yes.
Do I hope that every night for the rest of your life, you think of her and dream of her and weep - just a little - for her?