So, the thing is that my radio friend Sangeev has got himself entangled with a random Lebanese woman he met on a film networking evening. And he’s not just entangled!! He is, in fact, madly, stupidly, crazily, screwed-up besotted in love with her!! How did that happen!! Neither of us saw it coming: they were friends, work colleagues (or so I thought), till I saw his mood fall further and further down to his feet: and then, one cold wet afternoon: he confessed all: he was infatuated by her, I’d never seen him like that: not ever! And I’m angry: he was never like that over me!! But, that’s not the only reason why I’m angry: he’s a great friend, married to a beautiful woman and with a young son he should be way proud of! Sangeev isn’t religious, so I can’t use that card on him, but we do have a shared value base, so I went in at that angle: what did he think he was doing? Why was he trying to spoil his married life? Destroy his son’s teenage years and ruin his own future belief in relationships (as happened with me when my own parents took to affairs). He would be ostracised from the family, would ruin his brother’s career, his standing in the community and send his poor mother to an early grave (his father already past away, and such a revelation would surely finish the poor woman).
Apparently though, I don’t know it all! He tells me that things between him and his wife have been pretty bad lately, he feels lonely, depressed and broken, this ‘other woman, is just a good friend, just like he and I are for one another! He doesn’t want any thing physical! It hasn’t gone there, and will never go there!! Then I remind him that I know him better than I know myself, and I reinforce that he and I were never like that, then I come back to the shame, the destruction, the selfishness of it all, and we repeat the circle all over again!! We spent afternoons, days, nights doing this; he got lower and lower, and I got all the more angry! Heck I’ve no job, no money and all kinds of family problems: I’ve got better ways of fretting away my hours of unemployment!! But he is a friend, and you don’t neglect a beautiful friend when they are down! As he cried through his heartbreak, I suddenly came upon my tubelight moment! Why hadn’t I thought of it before!! I think it was because he’d been going on and on about how wonderful she was, but had omitted to mention her narcissistic tendencies: self-obsession, leading a double life, never returning calls, no texts or Emails, no mutual social outings with friends, and then I knew how to get through this, and in measured tones, threw in my wisest wise crack of the night!
“see, I, …, well, I was once where you are now!”, Sangeev was silent, intrigued! And then I laughed, as I’d discovered a coincidence that would have been so obvious to the rest of the world, that I totally skipped it!
“and the weird part is, he was Arab too! …, well, Arab American to be exact!”. Sangeev is silent, then the heckles rise, and I know what is eating him: “why didn’t you tell me!”, he quips roughly, adding “besides, you were never like that with me!”.
“That’s not true!”, I retort, though, its not entirely untrue either. Sure there was a time when I actually thought Sangeev and I could, possibly be romantically linked: we talked about it, dreamt about it, and acted it out for a short time, but even in its most blissful moments, somehow that connection never really sustained the x-factor I was looking for. Then, along came Arab American guy: and whoop-bang things would never be the same again!
Naturally, Sangeev wanted to know all about it, and I obliged, but summarising, because you never really can find words to define affairs of the heart, they are so spontaneous, so other-worldly that even recounting conversations, places, circumstances seems somehow cheep and puerile. A bit like my first step in to romance with Arab American man! We’d been exchanging long-distance calls, Emails riddled with mutual admiration, and it felt nice: he enjoyed intelligent sarcasm and razor sharp jibing: before I knew it, I was manically checking my Email, and sitting by the phone, praying it would ring! Then the 1st July 2007 happened: I had guests coming to stay from Pakistan, and was faking a domestic Goddess routine because the house had been crying out to be cleaned for months, and I didn’t want my former work colleagues to go back informing all in sundry that I’d lost the will to live since my divorce! Arab American guy calls, and I’ve got the phone in one hand, and a duster in the other, but I now whiz through the cleaning: I have company, the best kind, and I have that lovely butterfly feeling, combined with a soft, velvety sense of being cocooned: this guy cared enough about my pending visitors to give me a call and see how I was doing. Eventually, he offered to hang up the phone so I could get on with the more urgent 2-handed tasks (cleaning the bathroom for example). I didn’t want to end the call, and moreover, I sensed he wanted to say something: and that too something very, very important!! After pressing for around 3 attempts:
“is there something you wanted to say?”, I asked shakily. he clinched it; “ah: just that I love you!”. There you had it, I was in cloud 9!! This amazing, funny, intelligent, beautiful, talented, loving, caring and intriguing Arab American guy loves me!! Yeah! He loves me!! Some one as average, boring, uninspiring and cynical as me! And I was flying: dropping my work to send Emails, and never as hospitable to any guests as I found myself being that weekend! That was the 1st July 2007, and all through that summer, birds chirped and music played, the sun shone, and I was smiling again: I looked great! I wore pretty clothes and didn’t need make-up because the new light on my face shone brighter than any blush-on.
“what happened?” Sangeev asked. I swallowed hard, it still hurt to think about this! “well, …, he chucked me!”.
“what? He chucked you? Are you serious? How in the name of God could he do that!!!”. That’s when I smiled: now I remembered why I had told Sangeev! Despite being smitten by new Lebanese interest, he still thought I rocked like no other! And yeah!! How the hell could Arab American guy dump me!! I am not earth shattering, but he could do worse, and besides its not like he’s had any better offers recently (as far as I knew).
“and the worst part was, he didn’t even have the balls to finish it properly!”. Sangeev tutted with all the understanding I needed to power up my own melancholy: but it was true, we’d never really had that discussion: that closure, that heartbreaking yet necessary moment where one or both of you say “we need to talk, …, things haven’t really been working between us lately, …, its not you, its me!”. Instead, Arab American guy just stopped calling, no Emails, no more concern, no interest shown, and as he didn’t call, I didn’t call either! And hate myself now for admitting that I’d left far too many balls in his court rather than taking the proverbial by the horns, but that’s what love does sometimes, and as I’m normally so control freakish and prickly around the edges, I wanted to open up, to let down my guard and allow this magnetic man to penetrate in to the deepest undiscovered recesses of my being, so that years in to the future as we sat by the sea meditating over our past, he could never say “you didn’t tell me”, or, “you hid that from me”. None of this he appreciated though: he let go, eventually getting back to me to crib over his “problems” and “baggage” and how “he didn’t have room for a relationship in his life right now”. These were apparently all phrases being utilised in precisely the same manner by Lebanese woman, so Sangeev totally felt me at this point.
“so you see?”, I concluded matter-of-factly, “its not worth it, you need to stop this, let go before its too late, don’t let this pathetic human being play with your heart and screw up your head!! No one is worth that, but especially not shallow users like these!!”, I was vehement and fiery: Sangeev had perhaps underestimated the affect of this guy’s “dumping” on me. “you are really angry about this aren’t you!! Even now!”, I was silent, biting my bottom lip so hard that I drew blood!! I didn’t want to have this conversation any more, and I would not, WOULD NOT cry!!
“Just don’t do it!!!! just get out of it!!!”, I was almost shouting now were it not for the fact that the tears hidden at the back of my throat would have given me away!! I was remembering something else: how, once upon a time, Arab American guy had gotten very, very serious! So much so, that he’d even given me the green light to tell my family about him! I remembered how, I’d got dressed up, and taken my mum for lunch, and told her about how I thought I’d “found the one”, and how, although my mum was a little worried about his visual impairment (its amazing how the mother of a blind girl can have such prejudices), she’d still been happy and liked the sound of him: and the best part was, I knew I could take him home to my parents with confidence, pride and peace in the knowledge that they’d love him as much (if not more), than I did!
“I’m sorry jaan”, Sangeev was saying, “I’m really sorry! I had no idea you’d been through that, it must have been hell for you!”. He talked about Lebanese woman some more, and how she too was hurting him, by that time I’d washed my face and taken back my customary stoic attitude to men, and that’s when I remembered how much I hate him! Up until I went to ziyerat last July, I’d been hopelessly hung up on him! I missed him, and cried at least once a week over our strange painful ending! And then I’d called him to tell him I was going for ziyerat, to try and make peace with him, to be polite and pass the time of day, and maybe, even to be friends! And he’d been cold, uninterested and busy! And that’s when I hated him: who did he think he was? He had problems? Well I did too! He had a screwed family? I did too! And he had health problems? I had them all as well: it was our shared misery that had enabled us to elevate one another beyond the hurt and the eccentricity of our mutual realities! But he wasn’t interested! And so that’s when I let him go!
“she doesn’t deserve your tears, your long nights of waking up missing her, your late night texts and your pure love filled fantasies! She’ll chew you up and spit you out, and you’ll hate yourself for being nothing but a pon in her nasty pathetic game!”, my anger was evident, and it was getting through! After painstakingly extracting a few more affirmations from him, I put down the phone, happy, that I’d saved the soul of one I really did love, and for the right reasons: but sad in that I’d raked up something that should never EVER have been raked up!
That night I didn’t sleep, I wish I hadn’t, but I’d saved a whole collection of Emails from Arab American man in an old, disused Email account. I copied them all in to a word file, and spent the long cold night reading them, remembering the sun, and the songs I used to sing, the clothes I’d ware and the long nights of pure bliss, deep conversations and passionate promises made with full sincerity, sleeping for an hour and rushing to work with an even bigger smile than the day before, life was really so unfair! Then, somewhere between my parent’s home and the chocolate shop I had a reality check: what the hell was I doing? I’m supposed to be getting married in 7 weeks, and I’m letting this messed up loser make me miserable? The best thing I could do would be to overdose on my own medicine right now!! And that’s what I was doing! I was lost in election fever, and so was Sangeev! Lebanese woman had gone off to the states on work, and we had more important politicians to fry! It felt good, I was in love again and preparing to receive my wedding dress: and then, the Email came! It was earth-splitting, one of those sick synchronised moments that are never meant for reality and should stay firmly in Hindi film land! He wants to know how I’m doing!! Why does he need to know how I’m doing! And then I recall how all this is my fault, because I’ve given him a licence to ask how I’m doing, I gave it way back then when he had way too many cards, and when I, like a love sick school girl was anticipating a friendship of sorts back in July 09! And then I want to tell him how I’m doing, that I’m doing brilliantly, even though I’m unemployed, in my Email I’m freelancing, and although my family is screwed, its all “comfortable insanity”, the stuff he and I are used to, and even as I send that Email I should have earmarked for the trash, I already know that it won’t be enough: .., and its not!! Arab American writes back with enough indifference to fill in the blanks, before he can legitimately ask if I’m seeing any one? And then, it happens again!! I have to think for a moment: part of me wants to tell him I’m not seeing any one, that I’m too screwed in the head because of all the hurt he caused me, and because all men are B***ds and don’t deserve some one like me! But somehow, truth prevails and I tell him with way too much hot air that I’m getting married, and that my husband-to-be designed my dress, and that he rocks, etc. He too is seeing a Lebanese woman (not the same one: I checked!), she’s a lawyer, the same lawyer who once represented him! “that’s how she gets her kicks!” I thought silently (screws you before you screw her!), and its all good apparently, apart from the fact that he is still struggling to let his defences down and ditch the baggage, “get over yourself!!!” I thought angrily!!
But I had my own perfectly chiselled ways of getting my own back! I replied sweetly, advising him that if ‘new Lebanese interest is the right one, he should let down his “defences”, and certainly not treat her in the nasty, evil casual manner he treated me! I admitted it had broken me, and assured him that no one deserves such treatment (regardless of what I thought inwardly!), I sent the Email, with an evil but satisfied smirk on my face! And, he didn’t reply, (not right away at any rate!). The gap gave me just long enough to inform Sangeev of the bazaar happenings that had ensued that week!
We were both flat out with election stuff, so it was another phone convo during my non-London weekend: “tell me about the Email!”, he said as my number flashed before him, without so much as a hello!
“Not much to say!”, I said, this time, I would avoid the subject: the former conversation had taught me lessons: it really had! And I wasn’t going there again ever!! But I’m not good at lying, and my bitterness sharpened its claws: “he’s seeing a Lebanese woman!! What is it with Lebanese women these days? Have they got something I haven’t, or have I totally missed the point!”. Sangeev laughed, his Lebanese woman had been laying out her own cards, just as Arab American man used to. She’d told him, she thought of him as a friend, maybe, …, possibly, just a little more, but not quite enough to have a relationship, she had too much “baggage”, and so it was better that they stayed friends.
“what crap!!”, I shouted! “if you believe that nonsense, you are more of a sucker than ever I thought you were!! Tell her where to stick her ‘friendship/maybe more/baggage excuses and find some other idiot to letch on to!”. Sangeev laughs: “you are still really angry aren’t you?” “I’m not angry!!! Why should I be angry!!”.
Sangeev cuts in: “exactly!!! Why should you be angry!! Your getting married soon! Your life is finally shaping in to the order you always dreamed of, what is there to get angry about!”. I fall silent, I’m ashamed, because I know he’s totally right, but words are out of my mouth before I can sensor them, and I hear myself say “but that was all before, ….., before I got that Email!!”.
Sangeev is livid, and rightly so! “and what about all that stuff you fed me? And how I shouldn’t go there? how it’s a waste of time? What exactly are you playing at? Does this guy deserve you? And does your future man deserve this crap from you?”, he was right: about all of it! I was nothing less than Arab man: I was allot worse in many ways because I had it all, and was potentially going to fritter it all away on a man who couldn’t be bothered to spit in my direction! I cried allot, fell in to depression laced with insomnia. I turned off the phone and didn’t answer Emails, till I got a reply to the ‘wedding dress brag I’d sent! And it was friendly and polite, talking about the election, and enquiring politely if the dress had been a success? I replied, (and I didn’t tell Sangeev about it!). I replied, with pathetic one-liners, infested with double-entendre and was totally unaffected while doing it! that night, I was sick: violently sick! I spent the evening in the toilet, holding on to the bowl and crying as my innards spilled out and my body was racked with pain. The man of my heart called that night to see how I was, cursing himself for choosing computers, and not medicine, so that he could help me out! And that’s when it finally hit me: Sangeev was right, I had indeed found my place, my love, my life, the order I needed to ground me. When my divorce happened, I’d gone off the rails in so many ways: some of them shock me, and some of them repel me so much that I’ll take them to the grave with me and can only pray my creator forgives me for them! I don’t quite know how that happened, but I lost my faith, my routine, my self-respect, and had to work incredibly hard to get them back! Not only that, but I had to find new friends, a new community and a new purpose! Even as a Muslim woman, the shame doesn’t go away: men don’t let it! Muslim men, no matter how cultured they claim to be, have a real problem with an attractive, single and highly successful woman living alone, wearing her hijab, going to work and doing her thing, without a man to prop her up and furnish her nest for her! And because a woman like me isn’t marriage material, I spent my days fending off middle-aged perverts who fancied a second wife or a muttah partner to while away the nights with, and what’s most difficult about all this, is the guilt of your misguided years that makes you believe this garbage is actually all you are worthy of and all you’ll ever deserve because you’ve thrown the best years of your life away blaming a divorce for your deviancy! Men like ‘Arab American man are safe because, they too have uncomfortable pasts behind them, and the devil you know is much safer than the angel you could have if you truly moved on. You are more at home with his rejection than another man’s love and respect! So it takes a while to register that a heaven sent man has come to change your world, and genuinely wants to be with you, to spend his life with you and for all the right reasons!
Its amazing how an Ex can suddenly shift your perspective from neutral, to overdrive, from supposed love, to lust, to love again and then in to concrete indifference! Rarely do we think about an Ex with a reflective sense of “what the hell was that about?”, the past mingles with nostalgia to make you believe what you had was actually allot more beautiful than you wish to let on, but that’s all dribble as well!! Ultimately, if it didn’t work, there is a reason why!! And there is an even more important reason why you are somewhere better, and with the kind of man you only ever dreamed to marry, the man you prayed for, but never expected to have: and there you are: together, married, planning a universe exclusively for each other!
Lebanese woman went back to Lebanon, (perhaps they were both the same woman after all!), Arab American man went back to his lair, and Sangeev and I got back to work! My wedding plans are in full swing, and I realise that love can happen, there is no coincidence behind X being at the end of the alphabet: that’s how it should always stay! People come in to your life for a reason, and some of them have the God-given power to change your life forever (and sometimes too, for the better!). Most importantly perhaps, elevation can come through association: osmosis doesn’t have to merely apply to unbroken cycles! Goodbye Arab American man: you have your life, and I have my heaven: earthly things are for the grit of reality: while stars are the furniture of a higher plane!