I met this incredible girl.
One night atop the mountains of Northern Valley she lied on the ground, inches away the starry heavens gazed down at her.
“Look up,” she said.
I tilted my neck and was suddenly consumed with tiny bright lights pulsating through blackness as if daylight was about to suddenly break through. I’d better lie down next to her so I can get a better view.
“Wow,” I said, “that’s amazing.”
We lied alongside each other while a few others in our group, perhaps caught in their own magical moment, were sitting nearby but blissfully unaware of the sparkling that was happening between she and I. Our two little souls gazed into the infinite and wondered whether the stars were looking down in awe of the energy emanating from us.
She held my hand, again. The first time was on the bus, in broad daylight, where I was caught by surprise but I didn’t let go. Why would I?
We talked and gazed until I realized that I should take a glimpse at this lovely girl lying next to me in our respective blankets.
She looked right into my eyes while mine probably landed closer to her chest.
I’m not a believer in long-distance relationships, most likely based on my previous experience of having relatively zero relationships. So I try to play it cool and allow my Rational Brain to outline the steps for a happy life and marriage. I needed to prioritize my career and get a stable income. Relationships will find their way, I thought.
But this Incredible Girl from the West Coast shows up in my city for a brief visit. With her by my side, life is great again — almost too great. Was the Valley just a fleeting thrill or could starry nights and the occasional “eyes up here” with Incredible Girl be in my future? Rational Brain is confused and perhaps, with one act of desperation, causes me to utter something that one could describe as calculated romance.
“So, um, are we at the point of no return?”
Incredible Girl pauses and tries to come up with a response but cannot find the right words. Her mind wanders through the pathways of yearning and emotion that is eagerly anticipating that moment of acceptance, perhaps even a vestige of passion to signal that yes, indeed, this is real and love is true and accessible to all those who dream. She searches for the right words to express the culmination of feelings zipping through her mind.
“I mean is this it… you and I?”
“Um, I’m not sure, I don’t know. Maybe?”
“Alright, well, let’s see what happens.”
A few weeks later Incredible Girl has moved to my city with a new job. We’re friends to all our friends because the word “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” feel overwhelming and subject to a pantheon of judgment and guilt. But we both know what’s going and, well, most likely everyone else did too.
Soon the ruse is over and we’re in it. Like, in it, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Well, anyone except for our parents. There’s romance, carefree whimsy, and experiments in what a relationship actually entails. Banal arguments? Check. Uncontrollable giggles? Check. Inside jokes? To the annoyance of our friends, check.
Everything’s great except this thing called grad school that she decides to pursue. As for me, I’m an unemployed entrepreneur-slash-non-profit-manager with zero prospects and motivation for establishing a stable, paying career. So she moves away to fulfill her dreams and I’m left wondering what will happen to mine.
After a few failed initiatives, Rational Brain takes control and makes it possible for me to be gainfully employed with new dreams of building a credit history, grocery shopping without feeling guilty, and owning a 1984 Saab 900 piece of shit car. Who needs to pursue a lifelong passion when you can get from A to B about 80% of the time.
Incredible Girl realizes that now that I’m legitimate, she can finally make a move. She powers up her outdated bulky laptop and opens up Microsoft Word; it’s biodata time!
Things are moving fairly quickly. The parents have spoken with each other and an invitation is offered to meet over dinner at Incredible Girl’s house.
I make the flight to the West Coast but the lingering effects of a cold are still present.
Stage 1: sore throat, runny nose
Stage 2: sneezing, phlegmy cough, muscle pain
Stage 3: dry cough, stomach pain
Stage 4: [foreshadowing placeholder]
The following afternoon it’s game time. I’m with my parents getting ready for the big meeting with potentially my future in-laws. I think I’ve recovered but I still feel weak and my stomach makes an occasional gurgling sound despite a steady stream of fluids and calories to keep me going. I put on a neatly ironed pair of pants and a shirt as I await my mother making final preparations before we set off. I pace around the room, hoping that the adrenaline will kick in and the weakness and discomfort I’m feeling will go away.
Then in an instant I feel it. Grumblegrowlblurblebabbledirppledabblesqueeeeeeeeze…splat.
Wait a minute. Did I just shit myself?
I wait a few minutes for my mother to get out of the bathroom. Those are long, uncomfortable moments. Thoughts emerge:
- Um, why?
- Am I really about to meet my girlfriend’s family in a few minutes?
- Do I have a spare set of clean boxers in my bag?
- Am I actually 28 years old?
I rush to the bathroom. Checks out.
The boxers come off and a makeshift, yet thorough cleansing process is about to begin. But before that happens, I’m going to sit on this toilet and make absolute sure that I’ve put the issue at rest. I change into my pajamas so I can iron my boxers while my parents are still getting ready. I try not to get their attention and work through a series of ideas in my head on why I’m currently ironing my boxers. “Um, it’s how I get in the zone.” I’m not sure if I’ve sold the idea of having a warmed up crotch but, at this point, humiliation has a new meaning.
I send a text message to the Incredible Girl notifying her that my stomach is “sensitive” so I may not have my usual ravenous appetite. Nothing more. That’s right, absolutely nothing more. We arrive at her house and, following a warm introduction, I give the love of my life a nod. It’s a secret nod, alluding to an earlier text message that can only mean one thing: do you have the Pepto?
Shortly thereafter, the placebo effect has taken hold and I’m back to my usual charismatic self. The potential future in-laws are getting a first-hand glimpse of my charms — soft-spoken Urdu with the occasional glimpse of grammatical imperfection, deference to the voice of the elders, conversation that is carefully self-deprecating with humility but all with a confidence that clearly articulates I’m actually the most amazing human being that ever lived.
It’s dinner time and, like the waning heat of recently ironed wet boxers, I sense a discomfort lurking in the nether regions. I continue the facade of cultural confidence as I ignore the carefully placed knife and fork on my plate and go for a little hand-to-food combat. Since high school, I’ve taken up the practice of eating with my hands as I’ve watched my father do it. My uncle used to talk about our connection with food and his reluctance on using utensils when he has the greatest evolved tool (while staring at his hand as if it is the key to civilization) available to him. I liked the idea and the feeling of the gentle textures of my meal firmly coaxed into a delightful niwala. Also, it was efficient. But the potential father- and brother-in-laws notice from the corners of their eyes as I primordially grab at my food, leaving behind curry and food particles enmeshed with the oils of my hand.
“Um, are you sure you don’t want to use the fork?”
“That’s alright, I’m good,” I say back confidently.
I eat very little, avoiding the possibility of another boxer skidding. The potential mother-in-law looks at my sad plate and my sad skinny frame, carrying on with a gentle smile, all the while distracted by a series of alert signals coming from her brain: “Why is he such a pussy? Can’t he handle a little spice?”
As the meal winds down, my parents decide it’s time to get down to brass tax. I’m not sure what brass tax means but that sounds like the right phrase to insert here. Let’s talk about marriage. The families gently navigate around the topic of marriage without directly bringing it up, the result of generations of training from a South Asian tradition that shies away from direct dialogue with a preference for subtle, occasionally passive-aggressive cues.
My parents are honest people. If they were around a poker table and both had stellar hands that would beat almost any other card set, I’d imagine a situation where another play has pocket aces and has confidence that he will likely win. During a betting round, mister pocket aces is just about to go all-in. My parents would feel bad and say, “Are you sure?”
It’s now time to discuss whether I’m marriage material. My mother asks her in-laws whether they have any concerns about my career. I quickly interject and confirm that I have a stable job with a decent income. Almost immediately as if on cue from lines that were formulated by a sitcom writing room, both reply in near unison, “well, now you do!” (emphasis theirs).
At that point, I believe the thought in my head, and perhaps everyone else’s head was: “uh, what the fuck?”
Six years into a marriage and two kids later, I’m living on the West Coast. It’s the weekend so we’re staying at my in-laws, taking over the master bedroom, so that my wife can lie alongside our one-month old daughter while our two-year-old son sleeps soundly in the room across the hall.
I’ve volunteered for night-time diaper change duty because I think I’m such a caring wonderful father and husband while my wife deals with the endless bouts of suckling, soothing, and stimulation.
It’s 2 a.m. and our daughter decides that her recent dosage of breast milk has done its job and is now at the final stages of digestion. She poops and it’s not comfortable.
I quickly hop out of bed, well-trained after the birth of my first son and the following months of transitioning away from what it meant to be a carefree, selfish young adult who only needed to wake up for the alarm clock which consistently rang at the same hour every weekday morning. I gently pick up my daughter and softly respond to her cooing and crying, hoping not to wake up my wife.
I pull out the diaper change kit and lie her down. Her cries slowly die down as she’s readying herself for a new, fresher reality just minutes away. I quickly and methodically pull off her diaper and wipe her down, carefully finding poopy remnants through all the confusing little curves and folds that reflect the complexities of her anatomy. She appears clean and content. I put on a fresh diaper and carefully button the onesie. Oops, missed a button. I search for the one I skipped, find it, pop off the other buttons, and put them back in the right order with a careful precision in detail that, if fully expressed, would make this story needlessly more boring. After that, I tuck her tiny feet into her one-piece nightsuit and carefully zip the garment closed gently from her toes to her collar.
Satisfied, I look down at her while she looks up. She gives me a soft smile while gazing into my eyes with wonderment as if they’re two large stars shimmering within the darkness of my happy face.
Then in an instant, I hear it: Grumblegrowlblurblebabbledirppledabblesqueeeeeeeeze…splat.
Anxiety steals away the moment as I quickly unzip her nightsuit and take a peek into her diaper where I see fresh goop of processed milk. I pause for a moment, fighting back my frustration that’s ready to summon The Hulk. I look back at her face as she continues to stare up at me, that same smile gently in place.
Then suddenly I’m taken back to an uncomfortable moment not that far from here that lead me to the everyday joys I get to experience with the Incredible Girl and our Incredible Family here on a hill in the West Coast.
I smile back and quietly whisper, “that’s my girl.”