The Last Promise

In less than 12 hours, she’ll be gone from my life. Like the pictures that I deleted a week ago, our last mandatory phone call, too, will soon be removed from memory. Eventually I’ll erase her number, and finally, her very existence. She will be my voluntary amnesia. For the second, and final, time in this life, I will let go of her — not because I don’t love her, but because I know that there is nothing, anymore, that we can do for each other.

It wasn’t always meant to be this way. I was her closest friend. I remained so for the better part of six years. We’d first met in acting school, in the autumn of 2011. She was, then, a beautiful and carefree eighteen years old, who had dropped out of her prestigious boarding school, much to the dismay of her entire family. With her round face and soft features, reminiscent of those classically beautiful actresses from yesteryear, she had dreams of the silver screen. Her eyes, a glistening shade of hazel, would brighten up any room that she graced. Her porcelain skin, unusual for someone from our part of the world, was covered with delicate freckles, along with a few faded scars— signs of a troubled childhood that she hid well below her, otherwise, flawless exterior. I, on the other hand, was a twenty-one year old college senior, and a self-professed art lover. Deep inside, perhaps in a long forgotten life, I was the annoying high-school jock. The captain of the cricket team, and the anchor of the relay ensemble. I was someone who secretly only wanted to be accepted by the people that I looked up to — friends who were involved in student activism and musical protests, and ex-girlfriend whose life revolved around theatre and literature. My rough features, complete with scars and stitches from my childhood years spent playing around in tough neighbourhoods, stood in stark contrast to hers. If you saw us standing together, you’d instantly know that we came from very different worlds. The only thing that we shared, however, was that we were both damaged, seemingly beyond repair.

Our friendship bloomed over the next two years. We spent our days and nights together— hanging out at cafes, going out for movies and lunches, spending time with her single mother and younger brother, and just generally talking for hours about our lives and our pains. We were, often, the only source of strength for each other. Through her, I was learning to open up again. I had forgotten how to do this ever since my first ‘real’ girlfriend left me. I would often spend the night at her house, just to listen to her talk about her broken family and her miserable experiences at her boarding school. Did I mention that she was molested as a child? She’d seen a lot of pain in her eighteen years. It all started when her grandfather tragically passed away when she was five years old. He was the only father-figure that she had ever had. Right after this, she was packed away and sent to the elite British colonial-era boarding school that had been home to generations of women from her family.

I was, by now, a part of this family, and I was also her best friend. Even though we barely laid hands on each other, she always said that she would end up marrying me when the time was right. Our friendship was peculiar that way; we loved each other, but we weren’t really together. I was helpless in this matter. I wanted to be with her, yet I knew that it wouldn’t be ‘appropriate’. I never felt anything for her but love, and I never dared to make any unwelcome moves on her — because I knew what she’d been through. This was our life for the better part of two years. There were, however, a few occasions when she let her tempestuous personality get the better of her. I cannot claim to be completely innocent during these times. We would tell ourselves that it was alright for us to ‘give in’ every now and then. There were no regrets, and no expectations. There was only us. Despite how we felt for each other, I did, however, see her get involved with a series of abusive boyfriends. Some of them hit her, the others used her and left her when they’d had what they wanted. I stood by as a mere spectator, but I never left her side. I was always there to hear her side of the story. I trusted her, and I loved her beyond measure. Over time, however, these issues started affecting me. I couldn’t simply stand there, watching the person I loved get mistreated by people who didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as her. In early 2014, I gave her an ultimatum. This wasn’t an ultimatum of formalities; I still didn’t care about the labels that defined us. We were like family by then, albeit a slightly dysfunctional one, and no labels could truly define what we meant to each other. This was, however, an ultimatum of love. I couldn’t, any longer, watch her get hurt by men who couldn’t love her the way that I loved her. I refused to be complicit in this matter, and so I told her that she would either stop allowing these men to mistreat her, or I would leave her life. A part of me also couldn’t handle watching her give her heart away to someone that wasn’t me. Did I mention that I, too, saw other people during these two years? None of them mattered to me, unfortunately. I was simply buying time. I knew, however, that this was the endgame. As it turns out, a decade and a half of trauma had had its way with her. She couldn’t stop what she thought was ‘normal’. She believed, by then, that she deserved to be treated like this; that this was her bad karma. I knew that I couldn’t do anything for her anymore, and so I left.

For the next two years, we barely spoke. I heard from our mutual friends about what she was doing with her life. She’d moved to a different city in early 2015 to pursue her dreams of acting in films. I was happy for her. After years of inertia, she was finally making progress. As for me, I finally began to dream for myself. I’d managed to get into a fantastic grad school abroad. Life was finally going the way that I had always hoped it would go. I used to be a mess, I nearly dropped out of college in my final year — I was very depressed between the ages of 21 and 23 — but she had convinced me to keep going. When I finally made the move abroad, I had let go of her entirely. Two years of being away from her had made me feel that I outgrew her, and grad school was the final nail in the coffin. Our lives carried on.

In mid 2016, during my third semester at university, she reached out to me on Facebook. By then, I’d already heard that she had met someone, and that they ran away together to the US. They were, by now, also married. I had carefully ignored this last detail for as long as I could, and eventually I had pushed it so far back that it no longer bothered me. Seeing her message in my inbox brought back some painful memories. We had, both, done our best to avoid directly contacting each other over the last two years. At the same time, however, a part of me was excited to hear from her. She told me that she was returning back home later that year. Before I could even ask her how married life was treating her, she asked me to meet her as soon as I came back for the holidays. I, of course, agreed. Over the next eight months, we messaged each other at frequent intervals, making lighthearted conversation, while we carefully avoided talks about our personal lives. There was no way that I was going to ask a married woman about her private affairs, and I was thankful that she never brought up any awkward topics from our past either.

A month before I returned home, she told me that she was back home for good. She wanted to talk to me over the phone, and I agreed. We finally spoke, after nearly two and a half years of silence, and it felt like we were never apart. A few hours into our conversation, she told me that after less than a year of being married, she was getting divorced. Her husband had physically assaulted her. He had smashed a bottle of wine on her head, not once, but twice. She told me that she regretted not leaving earlier. I told her that I regretted leaving too early.

When I finally came back home, I met her in our favourite cafe. It was as if time had stood still. We were back in the winter of 2011 — the first time we’d met. I still loved her deeply, and I spent the first two months of my holidays with her. I met her everyday and I listened to her. We were young again. There was no baggage, no expectations, just love. A consequence of her abusive marriage, however, was her new found dependence on alcohol. She would drink herself to sleep every night. I would often find myself carrying her back home after a night of binge-drinking. Her mother would call me each time and ask me to make sure that she reached home safely. There was no way I wouldn’t oblige. And so, things went on this way for two months. A few times, we found ourselves in familiar situations where she would tell me that she loved me and that she regretted not being with me while she had the chance. I told her that I loved her regardless — I truly did. I tried my best to not feel the same way about her, and more often than not I succeeded. It was, however, one particular night when things changed forever. We were out on a Saturday night, attending her cousin’s private musical performance, when this change occurred. Her family and friends were all in attendance. In front of them, after a few drinks too many, she held my face close to hers, and as she looked into my eyes, she spoke to her mother and she said “I always knew I would marry this boy, and now is the time when I make it happen”. The entire audience gasped. They thought that she was proposing to me. I was, for the most part, drunk out of my mind, and so I barely registered what had happened. Before we knew it, her mother held us by our arms and dragged us out of the venue. She made us sit down and she spoke to us about the realities that we were dealing with. She loved me dearly, but she wanted me to know that her daughter was going through a tricky divorce, and that she was bi-polar and chronically depressed. I told her that I loved her regardless — that I always had — but I was fully aware of the present situation. We decided that it would be best for us to go back to their home and talk about this. And so we did. The truth is that I knew that this was a momentary lapse of reason. I had ambitions in my life, and I had a carefully crafted plan for my future. I wanted to do a PhD after grad school, and I knew that the time that I was spending with the girl that I had loved for six years was, quite possibly, the last time that I would meet her. I said these things to her mother, who understood where I was coming from. As for the girl I loved, she nodded along, quietly accepting what was our fate.

With that conversation, I left their house. I would return soon enough, but not before a few weeks at the very least. During this time, I made efforts to return back to my regular life. I started preparing for my PhD scholarships — I had essays to write, and applications to fill out. When we finally decided to meet again, we would did so without the presence of alcohol. As we sipped on our coffees, she told me all about her failed marriage. At the end of the conversation, I told her that she deserved better, that she will always deserve better. I knew, in my heart, that she would eventually find happiness — even though I secretly wished that it was with me. She wished me best, and said that she would like to spend the remaining two weeks of my holidays as my friend. I, of course, obliged.

The last part of this story isn’t easy to explain. Everything happened so fast. She had, for a week, found herself back in the arms of an old boyfriend. He was one of the guys who had trampled all over her in the past. After everything we had been through, I couldn’t see her go through this all over again. I intervened and got her to walk away, once again. At the same time, however, she expressed her anger at me. She told me that I can’t keep rescuing her. I was going away in a week, and since I would possibly never be back in her life, I had no right to tell her how to live. I couldn’t argue with her — she was, for the most part, right. On my final day, I told her that I would always love her, and that I would always wish for her happiness.

After I returned back to my new home — 10,000 kilometres away from her — I tried my best to not interfere in her life. I stayed in touch with her mother, however, who told me everything that went on. For the first couple of months, we spoke in secret. She told me that her daughter was going back to men from her past, the kind that would invariably hurt her again. One day, she called me and told me that her daughter’s alcoholism had gotten worse — that she had tried to kill herself the previous night, by consuming half a bottle of whisky along with fifteen sleeping pills. Upon hearing this, for the first time in my life, I was truly shell-shocked. I didn’t know what to say or feel anymore. The only thing that I could do was to call her up. At this stage, I didn’t care about reason and logic. Even though I knew nothing good would come from this conversation, I had to speak to her. It took a while for her to open up to me — afterall, I had, once again, walked out of her life. She felt ashamed; I felt numb. We spoke for a few hours that night, but we avoided the topic of her attempted suicide as much as we could. Her mother sat by her side as she opened up to me. We felt like a family, once again — albeit a dysfunctional one. During the last three months, I’ve colluded with her mother to convince her go to rehab. She needs to heal and let go of eighteen years of pain. My role in her life has, now, changed into that of a guardian of sorts. We talk about our dreams, and we talk about making those dreams come true.

What I’m about to say next isn’t going to make me sound like a good person— but it was the only thing that I could do. A week ago from today, she finally agreed to join rehab. She’ll be gone for a year, to a new city, away from her old life. While I’m very proud of her for taking this courageous step, I decided that, for the last time in this lifetime, I would walk away from her life. There is nothing that we can do for each other anymore.

I spoke to her mother last night, and I made her my last promise — that I would stand by her daughter till she reached the doorsteps of the rehab centre. Once inside, she will be asked to forfeit her phone and laptop. There will be no communication with the outside world, only fixed meetings with family and friends over the weekends. We are both aware that I will not be around for the duration of her stay, therefore, there are no expectations. My life, from what I can tell, is like that of a nomad. In less than a year I will be in a completely different part of the world, committed to five years of doctorate level studies. I will have no fixed home, and therefore I cannot pretend to give her a home. Despite our history, despite our love, we cannot be together — and yet we both deserve to be happy in our lives. In less than twelve hours, I will have fulfilled my last promise.

The only thing left to do, now, is to erase all traces of us. The process has already begun.

This was my first and final confession.