I am still confused about how to deal with the impasse and what to make out of the situation. I am always the one who needs rescuing from love’s mess. I never thought I would have to play the savior one day.
Yes, I played Cupid for them. I always have, for many. So, when it came to my two best friends, it went without saying that I would be the one bringing them together. But it never changed the fact that I sucked at love. I still do.
Forever confused, forever messy, either my love interests left me, or I did, out of boredom or out of a missing piece in the relationship.
And I am thirty-five, glorious, and successful now. I have always felt that the lack of love or the inability to do it is why success came easy. And I never refrain from proudly declaring it either.
But that did not stop my romantic-as-hell best friends from sucking me into their oh-so-beautiful-yet-complicated love story. It is true that I had played Cupid for them and had been there all along in their journey. But their story is different now. It is deep and tangled and stuck, and beyond my brain’s compromised limbic system.
Sitting alone in my plush thirtieth-floor apartment, without any perceptible trace of love in my heart and mind, as I reread their letters a hundred times over, I more and more believe that I do not qualify to be an adviser in love at all! Do they not understand this? Or is it just because I am the one who knows them both in and out that they decided to rely on me?
Nis is forever a romantic. Love to her is like the colors of the rainbow, the smell of the first rain on parched earth, the fluttering of fireflies, everything ethereal. She painted love in her heart with every possible color and thoughts exactly like her canvases. And no doubt, standing today, at a difficult crossroads of life, she has painted a letter for me too.
Thanks for being there for me always and forever. You are God’s gift to me. My shoulder to cry. My place to rant and let my heart out. I can’t thank you enough. Yet, I want you to do me another favor. Hear me out first.
As I stand on the edge of my cliff today, looking at the rolling valley below and the layers of mountains beyond, and the birds flying in abandon, I realize what freedom means.
I had ample time to think about us, Xiao and me, over the past year while I stayed stranded here in my mountains, and he back at home. As the world fought with the biggest war of survival of this century, I fought my battle with my heart.
I missed him with every Sunrise and every blow of wind playing with my hair and with every raindrop that touched me. I missed him in every wonder I witnessed, every butterfly that flew by me, every new flower I smelled, every firefly that lit up my orchard. I missed him in the first snowfall, in the first new leaf of my apple tree. I craved to share these experiences with him. When I painted a new landscape, I wanted to show it to him. When I discovered a new song on YouTube, I wanted him to listen to it. When I found a new bud bloom in my orchid shade, I wanted to send him the photo.
And each time, I felt an ache in my heart, remembering this is not why I am here. The thousands of kilometers between us almost made me forget why I chose to have the kilometers between us in the first place.
But the world probably had decided to intervene this time. As friends and relatives and colleagues started getting sucked in the whirlpool of the pandemic, I started worrying for him, dreading an urgent phone call. (You know how careless he can be about himself when he is working). I wanted to be there for him. But I had to stay put. And all I could do was to brace my fluttering heart myself. Many a time, I had picked up the phone to drop a message but managed to restrain myself, barely.
Whenever I found myself reaching for the phone, I strolled to the edge of my cliff, away from all connectivity. The world was empty of men as if resonating my loneliness. But everything else was there the same as ever. The beauty of pure, untouched nature warmed by heart. They provided me with serenity for perceiving things better. Slowly I started accepting that Xiao is a different person even if he is my life. He has a different perspective, a different looking angle.
How can I blame him for doing things that need to be done? He is meant for bigger things and incredible dreams. He belongs to the world, to everyone. I knew from the beginning that I cannot have him all for myself. But I belong only to him, Mila. He is my only world. How to brace my heart when it yearns for him and misses him and gets stricken when he breaks insignificant day-to-day promises for those dazzling projects and even brighter future? I cannot pull him down with my petty wants and desires, can I? I tried to embrace his immensity, but I fell short, Mila. All that I can do now is some self-preservation while making his life a little less complicated.
Today as the breeze blows, tangling my hair, I try to untangle my heart from his. I let my love fly away far and wide, freeing him. I was keeping him a prisoner of my love. I really had no right. There is a massive void in my heart now, but you know what, Mila, the realization that he will be able to live his life the way he needs to, makes me feel so much better. The feeling that I will not have to guard my heart against getting hurt every time feels liberating. That I will not have to frown at the girls clinging to him at parties and events makes me feel so relieved. (I am almost smiling at the thought). Of course, I will worry about his late nights, odd hours, insane work schedules, and bone-breaking practices. I will never get over it, but that’s the part of him that will stay with me, along with the beautiful memories.
All those poetries telling us to let our loved ones free are making sense to me now. Loving does not always mean being under the same roof, doing the same thing, enjoying the same food, or watching the same television series. People who get to do these are lucky. Hooray to them! But loving also means letting each other be, letting the other one bask in his happiness irrespective of what you desire.
I just hope I have got it right. Stand by me, Mila. Tell me that I will be strong and do what has to be done. The process has just started. It will take time. Tell me I will be able to endure it. Tell me that I am not wrong. I know you always wanted us to be together but isn’t it for the best? When Xiao and I meet someday in the crossroads of life, I want to be strong enough to hug him and ask about his wellbeing. I will be able to, won’t I? I want you to be my support, my rock, as always. I know my decision breaks your heart, but I think this is for the best. (Am I going in circles? Bear with me, please.) I know he is missing me too. Tell him that the phase will pass. Take care of him, Mila.
Till we meet again,
p.s. I have decided to stay in the mountains for some more time.
And then there is Xiao. Charismatic, beautiful, and talented. A singer, a performer. When it comes to working, he is a workaholic and perfectionist. When it comes to friendship, he is sincere and all-caring.
And when it comes to Nis, she is his home. The very axis of his life. He pivots around her. But exactly the way we take home and life for granted, he does that to Nis. I have seen him getting torn between his busy workaholic life and his devotion to his friends, assuming that Nis will always understand him and let him devote his time and attention to those who need him. Nis knows this, and I too. But still, we cannot disregard that a living, breathing Nis also needs his time and attention.
Xiao is deep enough to understand that, but just as we keep pushing our own needs away, he does that to Nis too. He cannot see Nis separately from himself.
And as I read his email and find him seeing Nis in a different light, it somehow breaks my heart.
Mila, my love,
I am dying to meet you, and that stupid girl, of course.
Can you kidnap her and get her to me? She had to choose to run away, and this pandemic had to make an appearance at the same time! Why just tell me? I could have run to her and got her back right at this moment otherwise.
The more I am getting furious with the pandemic, the more I am getting infuriated with myself. Why do I do all these things, tell me, Mila? When she is here, I feel so much at ease that I would hang out with friends, attend late-night after-parties, meet agents and take appointments, paying no heed to the clock and her feelings. I know I have taken her for granted all my life. But she is my rock, steady and safe. She always has been. I never thought I will ever have to make do without her. I will never get used to a home without her. It is not a home at all. I have hardly returned to it in the past year. I have stayed back at hotels and mom’s place, and even at the studio, dreading the empty halls and rooms and study. I have got drunk. I have danced and practiced non-stop, have played the piano all night, but even heaps of weed could not make a single moment pass without her thoughts.
I was angry with her in the beginning, but I was angrier with myself. And what an idiot I was to let her go. She also did not turn back this time. She never called. And how I wanted her to look back! We have done this at least three times before. But this time, it felt different, Mila. I do not know why I got a feeling that she would not return this time. And this feeling never left me all through the past year. I know I am the one to be blamed for everything. I had thought of calling her, but whenever I remembered that she said she would die if I called, I did not. I know she did not mean it, but I did not want her to shut away all doors.
Get her for me, Mila.
The past year, with the world stalled, and life slowed down, I again felt what she meant to me. We have grown up together, and I never realized when she became my life. She became the very air I breathe, and I never realized. Now I know, and she is gone.
I will apologize for every late-night, every meeting I attended, ignoring her. All those dinner dates I canceled for the after-parties. The tours I took without her. Every flower, every snowflake, every firefly I overlooked for meeting agents. Every one of her paintings that I kept aside to admire later, but never got the time eventually. I will make up to her for everything, for all the times we lost.
She forbade me to go for her. I know you would say I should still go. I should. But I am too guilty and too frightened. What if she runs farther away? I will not be able to endure that. Get her for me, and I will do the rest, exactly like when we were in high school, and you had got her somewhere safe for me to bare my heart. Do that one more time. And I promise this one will be the last. I will forever remember what you had said that day, so many years back, “I’m getting you a diamond. Don’t ever lose it.”
I will never let her go away again, Mila. I promise.
The biggest idiot, Xiao
p.s. I know that the stupid girl knows how much I miss her. And I know she is missing me too. I will set everything right, I promise, Mila.
It breaks my heart to see Xiao like this. He never cries. He never repents. He is the ever-smiling, all-caring guardian angel who gets our friends tide over their heartbreaks and hardships. And he is breaking down now. I know he is at fault. They both are. We all are. No one is perfect. But I still dread how he is going to react if he learns about Nis’s decision.
And I am caught in their crossroad, the worst person to find a way out. I do not know love at all, or at best know a twisted, another-dimensional absurd form of it. What am I supposed to do?
For Nis, love now means setting free. For Xiao, love means life, as always, and for me, love is forever a big, confusing black hole. Whatever goes in gets lost. Did they think I could churn some miracle out of my black hole? I wish I could. I wish I had a better understanding of how it works.
Or did they think because I am so romantically challenged, I would decide with logic? I am more logical than emotional, but today these two letters make me consider myself all over again. And strangely enough, I am not feeling fortunate at all that I never got to feel love like they did, or not having to go through the hurt either. It feels as if a part of my soul has always stayed unaroused.
And for the first time in my life, I am regretting that I let love pass by me, unbothered.
I pick up the phone and dial Rueben’s number.
“Hey, I guess I didn’t wake you up. Can you help me with something?”
“You know very well you didn’t. Shoot now,” Rueben’s voice sounds fresh as ever.
“If something gets bitter enough, can there still be a second chance?”
“Are you going to propose to me in the middle of the night?”
“What nonsense! No! We are better off apart and friends.”
“That’s your opinion.”
“Answer my question, Rue,” I say, fighting the beginning of a palpitation. I am surprised that he can still make my heart flutter. Or maybe it is the situation at hand.
“There can always be a second chance.”
“And a fourth chance?”
Rueben starts laughing, and I remember how his face lights up, and I realize how beautiful he always sounds when he laughs like that.
“Yes, there can always be a fourth, a fifth, a hundredth chance, Mil. But often we get puzzled by so many extraneous factors that the path starts looking difficult.”
“You are talking like a die-hard romantic.”
“Did you not call me up so late exactly because of that?”
I open my mouth, unable to come up with an answer. Reuben is right. And with that, an idea becomes very clear in my head. I want Nis and Xiao to have a second (or maybe a fourth) chance. Maybe Nis wanted to hear this too! Our subconscious has this strange ability to show us the right path. Only we get hesitant to pick it up.
“You can close your mouth now and give your best friends a call. Save those dear souls.”
“Whoa! What do you mean?” I mock-shout and imagine Reuben’s victorious smile. He always does that whenever he gets me right.
“You know what I mean.”
I stay silent for some time, looking into my own heart and the empty space there.
“Mila, we are nobody to decide for them, but as friends, we can untangle the path a bit. Sometimes someone else’s help is needed, Catalyst or Cupid, whatever you may call it. Light a candle for them, and they will find the way.”
“Rue, I, I will.” I stop, dreading that I may spout some nonsense. “Goodnight, Rue.”
I stay sitting for a long time with a thousand thoughts swirling around in my head. Nis, Xiao, Rueben, I. Rueben and I had a short two-year-long relationship. But, unlike my other flings, we have stayed friends, turning back to each other in insomnias, in dilemmas, in frustrations, in outbursts. And more so during the past year. Now I realize that we have kind of cushioned each other through the difficult times.
I go off to bed to wait for the morning to arrive, knowing very well that sleep will not visit me today. I will call my love-birds in the morning. The dear souls caught in their crossroads.
As I turn off my room lights, my phone’s message tone rings.
It is Reuben.
“Finish that sentence for me one day. I will wait.”
And because it is today, I smile, thinking maybe I will, one day. One day we will find a way out of our crossroads too.