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Her story by Her

He was my first love. I had experienced juvenile love in high school but with him everything changed. We were intense, we were physical and emotional, we were practically married. I thought I understood him in the beginning but as time progressed I realized I didn’t because he wouldn’t let me. He wouldn’t let me get close to him. He would hardly talk unless when we needed to, and his excuse was always that he didn’t like talking, and the fact that he didn’t talk to me was a sign of the comfort and security he felt with me. I bought it at first but I knew there was something else. Maybe we were incompatible, maybe he didn’t want to be with me anymore, I wasn’t sure. By the time things got sour we were in deep enough to get carried along by the way things were, so that we were together without really being together. I loved him but I detached myself. I had family for support, even though I couldn’t talk to them about the relationship I was carrying on behind their back. But he didn’t have anyone, not family nor intimate friends. He chose to be that way. In a way that was consolation because he didn’t just not talk to me, he didn’t talk to anyone that much.

My position: Initially and throughout: I was with a man I loved deeply (in spite of him), but he wouldn’t let me get close to him. He held on to me but kept me at arm’s length. In the middle: I was scared of the uncertainty with him but that began to dissolve as I detached myself and began picturing my life without him being such a big part of it. Toward the end: Routine and habit kept us together more than anything else. We made love and it was still intense; we professed our love to each other but it was only sincere (I felt, from his end) when he was vulnerable in bed with me. I wanted to live my life with him but not like this.

When we finally broke up I remember I was sad but also relieved. What I could till then only anticipate in a fuzzy picture in my mind finally happened, and it brought with it all the pain that comes when your heart breaks. I cried quietly because I loved him and I was losing what I loved, but I also heaved a sigh of relief inside because at least the uncertainty would stop torturing my heart (even if it happened over time and not right away). I loved him so much that I worried for him because he was all alone, but I was helpless; he went to loneliness of his own volition. As much as I sometimes wanted to take him by the hand and force him to open up to me, he was a grown man I couldn’t just force into revelation. “You’ll feel better, just talk to me,” I told him so many times. In the near beginning we had moments when we sat close to each other and it appeared like he was trying to open up to me through words, but then I became so cynical of his efforts that I started resenting him, and myself even more for being a sucker and going back to him every time. But like I already said, toward the end I was only just riding the river we had so lovingly carved in our early days.

I was a stronger person than him by appearances. He couldn’t handle having relics of me around anymore so he returned them to me afterwards, leaving them with a friend of mine. He returned gifts and photos and mementos like tickets and passes from important days. When I saw something I was keeping my heart grew heavy but never once did I want to return it to him or throw it away. It was a memory from a time that was the greatest of my life, and I could look at it as just that, an isolated picture without zooming out to bring into sight the torn edges at the bottom, where time had finally torn us apart. Sometimes a tear would streak down my cheek at the thought of him. I wondered how he was doing, if he thought about me at all. All this love inside me I knew only to give to him was still hurting me.

School ended and summer came and I started more time with my only close friend. We knew each other from elementary school because we lived only nine houses apart. I knew that he was in love with me and had been for a long time. To spare his feelings I hadn’t told him about our affair, otherwise I told him everything about my life. At the mall one evening he took my hand. He had done so before in the past but this time I didn’t withdraw mine. I remember my thoughts: no, it doesn’t feel right… why doesn’t it feel right… he’s the one who let me go, moved on, doesn’t need me or want me… why shouldn’t I move on, why should I suggest to life that I don’t want anyone other than him… Out of desire for a fake vengeance I let him hold my hand. Soon he became my boyfriend but my lover (in the complete sense) he couldn’t be. He loved me so much that he wanted to marry me before we had sex. (How can I break this innocent heart’s illusion? I remember thinking. His heart’s more tender than mine!) I took him to bed, the desire a combination of physical hunger and that same fake vengeance. But the biggest reason was to break away from the feeling that it didn’t feel right with him when we weren’t together; I felt like I was taking advantage of him to occupy my time to keep away my own loneliness. Also out of guilt over this I took him to my bed.

He was in love with me and even though I forgot the world sometimes when we talked (so did he entertain me), I never loved him back. On my birthday of that year I broke it off with him. The boy that loved me who lived nine houses away never called me again, nor did we ever run into each other.

I didn’t see anyone or even date anyone for the next six months. I hadn’t given marriage any more thought than that it would happen someday, so when my parents began pestering me the following summer, after I graduated, I was annoyed. I didn’t see the purpose of getting married without the impetus of compelling emotions (and perhaps I could have spoken and bought some time were I actually involved with someone), but how to tell that to my parents who had progressively made it clearer as I grew older that they would find a suitable groom for me who I would be expected to marry without raising any issues? Marriage was no longer the naïve fantasia for me that it is for many girls into and beyond adolescence, but it hadn’t yet been stripped of all its romantic dressings either. Why would I marry for the sake of getting married? I asked myself, practically and logically. There was no answer, but seeing the fate of my older siblings, all of whom were in arranged marriages that looked ostensibly happy and successful, I resigned my fate to their whim and chose to focus on my professional development instead. At least that could still safely be handled by my own hands.

The truth is that the choice to let go came disturbingly easy, and when it did I felt deeply discouraged. Was I so hurt over love, so mad at love? I questioned myself accusingly. The idea of an arranged marriage to someone I hardly knew failed to appall me. Instead it was the observation of that fact that I found appalling. I deserved just this I told myself. For someone as uncaring as I had become this was the only stroke fate could deal. I chose to relinquish control of my romantic life to assuage the guilt I felt inside for having become so jaded and even apathetic. (When did it happen? I don’t know! I didn’t see it coming, I swear!)

Five dates. Five evenings together were all I had with the man I married exactly 56 days after meeting him for the first time. We went to dinner, dinner and a movie, his family friend’s party, a double date with his best friend and his wife, and finally dinner again. Each consecutive meeting reassured my initial impression that there was nothing remarkable about this man. He was a software engineer, five years older than me. A stable job and steady income, and commitment to family were his most talked-about qualities amongst my family. I chose to size him up another way. His faults (whatever they were) weren’t the same as mine, so our faults would never coincide and clash to create trouble for us down the road. Also, having given up on romance as such, as a woman who would be starting a steady career in a couple of years I had started thinking about children. (It happened quite unconsciously, like a bubble slowly rising from deep inside that finally reached its time.) He seemed like he would make a good father; on our five dates he was calm and soft-spoken. I wouldn’t love him but apparently I didn’t care for love, and who knows, love could happen with time and familiarity.

Once again, after consenting to the marriage and counting down the days to moving out of my parents’ house, I took stock of my relationship with love. I didn’t think of him anymore, the first man I ever really loved. Now there was just a film-reel timeline of a general past to the left of a loveless present to the left of a generic future. Love simply didn’t bother me anymore, not the way it had only a year ago. Then it was intense and demanded attention, but now it was a peripheral consideration. My own life had become severed from the movies that encouraged and even nurtured this concept of love. I could still watch romantic films and grow teary-eyed, but this life no longer held the same expectations and ideals as it used to, and I wasn’t bitter about it. I was much too young and relatively inexperienced to feel this way, but it was only a phase as I would find out later.

We got married in a traditional wedding which took place at the end of August, one week before I was to return to class to begin work on my Master’s degree. We were sent to Singapore for your honeymoon by our parents. On the night of the wedding I really gave of myself and…I really gave and tried to make that man who was now my husband my own in my heart and mind. We made love and I felt close to him. He was sweet with me and I hid all my past and prior experiences deep inside my heart so I could be fair to him and create a wonderful new beginning. I don’t know if he had ever made love before, because he was awkward, but that was a non-consideration then because this man was my husband. I was going to spend the rest of my life with him, making love to him in just this way (or something similar enough). The night went fine and I fell asleep with my head on his chest. When I awoke I remember feeling a sense that I belonged somewhere (again), that I had a new home and new security and life wasn’t so bad after all. As I made coffee while he still slept I thought of my parents and what they had done for me and I thanked them for it, with a heart lighter since the months of summer.

Everything changed when I returned to the bedroom with the morning coffee. He was awake and rummaging through the layers of bed sheets. I asked him what he was doing but he didn’t respond. Instead, after a few more motions of the arm airing the sheets, he got up and silently walked by me and out of the room. What was he looking for? The bloodstains on the bed sheets.

I didn’t know it immediately then so when I sat down on the bed with the coffee getting cold besides me, all sorts of thoughts ran through my mind. It was a roller-coaster of emotion: here fear, there consolation, here annoyance, there frustration… (Maybe something was wrong after his first sexual experience and he was too embarrassed to tell me… His family called and something has happened at home… My family called and something was wrong…) But it wasn’t any of those things. He made up a work-related excuse and canceled the honeymoon to Singapore. A week later I began class, still dazed from horror at the ugly start my married life had made. I couldn’t tell my parents anything; it would break their heart. For one week I slept in the bedroom while he took the living room couch. He would leave early for work and arrive home late each night. I tried asking him several times – confronting him even – but he would just walk by speechlessly. I began to think about what to do, this couldn’t go on like this.

On a Monday night, the second full week after getting married, I was speaking to my sister (who also didn’t know about my problem) on the phone. I was in my nightgown cleaning up the kitchen, preparing for bed. He opened the door rather loudly and made his way to the kitchen after bumping into several walls. He didn’t even bother taking his shoes off.

“I gotta go. I’ll call you later.”

He stood there briefly, at the kitchen entrance, leaning against the wall because he couldn’t stand up straight. He was drunk. I looked at him but in less than a second I looked away. There was anger revenge murder…all those things, all there in his eyes. Then suddenly, in his drunken rage, he came toward me and savagely fell upon me. (I hit the floor rather hard and hurt my head pretty badly.) That night my husband raped me, his own wife. That night I conceived our child.

I made it upstairs to the bedroom and the night passed in fear and tears and in pain. (He had been so violent that I would see bloodstains on the stairwell the next day.) I lay down on my side and cried without making a sound, because I wasn’t really crying, the tears were just coming on their own. In between the constant fear I was feeling were bouts of anger and self-loathing. What did I do to deserve this? I must have done something wrong and deserving of this. I had been unchaste with the first man I had loved and this was my punishment for it. The night passed in thought until I fell asleep at some point. I didn’t go to class the following day. Instead I nursed my bruised and paining body by lying in bed all day, except to get a drink of water once in the morning (when I noticed the bloodstains on the stairwell).

No words were spoken between us for one week. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened, and from the absence of any family intervention I surmised he hadn’t either. We lived our separate lives under the same roof. My initial worry about how I’m going to go on living a married life this way was replaced by a numbness that cast worry (and even thought to some extent) aside. My purview of the distant future was shattered and replaced by a daily, even hourly, scope of living.

What did I think? What did I do? Nothing, and nothing. I distracted myself in my work and talked to no one except when absolutely necessary. For that one week I awoke and left the house, and when I returned I went to sleep. One night, however, as I lay in bed not having fallen asleep yet, I heard footsteps entering the bedroom. They were so quiet and soft I hadn’t heard them climbing the stairs. I realized I wasn’t afraid but was containing my anger from turning into action I would regret. I wasn’t sure what I would do if he did something but I wouldn’t lay there and take it, I knew that much. He stood still for a minute then slowly approached the bed. I was on my side facing the wall opposite the door. He took his shirt off and very softly first sat down on the bed, then climbed in. We lay there motionless for I don’t how long. I didn’t want him there but I didn’t know what to say either, and I didn’t want to have to speak to him. He shifted from his back to his side, I don’t know if he faced me or the other way, but then something else happened. I felt an arm sliding over my waist to hold me. I let out a gasp, he panicked, lifted his arm, but then gently placed it firmly where it had been and kept it there. Tears welled in my eyes but I didn’t dare lift my hands to wipe them away. We both knew we were both awake. No one spoke. I lay there sobbing, he lay there holding me. He didn’t pull me toward him or get close to me.

Now what did I think? I was more confused than ever before in my life. I was still angry but perhaps here was a second chance… I felt humanity in his gesture, repentance even. I could tell he was afraid of what he was doing from the way his hand had trembled. Then the old question of what did I do to deserve this returned to mind and I wanted to push him away with violence, but then I thought of my family, to spare them the pain… This man, even with what he had done, was my husband… Whatever I had done, I had been punished for it and I had been redeemed… I lay there all night and the next morning a new chapter of us began. We never became friends, mind you. The task of making us husband and wife lay squarely on his shoulders, and to that end he tried to talk to me, get to know me. I complied but I kept a distance from him that I never let diminish. I had been redeemed for him but he could never be redeemed in my eyes.

He was scared enough to never try to make love to me again, and I was pregnant anyway and it started to show in a few months. The family were all happy and the façade of our marriage was miraculously sustaining us. Perhaps he held hope that after having a child together I would forgive him and would let him get close to me again. After I delivered a stillborn child on May 20 he must have seen himself as doomed, so he left. I was relieved to tell the truth; not a tear did I shed on realizing he had left for good. I was so detached from the life that had been growing inside me that my friends worried about me. I never thought of a name for it or even learned its sex. Either way, what happened, if it wasn’t good it wasn’t that bad either. When I went to bury my dead child I had less heartache inside over my stillborn motherhood than the relief I felt at thinking all the bad things this dead life would be spared from. In a way there was synchrony in my maiden trysts with marriage and parenthood – both times I fell hard before even getting both feet off the ground.

…I don’t know how he does this for a living. It’s so emotionally taxing digging up old wounds…

I said earlier that my faded outlook on love was a phase, as I would realize later. My friends introduced me to a man about a year after my husband left. He was older and more mature and relatively well-off. We went out sporadically over a few months. He brought me back again, so to speak, into the realm of romance and love. He took me to shows and picnics and bought me more gifts and presents than I could dream of. A very sweet and chivalrous man, I was ready to drop my past and marry him until I admitted to myself that I didn’t love him. The romance had swept me away; I was riding the intoxication of being desired and wanted and chased after the entire time I was with him. Eventually he would leave me because he wanted to marry me and start a family and I wouldn’t even sleep with him. In my turn I politely returned all that I could of his gifts with a note I tried hard to make as brief as possible so as not to emasculate in his eyes our brief but exciting affair.

What was missing? Excitement, pain, heartache; uncertainty, drama, explosiveness. The romance with the older man brought the thought of love back, but it came in the only version of love that I knew, and his romance wasn’t compatible with that love. The love I knew was poor, not rich and comfortable. It was intense and unpredictable, not controlled and reliable. The one I loved a long time ago (who’s now my husband) had been my “bad boy” because he wouldn’t give me what I wanted: to be inside his world. (In contrast, the older man would hand me my slightest desire on a silver platter before it even left my lips.) The love I knew perpetually left something wanting.

When he (my husband) called me out of the blue and asked to marry me I wasn’t seeing anyone nor had I for a few months. I thought little before I spoke and said yes, but when I fell on the bed after we hung up and slowly emerged from the shock, I found myself in a puddle inside my head. I had questions thoughts concerns, but most of all I remember, I had a bleak light of excitement somewhere in the corner of my heart. What’s he doing calling after so many years and proposing to me, is he crazy? Is this some sick mean joke… I knew it wasn’t that from his voice… What does he mean by this? What do I mean by saying yes? Am I really going to marry him, the man who drove me mad when I loved him?

Till he called the next time I put the question out of my mind as well as I could. After all, I didn’t know when he would call, if at all. But he did, and again I was taken back to the same place where feelings dwell, only this time with some greater depth because I was somewhat prepared for the incursion. I hadn’t found answers to my own questions so I proposed to let him speak. He said some words that made me cry and we decided to meet.

Why did I marry him? Why not, I asked myself. You must think what a sloppy approach to choose who to spend your life with, but this is the man I knew better than all the men I have ever known (and, ironically, what bothered me most about him was not being able to know him even more). And that little light of excitement in some corner of the heart, that was still glowing, how could I ignore that? Of course I considered whether I would have the same problem with him as I did back then; I noticed that in the passage of time we had inadvertently taken steps that brought us closer together, not taken us farther apart. When we met face to face and talked I realized he had matured into a more expressive individual, and my zeal to always get inside his head and secure myself in there and him for myself had also tempered. To put it plainly we had grown up.

What else, what other considerations went through my head? I was alone, he was alone. We knew each other like no one else in our lives. Life was getting shorter by the day (even though we’re both still young). If we… I keep speaking for both of us, forgetting I’m telling only my story here… If I let this chance go when would I find such a sure thing again? I wasn’t afraid of being alone – I hadn’t become complacent about it but I didn’t fear it – but wouldn’t it be so much nicer to restart with someone I still felt familiar with, even if only in a relatively distant memory? It didn’t feel that distant anymore since hearing his voice; hearing that voice retrieved that file from memory’s bank and made a mad anachronism out of it by placing it front and center on present’s stage.

Our new life doesn’t find me effusive and overjoyed, but it doesn’t find me resentful and cynical either. There’s a quiet pleasure in my mind and a very soft song in my heart at the thought of being with him, touching him, loving him, growing old with him. Inside that contained excitement I suppose I am effusive, and hopeful and grateful for the second chance we’ve both been given.

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