The year was 1984. I had just graduated from college and was looking forward to the summer break before I would get caught in the rat race of getting employed. Little did I know how those few short weeks would change my life forever.
One sultry afternoon, a couple of my friends and I decided to venture out on a picnic and a quick dip in a nearby quarry lake. This was where I first met Jay. He was the most vivacious and outgoing person I had ever met. I was drawn to him from the moment I met him. He was a year older than us and had already procured a well-paying job in the city. Despite his childish and joking demeanor, he had a certain air of maturity about him.
He spent the afternoon entertaining us with satire and his tales from the city. In the evening, the two of us ended up cycling back to our homes together. There wasn’t a single quiet moment between us as he hosted a little symposium of his own. From our families to books to our aspirations in life, we discussed it all.
That night when I went to bed, all I could think of was Jay. I wanted to know everything there was to know about this interesting man. The next time I saw him was a week later at a friend’s brother’s wedding. As expected, he was presenting his comedic talents to the bride’s mother and aunts. Being a relatively timid person, I was nervous about approaching him. However, all my fears melted when I saw his smile.
I spent the rest of the day basking in the glow of Jay’s vibrant personality and his never-ending reserve of exciting conversation. After the wedding processions had concluded, the two of us decided to go to the beach in the next town. As we cycled there, we discovered our shared interest in travelling, poetry and coffee.
Over the next two weeks, I spent my time gallivanting around the town with Jay, uncovering places we had never visited and coffees we hadn’t tried. During the day, we would spend our time lounging near the beach and the nights, bar hopping.
One evening as we were cycling back home, Jay abruptly brought his cycle to a halt. I stopped a little ahead of him and looked back, concerned. For the first time, I didn’t see his familiar smiling face. “I-, there’s something you need to know,” he mumbled shakily. “What is it? Are you okay?” I asked the now pale-faced Jay. I stepped off my cycle, leaving it on the side of the road, and rushed towards him.
He refused to look me in the eyes. I could see him starting to tear up. I put my hand on his shoulder, and he shuddered. “What is it, Jay? You know you can tell me anything.”, I said softly. After a long pause, he quivered and said, “I love you. As more than a friend. I hope you understand.” But I did not understand.
Shocked by his confession, I walked back to my cycle without saying a word to him and rode away. I went home a confused man that day.
I had had friends before, but none like Jay. There was something distinctive about him. I tossed and turned at night, trying to rid my mind of his stellar smile and caring eyes but was left defeated. I knew I felt the same way but was afraid to admit it to myself. His pale face continually flashed in front of my eyes, his words playing like a mantra in my head. By sunrise, I decided to take a walk by the canal to collect my thoughts. I was feverish, thinking of ways to rationalize my feelings for Jay as well as his feelings for me.
How could I possibly feel this way for another man? I was furious at myself. I began throwing small pebbles as far into the water as I could, hoping that with each pebble, I could perhaps drown my shameful secret. Tears began streaming down my face and, before I knew it, I was sitting on the ground with my head in my hands, weeping.
I was jolted back to reality when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see the same face that had kept me up all night. I immediately stood up in attention and wiped the tears off my face. Jay apologized for the night before and told me that he would be leaving for the city that night. We hugged and parted ways. I think we both put all the words we couldn’t say into that one hug.
I spent the next two years desperately trying to bury the memories of Jay. Meanwhile, my parents had amped up the pressure to get me married. After rejecting almost all their propositions, I finally gave in to their wishes. I married Sudha, a cheerful and headstrong woman. Together, we travelled the world, created the best of memories, and even had two children.
33 years into our marriage, one morning, Sudha did not wake up. I was grief-stricken and lost. I believe I have only had one real love in my lifetime. Cruel as it is to say, it was not the woman I had been married to for over three decades. I did truly love her but not in the way a husband does. She was my best friend and partner for most of my life, but I could never tell her the truth, the actuality of my predilections.
After Sudha’s funeral, I resolved to finally start being honest about myself. I first told my children or ‘came out’ as the kids today say. They were taken aback at first but later assured me that they would love me the same.
Seeing their support made me realize that I should have probably told them and Sudha a long time ago.It felt like an age-old weight had been lifted off of my chest. I could start living again, but this time, on my terms.
To this day, I remember Jay. No matter how hard I try, I cannot forget his smile, the sound of his voice as he regaled me with his adventures, the way his eyes lit up when he spoke about poetry.
Hopefully, someday, I will find the courage to go looking for him. In my mind, he is the same Jay that hugged me goodbye. So maybe I am curious to see where his life has taken him. But most importantly, I want to thank him for making me realize what love truly can be.
For now, I’m going to raise my pride flag high and live my best life.
Written by Tvisha Prasani for MTTN
Edited by Shivangi Acharya for MTTN
Featured Image by Peter Wever
Artwork by James Fenner