Continued from here.
She sat on the steps near the entrance to her college building and wrote a long letter full of details of her day. Seemingly inconsequential details, such as the weather, such as the funny twirling motion in which the leaves fell all around her, such as how crappy the food was in the canteen, such as the hilarious accent one of her professors had.
Days later and thousands of miles away, all alone in a foreign land, He devoured its contents. They were his connection to the life he'd left behind, to the future he still hoped to have. As long as the letters came regularly and they brought to him words with warmth and a whiff of her silliness, He was OK.
Two months earlier He had left. It was a strange parting, deeply unsettling, their minds swirling with unknowable things. But when the time came, neither had the time or the inclination to be morose, wanting and choosing instead to feel hopeful. Neither of them knew the how of it. It is one of those things that you can only ascribe to youth - when you haven't lived life for too long, you think you have the power to shape it. It was this, perhaps, that prompted him to ask a friend if He could write letters to her address so He would have a way of keeping in touch with Her. (I know. 'Keeping in touch' is such a euphemism to describe what He was trying to accomplish but at a very basic level, that was what it was. A way of maintaining contact.)
The idea that this was morphing into a 'long-distance relationship' was not something that crossed their minds. Simply because it was not something they'd heard of before. And so they were not aware that distance not only made relationships more difficult but was also notorious for destroying them. As far as they were concerned, the parting was just an annoying wrinkle in the already complicated patchwork of their existence.
He wrote letters of his new life, of a full load of classes, of working hard to pay the bills, of rents and fees and food expenses so incongruous with the life he had known before. He wrote of his first winter with snow, of his roommates, of his delight in finally being able to afford a small music system for his room. She read every word and tried to imagine his brand new experiences, tried to live them as best She could in her mind, feeling slightly less bereft with each new letter.
In this age of instant messages and cell phones and e-mails, it is perhaps easy to imagine that writing letters by hand, waiting for days for it to reach the other person and waiting some more to receive a reply might have been, at best, arduous. But ignorance is bliss, as the saying goes. They just did not know any better.
One day, however, about six or seven months after He had left, when He was in the middle of his shift at work on campus, an insane thought seized him. He had to hear her voice. So, before the thought left him, he turned to a friend, told him he was in charge and ran the entire distance through the freezing cold from his workplace to his apartment. He nervously dialed her number, just imagining her face at the other end of the line, his mind not willing to countenance other possibilities.
The phone rang at the other end, He heard the sound of the receiver being picked up and a female voice said, "Hello".
His heart thumping, He said, "Hello. This is He. May I speak to She please?"
"She's not here."
"Oh. Could you just please tell her that I'd called to wish her a happy birthday?"
Feeling sick to his stomach He hung up the phone. Not only had He not talked to her, He may have gotten her into trouble.
When She got back home later that evening, her mother did tell her. Then they just looked at each other. All that was unsaid in the last so many months hung in the air between them. What was going on? Was She still seeing him? Why did He call? Was He not in town? Where was He?
She had not said anything when He had gone away. She had just had no inclination to bring up the topic if She didn't have to. She had gone along with the attempts to set up matches (as He did too from his parents, via long distance phone calls). She had posed for the photographs. She had prepared herself for the visits from families of prospective grooms. She politely answered questions. And She secretly reveled in the failure of the process - either the horoscopes didn't match, or the groom was too short or there was something else wrong that her parents were not told of before, or it stalled because it would take a while for the families to meet.
Finally, now, faced with the fact of the phone call, She told her mother about where He was. The relief on her mother's face was quickly banished by something else - sympathy. Her mother understood what She was going through. Her daughter had been reduced to a ghost of her former self, a haunted look on her face as She struggled, trapped between the consequences of her actions, wanting to be a 'good' daughter, and her firm conviction that She was in the right. But her mother also knew how tough the situation was. She just did not see a way out of this that would make her daughter happy. So she did the only thing she could have at that point - she took her daughter to the temple and told her to pray. And pray they both did.
Life settled back into this absurd normalcy for a few more months. And then it became clear. They could not go on like this forever. There had to be a resolution. For every body's sake. They had to make a final push to convince their parents. If it did not work...they dismissed the thoughts from their heads. They had to convince their parents because they were not willing to go any further without their parents by their side, without their blessings. He planned to visit his family for a few days. They would try their damnedest to make it work.
To be continued. Final installment coming up! Phew!
Updated March 16, 2009: continued here.