I went to my 20th high school reunion on the same day I went to a high school open house for my oldest child.
At the reunion, our name tags had our pictures from our freshman year in high school. There I was with my bangs nearly flopping over my eyes, my entire future unscripted and unknown. I pressed my name tag onto my blouse and thought about my oldest son, with his hair flopping down across his forehead, how he’d be turning the same age as I was in that picture in just a matter of months. In some odd way, I felt as if he was becoming a peer.
I don’t feel all that different from the girl I was in that picture. I remember everything she liked and wanted for herself. I remember all her hopes and dreams and fears. I’ve certainly changed, my priorities and values have shifted, but that young girl is still with me. All I have done for that last twenty years is sleep and wake up, and life has happened around me. I got married, earned degrees, moved, had children, moved some more, and then finally returned to my hometown. Through it all, the years just passed without any sort of fanfare. I wish we had to crank the gears on some giant clock or push time forward in any sort of physical way, because this sunrise-sunset business crept up on me. Wrinkles just showed up on my face; grey hair appeared out of nowhere; and my waistline decided it had enough. After three children, it was done shrinking back to its pre-pregnancy size.
Dylan and I sat in the well-worn cushions of the black pleather love seat in our counselor’s office, the three of us wondering how I’d respond to Dylan’s marriage proposal.
“Well?” Dylan asked, his gray-green eyes locked on my face.
“Yes! Oh my god, yes,” I said, but my up intonations gave away my uncertainty. “Of course! It’s what we’ve been talking about! Of course I want to get ma-mar—engaged!”
I winced at the shrill sound of my own voice. The pleather groaned as I shifted and sunk into my seat.
The rest of the session I was Woody Allen in “Annie Hall.”
Whenever I accompany my husband to a work dinner, someone invariably asks me, “And what do you do? Are you also a physician?”
Like many writers, I struggle with claiming that title, so I rarely mention it. I almost always quip that I’m employed by our three kids, or simply state that I’m a stay-at-home mom.
The reply is often, “That’s the most important job in the world,” or “Sounds like you have your hands full,” as if I’ve just confessed something that begs for affirmation. I’ve often wondered what it is about mothering that calls out the inner cheerleader in people. I’ve never once regarded one of my husband’s colleagues with wide eyes and said, “I bet that keeps you busy!”
I groggily grab my phone. It’s 3 am, and I’m on a business trip to Chicago. I have a missed call from my little sister. I call her back immediately. I can hear that she is scared to tell me, to be the messenger of bad news. She tells me that my Nana has died. She knows how I hate to be told about deaths over the phone; I was told of both Mom and Nani’s death in similar late night calls. She says that he died in the ambulance going to the hospital from his home in Dhaka.
“Okay,” I respond, unemotionally. I check myself: no feelings. Just empty.
On some level, we had been expecting it. He was 87 years old and his health had been deteriorating for the past few years, ever since my Nani died. They were married when he was 21 and she was 16. He had lived for her. Without her, his mind unraveled.
When I went to Kathmandu to care for him in the summer of 2013, he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, my family had not told me this at the time – they had just said he was a cantankerous old man. Overwhelmed and alone, I pieced it together after reading the labels on the boxes of pills I was administering to him daily. Those two weeks alone with him in that dark cold house were easily one of the most traumatic, mind-spinning periods of my adult life.
When I pulled my car into the parking garage of our apartment building, I blinked twice. Standing in our parking spot, wearing a tux, was my boyfriend, Dylan, beaming and holding a rose. I blushed. I couldn’t believe that he’d actually remembered our anniversary in time to get a suit, pick up a rose, and surprise me at the parking garage.
I got out of the car, kissed and hugged him, and then thanked him for the rose.
“You are so lucky!” I said, “I almost didn’t come home tonight! I was about to go have dinner with a friend. I would have totally missed your surprise.”