In the days leading up to the India trip, I was anxious, I had that vague pain behind my rib cage. And so I tried to distract myself by cleaning more than I should, cooking more than I needed. On the way to the airport, my partner sat next to me, tapping his foot all the way.
Don’t walk too fast, he said, as he pulled my suitcase up on the curb.
You see, there was the Before, and the Way Before.
In the Before, we travelled together. One could say perhaps he was there so he could put my knee back in place as it moved out and I fell. We remembered the aftermath—the wheelchair and the pain, the brace and the physiotherapy. But he also remembered other things: the time I fell on ice in the middle of the night and couldn’t move, I sat on the road, shivering from the cold and fear. He came running, a mile and a half. I was still there, delirious.
In the Way Before, we said bye to each other at this very airport; the Dunkin Donuts hadn’t come up yet. I was returning to India—I couldn’t find a job, the company I worked for said they liked me, but they didn’t want to go through the hassle of applying for a visa so I could stay. The same man sat next to me in the taxi, and tapped his foot all the way to the airport.
Come and see me, I said.
He would, and in the meantime, I would watch my father leave to work on an oil rig in the middle of the sea. He would come home charred, still tasting salt on himself, earning money I felt too guilty to spend. I couldn’t bring myself to ask how he was, how his work was; we saw it well enough. My home would soon turn toxic as my affair came to light, bringing with it casteist expletives, fights, and silences.
In the Way Before, we loved on the phone, we waited by it and breathed by it. We didn’t speak of that day at the airport, I didn’t ask why his eyes had turned shiny.
There was the Much Before too, when I left with the same blue suitcase, to live with guardians whom I naively believed would be like parents. But I was fourteen, and foolish, I didn’t yet know all the ways people could behave, all the things they could say as they tried to control my life.
Last week, my suitcase came to me broken. I presume it was thrown on the conveyor belt, and it must have opened. I don’t think I lost anything. I am curiously light, I’m zipping ahead, like a phone that has just received a benevolent and unasked for software update. I feel like I come to every place and experience every emotion at least twice; if every iteration promises to be better than the last, what am I anxious about? All the Befores recede, blurry and ineffective. India is aggravating and upsetting and encourages one to become numb, blind to inequality and injustice, but is it possible I am finally indifferent to everyone waiting for me to fail, to everyone who wonders if my marriage is a success even though I stepped outside the box?
Don’t walk too fast, he said again. I would run if I could.