Even After Years Of Marriage, You Can Still Be Lonely!

Grief was strange. Weeks would go by without her even thinking of Deep, and suddenly a memory would pop up and totally overwhelm her.

Trigger warning: This deals with loss and grief, and may be triggering to survivors.

Malathi stretched back on her chair, and rolled her shoulders to release the knots that were building up. Was she tired! Another hour, and she should be done. Then she could go home, order a pizza and curl up in bed with Rufus and a cozy mystery. Thank God tomorrow was Saturday. She was looking forward to pottering around in her comfy tee-shirt and Salman Rushdie’s latest. Maybe a long drive with Rufus on Sunday. Her weekend looked sorted. She just had to finish the report, mail it out and log off.

“Hey Mala, we are going out for drinks at the new place in Jubilee Hills. Wanna come with us?”

“Not today, Shruti. I am really exhausted. Maybe next week?”

“That’s what you said last week, and the week before that. Come on, Mala, you are acting like an old woman.”

“Maybe because I am an old woman”, Mala grinned. “I do think my partying days are behind me. These days all I want to do is to curl up in bed and read.”

“Mala, it has been almost a year since Deep passed on. You can’t mourn forever. You have to get out and start meeting people again. If you don’t feel like going out for drinks, we can have dinner at the Sailing Club. But I’m not having you spend yet another Friday night alone.”

“I won’t be alone. I have Rufus for company”, Mala began. But she knew it was pointless arguing with her friend. Shruti only had her good at heart. Everyone did. But why couldn’t they understand that she was perfectly content being alone. “Let me check with Ma. If she can feed Rufus tonight, I’ll join you.”

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“Great”, said Shruti sliding off the desk she was perched on and giving Malathi a hug. “I promise you will be have fun. Your Instagram stories will features something other than coffee, books and your dog for a change.”

“That’s not fair, I post many other things”, began Malathi, but Shruti grinned back. “Just kidding. Now, I you finish your report. We can leave whenever you are done.”

**

After giving the OTP to the Uber driver, and sharing her live location with Shruthi, Malathi leaned back on the seat, shut her eyes and permitted herself to think about the evening. She had gone only to pacify Shruti, but she had actually ended up enjoyed herself. Though she could no longer consume as much alcohol as she once did, the snacks were surprisingly good and the DJ seemed to know all her favourite songs. She had almost forgotten what it was like to hang around with friends, swaying to the music and half listening to their conversation.

She smiled and silently hummed her favourite song, “I Got My Mind Set On You”. How many times she must have sung that song at college fests! She must have been air guitaring the song for that cute guy to have asked her to dance. Gosh, it was nice meeting people who didn’t look at her with pity.

How well she remembered the last time she had gone drinking with friends. It had been that night when Deep and she had met up with their batchmates in Delhi. They had partied till late at night almost like they were back in b-school. They had been totally wasted that night, and had tumbled into bed without even changing out of their clothes. The next day, Deep had left on his bike trip to the Spiti Valley, and Malathi had stayed back in Delhi for a few days. Barely three days later, she had to identify his body in the morgue- she’d recognised him from screensaver of his Apple Watch. Was that just two years back? It seemed like a lifetime ago. It seemed like yesterday.

Sadness overwhelmed her. Deep was so full of life. He should not have gone so soon. He wanted to live. Why did he have to die? Why did he have to leave her and go? Grief was strange. Weeks would go by without her even thinking of Deep, and suddenly a memory would pop up and totally overwhelm her. Everyone told her to move on. Malathi wondered if she could ever get over him completely.

**

While waiting for the payment to go through, Malathi noticed the flickering light of the TV through the thin curtains in Ma’s living room. Even though she had asked her not to wait for her, Ma had clearly decided to do so. Malathi wished she wouldn’t do that- it definitely made it very awkward for her. Well, it couldn’t be helped!

Malathi had barely inserted the key in the night latch, when Rufus launched himself on the door, scratching furiously. So much for making a quiet getaway- even if Ma had been asleep, she would now have been woken up! Malathi pushed the door open and scooped up the excited dog. “Did Mamma’s baby miss her?” she asked, as Rufus covered her face with licks.

“Mala, is that you?”

“Yes, Ma. I wish you hadn’t waited up for me. I did tell you I would be late.”

“Rufus refused to go to bed. So we decided to watch Netflix together.”

“You know you shouldn’t have. If you had gone to bed, Rufus would have settled down.”

“Oh no. We had fun. Anyway, you know I don’t go to sleep so early. But tell me about your night. Had fun?”

“Yes, Ma. And now I am absolutely exhausted. I don’t know about you, but I certainly cannot stay up this late.”

“Go to bed now. We can speak later. I am making your favourite methi paratha for breakfast tomorrow. Why don’t you join us?”

“I’d love to”, said Malathi, stifling a yawn. “I’ll come over around 8, if that’s okay. Good night, Ma. I know your sleep is messed up, but try not to stay up too late.” Malathi gave Ma a tight hug, and went up the stairs to her home on the first floor.

Once inside, Rufus rushed to his bowl and started lapping up water. Malathi removed her make up, plaited her hair, changed into her oversized tee-shirt and slipped under her quilt. “It is nice going out sometimes”, she told Rufus. “But the nicest part of going out is returning home to you.

Rufus wagged his tail to show he agreed, then curled up at her feet. Within minutes, both of them were fast asleep.

­­**

All Malathi wanted to do after an extremely satisfying breakfast of methi paratha and curds was to go back to bed, but that wouldn’t have been polite. She wrapped her fingers around her mug of adrakwali chai, tucked her feet under her, and prepared to be interrogated by Ma. “Did you meet anyone you like?” she asked, “You are still so young. You need to start thinking of getting married again.”

“Ma, why are you in such a hurry to get rid of me?”, Malathi joked. “I am quite content as I am.”

“Don’t ever say that. We love you too much, and we don’t want to see you go. But you are young. You can make a new life for yourself.” Malathi opened her mouth to say something, but Ma raised her hand to silence her. “Mala, I know what it is like to have your world collapse around you. I was just 19 when I lost my first husband. He was in the Air Force. He sacrificed his life to avoid crashing into a village. We had been married for less than a month. I cried for weeks, and never thought I would know happiness again. Then I met your Papa. He was a lot older than I was, and newly divorced. Life gave me a second chance, and I took it. If I hadn’t, we would never have had Deep, and he would never have given us you. Mala, don’t waste your life mourning. Find love again.”

Malathi reached out and hugged her mother-in-law. Despite all these years, this was something she had never known about her. Had Deep known? She didn’t think so. Now she would never know.

“No, Ma. It is not about Deep. I love him, and I will never stop loving him even if I fall in love with someone else. It is me. I am quite content as I am. I don’t really need a new man in my life.”

“But you can’t be alone all your life. Now it seems fine for you. But what about your old age. You will be lonely then.”

“Ma, I am content. I have my job that I love. I have my books. I have my running group. I have Rufus. And I have you and Papa. I don’t really need anyone else. Now, I can go for a drive whenever I want or stay home when I want. If I don’t feel like cooking, I don’t have to. I can stock the fridge with things I like. I don’t have to pick up wet towels from the bed. I am content, and I don’t need to change any of that.”

“But aren’t you lonely?”

“What is loneliness? Even if you have been married for many years, you can still be lonely. The only way to avoid loneliness is to learn to love your own company. And I have learnt to do that. I am not saying that I may not fall in love, or get into a relationship. All I am saying is that I don’t have any reason to actively seek that.”

Ma thought about what Malathi told her. “Maybe you are right, Mala. I guess times have changed. In my day, being a wife and mother was all we were taught to aim for. Maybe things are now different. But promise me you will not say no to a romance if it comes to you.”

“I promise, Ma. If someone walks into my life, I will not send him away.” Hearing the magic word, Rufus put his paws on Malathi’s lap and wagged his tail hopefully. “Okay, you little rascal. I will take you for a long walk now. Ask your grandmother if she wants to come too.”

Editor’s Note: It’s the season of love, and especially romantic love. But what if you are not in a romantic relationship right now? We asked our readers to send in their #HappySolentine stories.

Image source: a still from Cutting Chai/ Modern Love Mumbai

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About the Author

Natasha Ramarathnam

Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...

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