The Difference a Year Makes

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Exactly a year has gone by since my last trip to Tampa-St Petersburg. Last year I spent Mother’s Day here alone. Attended a Mother’s Day brunch all by myself while others looked at me pityingly, wondering why my family wasn’t with me. There was no special reason for their not being with me. I was on a business trip and they hadn’t been able to accompany me. I had spent several hours walking on the beach, alone, sandals and camera in hand, waiting to capture the perfect sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. My mind was blank, I was neither happy nor sad, it wasn’t a long separation from my family, it was a few moments alone, spent in my own company. The sadness if any was about being at a complete loss at how best to spend time with myself. I walked for miles, I drove for miles, I shopped, I visited scenic spots and I kept wondering when it would start being an unforgettable experience. I like solitude, I like moments when there are no demands made on my time and no one wants to ask me any questions, but I suppose I wasn’t finding myself interesting enough to be with. To say my family was missing, would be stating the obvious, yet, I fully expect the keepers of general wisdom on health, well-being and psychological insights to say the missing thing was my family, my husband, my child and that I was feeling incomplete without them. Because of course, that’s all a married woman with child needs, to feel fulfilled!! (roll eyes here!)

I contrast last year’s lonesome visit with the visit this year. Anil and Anoushka are with me this year and there’s fun and laughter that bubbles up deep inside and makes the world seem like…well heaven. Things have taken on a new texture. Anoushka grasps my little finger, as we both roll up our pants and take off our shoes. We feel the sands shifting under us and scream every time a large wave threatens to knock us of off our feet. Anil is running ahead of us, camera in hand as he tries to take the candid pictures that are just never candid enough, since we’re both aware of his clicking. Anoushka is having the time of her life as she picks up shells. She is looking for something she calls a “wedding shell”, a magical, rainbow shell. Every now and then she wants to stop and bury her father’s or my toes in sand or make sand castles. The weather is perfect, the sunset glorious, we couldn’t have asked for a better time.

Did I have a better time this year, yes I did. It goes without saying. I love the company of the two A’s. But, amazingly enough, this time I enjoyed my own company as well.

There are things that they like doing together at which I am not very good, like swimming all day or baking by the side of the pool. So I let them do that without me, while I walked around the palatial hotel, a historic hotel of America – The DonCeSar Resort. I took in a leisurely afternoon at the spa, pampering my tired hands and feet and shopped at an exotic boutique. There were two beach weddings scheduled for the day. I ran into one of the grooms’ mother in the elevator. I had just finished shampooing and drying my hair and the groom’s mother told me how pretty my hair looked. The ice thus melted, we talked about her son’s wedding, how stressed she was and how she had just got herself a relaxing massage at the spa to get some of the stress worked out. She showed me the dress she was going to wear, a beautiful pink gown. There were dressed up people everywhere, at the bars, the lounge areas, bouffant hairstyles on bridesmaids and best men and groomsmen. It was fun to watch. I stared my fill, trying to find points of comparison between desi affairs and these displays of grandeur.

I then found a corner of the lobby that looked out to the sea, the view was spectacular and all I wanted to do was sit there and look out. There were no distractions, I wasn’t wishing I had a book, or that I was writing. I wasn’t missing my iPod, or reaching out for a magazine. I was just sitting in one place and not worrying about anything at all. It was quite a pleasant feeling. I was not in the least bit bored with my company, what had changed between this and the last visit?

The sun was finally setting as I watched and I decided to walk out to the balcony. The balcony also looked out to the swimming pool where Anil and Anoushka were hanging out. I wanted to try and attract their attention but they were busy. Anoushka was surrounded by 4 or five other friends in the pool and Anil was stretched out on a beach chair. They didn’t notice me, so I quietly observed. Anil was engrossed in a conversation with some blonde woman on the adjacent chair, who was drying out after a swim. They seemed to be in the middle of a very amusing and interesting conversation. Then I saw him reach for his pant pockets and get out a pack of Marlboros. He took out a cigarette, cupped his hands around it and lit it. After a slow drag on the cigarette he turned his attention back to the woman he was talking to and burst out laughing at something she said. I smiled as well and walked away.

I thought back to the time 14 years ago, the first year of our marriage. He was a heavy smoker then and every time he lit a cigarette I used to snatch it away from him in a maniacal way, destroying it in seconds. I used to search his jacket pockets, his pant pockets, his nightstand and when he stopped keeping his cigarettes in these very obvious places, I had found the other not-so-obvious places – the hollow space in the trunk of the car where the spare tire generally resides, underneath couches, behind flush tanks, on top of closets, there wasn’t a secret space in any corner of the house that wasn’t immune to my searches. He couldn’t hide a pack of cigarettes anywhere. I have broken and flushed more packs of cigarettes than I care to remember. I even followed him, surreptitiously, to a sports bar that was within walking distance to our apartment. I spied on him while he sat down and ordered a drink and then I stormed in as soon as he lit up, tearing the cigarette away from him and yelling in front of everyone at the top of my voice.

I look back on my behavior and I am appalled at the type of person I was! I was like all these other women who I now despise, who think they can marry someone and then make it their life’s mission to change the men they’ve married. Marriage never works that way, I have known this for several years now. My shenanigans never succeeded in getting him to quit smoking. He still smokes, never in front of me, although he continues to tell me he doesn’t smoke. Smokers never realize that a smoker’s smell is something they can never disguise. And like I did this time in Tampa, I have seen him smoking enough times now, but my reaction fourteen years ago was so different from what it was yesterday. There wasn’t a trace of anger, sadness perhaps at his disregard for his health, but no anger. It really is his life, how he wants to live it, whether it’s about smoking, or what he spends his time watching or his pastimes, his friends, the people he chooses to talk to, he needs to be free to do all those things. Relationships should never be about smothering.

People do change with time, I wouldn’t call it mellowing. Mellowing implies a softening or dulling of every sharp, jagged edge. I like the idea of certain edges getting sharper with time and the others blunted, curved, so that in the end, rather, before the end, one gets to being a finely chiseled version of ones former self.

So this time I was happy to have had their company, I was at peace with myself, I relished every idyllic moment, enjoyed the moments I spent alone and feel refreshed, raring to go again.

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  1. Another splendid prose canvas – or a fine miniature. I'm waiting for that book – for I know it's there. There's something very subtly – never overtly – moving about all your writings.A wonderful Monday morning read!

  2. That was a lovely read. Warm and mellow.

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