I awoke this morning in the usual way: a grab for my iPhone to check the time, followed immediately by a slide of the finger to open the text messages sent by my sister Grace in the wee hours of the morning. She doesn’t sleep so well these days, even though it’s already been nine months.
I can’t believe it’s already been nine months.
Her words fill up my screen, and I think yet again of how grateful I am to at least have some nightly relief from my plague of existential thought experiments, lamentations for loved ones lost, and endless processing of the onslaught of newness. Sleep is a natural escape from these mental gymnastics, but it’s a degree of relief that Grace is often denied.
“This article makes me angry at the writer.” It’s a link to a Slate piece written by an American-born woman, the child of first-generation Indian immigrants. She’s seventeen years into an arranged marriage she didn’t want and tried hard to avoid – but tradition has a certain amount of inertia that can be nigh impossible to overcome, and at twenty-two, she felt ill-equipped to take it on. It’s not an option to say “no,” she writes: “the stakes in our honor-and-shame-based family were too high.”
As I read the article, I’m trying to understand which part of it raised Grace’s ire. It’s a story we’re intimately familiar with, at least on the broad strokes:
There’s a girl. Girl’s life is on a track built by those she loves toward a place she desperately wants to avoid. Girl sees three options: (A) convince the track layers to change its course; (B) jump the track, creating an unbridgeable rift and losing loved ones; (C) continue on the track in order to keep loved ones, suffering losses of another sort instead.
Option A failed this woman; her family dictated her track, and they refused to hear her pleas for change. And what is left? The choice is heart-wrenching: losing family or losing all real freedom to choose your partner in what’s arguably the most important and intimate relationship a human being can experience. The woman chose to lose freedom – and though she got to keep her family, she still grieves all that choice cost her. Reading her story, I mourned for her, too.
By the time I finish, I still can’t see which part of the essay has so angered my sister, so I ask. Grace says that the woman made her choice, so she has no right to complain. I’m certain my face shows my puzzlement, so Grace explains: “She got to keep her family.” And then I understand.
The woman had made the choice that we didn’t. We got the freedom, but she, the family. We could choose our own path, but she got the love and support of those nearest her heart. We could now see the world without the blinders of entrenched tradition, but she could be there for her siblings’ birthdays, for her nephew’s first day of school, for her parents in their old age. We’re all allowed to mourn our losses, and keeping that to ourselves doesn’t make it any more legitimate – just as sharing it doesn’t make it any less so.
I understand, little Grace. I want them back, too, so much that my whole body shakes with the sick sadness of the choice we were forced to make, so much that I retreat to sleep so I don’t have to feel that way. I want so badly to hear Mom happily call out for me, “Miss Meg!” I want to laugh with Gabe as he stockpiles the bacon when the other boys aren’t looking. I want to watch “Tom and Jerry” with Zach at lunch, and see water shoot out his nose when an unexpected laugh overtakes him.
That woman should’ve never had to make the choice that she did. Us, either. But we have to remember that we still have a choice. We can still try to change the ones who lay the track. We still have hope.
Don’t lose heart, sister mine. Let’s make that our choice.