Thirty

My grandmother was 13 or 14 when she rode on the back of a camel from her small village to the small village that would become her home for the rest of her time. She was to see her husband there for the first time, because during the wedding they had draped her sari so low down her face there was nothing to see, even sneakily, except perhaps an outline against the bright red cloth.

“I knew he was tall,” she would tell us when we asked what it was like.

By 30, she had given birth to six children (including my father), lost her eldest, and was perhaps pregnant with my youngest uncle, or maybe had already had him and was shouting at his two-year-old behind as he ran around, causing mischief.

“I don’t know how old I was!” she would always retort when we implored.

30 for my grandmother was a silver away from being old. She would be welcoming her first grandchild soon enough, and that would almost be, for her, a lifetime of completeness.

“But it wasn’t until your aunt was married off that I was truly free,” she’d sigh happily.

My mother’s story isn’t so different. She was raised as a city girl, and was just starting college when her first proposal came. It was from a young man whose aunt was married into my grandfather’s (mother’s dad) village. She had never seen him before he walked into the door with two friends, confusing my then seventeen-year-old mother as to WHO was the man asking for her hand.

“I remember my mother pointing to your father, sitting to the side, and I couldn’t believe how dumb I was… of course it was him! He was sitting ALONE,” she bashfully recounted.

By 19, she had married my father, and joined him in running a small household filled with my father’s younger siblings and cousins who had come to the city to study.

“I cooked, cleaned, entertained and cared for 5 young boys aged 7 to 20 and your father. Not to mention, I also finished my bachelors degree, taking my final exam while I was pregnant with you,” she nodded at me with a distant glimmer in her eyes. “Those were some of my favorite years, though…”

I can understand why. By 23 she had left behind everything and everyone she knew and come with her husband 7,590 miles away to the country that is still her home. She was shocked that February meant bitter winter weather, and that milk came in gallons. She nervously sent her first daughter to preschool, worrying all day on the verge of tears because she thought she hadn’t taught her 4-year-old enough English to survive for a day. She learned how to drive, how to deal with difficult Indian recipes with limited resources, how to maintain a balance of cultures in her daughters.

At 30, she was a mother of three, was fluent in a language she hated learning as a child, and knew exactly how to handle any crisis that befell her or her family.

“By the time I was your age…” she would taunt when I was in my early twenties.

Because it’s true: I have always felt inadequate compared to my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents when it came to age. Every year, I find myself setting goals, trying to find some sense of satisfaction in my actions as I scrambled to match myself with the struggles of the generations that came before me. I have always fell short. At 21, I was still in college, finishing up my English degree after 4 years of pursuing Biology, refusing to become the doctor my parents always dreamed (and knew I had the potential) of being. At 24, I had shamed my family by breaking off an arranged engagement to a young man who was rather perfect for everyone but me. At 28, I was the suspiciously unmarried older sibling at my sister’s wedding, everyone trying to hide their hunger for gossip behind false smiles.

And today, at the big 3-0, I feel no more glorifying self-love than before. Here I am, married (to the relief of my parents), in a new place, with no work, and my first child curled inside of me, occasionally kicking against the walls of my stomach. And while being the wife of a talented, resilient and amazing person is the best thing that could have happened to me, I am hardly the mother my mother and grandmother were, hardly the teacher I know I can be, hardly, even, the writer who had promised herself to have a novel out by now. I woke up feeling, all things considered, quite a failure.

But as I reflect and judge, perhaps this is exactly how it needs to be. Perhaps it’s exactly how I need to feel on day one of being 30, so that the rest of 364 days can be spent doing and becoming exactly what I aimed to do and be.

And maybe one day, I’ll get to smile and share, “You know, when I was 30…”

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Omar’s $500 Bill

About a year into our relationship, we decided it was time to make sure we could take care of something and keep it alive together. No, not plants… although we’d had our share of failed plants by then: a lipstick plant (yes, there is such a thing) we named Alice (yes, we DO name our plants) had slowly lost all her beautiful curled leaves, no matter how hard we tried to keep her happy, and over a trip I took during the summer to the west coast, Surgeon had managed to OVER-water a cactus named Carlos —

“I thought you had to water him every week!” he protested.

“It’s A CACTUS.” The poor thing had fallen apart on my kitchen counter.

All things considered though, it made sense to try this “next step.” Neither of us had had a pet growing up. My mother was adamant to keep her house fur free, “and besides,” she’d point out, nonchalantly eyeing my siblings and I lined up with faces creased in hope and pleading, “I already have three pets to take care of.” Surgeon’s case was a little different: he is allergic to fur, so dogs, cats, and all things furry were never an option.

“How about a hedgehog?” Surgeon prompted.

A hedgehog. I’d heard of them, but I also HADN’T heard of them. The only representation I had of them was Sonic the hedgehog. But when Surgeon pulled up pictures of REAL hedgehogs online, I knew we’d get one… how could anyone resist the cuteness?

So the search began, and about 2 months later, I brought home (well, to Surgeon’s home back then) a very terrified, balled up, spiky bundle of a baby hedgehog.

We had just finished watching The Wire, and after playing a bit with our new pet, we decided that Omar, after Omar Little in the show, suited the little creature perfectly: tough on the outside, but soft-hearted on the inside.

Omar grew and we found his temperament to be more like the extreme introvert rather than the quirky, excited explorer I’d hoped him to be. His needs are: feed me, clean me, and leave me alone. Nevertheless, he was the one “family” member we had at our wedding, and his presence is always calming, especially when I am stuck at home for hours with no one else really around.

He has also managed to teach me a couple of things about animal medical care… it can get pretty expensive. A yearly check up with a vet who specializes in exotics (apparently Omar is an exotic) can cost up to 200 dollars, especially if they have to put him under for examination. But what’s 200 bucks a year, right? I shrugged it off.

But when it comes to real problems, it really isn’t something to shrug off. A few weeks back, Surgeon pulled Omar out of his cage and we found, much to our dismay, an abscess on his little butt. Surgeon, being who he is, gently poked at it and said,

“Let me get a knife and drain it.”

My heart just about flew out of my chest. “NO. He’s not gonna be CUT without being under!”

“Well, it doesn’t seem to bother him when I touch it. Let’s try.”

“WAIT. Let me look this up,” I reasoned. Surgeon knows me well and was gracious enough to let me pull out my laptop and do some research while he continued to examine and poke at my poor creature’s abscess.

Online, I found that it was done exactly as Surgeon had suggested. Cut, drain, keep it clean. But it was ALWAYS cut while the animal was under.

It also cost upward of $500 to get it done at the vet’s office.

“Come on. Let me try. If he goes berserk, I’ll stop.”

Reluctantly, I brought him gloves, towels and a blade. Yes, a surgical blade… he keeps them around.

Surgeon picked Omar up, flipped him into his hand on his back, and tried to hold him still. Omar is a fidgety animal, but for some reason, it seemed as if he knew what was happening. As soon as Surgeon brought the blade near, Omar went completely calm. Surgeon deftly made a clean cut, squeezed out all the puss, and cleaned it all up in less than a minute.

And Omar? He just stared at my worried face and Surgeon’s concentrating one, back and forth, as if nothing important was happening.

“See? It’s handy having a surgeon around!” Surgeon smirked, “I just saved us $500 and then some.”

I scowled at him and then smiled down at the little face looking up at me from the bath in the sink.

I guess it is kinda handy.

The Drop Off Dilemma

I haven’t written here for some time, mainly because I needed to feel comfortable about being public about my life with Surgeon who, I’ve certainly learned, is extremely private. If he had his way, he wouldn’t exist in the world of the internet. As boldly as I may have asserted my willingness to write, I realized that I really had very little to write ABOUT if I didn’t include him in the picture. Getting a grasp of what is acceptable and unacceptable by his standards has been a little taxing. Posting past chats? Nope. Hence the halt of the Snippet Series. Telling the world about the best travel baggage for interviews? A non-issue. Basically, the rule of thumb is getting clearer, and I am ready again to write on.

So, allow me to re-begin with a peeve that has bothered me from the moment I started making homemade meals for Surgeon a couple of years ago: The Drop Off Dilemma.

As a surgical resident, you really have no clue what or whether you’re going to eat on a given day. I’ve heard of days filled with healthy, full plated meals Surgeon manages to grab from the cafeteria to an entire 35 hour run sustained on animal crackers and juice boxes stolen from the ER in between surgeries. As a surgical resident’s partner, you’re left wondering how the heck you can make meals easier for someone who cannot be there for dinner, but needs one badly.

The best option is to make fresh meals and deliver them to the hospital doors. Sounds simple, right? How hard can it be to bring a steaming lasagna with a fresh salad and hand them over with a smile and kiss?

It’s hard. Trust me. It’s UNBELIEVABLY hard.

First, I have to text Surgeon hours in advance, asking if he thinks he’ll have time to actually come to door to get the food. YES, THIS IS A REAL ISSUE. The answer varies from a certain “maybe” to a downright, stressed “probably not, but you can try around ___ o’clock.”

So you take your time constraints and work around them. I’ve had meals prepared and ready to go anywhere between 3 PM and 11 PM, depending largely on his schedule and sometimes on mine. Once it’s all packed to go, I need to text him again, asking “Okay, should I leave now?”

If I am lucky, the answer is immediate and positive. At that point, I basically drive over there as fast as I can and he’s already waiting at the doors. I pass the food, get my kiss, and am free.

If I am NOT lucky, the answer doesn’t come for a while (longest wait so far has been 2 hours), and when I get to the door, there is another text apologetically stating, “I’m so sorry, this is going to take a couple of minutes” (longest wait in the car so far has been an hour and fifteen minutes).

Meanwhile, the food is cooling, cooling, cooling… and finally no better than the temperature of leftovers I could’ve packed the night before.

It’s disheartening on so many levels:

  1. What kind of system is this where meals are skipped regularly by those who make it their life’s work to help people become and stay healthy?
  2. What kind of environment must Surgeon be in if he literally CAN’T get five minutes (when he’s NOT operating) to come get some food?
  3. Why in the WORLD hasn’t any HR department at ANY hospital given some thought to the prospect of partners/spouses dropping off meals for their busy other-half?

Seriously, how HARD can it possibly be to have a Drop Off space inside a hospital? It wouldn’t even need to be elaborate. A counter would suffice! Would a hotbox and a refrigerator be nice? Yes, but we’re not picky. We just want a channel INTO the hospital system that can let us pass the food on…

It would have saved me so many hours. And for Surgeon?

It would mean having a meal waiting for him when he CAN go get it. It would mean he doesn’t have to rush through patient care just to not keep me waiting. It would mean he’d never have to stand at the doors waiting for me in a full, about-to-scrub-in outfit (beard net and all), and then RUN like his life was about to end back to the OR.

It would mean he’d never have to go 35 hours again without a decent meal.

Who would’ve thought a plain old COUNTER has the potential do so much good?

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Why I Went “Rainbow”

If you’ve been on the internet or glanced at the news at some point after Friday, you’ll probably be shaking your head at “yet another post about SCOTUS passing the same-sex marriage law.” Or as Surgeon put it: “everyone and their mother is posting about that.”

But, dear Reader, I have so many things to say about it.

Let it be known, first off, that I was born into a conservative Hindu family. I grew up not knowing anything about being gay. Hell, I didn’t even know about sex until I was finally introduced though my IGCSE Biology class in tenth grade. Sex was as taboo a word as the worst curse you could think of. And sex between man and man or woman and woman? Let’s just say I thank my friends and literature classes for being brought up to speed there. Surprising as it was, it never really irked me. They exist, I told myself, and they don’t affect me.

Fast-forward to 2008, when Prop 8 (which eliminated the right for same-sex couples in California) was on the ballot. I remember the doorbell ringing and my father’s lovely voice floating into the den as he spoke with the two, clean-shaved, tie-adorned gentlemen handing him a flyer.

“Well of course I’ll vote yes,” he stated matter-of-factly, “we are Hindus, and we too think it’s a moral outrage.”

There were some sighs of relief and light laughter, the door closed, and the day went on. But something had been tripped in me. I sat there in the den for a long, long time. Should my being a Hindu really affect a random group of people who are NOT Hindu and want to live their lives their own way?

No. Of course not. Why should I dictate anything at all for anyone but myself? Let them be who they are. They have never asked me to be anything I am not.

When I brought this up with my father… well, I made it a point never to bring it up again. So, my fellow religious readers, I hear you. I understand the choice you’re grappling with, and I know the burden is heavy. But for me, it has become a simple choice when it comes to morality: do I harm anyone by making the choices I do? Voting yes on Prop 8 would have… it would have caused so much pain for good people who simply wanted to be together. Voting no? Sure, it may be uncomfortable for some to encounter gay couples, but no harm is being inflicted by either parties. Same-sex couples do not advocate their sexual orientation. They advocate awareness and acceptance, both of and by themselves and by society. What more can you expect from human beings who have been persecuted, segregated and mis-conceptualized for as long as history can remember?

Despite this moral realization, the issue still didn’t affect me. It was still them and me.

But then I met Surgeon.

Yes, Surgeon is a man, and I am a woman. But Surgeon is not Indian. He is not Hindu. In fact, when I first told my parents his last name, my mother’s face went a pale, sickly yellow.

“What do you MEAN!?” she whispered, “he’s from those who we cannot even… WE DON’T DO THIS!”

My father’s face wasn’t exactly any better. He demanded that I come to my senses, pick someone else, “ANYONE, but him,” and stop seeing Surgeon.

Now, understand this, Reader: Surgeon’s family is from Iran. Which means, inherently, his ancestors were Muslim. Which means that REGARDLESS of the fact that Surgeon does not practice Islam and is Agnostic, to my family, he’s Muslim.

Which means their eldest child is also about to carry a Muslim name.

And that simply cannot be done, Reader. If there is anything that is culturally banned, it would be a Hindu-Muslim marriage.

It was at this point in my yet-too-short-to-be-wise life that I finally understood what it meant to be a couple that loved and could not marry. Society has trained us to see this issue as “gay” marriage. No, Reader. No. This is a MARRIAGE issue. Always was and always will be. It would also serve us right to remember that a mere 52 years ago, in this very country we love and cherish, “states believe that the Negro (sic) is not the only threat to their racial purity, and therefore forbid whites to marry American Indians, West Indians, Asiatic Indians, Mongolians, Malays, Chinese, Japanese, Africans, “half-breeds,” and mestizos.”

52 years ago! Had I met Surgeon then… well, I’d been a criminal. A criminal for loving someone and desiring my all to be with them in the most honorable of ways.

And that, Reader, is a feeling I do not want to bestow on ANYONE. No one, NO ONE, deserves to feel this way about a thing so human as love.

As for those of you who, also like me, feel that government has really no business in dictating who marry’s who and hence refuse to celebrate accordingly (Facebook’s Rainbow Filter, for example) for SCOTUS’s few successes… please, stop it. For once in your life, put yourself and your opinions away. Bring out instead the compassion in you that drives you to be empathetic, that let’s you feel the joy in others, that revels in beauty and the sheer possibilities we have by being alive and go “rainbow.” Go “rainbow” for courage. Go “rainbow” for love. Go “rainbow” for gratitude.

Go rainbow because you, too, are human.

Rainbow

Snippets From Interview #2

Second installment of the Snippets Series! This time from the home town of none other than the King of Rock and Roll.

*

Surgeon: Why is it so God damn hard to travel with a suit
I have nothing else

Wife of a Surgeon: Did you ask an attendant if she could hang it for you?

S: Too late

*

S: Um checked in
It’s a room
Better than pirate shack, worse than Rio Nido Lodge

WS: it’s 56 bucks

S: It looks like it

*

Over Video Chat

S: I’m gonna feel weird walking to the hospital through downtown with a bag and a suit on.

WS: What? Why?

S: This place is kinda questionable.

WS: Wait, are you scared?

S: No. You just have to be here to see it. It’s like, one side of the street you think “oh, okay, this is a nice place to live,” and then you turn your head and it’s like the worse part of the city. But it’s the same street.

W: Well, walk on the good side.

*

S: I don’t want to go to this
I just wanna go home

WS: Awwww 😦

*

S: We were supposed to depart @ 555
Now we are delayed further
With no answer as to when we are boarding

WS: Maaaaan
I was so happy you were coming back at a decent hour
darn these people

S: All this shit for a program I don’t even want to go to
At least I liked Chicago

*

In the car after picking Surgeon up from the airport

S: Here, I brought you something

Memphis Pig