Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Happy Effing VD to you too!!!

I know, I know. I sound like one of those bitter, lonely girls who always wear black on February 14th and spend their day talking about how much they detest heart shaped chocolates, the color red, stuffed animals and that certain shameless naked baby flying around with a bow and arrow (where the hell is your mother cupid baby? Someone needs to call social services on her behind.) I have just NEVER enjoyed Valentines Day. Granted, this year, “happy couples” around me went on movie dates to watch “He’s just not that into you”! Ironic much? And am I bitter?

Why Yes!

You see V. Day and I have never gotten along. If I ever were in a relationship, my boyfriends and I would always get into an argument exactly around the month of February so yes I missed out on those candle-lit dinner dates, movie nights and long cuddling sessions on February 14th. Well there was that one time in my A-levels when I asked an old crush to be my valentine (he was probably only attracted to the fact that I had the reputation of being a ‘loose churucter type’ girl). He was already engaged and claimed to love his fiancé. And yes, I always knew that but I figured ‘what the heck”. What a sad valentine, that turned out to be. When he picked me up in his car, his backseat was layered with roses. My heart melted as I got in the car and told him “he shouldn’t have”. He told me he hadn’t. Those flowers were for his fiancé! All he had for me was a lousy rose. Still, we went back to his friend’s house, made out like idiots on the couch and then he dropped me home in time to take his fiancé out to a candle-lit dinner. No sermons needed here, save them.

This year wasn’t a bad valentine. I have come to the conclusion that Valentines Night is the best night to pick up men. The bars are packed with desperate singles. The pick of the litter! They promise themselves they will buy you a drink, woo you, introduce you to their friends and parents, marry you, have kids and then take you out to watch “He’s just not that into you” next year instead of drinking away their misery at a dive bar. All those fantasies are chucked out of the window when reality of February 15th hits next morning and you quietly sneak out of his apartment to rush home and get ready for work. That relationship ends, a few hours later. You and your “ex” of one night then avoid the same bar for the next month.

Anyway, as I sit here on an empty hotel room bed in Seattle, I am wondering whether to go out and flirt with strangers. I could go down to the hotel bar where all the other special assistants and ad execs are getting liquored up. They have been hungrily eyeing me around the conference all day while fidgeting with their wedding rings. My rule there is simple. Never hook up with work people, only enjoy the attention by playing hard to get. That way they only hunger more for you and you are the topic of lust-filled conversations of all the suited men at conference lunches and lobby bars. Comments like “Dude, did anyone get the lowdown on that exotic chick? What is she? Spanish? Indian?” And while they talk, I hook up with strangers at another bar instead. You don’t ever see them again. At the end of the day, here I am, in my room. On a large king size bed, writing about how much I hate valentines day and the month of February for that matter.

So I am going to do something which someone (an overpaid quack) once told my friend to do to find closure from all her failed relationships. Write about all the men idiots who came and went in my life. (Note: Stupid one-night mistakes like fiancé boy are excluded from this list!)

When: 3rd grade.
How: After being made to sit all year with the “booger eater girl” in class, boys and girls were finally allowed to sit together. I was assigned next to Irfan. A handsome boy (for a 3rd grader). His stud credit included that he was pathan, had never puked in class nor peed his pants. I bet he grew up to be quite the stud and I am sure women eventually chased him around. To those girls I say “I had him first, bitches”. Anyway, I was young and had seen far too many Indian movies and wanted to say “Rahul I love you” to a boy too. There weren’t many Rahul’s in Pakistan so I settled on Irfan. By now, he is probably a feudal lord, married to a cousin with 3 or 4 kids and a big belly. I don’t quite remember how our relationship began but somewhere between English period and Social studies we said “I love you” a few times. We then, shared Fanta and Shezan bottles under a tree. He also blew kisses at me when we were punished. And then just like that he dumped me for a game of King Stop. Fine, I agree, I was an overweight and annoying girl myself but what boy leaves a girl for a group of boys and a ball? Then again…he was pathan! So maybe he isn’t married. Maybe he lives down the street from me in Chelsea and dances to Madonna and Britney. Who knows these days!

Math Teacher
When: 6th Grade
How: Okay this wasn’t really a relationship. As much as an illicit affair with a teacher in the 6th grade would make my life that much more interesting but all my advances were simply unsuccessful. I’m sure he too is married now and old enough for Viagra. When I first laid eyes on him and fell in love he was in his late twenties. I thought about him each time I watched Lamhe and The Little Mermaid. I was madly in love, he was totally oblivious. Later when I switched schools, I prank called him for a year straight and pretended to be a much older woman interested in meeting him. He finally agreed that if I could find a place for our x-rated rendezvous he was ready. Later when I told him who I was and how much I loved him, he rescinded his offer. He thought of me as nothing but a “student far too young for him.” I was heartbroken yes, but I wiped away my tears, left immediately for a boring family wedding and never looked back.

Sharjeel the Cousin
When: 8th Grade.
How: One boring night of playing chuppan chupaee with my cousins in Lahore Sharjeel and I decided to hide under the bed together. Let me be the first to say that Sharjeel was by no means attractive. He was the nerd among us cousins, the one all the other boys bullied. But under the bed that night we began to neck. It led to many frequent necking sessions. In hindsight, I was doing Sharjeel a huge favor. For a fatso kid with acne instead of skin, he was getting plenty of play from a member of the opposite sex. It began as innocent experimentation and discovery between the two of us. Both almost reaching puberty, we practiced our kissing skills on each other every chance we got. In the afternoons when everyone slept, we hid behind pillars and grazed our lips. At nights when we played hide and seek, we explored each other in dark corners. It was awkward kissing really. Rubbing of lips with eyes wide open. Trying to imitate the movies. And then somewhere along the way, I surmised that Sharjeel and I were now a couple. Immediately, I began to plan the rest of our lives together. Part of it came with the desperation of just wanting a boyfriend. I was in the 8th grade by then and so desperately needed a boyfriend. I was envious of all my other prettier friends and their boyfriends. I helped them sneak out of school to go on dates. I went to Anybodys with them to buy – yes you know it – valentine gifts. So, I decided all on my own and then told all my friends that I was dating a cousin called Sharjeel. He had no idea, till the summer of my 9th grade when Sharjeel told me about his girlfriend during one of our make out sessions.
“But I thought I was your girlfriend?” I asked like an idiot.
“No way. Why would you think that?” was the reply I received.
Crushed and heartbroken, especially because I was the cause for his self esteem boost. No longer an awkward, fat boy before, he now walked around like some sex-god who knew all about “second base”. Anyway, Sharjeel is now married to one of his many sweethearts. She is quite a looker to be honest. I attended the wedding – which took place just a few months ago - and enjoyed how all of his friend asked him about his “hot cousin” Padash. Yes my dear cousin Sharjeel, I too was once a fat, awkward girl who turned out to be a looker. Anyway, my ex/my cousin is now settled with his new wife and works a six figure job in Silicon Valley. When his bimbo wife hugs me and tells me how pretty I am, I’m tempted to turn around and say “Yeah sweetie, I taught your husband how to kiss so you can thank me for that too.” Instead I hug her back.

Neighbor Ahmed
When: O-Levels
How: So, of course. I was not always the hot clubutaunt from the Bronx. I actually came from a modest, conservative household. My female cousins enjoyed reading Urdu digests and listening to FM 100 in their past time. I’m glad I rebelled because I do not see myself living the lives they currently live. Popping out babies after their 4-day dream wedding. A husband they had never met or slept with before. Proposed by mother-in-laws instead of men. Yet, do at Rome as the Romans do and in my Rome, girls read dumb Afsanas and giggled at 25 rupee rented Indian movies. Naturally, after reading an afsana myself, I decided to give the old, traditional Pakistani romance a try. I initiated a rooftop romance with my neighbor to kill boredom. He wasn’t that bad looking to be honest. I guess you could call him an uglier version of Salman Ahmed from Junoon. He used to live – I think it was more like house-sit – next door. He was there, I was bored. Smiles led to an exchange of phone numbers and we began to talk. (I never gave him my number, I only called him). He was quick to fall in love with me. Back then, boys and girls fell in love with voices on the phone all the time. They also embarked on serious relationships after a song dedication at some stupid school meena-bazaar. I wasn’t very proud of what I had started with this guy so I never really told any of my friends. He thought it was a full fledged relationship headed for marriage. I knew I had a mess on my hands. Still we talked on the phone regularly. He always insisted on meeting, I always made up excuses. On my O-levels farewell, as all my other girlfriends snuck out of school with their handsome boyfriends Ahmed and I planned to do the same. Instead, I danced in a sari all night with my friends and when I got home, I cancelled on him. The disappointment in his voice was pitiable but I just couldn’t bring myself to see or kiss someone I wasn’t even remotely attracted to. He moved to another neighborhood a few days later. Although he was going to send me a letter with his new phone number, he never did. I guess he realized that I really wasn’t waiting for that letter. He made it easy because I hate dumping a guy. We saw each other once again when I was on my way home from Economics tuitions and saw him on the side of the road with his car broken down. I told my driver to help him as I pretended to read a book in the backseat. From the corner of my eye, I could see Ahmed stare with his mouth open. I knew he wanted to say something but couldn’t. I preferred it that way. Once his car was fixed, I smiled and waved at him as my driver pulled away. He waved back. I can still remember that look of longing in his eyes. Sorry Ahmed, I hope you found a woman who loved you back!

My first real boyfriend Akbar
When: A-levels
How: Before Akbar, I had never really dated a guy. Lord knows I wanted to, I just couldn’t meet someone. I was told I had a very pretty face but was always on the heavy side. Although I rebelled from my conservative family by sneaking out to dance parties and Muddy’s Café with my group of pretty and popular female friends, I was forever single. That finally changed in my A-levels. I met Akbar through my friend Afia. Afia (There is a whole story there) maybe someday I will share it. Anyway, she was the one who introduced me to Akbar. She had met him on the internet and quickly decided he did not take home enough income to be worthy of her gorgeous looks. Instead she passed him on to me. I fell for Akbar when we all met for dinner (I fell for most guys I met at the time.) Akbar was cute. Not anyone I would write home about but apparently he immediately recognized me. His father had once worked for my father. Apparently, my father had used his contacts to find Akbar a job as a favor to his dad. Once when they sat in the drawing room buttering up my father for his connections, I had walked in to inform my father that I was going out with my friends. One year later, he sat on a table with me and immediately jumped at the possibility of dating the fat girl with the rich father. Maybe he thought it would open more doors in his career. Who knows? I was young and stupid. We began talking on the phone and immediately became a couple. Our relationship lasted a total of nine months. Those nine months included a total of 6 dates (dinner, gifts and heavy making out in his Suzuki on a dark street, at least it wasn’t a Vespa). It also included my first attempt of loosing my virginity but Akbar had some…let’s just say…short comings he had to deal with. It was not long before he began to get on my nerves. He claimed he loved me. I, on the other hand had only jumped at the prospect of having a man to call my boyfriend. Nine months and many arguments later, he finally dumped me for another internet girl. I was not heartbroken at all. Good riddance. Afia told me over cigarettes later that night that Akbar was an infamous internet whore. He had been on several dates with hotchick17, cruisergal64 and the list just went on. I laughed it off. The next time I ran into him was at a party many years later. It was junior year of college and I was home for the holidays. By then I had also lost all my weight and had become quite the hottie. Our conversation at the party was very cordial – almost cold from my side, his words filled with lust – as he continued to compliment me and begged to see me again. When I politely declined, he left the party to take his wife out for their second wedding anniversary. Men are dogs…that’s why I only keep them around as pets.

The Married Politician
When: A-levels second year.
How: Not going to say much here. Although he is no longer married, he is still a politician. I know there is no such thing as a scandal for a public figure in Pakistan. I mean look at Zardari – he nearly boinked all of Lollywood – and he is still running or crashing our country. So I will make this one short. His son was a year junior to me in school. Once when he came to pick his son up from school, I flirted. He flirted back. I got his Paktel number. (Remember those big old mobiles) When we finally spoke on the phone, I freaked out. I had just finished reading “My Feudal Lord” By Tehmina Durrani and was in no mood to be a battered woman right before leaving for an excellent liberal arts college in the States. He liked his women barely legal and with a few extra pounds. Duh, I was a dream girl for him. The week before I headed off to the states for college, his emails bordered on the verge of begging. To be honest, the fact that he was married was never a deterrent for me. If anything, that was the intrigue. Besides, his wife was a spoilt begum who had looked me up and down with disdain during a parent-teacher meeting. The affair was payback. Two days before I headed off to college, I agreed to meet him. He took me to a room at PC and we made love. We also spent the next two hours talking. He was a nice man trapped in an unhappy marriage. He wanted to shower me with gifts and I would have liked that but I was on a plane headed off to a new life. We emailed back and forth and he even made plans to come see me in America. But by then, I had embarked on a new life, so I set him up with Afia who got a brand new wardrobe out of it. She apparently also broke his heart. Although I am sure, there were plenty of other young, chubby girls because his infidelities eventually led to a divorce from snooty begum. He and I are still good friends. He thinks I am now utterly gorgeous but hates that I have lost all my weight. Still, we are good platonic friends and always meet up for coffee or dinner when I am home. We even share relationship advice.

Mike from Philly
When: Freshman year of college.
How: Mike was a holiday romance. A summer fling. The best. The kind we always dreamt of and read about in cheesy Danielle Steel novels. It was the summer after my freshman year. My aunt lived in Philadelphia and I would often stay with her during breaks. That summer, my parents had decided to come up to the States too. We were to road trip across the country and see all our old, distant relatives. My mother and Khala would often get on my nerves when they sat and talked about family gossip, tried recipes and drama endings. For me it was all so boring and trite. Instead, I would hop on one of the septa buses and head down to a café on South Street. There, I would read a book, people watch and enjoy a latte of every different flavor. I met Mike at that café. Busy reading James Joyce’s “The Dead” he looked up and smiled a few times. I flirted right back. We talked about my book: “The Road” by Jack Kerouac and then he asked if I would like to meet him for coffee. I didn’t get a chance to meet him for a while since my parents and I were embarking on our little road trip but I promised I would email him as soon as I got back. That road trip sure started off rough. My first private conversation with Mama resulted in her bursting into tears because she had discovered all my old love letters from Akbar. I denied it all and promised her that it was a big misunderstanding. She believed me or just wanted to. Still, I battled with the guilt and instead of becoming the pious little girl I promised her I would become; I immediately emailed Mike when I got home. I just needed someone to talk to. I was also sure that Mike and I would not go beyond a first date. On that first date, I showed up dressed in a tank top and leather pants while he wore a polo and Khaki shorts. Mismatched terribly, we still went to the Ritz and watched “East is East”. Later we grabbed pizza slices and made out in the rain. He was the perfect distraction from my guilty misery so we dated the entire summer. Every Wednesday, I would lie to my parents that I was going out with Donna. (Donna helped me with the lie) and I would go on a date with Mike. We watched some great movies “Croupier”, “Groove” and “My Beautiful Launderette”. Some evenings, we even spent the entire evening in his bed. It was a little awkward at times because he still shared the condo with his ex-girlfriend. Anyway, the relationship ended with the summer. I returned to college many pounds lighter, a new haircut and a fresh start. There were many more interesting interactions between the two of us after but I cant go into much detail since it would take too many pages. Some filmy drama, lets just say. Regardless, every now and then we will meet at Samosa; our favorite Indian restaurant in Philly to catch up on our lives. He is much older and gray now. He was in a very serious relationship with a Thai girl for a while. However the last time I met him, he said he was about to end it. I wish him the best always.

Christian the playboy
When: Junior year of college
How: This lasted only a semester. We never really dated but slept with each other a lot. I liked him. My friends hated him. He also slept with every girl he met. I still see him around because he too lives in NYC now. He has since tamed down. Old age maybe? Still he tries to bed me every time he sees me. But after that one time when I had gone back to his “place” only to be interrupted by a realtor to realize it wasn’t his “place” after all; I keep our greetings formal and distant. He was never the speechwriter for the president he claimed to be either. His career involves waiting on tables and writing orders instead of speeches. I always knew he lied but he was just so damn good in bed!

Mustafa My First Heartbreak
When: Junior year of college also. (A tough year for me).
How: It always happens when you least expect it. When life is perfect and you think you have it all. A man comes right over and messes it all up. Breaks your heart into pieces and leaves you angry and bitter. Why? Before him, I never needed a man. After him, I always knew there would be a crack in my heart. I am beginning to sound pathetic now, so I’ll get straight to the point. He was a Pakistani. I usually don’t date my own kind since I am least attracted to Pakistani men. Yet, a Pakistani man broke my heart. The irony of it all. His name was Mustaffa and I knew him slightly when I was a kid. He was my older cousin’s friend in Fsc when I was merely a fifth grader. I was the cute, chubby cousin they used to tease. Somewhere along the way many years later, I heard from my cousin that he had left for the states for an MBA. I neither knew nor cared. He was always just Mustafa bhai to me. Fast forward to junior year of college. My best friends Jenny and Julie (sound like quite a pair don’t they?) had come over to visit me in Philly during fall break. I was excited to see them and we were out at a club when I ran into Mustafa after all those years. He was checking me out for a long time and wondering if I was a Pakistani just like him. When we finally recognized each other, he could not stop saying “Oh my God, Look at you. Are you really that little Padash I used to bug? You have grown up so much. You really grew up to be quiet a beauty?” Yeah, yeah, yeah. I wasn’t complaining. In fact, I myself was amazed with how handsome he now was. Our relationship began that December when I was home from college. In just the few days, I had fallen madly in love. Not a great feeling, I tell you. Makes you weak and makes you do dumb things. I was such a mess in love. Visited him a few times hoping it would all fall into place till finally one day we had the talk. “He loved me but he was not in love with me.” Shattered, it took me years to get back on my feet with many rebounds in the process. I think I am now officially over him only because I have not seen him for several years. According to his facebook page (which I did stalk, don’t judge) he is now married to a cousin and has two kids. NEXT!

Richard the Morman
When: Age 23.
How: My second major heartbreak. I was working my first job in New York City. An insignificant administrative assistant for an ad exec hoping to work my way up the management ladder. I had my eyes set on the personal assistant position, which allowed more travel, more respect and less menial tasks. Still I had a job, I looked beautiful, loved my friends and was having the time of my life. Once again, another man enters and ruins it all. This time it was Richard and I had no idea he was a Mormon. An attractive man but not someone who would immediately catch my attention. Too blonde hair, blue eyes, farmer boy for me. I like my men a little more rough around the edges. But you know what they say, you always fall for the ones that are never physically your type. To be honest he wasn’t even mentally my type. One of the most conservative men I had ever met, when we first talked he told me he dumped his Latin girlfriend of 3 years for dancing on a speaker at a club. “Who does she think she is? A stripper?” I decided never to share my past professions with him. He would often see me out at bars and at parties. He had told many of his friends how he thought I was the sexiest thing he had ever laid eyes on and that he was too shy to introduce himself. For a girl, who had spent a majority of her life as the fat asexual best friend to pretty, popular girls in high school school; a comment like that means the world. Still, I wasn’t at all interested in a boring, old-fashioned blonde. I only enjoyed the attention. Milked it for a year until we began to talk and I fell immediately head over heels. He dumped his Latina girlfriend the day after meeting me. After that, I followed him around like an idiot and on valentines day 2004 – that evil, evil day – I confessed my love for him. I should have known better. Within days, he was back with his ex. I was devastated. The next day I was promoted and spent the next year traveling all around the country. But at every subway, metro, Marta, every airport waiting lounge, on every five-star hotel bed; I just couldn’t keep him out of my mind. I still see him around and we never say a word to each other. It is awkward and still hurts. Long story, will get into details some other time. But for now he is dating another Latina. She is nowhere near as foxy as I am and is probably miserable in love. I would much rather be single than wake up confused and in love with a man like Richard. Peace out!

Dickie My longest Relationship
When: The past 3 years
How: At first, he was simply one of the many rebounds from Richard. After the heartbreak, I distracted myself in the arms of strangers from clubs and bars. Most of it was to break another’s heart. As bad as it sounds but that’s what made it easier. I broke heart after heart. A vicious cycle, but that’s how it happens. They go on to break other hearts out of spite and soon you have the entire city walking around with broken hearts. Richard was going to be just another one-night stand, nothing else. I walked into a bar with my friends. He seemed semi-attractive. We spent the next sixteen hours in bed and when he dropped me home the next evening, he gave me his number. I gave him mine too even though I had no intention of ever calling him back. A week later, we met for pancakes on a night I came home hungry from clubbing. We ended up back at his place, calling in sick at work and staying in bed. This continued for a while. He was a man always at my beck and call. It didn’t matter when I called him or for what. He was there to oblige. The first year I did not commit. He stayed strong and had already confessed he had fallen for me. Two years and several dinner dates later, we finally became a couple. It was a good two years and I got used to having him around. Our Saturday and Sunday brunches when we sleepily woke up together in the afternoons. Going to concerts. Reading the paper in bed together. He was always there to help me with everything I ever needed. He often prefaced it by saying “what I wouldn’t do for you.” But soon it became strained. He was older and ready for the next steps in his life. Steps which involved moving in, marriage, meeting families. I liked my own space, I’m definitely not ready for marriage and my parents would die if I brought home a white man. So, on New Years Eve 2007, we decided to end it. I have nothing but love for him. We are still on good terms. However, I have told him that we should meet as less as possible because you just cant jump into a platonic friendship after three years of dating. I think he is seeing a new girl now too. The bimbo I saw him with a week after we broke up. Recently he invited me to a party at his house. I went and enjoyed the hungry attention from all his male friends. I made sure not to flirt back though because I’m classy not trashy. I really did not want to hurt Dickie. The girl ran around his house clearing up tables (something I never did when we were dating). It’s obvious they are dating, I just don’t know why he continues to insist that he is not. Maybe he thinks it will hurt me. Maybe he doesn’t want to ruin any chances of us getting back together. But it’s too late now. I wish him all the best.

So here I am. Out of town on a work conference with my boss. In yet another comfy bed. The large windows on my hotel room paint a pretty picture of downtown Seattle. Bright, enticing. Full of single men, who I can meet and flirt with and satiate their fantasies for exotic woman. When I get back home, I have a date with a man whom I have met him a few times. Recently I agreed to go on a date with him. The only problem is that I can’t remember his name for the life of me. If his name doesn’t come to me by next weekend, I am cancelling the date. There is no polite way to ask your date what his name is. What do I say? I forgot? Suggestions dear readers? Anyway, it is now 10pm. I have found a new surge of energy in me. I am in a new city. No one knows me here. I don’t have to be up till nine tomorrow and even then, I have stocked my hotel room fridge with enough Red Bull to keep me going. So now, I am going to jump in the shower, get dressed in my sexy black mini-skirt, call a cab and head over to a downtown bar. Maybe I won’t come home alone tonight. Maybe this bed wont be empty tonight. When morning comes, I will tell the man to leave and throw his number in the trash. An end to another great relationship. The drama free kind. No heartbreaks. ;)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pen Pals!!!

Dario and I met the summer of 96. I believe it was 96 because it was soon after that period everyone called the early nineties. When the local televisions boasted of only two channels. PTV, which was finally losing its boring monopoly and NTM - or was it STN - the cool new hip channel. NTM allowed us local teens a peek into an hour of cartoons (Ninja Turtles were all the rave) an hour of a sitcoms (censored kisses on Chico and the Man) and an hour before the news of a Western Drama (Magnum P.I, quickly became a serious crush). It was the moustache! Replaced my fascination for that thick patch above Jackie Shroff’s lips. So, with not much else to do besides reading Sweet Dreams and – secretly, sometimes Mills & Boons – we all waited every week for those hip shows on the cool new channel. Shows like MCC (Music Channel Chart) and Lollywood Top Ten. Back then, I probably also harbored a semi-crush on many band members that were named after solar-system planets. Seriously, there was a band called Fringe Benefits and no one batted an eyelid. How about the one called Jupiters? But I think those crushes were the fault of having nothing else to do. Neither Magnum P.I nor Jackie Shroff were attainable compared to members of Awaaz (my crush on those two quickly ended too when I saw them loitering around Jinnah Super one evening. One was shorter than I, the other had more make up than I.) So what else was there to do back then? Well of course, there were those lame dance parties where someone’s drawing room was turned into a discotheque after furniture was removed, carpets were rolled up and Mommy/Papa were shipped out of town. If songs like Mr. Vain, What is Love and No Limits don’t bring back memories for any of you readers, you probably don’t know about that time I am so eloquently harping about. For those of you who can’t get those annoying beats out of your heads now, you know exactly what it was like to be a teen in Pakistan in the mid-nineties. Don’t you?

Why yes!

So then, you probably also remember the controversy around allowing the internet in Pakistan. God forbid it would further corrupt the living room dancing, Mills & Boons reading, Pappasalis and Yummy 36 eating, Jackie Shroff/Magnum P.I. crushing youth of Pakistan. Bearded men – I like moustaches not beards just so you know - were afraid of totas being replaced by broadband pornography. They were also scared that boys and girls who only secretly talked on the phone before could now chat and email I love you, I love you’s to each other. Oh and of course they were scared that strangers thousands of miles apart could find a way to become friends. The way Dario and I did. I must admit though, in the beginning the words internet and email were as alien to me as brb and LOL. But back then, the bearded ones were smart. We were only allowed a twisted version of cyber-world called text-only. As in, no images allowed. Sounds as pathetic as censored Ninja Turtles and Tiny Toons. But that my young OC-watching friends of today was how we were raised and we still turned out normal. I know, I know some may argue that statement is still up for debate! But on those text-only internet days, I browsed and clicked, chatted and surfed while mornings quickly rolled into afternoons and then just as quickly into evenings. One day, on those morning-ish afternoons, I came across a website for email pen pals. Since I had not yet received a single email on my newly created yahoo address, I decided to give it a try. I thought it would be nice to have an email to respond to. Yes my dear youth of today, you may have your inbox flooded with spam for miraculous penis-enlarging pills and South African Heiresses looking for investors but back then, we were never lucky enough to get such offers. After browsing a few ads, one caught my eye. It was a request from an Arizona State University freshman called Dario. Ok fine, his pen-pal request was only mildly amusing but he described himself as 6-feet tall, African American, well-built, with a moustache (of course). Such a description definitely warranted a message! I immediately emailed him.

Dario and I began corresponding on a regular basis. He seemed like a nice guy; grew up in a small American town and confessed that before he came to ASU, he had never met anyone from Pakistan. I told him he wasn’t missing much. (Disclaimer: after 9-11 I have become more patriotic but back then I was a high-school rebel so humor me a little ok!) Once the beard patrol finally relented to allow images on the internet, he sent a few photographs of himself. I was instantly in love and picking out china, shaadi-halls and divorce lawyers for our inter-racial marriage. Hey, the man was hot! I was slightly offended when he did not ask for my picture in return but that’s ok…I understand…we had plenty of years ahead of us where he could fall in love with me and then learn Urdu and wear shalwar kurtas.

Just as quickly as our complicated pen-pal romance blossomed, it fizzled too. I found myself with a new crush on a tall Irish lad at ISI so my cyber-love affair with an African-American freshman understandably took a backseat. Besides, he was a terrible email flirt. I mean sure I needed some practice too but he was just horrible! So anyway, years rolled by. I lost some more weight, became slightly – emphasis on the word slightly – more attractive by my A-levels. Had a few more crushes and a few failed romances at UCI and forgot all about Dario. After my A’s I headed off to a small liberal arts college to “discover myself” and break free off the protective bubble I always lived in. I was a young, sheltered girl ready to see the world and live a crazy life of anonymity. I made my plans for college. Plans to shave my head and dye my hair electric blue (yes I now realize those are two mutually exclusive idiocies but I never claimed to be the brightest bulb either). My plans also included dropping out of college after my freshman year and running away with a soul-mate with dreadlocks (and a moustache) to live in a hippie commune. I would sell handmade postcards on the beach and direct eccentric skits for a living like the Cockettes of San Francisco circa 1970s. Needless to say, I did everything in college but tamer versions of my planned fantasies. Though I never became the Sinead-O-Connor of my campus, I did dye my hair blue at one point. (Advice: Always bleach your hair first. I had to find out the hard way.) I didn’t really run away to live in a commune with hippies either because…well…I like to think it was merely due to a lack of good-looking men in my small town who sported both dreadlocks and moustaches (a very important pre-requisite). Believe me I looked and nope there weren’t any. But I digress.

After I graduated, I moved to New York City and couch surfed while temping at odd administrative jobs. I finally found both a stable career and an apartment. My stable career: an assistant to an overpaid, overweight, advertising big-wig. My first apartment: a corner of a room in the Bronx. That corner is still just down the street from my present studio apartment and I miss it terribly. I digress again. Where were we? Why yes. So, it was one of those boring mundane days at the office job. I had just finished blogging, checking my boss’s messages, fending off the usual married perverts in a polite way (polite in case I needed another job or a raise) when I came across an email on a celebrity gossip website. Dario _____. (Blank is where his actual surname was.) I immediately emailed and asked him if he was in fact THE Dario from many years back. I got an email within minutes and he replied that he absolutely remembered the pen-pal from Pakistan he had six years ago. The way he made smiley faces at the end of his replies was still so dreamy. I also found out that he had graduated from ASU, two years before me and now lived….ready for it? New York City! Just like me. In fact, he too worked a boring, mundane job as an assistant just a few blocks away from my cubicle-infested building. We immediately decided to meet at a nearby deli for lunch.

In the beginning, it was awkward but what did we expect. We were mere strangers who had exchanged a few emails six years ago. During lunch, our conversation was very polite, peppered with questions about each other’s college majors, life in the city, Bronx (where I lived) and Brooklyn (where he dwelled), current jobs and future plans. He was still as handsome as ever but beefier from what I remembered. When he mentioned his ex and how he just broke up with HIM a few months ago, I realized why he had never really asked for my picture or been a good flirt for that matter. I trudged upon that topic carefully and cautiously because I did not want to offend him. I had plenty of gay friends in college so I knew better than to jump up and down and declare my love for Will & Grace when introduced to a homosexual man. We parted ways amicably and politely. We promised to stay in touch and agreed to do lunch again. We never saw each other for the next six months. The next time I ran into him was on the subway after work as we both headed home. I recognized the handsome face reading a paperback on the 6 train so I decided to say hi. The conversation this time was more fun. We shared some politically incorrect jokes to break the ice, pointed out good-looking men on the train to each other and talked about our weekends, both equally scandalous. This time when we parted ways, we made plans to hang out and meant it.

A few weeks later I was headed home around 10pm after a boring dinner with some old college friends when my phone rang. It was Dario and he was drunk (later I would realize that alcohol was the least of his vices). When I told him I was on my way home to take myself to bed, he urged me to change my mind.

“Step away from the subway and come join me at the bar.” He continued to chant and within minutes, I went from yawning on the underground platform to a dark, dimly lit bar in Chelsea. That night ended up being one of those crazy nights you laugh about at work the next day and then write about years later (which is exactly what I’m doing right now). A night where we danced with every stranger in the bar and I confessed my love to an Ethiopian cab driver who in hindsight wasn’t all that good-looking but he had a moustache. (Do you notice a pattern here?) Dario and I left the first bar and ended up in three different other bars. We had decided to bar-hop across town in search of Dario’s hookup. I had assumed he meant a one-night-stand but by the time we found his hookup, a large, busty, Latina lesbian who kept on eyeing me from head to toe, I realized his hookup was not a date for the night but merely his coke-dealer. Now I have lived on the wild side in college myself but drugs is something I never really indulged in. The occasional Tylenol every now and then to sooth a headache is the only pill-popping that I have ever done in my life. Still, who am I to judge (and if you are still reading, I assume you’re not the judging sort either.) I followed Dario around all night as his self-esteem got boost after boost from quick bumps of expensive white powder in back bathrooms. The night ended with the two of us giggling like giddy school girls in a McDonalds on Times Square and then took cabs back to our beds that awaited us for a few hours of sleep before alarm clocks would wake us up for work.

“Don’t worry sweetie” Dario would drone his words every morning after partying on a week night “All you have to do is show up!”

We became inseparable. Best friends! We had lunch together everyday at work where we people watched and played our favorite game of “if you could marry one guy on this street right now.” Luckily we had very different tastes in men, so we knew we would never fight over a man. During work, we entertained ourselves with instant messages and witty texts.

“Girl…remember that hot mess at the club last night” he would text.

“Girl…that poor soul was crying for a makeover.” I would text back.

Then there were happy hours after work. We would always promise ourselves a quick drink no longer than an hour, but each evening would end up on different dance floors and drug binged after parties until the wee hours of the morning. By daybreak, Dario and I would rehearse our voice mail messages to our bosses “Cough…cough…I wont be in till noon today…I think I have the flu.” The weekends we spent in all the over-priced yet mammoth dance clubs of New York like Roxy, Limelight and Exit. Dario knew a lot of people in the nightlife business. He knew every bouncer (we never had to wait in line behind a velvet rope as we sashayed straight to the entrance and I stuck my tongue out at the other girls freezing in their miniskirts). He also knew every bartender (I never ever paid for drinks). Once the clubs closed at sunrise, we would immediately be huddled in a cab with strangers on our way to some after party at a B-list celebrity’s loft in Manhattan. When we would finally stop our partying we would always end up crashing on each other’s couches. The next day, we would eat eggs and waffles at 8pm and joke about how we had not seen Sunday daylight for the past several months. Anything and everything was possible with Dario. The time we tricked two guys to buy us breakfast and then snuck out the back door or the time Dario dared me to throw a drink at Sherockya World (the fiercest drag queen in Queens). I did. Later, Sherockya chased me around the club with her Manolo Blahnik while Dario sat back and laughed. The drag queen and I eventually made peace once I promised to buy her a cheese-burger from Burger King. I think we may have even crashed at her apartment that night but those minor details are not really important here.

You see, partying came natural to Dario. It also helped that he was fueled by every drug known to man. At first I thought that cocaine was his only vice but soon I realized, he did not care what he shot up his nose or down his throat as long as it ensured a night crazier than the last. When Dario began using crystal meth, I did begin to show my concern. He immediately shunned me down. I realized that our friendship was based solely on fun nights of crazy partying that turned into mornings. That was it. Beyond that, I was never to preach or dispense any form of advice. I was to only laugh, giggle, pick fights with crazy drag queens and stumble home on subways at day-break with Dario next to me. I was to obediently follow my role as the good hag, nothing else.

Sometimes, I would sit and smile and think about our first ever email to each other in 96. How he talked about his freshman year classes and I went on about how much I hated my life. How I then dreamt of a chick-flick-ish, serendipitous romance between him and I. Serendipity, there was. Romance, not so much. Now, years later, we found each other in our own twisted version of a chick-flick. Dario had become more or less my soul-mate. Not the kind I could marry but lives are complicated. He was who I had settled with as the only man in my life. It did not matter though. If I ever stopped to think about such serious things, I was immediately whisked away to the fantasy world Dario and I had built around each other. Making memories that made us laugh. Always each other’s dates to work events, like the time we snuck out of a boring Christmas company party to go to a dingy bar where I spent all night dancing on a speaker in a sari. Men hovered around me and told me they loved me. Then, they slipped Dario their numbers. Sigh, refer to the earlier line I wrote about lives being complicated and all. Dario and I even took a vacation together. I had always wanted to visit South Beach. I once came very close to spending spring break there my senior year of college (had the bikini picked out and everything) but had to cancel plans at the last minute because a friend backed out due to insufficient funds and another ditched us for a cruise with a new – and much older, I should add - boyfriend. That relationship did not last more than a tan, which I would have had, had we gone to South Beach for spring break. Dario was convinced that the man of his dreams was an underwear model in Miami so we both immediately booked our tickets and headed off to South Beach for a week. It was the best week of our lives. We spent the days sleeping and tanning on the beach. (The men were divine) and our nights, dancing away in clubs like Opium and Twist (I was sober and he would always be on a crystal meth binge). We ate only one meal a day (a pizza slice and churros) and then recounted the night’s events the next morning. We had stayed at a co-educational hostel where I would usually come home alone after loosing Dario in a crowded club or an after-party. That was also a normal routine in our friendship. When the search for his next fix bordered on desperation, we would often part ways simply because a sober girl can rarely keep up with a party animal like Dario.

After we returned from South Beach, I did not hear from Dario for a few days. Once again, it was also normal for him to call me on his way to an after-party and then disappear for the next few days. Then, he would emerge with blood-shot eyes and smelly clothes. He would cry about how he couldn’t remember where he had spent the past week. He would wake up around strangers he never remembered meeting. Such a lifestyle was too risky even for me. When Dario got fired from his job he insisted that he had quit. I was pretty sure that he had gotten terminated for not showing up to work for days.

It was a similar after noon and I was walking home on a Sunday. I had called and left countless voicemails for Dario the past week and never heard back from him. Finally when my cell phone lit up with his number I frantically picked up.

“Dario! Where the hell are you?” I snapped.

“Hey girl…I don’t even know…I want to see you…what are you doing?” he slurred his words.

“Walking home from brunch. Have you found another job yet? You need to give those after parties up. They are dangerous.”

Dario immediately burst into tears and began to mumble on the phone about how horrible he felt. He had just woken up in a scary warehouse and wanted to see me. He felt dirty and exhausted.

We quickly made plans to meet outside his apartment building and I jumped on a train to Brooklyn. I waited at least an hour outside his building before he finally showed up. His shirt was ripped, he reeked of stale cigarettes fused with alcohol and amyl nitrate. His eyes and face were crimson and swollen. He continued to slur his words and spoke incoherently. What I did gather was that he had managed to loose not just his cell phone but also his house keys on the way. I also heard the word “hungry” quite a few times.

I took him back to my apartment and told him to shower. Once he got dressed in my Black BEBE shirt (he stretched it out, so I let him keep it) I took him down to a café and bought him lunch. He devoured the food within seconds and he informed me that he hadn’t eaten in days. Later, we walked back to my apartment so he could sleep on my couch for a few hours. It was evident that he had been up for a couple of days straight. I decided on taking a nap too and as we threw around cushions and lay our cheeks on our pillows, we began to talk. We used to call these our tail-end conversations. After nights of crazy partying would end we would both be too sleepy to make sense yet still exchanging a few words – which got increasingly unintelligible the more our eyes drooped. That day, we also exchanged a few words from my bed to his couch. I recall a “thanks” from him and probably a “Shut up” from me.

“Padash?” He whispered after a long bout of silence.


“I promise I’m going to get help.” His words still a whisper.

I stayed silent. Too afraid that any wrong choice of words from me may change his mind. And then just like that, he fell asleep and I lay there listening to his snores get louder. I woke up two hours later, ate left-over Chinese, watched the Golden Girls, read, showered and went back to sleep. Dario continued to sleep and snore the entire time. I don’t know when he woke up but I assume it was in the middle of the night, because when I woke up for work the next morning, the couch was empty. Dario had scribbled the word “Thanx” on a post-it and stuck it on my fridge. I left for work hoping he was serious about getting help in overcoming his addiction.

He did. Although our calls to each other were not as frequent, when we did talk, he told me he had enrolled in a Narcotics Anonymous program at a local church. We met for lunch one day and he told me he was still unemployed but was much happier. He had become strangely more religious and I wondered if it was because his twelve-step program was in a church. We never ever went to happy hour or clubbing again. He said it was against the rules of his program to be around things that could trigger his addiction. I understood and wanted to support him as much as I could. When we did hang out and try to do movie nights at my apartment or go to a play, we realized we were forcing ourselves. Neither of us knew how to act around each other when we weren’t soaked in strobe lights on a dance floor or surrounded by carefree, beautiful strangers at an after party. So naturally, we became more and more distant. He began to volunteer and help out at the church and I busied myself with new friends. I tried to reach out to him as much as I could but also wondered if all his excuses of ‘prior commitments’ were just a cautious way to stay away from me. As much as I hated the possibility that I too had become one of his avoided triggers from the past, if it meant helping him overcome his addictions, I was okay with that.

We met again one time after that. This time it was on Dario’s insistence. We had dinner at a Tex-Mex place close to my house and as we sat in awkward silence and made small talk, he informed me that he had tested positive for HIV. An awkward silence ensued. What does one say at such a point? I know I stared at him blankly. Forced back tears which were more from shock than anything else.

“How do you feel?” Was all I could muster. The minute I said the words I cursed myself. Was that the best I could do?

“I’m much better now” He smiled “Thanks for asking.”

I asked him when he found out and he told me it was soon after he had slept on my couch and left a thank you note on my fridge. I asked him if it was the reason he had distanced himself from me and he told me he had distanced himself from the world to deal with the diagnosis. Then he touched my hand and said “But for what it’s worth, you’re the only person from my past that I don’t want to loose.” Seriously, that was all that mattered. Tears poured down my cheeks as he hugged me. I didn’t eat much that day and neither did he. It tore me apart that I was probably somewhere around him when he contracted the virus. It scared me. I wondered if it was at those countless after parties where I had left him talking to a handsome man because I was too tired to stay. I wondered if it was someone he had met at South Beach. But his calm demeanor stated that he neither knew nor cared.

“That’s not what’s important my dear” he pulled my cheeks as if I were a little baby “I lived a very risky lifestyle. This was bound to happen.”

I blamed myself for a very long time after that. If only I had stayed at those parties a little longer. If only I had brought him home and put him to bed instead of allowing him to run around the streets of New York with strangers.

Two months later, I got an email from him. It was brief and to the point. It annoyed me because that’s what our relationship had now begun. He had emailed to inform me that he had accepted a job in Seattle and was leaving in a week. He wrote that he would always miss me and remember me fondly. At the end of his three-line email were the words

““PS: check out the email below, biotch =)”

I laughed through tears as I read his email at work. I read it again and again.

Underneath was that very first email that I had sent him. Years and years ago. 1996. A sheltered little naïve girl from Pakistan sending her very first email to a stranger asking to become pen pals. I was embarrassed at how hard I was trying to sound cool in my email. I wrote complete sentences with forced slang so he would agree to be my pen pal. It was one of the very first emails I received and was the only message in my yahoo inbox. Now, his email sat among a barrage of other emails – spam and legit – bringing back all those memories.

Now, almost four years since that day, I received an add request from him on facebook. As I surfed his pics and page, I learned how his life turned out. He is happily partnered with another handsome man and working for an AIDS non-profit in Seattle. My words to him on his wall.

“Girl! I better still be your one and only pen pal!”

His reply.

“Always, biotch!”

[1] Name has been changed to respect the individual’s privacy.