Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Love, Unconditional!!!

On a bus home from a weekend in DC. Partying with bureaucrats on Capitol Hill and non-profiteers in Columbia Heights. A city full of ambitious and powerful strangers. Strangers who once become friends and then became family. Yes, I’m mostly talking about Eva and her family of munchkins. Actually, earlier today I was at Eva’s legendary brunch of mimosas, cigarettes and a shared joint before I headed off to Union Station to catch this bus. It was there that Josh – recovering from a failed love affair with his personal trainer - asked a very insightful question.

‘So do you guys really think that there is such a thing as unconditional love? I mean do we ever really find such a thing in a partner?’

Eva’s reply, on the other hand, was even wiser than the question.

‘Of course my dear…the problem just is that we waste our time looking for it in the wrong places. Places where we think it should be when the entire time it was probably right before our very eyes. Food for thought, munchkins!’

Now, as I look out through the mammoth windows of my orange Bolt Bus at cars that whiz past me on the beltway, I’m still slightly tipsy from Eva’s mimosas but even more from her words. Maybe because I am reminded of a similar epiphany I had myself a just a few years ago!

Why Yes!

They say life is beautiful when you’re in love. Ever loved someone with uncertainty of whether it was requited or not? Then you know that its more torture and angst than rainbows and mistletoes. And that my friends was exactly how I felt when I returned to college after my semester in New York and a winter break in Islamabad. I had left a carefree heartbreaker and returned a dazed soul madly in love with a boy called Mustafa. Life just wasn’t the same anymore. Sure I was getting ready to become a senior and still had a year of carefree existence in front of me but for some reason I had committed the cardinal sin of hedonism. I had fallen in love! Fuel to this blasphemous fire, my tight female clique (Jenny, Julie and myself) no longer seemed as tight nor as knitted any more. Life was changing before our very own eyes and there was nothing we could do to prevent that. The entire campus once knew us as a trio of close friends who always got what we wanted and then disposed of what we got bored with. Now, wedged between the three of us was an awkward and unexplainable wall. Initially I blamed the fact that I had been away for an entire semester. The time apart had probably erected this strange barricade. One that would hopefully erode with time. On the other hand, I couldn’t blame them either. Love had managed to turn me into a stranger even to myself, I could only wonder how alien I appeared to my friends.

Getting back to rainbows and mistletoes for a second. Mustafa and I were only a few states apart, so a long-distance relationship seemed possible. Instead of going to Philly to visit Khala 1 on my breaks, I could visit Mustafa at Rutgers. On the other hand, he often drove to cities close to my college town to spend the weekends with me. Weekends I desperately looked forward to but weekends which never quite lived up to the romantic fantasies I had hoped for.

Honestly, this whole being in love phenomenon was completely new and confusing to me. I was literally willing to do anything for this man. He reciprocated by reminding me of the fact that we had slept together before we even had a proper date. And that he had never dated a girl so westernized and liberal as myself. And for once I resented this boldness and independence of mine. Then again, before me, the boy had been engaged to my cousin Sakina and that girl was as innocent and prudish as they came. Soon I found myself apologizing for the same independence and nonchalance that I had always been so proud of. Shoot, I even tried to change myself to become that nice and decent girl for him. What can I say, situations change us. And for the first time in my life I found myself envying Sakina and her purity when in the past she had been the most insignificant part of my life.

‘I’m sorry Mustafa’ I found myself apologizing one day ‘If you have a problem with me going to this crush party, I wont go!’

‘It’s really your decision Padash. I don’t care. Its something you have always done so why stop now…’

Ugh, I hate it when men lay guilt trips on us. ‘Yes but that was when I was single….look if you don’t approve of it, I wont go. I’m really trying to be who you want me to be.’

‘You should be yourself…don’t worry about me.’ He said with his usual tone of disappointment.

Crush parties were a greek-life norm in my college. Harmless dance parties, that would often take place a few weeks before a fraternity or a sorority formal dance. The concept behind it was from old college traditions when women were shy and men had to try hard to get laid. So, if someone had a crush on a person on campus, they would send them an invite to a crush party. If he/she showed up, that’s when you would ask them to be your date to the upcoming formal. But these days, such antiquated traditions were rarely followed. Crush parties had now became just another excuse to get drunk and dance with your friends at a local pub.

One morning as I was getting ready for class, my sorority sisters burst through my door with excitement over a crush invite in their hands. Apparently, it had been slipped under the door for me and the cause of excitement was merely because it was the fraternity that Baseball Chris was a member of. Ok so now you’re probably wondering who Baseball Chris is? Well he was easily one of the hottest guys on campus if not the world, DUH! A close, carbon copy of Chris Klein. Apart from possessing the most perfect tan even in December, he was also the proud owner of a perfectly chiseled body thanks to his coach’s rigorous gym routine. An endearing personality of a shy gentleman to match and Chris Klein was then sent to Earth. No surprise that the entire female population on campus had once harbored a crush on him but our luck, he had always been dating his high-school sweetheart ever since he set foot on campus. The Mina Suvari to our American Pie crush; she was the stereotypical blonde bimbo cheerleader, attending massage school near their hometown. To make matters worse, he was painstakingly loyal to her.

But that was all about to change! Rumor had it, that over winter break, Baseball Chris had broken up with his high-school sweetheart and was now on the hunt for a date to the Spring Formal. Sure, the idea was mildly intriguing but at the same time, as probable as finding princess parking in Manhattan on New Years Eve. (A weekend I will vow never to stay in the City for).

‘So word on campus is that you got an anonymous invite to the fraternity crush party?’ Julie asked me as the two of us lunched alone one day.

‘Yeah…I don’t know what the big deal is! We get invited to these parties all the time…’

‘Well YOU get invited to these parties all the time. I haven’t been to a crush party in ages let alone ever been asked to a formal in the four years I have been here. These sheltered frat boys aren’t really trying to take a curvaceous Puerto Rican chick from Staten Island to their formals. Let’s be honest!’

‘That’s not true…’

‘And secondly…many people are wondering if it’s from Baseball Chris… it would be nice to get asked out by the hottest guy on campus. A guy who I wouldn’t mind even getting herpes from.’

‘First of all that’s disgusting and secondly I seriously and highly doubt it’s him!’

‘Dag girl…this Mustafa guy has turned you into such a Negative Nancy!’

‘I’m just saying being invited to crush parties and formals isn’t all that its crapped up to be. Maybe back in the eighteenth century when potential hookups were referred to as gentlemen callers.’

‘Well maybe not for you princess…but I would love to know for myself. Face it, we may be best friends and all but your world is completely different from ours. Our hood-rat lives of shoplifting pale in comparison to your privileged upbringing and daddy’s credit cards. Your popularity in college with white people, your Barbie doll sorority sisters and your entourage of male admirers of every race…no wonder Jenny said that she felt un-pretty around you and that its not always fun to live in your shadows.’

‘Wait…Jenny said what?’

‘Nothing.’ Julie realized that she may have divulged too much.

‘Julie…you have to tell me!’

‘Look don’t tell her I told you…but…’

‘What did she say?’

‘Well…we became pretty close while you were in New York and once after clubbing we had one of those deep discussions over Ramen Noodles and she said…just…that she preferred going out with me because when she went out with you…she always found herself on the sidelines watching you get showered with compliments.’

I had never imagined that Jenny had felt this way. If she did, I would have preferred that she would tell me about it herself. Needles to say, after that dinner conversation, things between Jenny and I became even more tense. How can you just go back to being best friends after that? After learning that your company was never really enjoyed but in fact resented. Maybe I should have just spoken to her about it but hindsight is 20/20. We just didn’t talk much for the next few days.

The night of the crush party ended up being a lot of fun. My sorority sisters and I were having a blast on the dance floor and it was just nice to be hanging out with another crowd besides Jenny and Julie. When I broke away from my friends to grab a drink at the bar, I found myself face to face with a perfect Adonis who had suddenly blocked my way on purpose. Ladies and gentleman, meet Baseball Chris.

‘I was hoping you would make it.’ He continued to flash his dreamy smile.

‘Wait…that was you….?’
And yes dear readers it was. When I told him I couldn’t attend the formal with him because I was seeing someone else, he displayed some disappointment. Then he suavely assured me that it would be nothing more than a platonic evening between two friends.

Although I declined his request, the campus immediately became abuzz with news that Baseball Chris had asked me out to the Spring Formal. The problem with small liberal arts colleges is that they can be such close replicas of high schools.

Baseball Chris insisted that if I changed my mind, even at the last minute he would be at my doorstep in minutes. Sure this sounded a little too romantic for a ‘friendly evening between friends but hey I’m a girl and we cant help but swoon over such attention. The gay boys who lived in the apartment below us were also throwing a house-party that weekend so Jenny and Julie were going to be attending that. My only plans for that Saturday evening were to talk to Mustafa on the phone till we fell asleep. But when that night arrived he told me that we couldn’t do our usual late night talks. He had some big take-home exam to complete on Sunday and was going to bed early. Surprisingly, he even insisted that I go out with my friends and attend the formal because he trusted me. As soon as we hung up, the phone rang again and it was Baseball Chris asking me one last time if I had changed my mind. Finally, I relented and true to his words, he was at my doorstep within the next hour. I didn’t really go the extra mile to get dolled up that night. I had no reason to. I blow-dried my hair, parted them in the middle and threw on a white dress. Still, when I stepped out Chris greeted me with a bouquet of roses and then proceeded to chant like a mantra that I looked ‘absolutely stunning.’

The formal turned out to be quite a pleasant affair. Walking in with Baseball Chris had its perks and he remained a gentleman all night. If he treated all his female friends this way, one could only imagine the display of chivalry he saved for his girlfriends. As the night winded down, Chris offered to walk me home. Something most frat boys never did, especially for dates of the platonic kind. The walk home was fun as we bounced through topics of first impressions, our classes and our plans and dreams after graduation. When we arrived at my doorstep, I could hear an interminable remix of King of the Castle blasting inside. Although I invited Chris in to attend my neighbor’s house-party, he insisted on heading to bed because of an early morning workout. When we leaned in to hug each other, Chris suddenly took the liberty of pressing his lips on to mine. I immediately pulled away.

‘Chris…I have a boyfriend.’ I reminded him.

‘I know, I know. I’m so sorry.’ He began to apologize profusely ‘Its just that I have always had the biggest crush on you since freshman year. It was just my bad luck that I was always committed to my girlfriend but now that she and I have broken up, I knew I couldn’t graduate without asking you out.’

‘That’s very sweet of you Chris…but I really am in love…’

‘Well…then he’s a damn lucky guy and I hope he knows it.’ Chris was obviously embarrassed and after a quick peck on my forehead he was gone.

A bit flushed at the turn of events myself, I entered the apartment only to be greeted by my male neighbor and Julie. She was in jeans and he was in a sequin dress.

‘Girl….we saw it all from the window….I know you didn’t just turn down Baseball Chris.’ They both chorused.

‘I don’t know…I guess I am a monogamous chick after all…’

‘Eww…who are you and what have you done with Padash.’ The boy laughed.

‘Anyway, what did I miss? How’s the party?’ I changed the subject.

‘Well…we may have an overnight guest upstairs’ Julie informed me ‘Jenny has been making out with Shane for over an hour.’

‘No way!’ I exclaimed. Shane was our football quarterback. A tall African American guy with a body built like a house. He had always flirted with Jenny who had since played hard to get but we all knew she had more than a slight crush on him herself. I guess tonight was the night she was going to break him off a piece and I was happy for her. A little bit of sex would do her good and release all that bitterness she had built up inside of her.

After grabbing a drink, I ran into Jenny and Shane on the patio, huddled in a drunken, lip-locked embrace. She didn’t seem too responsive to my ‘hellos’ but instead chose to dangle Shane around like a conquest. I looked past it because I knew she was drunk. I smoked my cigarette while the gay boys gathered around me asking for every detail about Chris’s anatomy as if I was returning from an orgy instead of a frat formal.

As the night rolled into morning, people got drunker. The song, King of the Castle remained on repeat at the party for hours but everyone was so inebriated and stoned that no one cared nor noticed. Julie too was about to leave the party with Hector the Molester who had undoubtedly received that guerdon for being the college’s infamous perv who often preyed on drunk girls. According to his victims, he was terrible in bed on top of that. Naturally when I saw Julie exit with Hector, I rushed to at least make sure that she wasn’t going to regret her decision later.

‘Let me get laid bitch’ Julie snapped ‘You can’t have all the men in this world. Let us get lucky every now and then.’

Once again, a harsh and caustic remark from a dear friend and once again I ignored it. These were my best friends and I had to remember they were belligerently drunk. As I stood on the patio watching Julie walk away with the college’s worst lay, I was jolted back to reality by the incessant ringing of my cell phone. A smile spread across my face when I noticed Mustafa’s number on the caller ID. Since I had been having a pretty heavy night, he was exactly who I needed. A sweet gesture from a boyfriend whom I loved and wanted nothing more than to talk to for the rest of the night.

‘I’m so glad its you darling.’ I answered with a sigh.

But the voice on the other end didn’t greet me back. In fact, it didn’t acknowledge me at all. I heard Mustafa but only his grunts and his moans, no words. Fused in with grunts and moans of another female. A sound all too familiar, the sound of sex. As I stood there listening to the man I loved, making love to another woman when he was supposed to be asleep, I realized that eventually I would have to switch off my phone. I did just that. What else could I have done? To this day, I will never forget how utterly alone I felt at that moment. A best friend mad at me for reasons beyond my control. Another close friend rudely departed from me. And now, the man whom I believed was the one…had just trampled over my heart.

I returned to the party petrified with shock and dismay. The song ‘King of the Castle’ was now beginning to aggravate me to no end as I desperately searched for my purse. Just my luck that I walked into the room where Shane was hunched over on a couch making out with Jenny. It wasn’t rare for us girls to walk into each other in compromising positions. In fact, we often walked into each other having sex and just responded with quick apologies and a ‘just grabbing my chemistry book…don’t mind me…carry on.’ But when a blonde girl peeped from underneath Shane’s large, athletic body, I was overcome with more shock.

‘Where’s Jenny?’ I demanded immediately.

‘I think your friends a little upset at me…you see she went to the bathroom and then I met umm…this fine lady here…what’s your name honey?’ He turned to the blonde as he slurred his words.

‘Shane you make me sick!’ I yelled as I stormed out.

I searched all over the party for Jenny. I figured she needed me as much as I needed her so it was time to put our differences aside and comfort each other like the good friends we were supposed to be. Eventually, I found her upstairs in our apartment. Standing with equanimity by her bed, silk PJs falling gracefully on her skin as she calmly hummed a Sade tune and smeared lotion on her perfect black skin.

‘Jenny…there you are!’ I entered her room flustered and out of breath.

‘You need to talk to me?’ She replied calmly.

‘Yes…I came as soon as I…’

‘Let me guess…you have a problem you want to discuss…’

‘Not exactly….’

‘A problem like…lets see…one of the hottest guys on campus asked you to a frat formal and then just came on to you…I’m sorry Padash but that doesn’t sound like much of a problem to me. Don’t you get it…I don’t have time to listen to this crap anymore. If these are problems I would kill to have them myself…’

‘No Jenny I came to see if you were ok…’

‘Why wouldn’t I be?’



‘I just saw Shane kissing another girl…he really doesn’t deserve you anyway…’

‘Wait, you saw that?’ Jenny’s expression instantly changed.


‘Great!’ Just fan-effing-tabulous!’ Jenny threw her arms up in despair and plopped down on her bed.

I sat down beside her and placed my hand on her shoulder. We had been best friends for years and this was the first time I had ever seen Jenny cry. She just wasn’t the type to shed tears. A strong woman, who always remained calm when the rest of us would panic. A stoic who had immigrated with her family from Sudan and then grew up tough as nails in the housing projects of Compton. A girl who went from getting initiation tattoos for one of the worst street gangs on the West Coast to getting scholarships on her own to a prestigious liberal arts college on the East Coast. A mentor I had learned a lot from.

‘Its ok babe…he’s not worth your tears’

‘Don’t you get it Padash, I’m not crying because he ditched me for another girl’ Jenny blew up at me through loud sobs ‘I’m crying because you saw it happen. You weren’t supposed to see that!

‘Why …. I don’t get it.’

‘Because….I don’t want to look weak in front of you anymore. Just another effing night when you come home with problems like how you have such a great boyfriend who you met like a Hollywood chick flick and how Baseball Chris is now trying to woo you! I’m sick and tired of your world Padash. You’re not supposed to see me like this….you’re not supposed to see me weak….I cant be defeated in front of you one more night….’

My world almost slipped from underneath my feet as I heard her words spurt out with scorn through a swollen face which turned even more crimson. Tears streaming down her cheeks as the smell of liquor engulfed her frame. There was nothing I could say in return. In all my life, I had only thought of Jenny as one of my closest friends. Now I stood there and watched her yell and scream at me for reasons unbeknownst to me. Weak? Defeated? By me? Her best friend? Tears escaped my own eyes as I quietly backed out of her room, speechless.

‘Am I not right Padash…wasn’t that the problem you wanted to speak to me about?’ She pressed further as I took my steps back.

‘No! It wasn’t.’ I replied quietly.

‘Then what?’

‘I just found out that Mustafa’s cheating on me.’

No other words were exchanged between us that night. Just awkward silence and locked doors. I cried myself to a night of terrible sleep while the muffled dance music and laughter from the downstairs party continued to waft upstairs till the wee hours of the morning.

I woke up late the next afternoon. Just in time to shower and rush off to my work-study shift at the Library. Unfortunately, Sundays were the day Jenny and I worked together – a schedule we had once carefully picked out. Now I cursed myself for it. Jenny was already there when I arrived. Her nose buried in a textbook as she toyed with a highlighter. I too quietly peeled off my book-bag and settled on a stool beside her.

‘Nice sweatshirt.’ Jenny attempted a conversation.

‘Thanks.’ I replied as I reached for my own textbook and highlighter.

We were both wearing our comfy college sweatshirts which we often wore together. They were our dance troupe sweatshirts and the troupe was something that Jenny and I had once excitedly signed up for. It was our ticket to all-expense-paid trips to other cities and around the country’s colleges. We would room together in motels and then, escaping the coach’s eye, we would sneak out to local clubs and bars to party with the denizens. Today, it was almost sad that these same sweatshirts were being used to break the unexpected ice that had frozen over us in just a night.

An hour passed before Jenny jumped off her stool and requested the other girl on the shift to cover for us as we took a smoke break. I wasn’t really interested but she insisted that I join her. Our backs against the wall, we sat on the floor behind the library and lit up our cigarettes before staring out in two different directions.

‘Listen…Padash…about last night…I’m really sorry…I don’t even know what came out of my mouth…I was just very drunk and…’

‘Jenny please’ I stopped her ‘The least you can do is own up to what you said. Don’t hide behind alcohol. If it came out of your mouth then it was always there, buried in your mind somewhere. Just admit to your words and stop making silly excuses.’

That wasn’t all that I said. I also told her that I had no idea she ever felt that way about our friendship. That the words ‘weak’ and ‘defeat’ should never be used when it came to good friends. I had always hoped for nothing but the best for her. How I had always looked up to her. In fact, she had been far from ‘weak’ to me, but it was actually her strength that drew me to her. She quietly listened to every word with succinct nods.

‘Sometimes in our lives Padash we become our own worst enemies…I just let my insecurities take over me…I’m sorry.’ She whispered.

‘Its ok.’ I sat there tracing odd sketches on the ground with my cigarette butt.

‘And…and…I really am sorry about Mustafa.’

‘So am I.’

‘I had no idea that he could…’

‘Well now you know. Guess what, my life isn’t as beautiful and perfect as the world thinks it is. I get rejected and hurt just like everyone else.’

‘You really loved him didn’t you?’

‘Sad part is I still do.’


I shrugged ‘It hurts…a LOT.’

‘So what happens next?’

‘I have no clue.” I shrugged again “I really wish I knew…but I don’t.’

‘Are you going to break up with him?’

‘I don’t know.’ I thought for a while, ‘Probably not.’

‘But you will confront him about it wont you?’

I shook my head again. ‘Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll even do that.’

‘Padash you can’t be serious?’

‘The funny thing is Jenny, I actually am.’


‘I hate this person that I’m becoming. The person he has turned me into. I don’t even feel like the same Padash anymore….I just feel soo…sooo weak.’

‘Stop it.’ Jenny smirked ‘You sound like me last night.’

‘I feel defeated.’ I decided to tease her some more.

‘Hey watch it…that’s my best friend you’re talking about!’

We laughed for the next few minutes and just like that we were friends again.

Once my shift ended, I arrived at the dining hall where Julie was already waiting for us on a table. Our traditional Sunday dinners.

‘I don’t wanna talk about it!’ She laughed as I sat down next to her with my tray of food.

‘Hey I tried to warn you about Hector the Molestor but…’

‘Yeah…I should have listened!’ Julie winked ‘By the way, is Jenny not joining us for dinner?’

‘She’s running late…we made up earlier today…long story.’

‘Good. I shouldn’t have told you what she said while you were in New York…it seemed to have really messed things up between you guys.’

‘I’m glad you did. I needed to know.’

‘If it makes you feel any better, I resented her for the comment as much as you did. Can you realize how I must have felt when Jenny said that? That she enjoys hanging out with me instead of you because she doesn’t feel less pretty and like she’s in your shadows. So what does that make me? The bottom end of our friendship food chain? Even girls that develop inferiority complexes can feel better standing next to me…’

‘Julie…that’s not true!’

‘No it is…and I thought about Jenny’s words the same way you did. But I guess envy is an inevitable emotion among girlfriends.’

I didn’t try to sugarcoat my replies. ‘So I guess the more important question is…where do we go from here?’

‘Accept some realities and then move on.’ Julie smiled.

Jenny eventually joined us for dinner and after a brief bout of an awkward silence Julie raised her glass ‘So chicas….spill the beans...the end to yet another crazy weekend in our lives…and I want details!’

The dining hall of our dorm echoed in the familiar warmth of camaraderie’s din. Inhabitants on every table talked to each other about the weekend while setting their differences aside. The jocks on one table laughing loudly and belching about which chick they ‘hit’ and ‘tapped’. The cheerleaders and sorority girls giggling over gossip about each other. The Goths too laughing awkwardly through carefully painted frowns in black lipstick. The gay boys laughing loudly on the other end sharing their own carnal tales of debauchery set in bathhouses and dance clubs. The international students in their corner recounting their weekends with broken accents. And just like them…the three of us sat on our own table…laughing, giggling and sharing details about Chris’s attempted kiss and his revelation of love. About Shane’s sloppy kisses and how Jenny was more than disappointed by what she felt between his legs. About Julie’s terrible night with Hector the Molester who insisted on singing along to a UB40 CD while having sex.

At one point, Jenny reached over and grabbed my hand ‘Baby, you’re an amazing person…just remember…there are people out there who deserve you…who will provide us with unconditional love.’

‘Actually’ I smiled as I squeezed not just her hand but Julie’s as well ‘I don’t know about you guys, but I may have already found them both.’

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