FictionThe Choice - Tamizh Ponni, Bengaluru

The Choice – Tamizh Ponni, Bengaluru


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“Hey, don’t go too far,” yelled Amy, adjusting her boater. The popsicle in her other hand was melting with all possible haste not letting Amy relish it at her own pace.

“I am good. Jeez! I am a grown-up now! Stop being nannyish!”, replied Laurie as she carefully collected the Sea Urchin shells. They fascinated her for some reason. With an enclosed dome-like structure and a muricate exterior, they resembled Laurie’s actual persona.

“You get back here now. It’s not safe in there, “ Amy yelled not paying any heed to her daughter’s backtalk.

“Ma! I am 35. Treat me like an adult. Pleaaaase…”, Laurie begged with a babyish pout. Now that her hands were almost full with the precious collection, Laurie was frantically looking for a place to unload.

“Age isn’t going to magically instil maturity in you or stop me from protecting you,” Amy replied dryly, biting her popsicle.

“Protect me from what? Ocean waves?!“ said Laurie jokingly and chuckled.

“From your own silliness. Now come back. Let’s enjoy the view and the waves from here, “ said Amy patting the space on the Beach Spread next to her.

“Alright, Alright”, Laurie sighed and returned. She wanted to sit for a while too. The cool, salty breeze calmed her mind and helped her take her mind off the previous week’s madness. She wanted to discuss it particularly with her mother but didn’t know how to begin.

As Amy opened the Sandwich box, the aroma of mustard sauce and onions fueled Laurie’s hunger. She gladly took one when offered and took a sizeable bite. Munching on the lunch, the duo were devouring the fresh sea breeze with their legs stretched.

“Is something bothering you?”, Amy asked without looking at her daughter.

Laurie jumped at the question.

“Uh?……What?”, She fumbled for words.

“You heard me”, Amy replied.

Laurie could never crack this code. Her mother always sensed it right.
Among all the things that marvelled Laurie in the world, this topped the list. Her mother can sense things better than sensors.

Laurie was glad her mother asked and knew that this was the right time to talk about it.

“Nothing, Mom. Just….you know…life.”, she said and gradually began to elaborate her thoughts. “To whatever extent I try to be happy with myself and with my choices, there’s this imperceptible pressure around me that makes me want to question the decisions I have made,” She said and took another bite of that delectable Sandwich.

Amy understood what Laurie was implying but pretended to remain perplexed so that she can give her daughter more room for explanation.

“What do you mean by choices? Did anyone say anything?”“ she asked.

“No…not like know. You just feel it. Somewhere in the middle of the conversation things come up. For instance, last month we had to visit Jeremy’s parents for Thanksgiving and this baby talk came up again…in a subtle way…and then went away. I just feel that they…trying to imply that it’s not too late to change my mind about having know..”, Laurie said with her voice fading.

There was a good amount of silence. No one spoke for a few minutes.
Laurie felt better getting it out of her system. This time, she didn’t feel like discussing it with anyone but her mother. This always became the topic of conversation with her friends and she was tired of listening to them saying that there’s still time and that it’s never too late. Simply put, Laurie didn’t hate kids but just the idea of having one gave her the creeps. It was ironic that being a teacher in an elementary school, constantly surrounded by kids, she never thought about having one of her own. When her relationship with Jeremy started getting serious, she informed him of her clear-cut stance on voluntary childlessness. Laurie was used to being the cynosure of all eyes, especially her mother’s. She received unconditional love, care and support at any cost. It is only fair that she should expect the same from her life partner or anyone who’s going to be in her life. Though this was majorly the case, Laurie also despised the thought of going through labour, birthing and bringing up another human all the while being subjected to scrutiny by the society. Laurie knew that she’d fail as a parent.

Amy took a while to respond. She gazed at the vast expanse of the sea and gave out a deep sigh.

“Sweetheart..”, Amy cleared her throat, “I know this sounds like a cliched opening statement while giving advice on things but I don’t know how else to put this. When I was your age, I did go through what you just described. Your dad, being a wonderful man like Jeremy, never paid attention to any of this and ensured that I wasn’t affected by it too. We were bombarded with pointless questions on the reasons for not wanting to start our own family. A few “concerned” folks in my family were hell-bent in knowing the real cause and even enquired about our medical reports. It was definitely tiring but we survived it. Together.”

“Wow”, hummed Laurie looked down, loosely holding the powdery sand.

“However, it wasn’t easy.”, Amy continued, “ You can’t just shun yourself from this external noise forever. It took time and became less bothersome when I tried to focus on much bigger things. My job kept me on my toes; your dad and I made adventurous travel plans; explored all the possible food joints in this place and did everything that nurtured the love, respect and importance we had for each other. We never felt the need to bring in an addition to the family to complete any circle or fill any void because there wasn’t one in the first place. And then, you happened. We didn’t plan it but we loved it. It was magical. You wouldn’t understand how much you have changed things for us. You were that precious missing piece we were too ignorant to notice in our lives. You became our world”, said Amy stroked her daughter’s cheeks gently with genuine love.

Laurie felt tears rolling over her cheeks. She tried hard to fight them back and looked up at the bright blue sky but miserably failed. “So….what does it mean, Mom?… Should I settle down someday then? Find my missing piece too?”, she sniffled.

“No! That’s not what I meant”, Amy chided her. “ It never made any difference to me whether you had a child or not. It is absolutely your choice and I have no say in it. I wanted you to understand that blurring out these nugatory comments will be easy only if you learn to draw your focus towards the right things in life. Also, remember you are not the only one to go through this. We, women, have all come a long way and will still have a long way to go. At no point should you feel obliged to do this because that is definitely not the right way to establish yourself as a parent? Screw society! No amount of justification would shut their mouths. Never let anyone decide your life for you.”

Laurie chuckled wiping out her tears with the tissue Amy handed out to her. “Aah…I wish”, she said blowing her nose. “I wish I had your strength”

“You do”, Amy reassured. “You are just not ready to acknowledge it. How do you think Jeremy is feeling about all this? ”, she asked after a long pause.

Laurie wished she could easily answer that question. A few years ago, that would have been possible but now things were starting to get murkier. Jeremy slowly began to yield to family pressure. At times, Laurie even thought about the possibility of Jeremy accepting her terms and conditions assuming that she will have a change of heart about having children someday. The poor guy was in the soup. Jeremy loved to become a Dad someday. Now he started getting restless as there hasn’t been any green signal from Laurie’s end even after 10 years since their wedding. Though he never directly persuaded her to think about having a baby, there were strong incoming signals. Lately, he started getting strangely distant from Laurie. Their conversations only revolved around discussing the grocery list, house maintenance routines and bill payments. Laurie tried to communicate with him a couple of times but Jeremy wasn’t ready to open up. He didn’t want to sabotage the peace between them by opening a can of worms. Deep down, Laurie knew full well that she couldn’t do anything about it.
“Well, you know how he is. I feel that things are right now, a bit weird between us”, Laurie replied sadly.

“Weird how?”, Amy questioned in a troubled tone.

“He doesn’t share things with me anymore. We hardly go out”, Laurie swallowed the lump in her throat slowly and continued talking, “I am sure my decision is bothering him but he doesn’t want to talk about it. He still loves me and cares for me but in a different way.”
Amy’s heart sunk. What she feared so much once has come upon Laurie. Her selfish interests in safeguarding the happiness of her daughter have gotten her into a fix. With Laurie, the situation looked dicey. If the current situation persists, it would certainly erode her relationship with Jeremy. Amy knew it and didn’t want that to happen at any cost.
“Laurie, I think you need to break the ice sweetheart. You see, Jeremy is a wonderful human being and he loves you like crazy. You shouldn’t let these petty things ruin your relationship. These are minor hiccups that would disappear in no time.”, said Amy hoping that a candid and intimate conversation would resolve the issues.
“So, what if I had that talk and he tells that he wants a baby. What am I going to do then? He even once told me that we could consider adoption!”, Laurie said in a shaky voice.
Amy held her daughter’s hand gently and caressed it. Frankly, she didn’t know how to comfort her child. All she could do was prepare Laurie for the worst and urge her not to end up desperately pining for anyone at the cost of her own happiness.
“Laurie. You are a mature woman who is wise enough to make the right choice. And, by the right choice, I meant the one that’ll keep you contented. Also, a timely one. I can’t speak for Jeremy, though. That’s between you and him. At the same time, I can’t promise you that he would be happy with your choice in the long run. Jeremy’s priorities might change too. And you need to be ready for that, “ said Amy cautiously.
Laurie suddenly felt abandoned and orphaned. In this situation, her mother’s concern for Jeremy’s feelings was a little too discomforting. Amy’s words beautifully triggered off Laurie’s bottled up emotions.
“Whose side are you on, Ma?”, Laurie exploded. “Am I fault if he changes his mind?”
“I didn’t say that”, said Amy softly, gently gripping her daughter’s hand.
“Well, in a way you just did!”, Laurie continued and shoved the last bit of Sandwich back into the box. Anger painted her face, red and hunger disappeared without a trace. “I was careful since the beginning, unquestionably. I methodically explained to him of my expectations before we became a couple, for fear of upsetting him later. How am I responsible for his misconceptions now?”,She said, putting her hands on head.
Amy didn’t want to sugarcoat it anymore. Maybe saying this would wreck her daughter’s ego but it had to be said. In her final years, she didn’t want Laurie to live guilt-ridden because of her childish stubbornness. Whatever happens next didn’t stop Amy from calling a spade a spade.
“Look, Laurie honey. Change is freaking inevitable. You can try as much as you can and resist it but it is coming. Jeremy has been immensely supportive of your decisions all these years. Have you ever thought about what he really wanted? Of course, you had a watertight contract once about not having children. But things change; people change. You can’t control that. That man has always loved you, cared for you and is loyal to you. Don’t you think, the least you can do is at least to evaluate the possibility of having a child or even adopting one?”, Amy said in a desperate attempt to help her daughter read the signs and wake up to the situation.
Laurie couldn’t think straight. Those were some powerful recommendations that annoyed her because they made sense. The internal pain was worse than the one that when she stubbed her pinky toe against a table leg. Suddenly her vision blurred; sounds were distorted. Laurie felt like undergoing Spaghettification being sucked into an unknown vortex.

“Laurie…Laurie…Hey Laurie”, the voice grew stronger and stronger

“Hey Laurie, wake up”. It was Jeremy’s voice.

It took a while for Laurie to shake off the last dregs of sleep. She gave a long perplexed look at Jeremy and slowly smiled with half-closed eyes.

“You’ve been out like a light since the afternoon. Come, eat something”, he said and switched off the fairy lights hanging above the bed . Laurie hated it every time he did it. She was obsessed with Fairy lights as they had this mood-lightening vibe.

She felt disoriented for a moment, as her mind kept flashing the images of that wonderful dream intermittently. Keeping her eyes closed helped her internal projector visualize the experience better before she forgets it all soon.

Smiling sluggishly, Laurie slowly opened her eyes and hauled herself out of bed to the shower room. She stood for a moment near the vanity unit and stared at the mirror. Her mind still kept replaying the serene dream she just had. Putting the commode lid own, Laurie sat, buried her face in her hands and introspected the strange vision for a solid 10 minutes. With a deep sigh and a slight relief, she got up, dried her face and stepped out.

Laurie peeked out of from the door slowly and watched Jeremy arrange the cutleries. It was a pleasant sight to observe Jeremy in the dining room, setting up the table for dinner. This gave her some time to do what she intended to do. Laurie opened her bag gently and took out the adoption papers she had gotten from the agency, the previous week. She couldn’t be sure if it either happened by chance on by design when the conversation about adoption came up the other day. Laurie wanted to vent it out to somebody and the only person who she could do it with was her best pal Maya. They met for a coffee and talked like crazy. As Laurie’s marriage troubles became the topic of their conversation, Maya subtly hinted the adoption angle to the resolution. She knew how to put things into perspective for, Laurie.

“Just try. If you didn’t like it, you can change your mind anytime before sealing the deal. As such it’s a haranguing process. Jeremy will surely appreciate it. Give it a shot”, Maya said fully concerned about her dear friend.

“Laurie”, Jeremy’s voice once again broke her preoccupation.

“Yeah, coming”, she responded from the bedroom.

At a gingerly pace, she took out the folded sheets from her handbag and left them on the table next to the bed. Doing that eased her mind. “Finally, we can talk about it”, she thought. In a way, Laurie felt weirdly positive and proud of herself for empathizing with someone in a long time. The surety of being happy with what she wanted right now was comforting. There was a little guilt lingering in her mind for not having done this earlier, yet Laurie didn’t let that bitter feeling spoil her current state of mind.

Minutes later, Laurie joined her husband for a soulful dinner. They ate in silence exchanging accidental glances. Jeremy was awfully silent had too much wine that night.

“Celebrating something?”, She asked with a smile.

“Nope”, replied Jeremy and continued sipping the Grenache.

“Do you want to hear something dirty?”, she whispered softly with a playful smile.

Jeremy seemed to be strongly distracted by his phone that night particularly. Laurie couldn’t tell if he was typing or reading something. “Yeah, sure”, he said glancing her for a second and put his phone down.

“Tonight, I’ll take the trash out,” she said stuffing her mouth with mashed potatoes and giggled.

“Oh, sure,” Jeremy replied impassively and kept eating.

Maybe this was it. The perfect moment to address the elephant in the room. Laurie was in a way glad that he was being a grumpy cat. This coldness has to stop and Laurie couldn’t have asked for a better time to talk about it. “Jeremy,we…”

“I want a divorce”, Jeremy said looking at the leftovers on his plate intently.

Grim silence quickly filled the room.

“Wha….what?”, she asked in a quivering voice.

He responded almost immediately. “I want a divorce. I can’t do this anymore. We are just punishing each other. I think this needs to stop. You and I don’t deserve each other. Also, I am seeing someone.”, he spoke robotically, got up and walked away. None of what he said made any sense to her. Each word pierced her heart like a sharp-ended icicle. She experienced what people called a mental avalanche. Breathing through her mouth, Laurie looked fixedly at the adoption papers in the table.

She suddenly realised why her mother said it was crucial to make a choice, a timely one.

Editorial Team of Indian Ruminations.


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