Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Though it was way in the past, but when I met my old friend Paula after a long time, the joy was immense. It seemed like yesterday that we parted ways.
I was visiting and was staying at my Uncle’s for a wedding. It was just by sheer coincidence that she was invited there too. We both were so amazed to see each other. We started talking and did lots of it. During that mad conversation, I realized that she had hardly smiled let alone laughed, she was just answering my questions, mostly in nods. It was not after quite a time that I apprehended the real situation. I was so overwhelmed by emotions, as one can assume after meeting a friend from tweens. We remained fast friends until our teens. My family moved to another city when I was in the last year of high school. Since then it is the only time, we met in person, apart from two times at her and then my wedding party, and that was years ago.
One of the reasons, we lost touch was that she got married at a very young age. I still remembered that day when I arrived at her wedding party. Astonishingly, nobody seemed to be happy for her in her family. I took care of everything during the occasion, as it seemed I was the only one who cared for her happiness. I couldn’t stay longer because of my studies, so I left the day we were over with the wedding.
On this party we immediately became the teens again, the era we have taken our separate roads to life. If one looks at it this way, we were opposite of one another. I was more of a bookworm, antisocial, and not interested in any sports, except of course the badminton. She, on the other hand, was very popular, played nearly all the games but a little short on studies, so to say. She used to visit her grandparents in our neighborhood nearly every weekend and spent almost all the school holidays there.
As her Grandparents' house was next to us we used to wave and smile at each other, but our real friendship started when I fell off of a bike one day, and hurt my leg, terribly. Nobody was at my home and her grandparents took good care of me till my folks arrived. Since then, we became fast friends.
Physically speaking, one will not find much common between us. I got a dark complexion, while she was fair as snow. Her eyes were very big and mischievous, while mine were small and shinning. The only similarity was our straight hair, and I still think, mine was much better.
Both of us turned out to be nice-looking, gorgeous girls in our teens. I was very quiet when it came to boys, but she was very bold and out-front. I still recalled the nights she slept over our house, and we used to talk for hours about the boys and it was so hard to get off of the bed the next morning.
Somehow she was the only one to whom I could open up. I was attracted to a boy from my neighborhood back then. He was very quiet, but popular among girls. He was a brilliant student, and not overconfident. Whenever anyone needs his assistance in studies or for any other matter; he was very supportive. He was also the captain of the football team. I still recalled when I used to cheer for our team; he always smiled back at me.
It’s been fifteen long years since we had seen one another. She came to my wedding though. She was heavily pregnant, but her presence made me hassle-free. Although,
this was not her first child; she already got three. She left them with her parents to come to my wedding in another city. She was very happy for me, but I was downright nervous and she was trying to calm me down. She was holding my hand until the final moments, and never left me alone for a second.
That’s how she was, a kind and gentle soul. She will always be there for anyone. She had a wonderfully sweet smile with a very innocent voice. Though, she was not keen on getting educated. She put a smile, even if she got a D grade.
Presently, things were different. I noticed she was very quiet, which was very unlikely of her. She was a fervent talker; I thought maybe life had changed her. She was my best friend, so I had to ask. She looked at me with very void eyes. There, right there, my heart sank! I poised myself and inquired about her life.
I asked her about her family and she told me that she lost her husband a year ago. Oh my God, how did it happen? I was not only shocked but utterly devastated by the news.
She told me that her husband died in a car accident. It left her all alone. They got seven Kids. The two elders were out of high school and doing community college. She was working at a retirement house and living nearby.
I asked her, how the heck she was managing. While she was narrating the awful story of her life, her voice was full of regrets. She told me that she was just meeting the ends. I was feeling ashamed of not knowing about my best friend and also a bit of annoyance as to why had she not reached up to me.
She reminded me about the unhappiness of her closed family over her marriage with Richard. I personally thought, they were a great couple. I remembered she told me that Richard had made her realize that she is worth everything in the world. Her husband was also very good at money-making as she was equally good at homemaking. She was indeed young, very young to get settled with Richard. He was 20 years older than her. At times, she might have seen her wonderful life with him. He made her realized that both can build a home together. Age was just a number. She visited me at college during her honeymoon. They were very happy. She didn’t want to have a baby soon, but as Richard insisted they did and then they got a lot; just like her parents.
I recalled how she was madly in love with him. The photos, she sent me were a clear picture of crazy love. I didn’t meet with Richard before their wedding. He seemed quite a reasonable chap. They looked happy and great together.
After a few years into their marriage, Richard's business travels were getting longer, she told me. He used to spend a lot of time out of the home. When confronted he promised to be home, but slowly even stopped calling at home. His business trips were taking longer than usual, and the only reason he used to come home was to be with the kids. She went on telling me how she felt. She was so unhappy and embarrassed by the situation. All that continued for many years, she told me. He was becoming more of a kind of stranger rather than a protector. She added that when she threatened him with a divorce, his reply was more intimidating than her dummy threats. He told her that it will be she who will lose everything, even the kids.
She was appalled and shocked by his bitterness towards her. Telling me this, she started to cry. Inevitably, she decided to make it work and to stay with him. Ironically, they had five more kids after that banter. She told me that she changed her attitude and never bothered him about the house chores or kids' problems. She never asked him about her out of home trips.
It worked somehow, but what came after was much surprising for me. She added that the night he died, he told one of his friends that he was scared that Paula will not stay with him and will leave. When she was told this by his husband’s friend, she was astonished. She thought that it was her who was trying to keep the family intact; it never crossed her mind that he was doing the same.
The resentment in her voice was very clear. The anger which was boiling within her turned into bitterness. She told me that they were just living together for the sake of kids and just making more.
Their domestic lives were turning into a nightmare. They wanted to live together to make one another suffer; they knew long time ago that this marriage will never work. He wanted to keep her for her youth and charm and she stayed to pay him back. She told me that they didn’t realize as to when their love for one another turned into hate. Unconsciously, she was becoming a person, who was not accepting that she didn’t love the man anymore. It was becoming even harder to face the challenges of the relationship. They were both living under the same roof, but working against one another; because he didn’t let her go so easily, and she was not accepting it at all.
They kept using kids as an excuse to stay married. To outside people, they looked like a very regular couple. Paula's siblings envied her lavish lifestyle, which included a sports car too. She didn’t go to work as her other family members did just to pay the bills. Rather, she used to throw parties all the time just have a good time and fun.
She told me this whole story, while I was holding her hand. She knew that I was the only one, who would never judge her, that’s why there was all truth in it.
Seeing Paula that day after so many years was a pleasure, but listening to her story poured tears out of my eyes. Paula and I hugged and hold tight one another. I realized that after losing her husband, she now had so many responsibilities and because of the stress, she was blaming herself and her late husband for this.
We kept on emailing each other. She opened to me more bit by bit. She told me that when she started to realize that she had married the wrong guy or for the wrong reasons, her ego was hurt. Something deep inside her was shattered and at the same time, she was furious at Richard. Richard knew this from the start and didn’t know how to make her stay. The only way was to keep her busy with the kids. He knew that she didn’t want to have more.
Through her writings, I realized that she was talking about herself as a third person. A person who was lost in the woods and raised by animals, and now had returned to tell the tale and the ordeals of life in the Jungle.
We met again. This time as old friends, we talked about the memories we had of the old times when she was all fun, and sweet. There was a care-free Paula, the sweet, adorable, and ready to hike, bike, and bake.
The more I wanted her to forget about that part of her life, the more she indulged me into it. She kept on writing to me and pouring in that anguish, which I wanted to be drained from her. She had changed a lot. She told me that even the day to day life, at that time, was not much hindrance to her anger. She was changed from a person who was helpful, kind, and gentle to a stubborn, cruel, and unkind.
She told me that she started self-pitting; and eventually, her resentments became her addictions. She started enjoying teasing Richard. She became self-isolated and insignificant. On the outside, she put a happy face, but inside it was not at all pleasant.
Her kids were just waiting to be turned 18 so that they can leave the home. Still, nothing deterred her. She was turning into her mother. I knew how she hated her mum, and how her mum made her life a mess. She did great damage to her kids’ personalities. I started feeling sorry for her but at the same time horrified by the story.
Once, I went to see her and spent a whole evening with her. I got to catch a flight back home at night. After my arrival, I told my husband all about Paula. He was shocked and dismayed at the same time. All he told me that we should help her; as she was the person who brought two of us together.
After a few weeks, we flew to her city and drove to her house unannounced. We took her out for dinner and talked at length about the conversation she had with me a few weeks back. I and my husband somehow talked her out of that state of mind she was living in for the past months. Everybody makes mistakes and Richard's last words might have freed him from his wrongdoing. She was already paying the price for not having any strong bond with the kids. She needed to break this vicious cycle, by forgiving herself and Richard as well. Moreover, she must ask for forgiveness from her kids. She knew that we were there to help her and we're not judging her.
To my surprise, things went well. My husband took the kids to a movie, while Paula and I went to her workplace - the retirement home. She got a nightshift. She severed dinner, played cards, and watched TV with the elderly. Most of them were in high spirits, as some of them got visited by their family members; as it happened to be a weekend. Paula was quite popular there and I must say she was competent at her job and loved it too.
Paula went on with her life as a changed person after that. She realized her mistakes and started working on herself. I always think that life is a gift and no one should take it for granted. The earlier we start to work on ourselves, the better. As it is never too late!