OR Lord of the Rings – but not quite the way you might think
We got married twice, like many who have one proverbial foot in the U.S. and another in native India. The first was a ‘City Hall’ affair in California (over my spring break in grad school) where we actually understood the words sanctifying our union, while the other was the usual 3-ring circus affair in India comprising family, food, fuzzy shlokas and festivities. We felt ourselves married after the U.S. event, even though we resided separately (me in a mid-west grad school, he in rural Alabama). When Sho’s company delegated him to be part of a team of defense industry experts headed out to Belarus for 4 months, I felt nothing but pride and delight. The man had earned his stripes designing new soil remediation technology in a tiny town in the deep south. After long hours on blistering hot sites and in cramped trailer offices came the only evening entertainment (outside of cable TV): an endless procession of beers at the local bar and shooting pick-up games of pool with beefy guys who took minutes to drawl out the strange "furren" name and still slaughtered the pronunciation. So news of his exciting foreign travels gave me as many shivers of delight as it did him. Sho has a bit of a gift with words and the next best thing to living in (erstwhile) Russia myself, was hearing/reading about it from him.
Until my loving co-TAs (Teaching Assistants) at the University of Cincinnati decided to brighten up their days at my expense.
David was a large, bearded Texan with a dry sense of humor who sat right behind me in our large shared 'office' room. He depended heavily on my many eccentricities to liven up his dull days of grading exams and writing term papers. He even maintained a list of "Chandreyee-isms" (memorable quotes from me) on the office chalkboard. He was aided and abetted by Chris; tall, blond and chiselled but otherwise David’s soulmate in all things 'trouble'. This dynamic duo liked nothing better to break up a tedious morning’s work than creating waves in my newly married life. They were actually good guys who had a great deal of affection for me and wore it on their sleeves so I usually played along. Since before my Spring break nuptials, I'd been at the butt end of all their ‘soon-to-be-married’ jokes followed soon after by the ‘newly married’ ones. I chuckled at some and parried back on others, just to see them color up at the unexpected sauciness from the sweet, little Indian gal they so fraternally ragged on.
Anyway, hearing where my new hubby was headed added a definite twinkle to David's eye one particular lunch break. He perched on my desk with his homemade pepperoni bread rolls and in-between bites proceeded to tell me lovingly and in detail about the beautiful Slavic women in erstwhile Russian countries who husband-hunted (read: dug for proverbial gold) with every lovely fiber of their beings. The tattered economies of the fledgling nations (this was 1997) was not news to me but that gorgeous Belorussian women were hooking Americans for a free pass out of their misery, was.
At this point you might want to pause and delete that image in your head of a stocky, squat, jowly woman wearing a shapeless flour sack of a dress. She does'nt have a ratty scarf knotted under her second chin to cover a head of wiry gray hair either. You can remove the three large, hairy moles you imagine on her face while you’re at it. Then follow me as David's word picture slowly take shape: endless silky legs, a long waist and flat (no, concave) tummy punctuated by a perfect navel, a behind that can end the war that gravity defying breasts started and a thick, blonde mane cascading down a honey gold back. Or picture Maria Sharapova. She's from the town my hubby sometimes visited on weekends there (Gomel).
In David's words (ok, paraphrased) "Those vixens would marry an octogenarian on a ventilator for a pair of blue jeans" let alone a charming, attractive, exotic young thing like my Sho. Just to clarify my position: in contrast, I'd never quite measure 5 ft 3in in this lifetime, my hair was a mess of untamable curls, I had the classical Indian hips of temple carvings without any of their other redeeming features and if I was 'gorgeous' it was probably only in my mothers eyes.
By the time Chris had ambled over to join the fun (and sneak some of David's pepperoni rolls), my lips were trembling with misery and suppressed tears. Chris wrapped an arm around my shoulders in a comforting hug before adding "Don't you worry: Sho doesn’t have U.S. citizenship yet so they'll probably just dump him after sleeping with him to extract all his cash." Typically, only when I was breaking into a full-on bawl (as married men they knew the signs) did they break into brotherly mode, full of bravado such as 'Hey, we're kidding! You just come to us if he ever hurts you! We’ll take care of him!!' and so on.
This is not to say that I didn’t trust Sho: he was (is) loyal, loving and the epitome of decency. But he was quite attractive too and I did NOT like to think of the kind of temptation that was about to be shoved under his nose. Especially as soon after the end of the Belorussian tour we were to be married again in India. I was already a tad nervous about the havoc all the conventional hoopla would wreak on this decidedly unconventional man. Now he was headed to the land of supermodels, riding the highs of all the exciting and exotic experiences he was having (and he certainly had some!)...anything could happen!
So imagine my reaction when, in one of our treasured long-distance convos, Sho shared that he’d lost his wedding ring. Something about taking it off to wash and then forgetting. I was the very picture of nonchalance as I gallantly brushed off his apologies and explanations with many a practical reassurance that “it’s just jewellery” and “What does a symbol mean anyway” etc. I went at it strongly until the call ended, then I retreated under my comforter to hyperventilate in panic. It had happened! Just like those two idiots had told me. He’d met someone and gotten mentally un-married on the spot….maybe there was a picture of him sans ring so this was a pre-emptive explanation? He was so loving…he was breaking it to me gently! A tiny voice reminded me that his ring WAS very loose and he was new to wearing it so it might be an accident just like he said. My kind-hearted pal Becky tried to help the next day by advising me to ‘play it cool’ and not become a nagging wife coz that would certainly drive him into the bombshell’s arms even if he was getting ready to end the fling.
I tell you, with friends like these…..
Probably disarmed by my cool creds, on our next phone conversation Sho regaled me with a story of waking up the morning after a drunken company party to a message scrawled on his mirror in lipstick. We both laughed over his room-mate Don’s beet red face and the fact that it was just a prank. Need I share that another night of hyper-ventilating under the comforter followed on the U.S. end of that phone line?
More advice followed from 'helpful’ Becky who worked part time at Victoria’s Secret: she offered me her employee discount so I could level the playing field when Sho returned. I’m sure I don’t have to spell that scheme out, though I will say that a particularly funny discussion ensued as I tried to figure out why the silky night thing she gave me had glow in the dark embroidery. In all my practicality (and lack of romantic sense) I couldn’t see why you’d want lingerie to glow-in-the-dark: if it did its job at all, it would be puddled on the floor somewhere (not still ON you) and if it was slowly working it’s magic, it would have to be when the guy could SEE you for which he’d need light and the thread wouldn’t glow anyway, and so on. Becky ended up sputtering “Oh just shut up and put it on. You obviously need all the help you can get” and I now harbored a new set of worries about whether I was at all qualified to navigate the slippery slopes of sensuality, even without nubile Slavic temptresses making faces at me from imaginary sidelines.
On the subsequent phone call Sho informed me that he was headed to the flea market in Minsk on the weekend to score a replacement ring. He bucked me up significantly with how this would make a great story for the grandkids. Okay, he didn’t actually say that last bit….I interjected it in my mind to flesh out what he probably WANTED to say (yes, I used to be that foolishly sappy). Still, the warm and fuzzies returned and no more hyperventilating happened on Bishop Street for a happy week.
Until the next call when he incidentally mentioned an exhausting weekend spent dancing away at the disco that materialized in his hotel lobby at the initiative of some pretty young teachers on a school field trip. I vaguely remember comments about how dancing wasn’t his thing, how he missed me (coz it WAS my thing) and how he’d explode if he had to hear Gwen Stefani warble ‘Don’t speak’ one more time. But all I really heard was that pretty young things were dragging him onto the dance floor and gridnign up against him all night. Part of me laughed at how easily freaked out I was while another part slapped my wrist for the unnecessary hysteria. But the bravest bit of my mind patted me hard on the back for putting on a cool air of composure. I resisted fishing for compliments, wheedling out expressions of adoration or otherwise indicating that I was anything but still his buddy and only mildly amused (and maybe a little impressed) at his crazy escapades. It’s another matter that I had no need to wheedle: at that point, he was an expressive, affectionate new-husband who spared no gesture to make me feel fully loved.
Just as I was starting to feel exhausted by my emotional calisthenics and ready to come clean to my clueless man, he called in the middle of the night. “I found the ring!” the tiny voice yelled down the staticky line, from a thousand miles away. It had come off with a work glove when he was un-packing a box of supplies and only now, when they were packing up to head home did it come to light. The beautiful temptresses haunting me receded gracefully into the background until they were just mist and shadows.
I laughed long and hard, then exhaled out about 3 months of held-in breath at my crazy conjectures. I also might have punched Chris on the shoulder the next day and sneezed on David's lunch but if I did, I'm not telling. I never did tell Sho just how paranoid I had gotten in that rocking ride between weddings 1 and 2, marvelous ring-finding man that he was. 15 years later, now I’m the one who forgets to wear my wedding ring for months on end. Though I’m fairly certain that he’s not hyperventilating about it, either under or over any comforters, he’s still my ‘Lord of the Rings’.