The love of my life was a click away, but not in the way you think.
November 1997, when I was sixteen and living in Singapore, I sent a boy an accidental email that changed my life. It wasn’t even a real email; I didn’t write anything in the body at all. I thought I typed in the address of one of my classmates, but I wasn’t sure if I had it right. Then I accidentally hit “Send” instead of “Cancel.”
The thing you need to know is, this was way back in the day when email was very new, and it was exciting to have any emails in our inboxes. Penis enlargement ads weren’t nearly as ubiquitous, and if a Nigerian prince wrote to you, you sent him a reply even if only to say, “I know this is a scam.”
That was probably why the boy wrote back to me.
“It’s not every day I get an email from a girl,” he typed. “Especially a blank one. Who are you?”
Another thing you need to know is that my parents are quite conservative, even by Indian parent standards.
One day, about six months after that first wrong-number email, they found my diary and read all about my burgeoning crush on that Internet boy who lived in America. Up until that moment they had never considered the possibility that I might ever have a boyfriend. I was supposed to be a good Indian girl keeping up the ancient traditions of my country of origin even while living in a foreign land, never so much as looking at a boy until after I was arranged to marry one.
But this boy? He was Indian and Hindu, but so very much the wrong caste and wrong sub-caste and wrong sub-sub-caste, not a vegetarian, and studying in a college in America, which surely meant a character of scandalous immorality.
My parents found drafts of my daily two-thousand-word-long emails to him, saved carelessly in documents on the family computer, and I suspect they were most horrified at the number of nauseatingly cutesy nicknames we had managed to come up with for one another. “How can this man possibly be good for our daughter if he calls her honeybunny?” they must have thought.
So they were absolutely on. the. ceiling. They dragged me home early from school — said the police were after me, for the crime of crushing on a boy, I guess? — yelled at me for hours, and worst of all, enrolled me in a meditation camp run by the Chinmaya Mission for rehabilitation. Along with twenty other teenagers, I meditated, sat through religious philosophy lectures and sang devotional songs for a whole week.
To this day, when my husband and I argue, I think about that camp. I think, if I could keep loving him with that as my penalty, shoot, I can love him through a few hours of grumpiness.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
* * *
The first time we met in person was after three years of emailing. I was in college, and he was flush with money from his first real job, so he bought a plane ticket and flew halfway across the world to finally see his “girlfriend.” It was the most delirious, crazy, unreal week of both our lives. I took him on a whirlwind tour of Singapore — museums, amusement parks, zoos and shopping. We would catch one another’s eye every few minutes, laugh, and say, “I can’t believe this!”
Being right beside one another instead of just talking on the phone and reading words on a computer screen, we found out so many new things about each other. He was horrified at the pile of unfolded laundry hidden under my bed in my dorm, for example. Somehow, through three years of constantly writing, I’d neglected to mention how messy I am. For my part, I was horrified at how exact and orderly he was — somehow he had forgot to mention his OCD-like attention to detail. But we were so full of delight in each other that even our revulsion was all in bemusement.
It was all much too complicated for my haphazard way of life. Apparently my debate teammate had a secret crush on me, and, angry that I did not reciprocate his feelings or even show the slightest awareness of them, he just told my parents there was no debating tournament when they called. My parents caught on to what I’d been up to and their reaction was like ten times the shit hitting ten fans at once.
Eventually I started getting phone calls from home again. While I was moving to America, my parents had been moving from Singapore back to India because my dad got transferred again — coincidentally, to the same city that my boyfriend was from. And then one day, out of nowhere, a voicemail from my mother: “Hi Nandini, we met his parents and decided on a wedding date. You’re getting married on the 18th of May next year. Call me back.”
I sat down pretty hard and called my boyfriend. “Hey. My parents met your parents to plan the wedding. Did you even know?! They say we’re getting married on the 18th of May.”
“Awww,” he groaned. “India in May is so hot! Can’t we get married in December?”
We got married in May.
In the middle of the ceremony — the kind with a sacred fire pit roaring as the vows are spoken — the air conditioner broke and didn’t come back on for two hours. My new husband glowered at me and at the world. “Could have gotten married in December, but nooooooo…”
I grinned at him. “I can’t believe this!”
He laughed. “I know!”
And I still can’t believe it, nine years and two little kids of happily-ever-after later.