Who would have thought that the COVID-19 pandemic would push me back to Bollywood? With tragic yet heartwarming narratives, blaring soulful records and vibrant visuals that engulf audiences, nothing exemplifies the raw array of human emotion better than a Bollywood movie.
Bollywood movies are infamously characterized by their dramatic love stories, while legendary soundtracks are influenced by ghazals — poetic expressions detailing both the pain of loss and the beauty of love. Thus, a perfect prelude to my story, one I hope you can draw strength and insight from.
After another quarantined night, I finished a romantic Bollywood movie with my mom. My phone beeped and I took a moment to recognize the international number. “I miss you,” it said. I didn’t know how to process the surprise message from my first love.
It had been months since our last conversation, presumably our final resolution, and over a year since the breakup.
“It must be the pandemic,” I thought to myself as I began to text what soon turned into a paragraph.
I fundamentally believe the two universal emotions experienced most are love and loss. The breakup of a first love intensely combines the two. There is nothing like a first love and the painful lessons you learn from it. You are forced to grow, despite the sheer all-encompassing sorrow and grief associated with its finale. Despite this growth, you realize you are not the same and must accept that some things, like memories of people and associated feelings, may stay with you despite the time. It is a fragile balance as you begin to recognize and adapt to your new self and a new chapter.
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Is there someone who loved you in a way you’ve never felt before, made you strive to learn and be better and showed you a sliver of a long-term future? For me, it was in college after years of loneliness and feeling unlovable, when I unexpectedly met a boy from another world who somehow, despite our differences, became the best friend I always wanted. Our shared memories grew over the years. We began new journeys, laughed together, comforted each other in sad times and embraced vulnerability as we grew into a partnership. It felt so powerful to be seen and appreciated, despite imperfections and flaws.
When our paths were not aligned anymore, it became unfair to be caught in an impasse that would eventually lead to resentment, so it ended. I was devastated. The trauma of having someone abruptly gone was profoundly heartbreaking. Coldness, unkindness and betrayal clouded our once safe space. My new life carried on by default, without my consent. I was drowning and desperately screaming for help. I hit rock bottom, and it forced me to work very hard, prevailing at my new professional and personal responsibilities in an attempt to avoid the pain.
I fell down multiple times. Grief and emotional scars seeped in, but it forced me to nurture myself, work on my own shortcomings, practice gratitude and believe that I was enough and capable of success through my dedication, leadership and work ethic. Moreover, my suffering allowed me to further connect and empathize with others’ pain. I aspired to touch as many different lives as I could. Perhaps, they could see a bit of me in themselves and take that scary first baby step to move on.
At the same time, I couldn’t contain all the emotions. As an innately emotional person, I knew that to be true to myself. I needed to acknowledge how much my ex influenced my life. I missed him and even trained myself to stop expecting his routine morning texts. Recognizing that someone who you genuinely loved is not coming back is one of the most difficult and complex situations any person could endure.
My mind spun into a haze when he suggested that we FaceTime. The thought of seeing his emotions — loneliness, sadness and regret — made my heart race. While I do not agree with certain events that transpired and struggle with the pain it caused me, it never dawned on me, until I saw his face virtually, that he also suffered. It was validating to see the mark I left on him no matter how he hid it and how privately or courageously he coped.
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On FaceTime, we laughed hysterically about nonsense, glowed in pride as we congratulated each other on professional achievements that we originally started together and softly spoke on the edge of tears when inquiring about each other’s wellbeing. The happy moments were intense and it was in those moments I felt suspended in time. I saw the person I first fell in love with. Unquestionably, I saw how the loss of an active friendship affected the two of us. Circumstances can be so hard and at times, seemingly unfair.
I selfishly wanted to keep him there at that moment, as I knew the chance may never come again. Nevertheless, I trudged that delicate balance of acceptance and wishful thinking. There was no morning text the next day, but I impulsively sent him a Bollywood song. A polite, but the short response came hours later. The moment had escaped. Now, it was just suspended in the past. I shook my head and laughed.
While anxiety about the future feels overwhelming, I am ready for the next stage of my life and can happily say that I have reached a level of peace and self-confidence that I did not have before. Like many women, breakups forced me to self-reflect and grow in dealing with pain. Like many women in quarantine, self-reflection pushed me. I’m proud of this growth.
2020 was a tumultuous time for all of us, yet it has showcased our individual and collective resilience. Our life experiences from boredom to heartbreak, to depression, amongst others, were amplified during the pandemic. Yet we learned to navigate the mountain of emotions throughout months of loss, racial tensions and uncertainty. My hope is it has made us a little gentler with ourselves and realize the importance of our emotional and mental health. We must not see our feelings as trivial or moments meant to be ignored, but instead as a means to acquire real healing and the perseverance to grow into the healthiest versions of ourselves.