Dr. Shahzad A Rizvi is a great writer based in Washington. He has been penning novels and short stories with great aplomb and verve and has attained much popularity. Here is one of pieces of his fine works – a short story titled as “Breakup”
Mary stopped coming home directly from work, as she had always done. As an explanation, she said, “I’ve met a couple. I stopped by their house. They live on the way home.” It didn’t sound very satisfactory, but I didn’t probe.
Mary and I had been married for 26 years and had reached a level of co-existence. She was a little older than me and when we first met, I was struck by how much she knew. Since childhood, I’d loved knowledge and learning, and I thought I could learn from her. But, over the years, not only had I bridged our knowledge gap, I’d surpassed it.
The glue which had initially bound us together was gone. But it didn’t matter. We had children together; they had grown up and gone, and were doing fine. We understood each other, or so I thought, and found comfort in the predictability of our marriage, even if there was little mutuality and less passion.
Mary’s visits to this “couple” began to extend now to weekends and holidays. She was no longer around to do even the few things we’d done together lately. So I began to seek company elsewhere, and accept invitations to parties, something I’d always disliked. But these expanded social horizons opened up sides of me I hadn’t known existed. I discovered that I could talk to lots of people and keep them hanging on my words.
At one of these parties, a woman walked up to me and introduced herself as Sandy. We began to talk and couldn’t stop. After many years, her marriage was falling apart, she told me. She’d put up with her husband’s shenanigans for years, but now things had reached a critical mass. They were separating and she was looking for a new beginning. I told her about my own marriage and my wife’s absences. Sandy found the arrangement very strange.
We became friends, and began to see each other regularly, mostly during the lunch hours. She liked me more than she’d ever liked anybody before, she told me, but she saw no romantic future for us. She had no interest in jumping into a relationship with a married man. She really wanted to get it right the second time.
Sightings of Mary with a young man began to be reported. Everybody was very confused, including our children—especially our children. Was she having a mid-life crisis, they wondered?
Sandy’s divorce finally came through when we’d been friends for a year. Mary’s never being home had given us a chance to spend lots of time together. We decided to celebrate her divorce by going to the cabin that Mary and I had had built many years before. It was only an hour’s drive outside Washington D.C., in the Virginia countryside.
It was a pleasant drive, with sunshine falling on our heads and breezes caressing our cheeks. As we approached the cabin, we were startled by the sight of Mary and the young man in the distance. They had just come out of the car and were locked in an embrace. This was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on this young man. He was tall and good-looking. As I watched my wife in an intimate moment with this stranger, a few moments seemed like an eternity. They disappeared into the cabin. I sat staring at the closed door behind which Mary and I had spent so many weekends while the kids were growing up.
Sandy touched my shoulder and jolted me out of my reverie. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. We drove in silence back toward Washington. She was driving now and took us to her house. When we emerged from the car, Sandy wrapped her arms around me and kissed my lips, as she had never done before. I had the feeling that something fundamental had changed between us.
As shocked as I’d been by what I’d seen Mary do, I also felt liberated. I no longer felt bound to her. If Mary was having an affair, our marriage was over. Now what was to stop Sandy and me from starting a relationship? We went into her house together. We stayed up all night, sharing things about our lives that we’d never shared before. As the first rays of sun entered the bedroom, Sandy and I vowed to spend our future together.
Later in the day, Mary called me at the office and said that she had been trying to reach me and asked where I had been. “With friends,” I responded curtly. She wanted to tell me something very important, she said, and hung up.
When I arrived home that night, Mary was there, which was a first in a very long time. She looked disheveled, unkempt and anxious. She had some pictures arrayed on the dining table. The first picture I recognized immediately as that of the young man. I looked at the photos; I’d never seen any of them before. The last was a picture of an infant lying in a crib.
“This is my baby…my child that I gave away,” she said, and began to cry. I tried to comfort her, but I wasn’t sure what I was comforting her for.
Through her sobs, she told me her story: “When I was a teenager and studying at Michigan State, I got pregnant from my boyfriend. He turned out to be a big disappointment, but I decided to go on with the pregnancy and have the child. But there was no way I could keep the baby. First of all, I had no means to do it. Second, there was a lot of stigma about having a child out of wedlock in those days. So I gave him up, but it broke my heart. A schoolteacher adopted him and raised him like her own child.
“After I married you, I thought about him constantly but couldn’t bring myself to tell you about it. Then you joined the State Department and every two years, we were posted at a different embassy overseas. Meanwhile, my baby grew into a man. When his adopted mother died, he began to search for his biological mother. But it wasn’t easy, because it had been arranged as a closed adoption. His attempts were also complicated because we moved so often.
“After more than two decades abroad, we were posted here in Washington. One day, I got a letter forwarded by the university alumni association. When I opened it, there was a letter from my son, describing his life with his other mother, his search for me, and finally his present life. He wrote that he hoped that the letter would reach me, since all he knew was my maiden name and that I’d studied at Michigan State. He said that he would love to see me, if I were willing.
“He, of course, included his address, and when I read it I couldn’t believe it. He lived about a mile away, on the very same street as we do. It was simply incredible. I couldn’t believe my luck. I immediately called him and went over to see him. Our meeting was charged with emotion. We talked for hours. He’s married and has an adopted child. His wife has been very understanding and has given us lots of room. Now you know about the young man I’ve been seeing. I’m sorry I took such a long time to tell you.”
“I’m happy that you’ve found your long-lost son,” I told her. “I wish I had known about him from the beginning. That would have spared me lots of confusion and heartache. Every year I saw you go into a deep depression on the 4th of March, which I now understand must have coincided with his birth and your giving him up. And I would have been able to make sense of your constant absences in this past year. I would have understood your deep need to be with your son. But now, I’m sorry to say, it’s too late. My life has moved on. I’ve begun a life with another.”