One picture can represent so much.
Five months after I met M, I moved to a college town four hours away. I had applied to that school even before I met M, and I wasn't going to change my plans just because I'd met some boy.
I was very sad and lonely there, as I am not what you would call an extrovert. Or outgoing. Or friendly. Of eighteen months I lived there, finishing up the last of my Bachelor's degree, I stayed in that town by myself only three weekends. I stayed three more weekends when I had visitors. (Twice my best friend, once my parents.) I didn't make a single lasting friend from that time in my life. It's hard to make friends if you're never there, and every weekend I would drive home. I spent almost every Saturday with M.
We fell into quite a routine. Especially considering I was supposed to be falling into a routine in another town hours away. Where I was going to school and had a job and paying money to rent a room. But I couldn't seem to help myself, and every weekend without fail, I'd spend eight hours in my car, on my way to my M.
Even though I remember being miserable a lot of that time - all except Saturdays - I only feel happy remembering it. That's what time can do, make you forget hardship and remember only the good things, the happy times. I remember hating to see a certain highway sign because it meant being away, leaving. (Plus a couple of hefty speeding tickets.) But I've driven on that highway once since, as a newlywed with my M by my side on our way home after visiting family for Thanksgiving. I could no longer remember hating that road. In my head, it wasn't the road that had taken me AWAY from M, I only remembered it as the road that had taken me TO M so many times.
Those Saturdays when I would visit, M would sometimes plan elaborate outings. Miniature golf. Science Museum. Going with his friend who was test driving Audis and BMWs. (Fun day!) Sometimes he wouldn't plan anything at all. We'd watch a movie. Once I sat on a couch and read a book while he worked on a paper for hours.
He would cook for me a lot, too. The first Pakistani food he made was ground beef with peas served rolled up in pita bread. Once when I was sick, he called his mother for a chicken soup recipe she made for him when he was sick. Needless to say, it was not the chicken soup I was used to having when I was sick - but I liked it. (When I asked M for his input for this post, he reminded me that I took the soup leftovers with me and my dad really liked it.)
In the picture above you can see a blue dish with a helping of some channa daal M had cooked when I had visited him. He'd given me the leftovers to take to school with me, with pita bread because he knew I wouldn't have any at home. To thank him for being so kind, I'd written him a thank you email and I took this picture to show him how much I'd enjoyed his hand-packed meal.
In the picture there are other little things, too. In the left hand corner you can just barely make out two books, one black and one blue; my copy of Teach Yourself Urdu and a biography of Muhammadﷺ. The biography had been given to me by one of M's friends. I had bought myself Teach Yourself Urdu. A few months later, one of M's close friends would visit Pakistan and M would ask him to bring back books to help me learn Urdu. I didn't like the Teach Yourself book and it hadn't been helping me. The friend called M to say that he'd found a good book with the basics and a tape of conversational Urdu. He'd called from Pakistan to make sure I could play a tape in this age of CDs (I could) and he brought it back all the way from Islamabad in his precious limited luggage space.
Unfortunately it was the same Teach Yourself Urdu book. Now I had two copies.
In the picture there's also a clear glass bracelet. Since first hearing about these glass bangles, I'd wanted some of my own. It took a while, but M eventually did buy me some. We drove on his motorcycle to the only desi bazaar he knew of and he let me pick out the ones I wanted. The lady behind the counter was very nice and helped me find the right size - it looked several sizes too small, but she showed me how she eased hers onto her hand.
Outside, in the parking lot, I tried to put one of the bracelets on like the woman had shown me but it broke as I tried to ease it over my thumb, it's glass shards slicing two deep cuts into the flesh on the back of my hand. Riding on the back of M's motorcycle on the way home, I bled all over his clothes. Later he would show me how I could use soap and water or lotion to get the too-small bracelets onto my too-large wrist, but I would still break them one by one over the course of the next few weeks and months. Eventually I would have only one bracelet left which would somehow outlast the rest. It lasted so long that all the green paint wore off and it was completely clear. When it broke, I saved the pieces.
All of these stories - this history - comes flooding back when I look at this one little, insignificant picture. It's not just the mendhi on my hand, a bracelet, a plate food, my dorm room desk. It is so much more.