We skirted around one another at first. Strained glances over meals, stilted conversations where you'd start off with eager questions and I'd give you short, one-word answers just to see your smile falter. When you weren't home, I'd read wherever I pleased, but when you were, I'd make sure we were in different rooms. You'd find packed lunches set out on the counter before you went to work, return home to cleaned rooms and warm dinners of chapati, thakali chutney, whatever I was in the mood for. (You never had a preference on what I should make - you seemed uncomfortable when I asked, so I learned not to.) Sometimes I'd grit my teeth as I moved around the kitchen, resentful my Astrophysics degree had led to a life where I took care of my husband as I would a child. I'd known my life would look like this after marriage, accepted it even, but I could not stop the simmering disquiet from making a home in my skin.
I didn't last two months into our marriage. Your face relaxed as I talked, no traces of surprise. You told me I didn't have to ask your permission to pursue a career, I only needed my own. I looked at you differently after that. I remembered thinking when you and your parents first came to my family's house, I could do worse. I think it now, with less bitterness and more acceptance. My dissatisfaction had made a comfortable home out of me, so don't warm to you immediately, but I promise myself I will give you a chance.
You don't do all the heavy-lifting in our conversations anymore. I ask after you, about work, family. Exchanging words is hard, at first. But you try, so I try. You join me in the kitchen in the mornings to help cook and start reading some of my books so we can discuss them. I get a job at a physics lab and you drive me to work every day. Talking becomes easier and more natural, until some days, we don't finish our chai in the morning because we talk for far too long and realize we have to hurry or we'll be late for work.
We have our first big argument when you won't stop mentioning moving to the U.S. and I sink my heels into the ground and refuse to budge. I go to a friend's, relish my freedom, but by the turn of the week I realize I miss your lopsided smile. When I walk through our front door, you jump to your feet. Neither of us know where to start. You begin rambling and somewhere in that mass of words, you agree not to leave our home. I say thank you because we both know if you decided you wanted to move, there would've been little I could do to stop you. You just nod, smile in relief, and ask if I want to join you in throwing breadcrumbs outside for the crows that crowd our windows.
We learn that day we can survive a bad fight and become closer because of it. I still hesitate sometimes when I criticize you, and you still hesitate when proposing some of your grand plans, but we learn to work through it. We instate a nightly tradition of winding down with Netflix and store-bought snacks. After all the talking we've done, we learn to appreciate the companionable silence. I finally go to get my own license and you wait for me outside the DMV, a huge smile on your face because you already know I'll pass.
When I tell you I'm expecting, you wrap your arms around my waist, a gesture that's become second-nature over the years. You ask me if I want to have the baby and I say yes, yes, of course, and you weep, damping my shoulders with your tears. I think of how I was so scared of having an arranged marriage, scared we would end up like my parents, with nothing but years of bitten tongues and lost trust between us. I thank every deity I know that you've become my best friend, that we talked and you listened and supported me all those years ago, and I hold you close.