When my brother and his first wife announced they were divorcing, my mom was shocked. She couldn’t fathom why her son and daughter-in-law would split. She was close to them, she explained, and had never noticed they were unhappy.
My parents were blindsided. They felt foolish. They had opened their hearts to a previously-divorced, white woman—who remains to this day one of the best people I know—and this was the result. Divorce was taboo for my parents’ generation, and a divorced son was shameful.
I was surprised at my mom’s surprise. Of course, my brother and my sister-in-law weren’t happy! You would have to be blind to miss that during the seven years after they eloped, they were profoundly incompatible. I was confounded at how my mother could have missed the misery radiating off my brother and his wife. It was a shroud they were wrapped in.
But why would my parents recognise an unhappy couple? In the India of their youth, happiness didn’t matter. Staying married was the only option. Your wife might be abusive; your husband could cheat on you; none of that meant a thing. You were stuck with your spouse until one of you died. So, my parents never gave much
credence to happiness because it wasn’t their expectation.
As a child, my happiness was likewise irrelevant. I was expected to perform, no matter my emotional state. My story is the dark side of the immigrant tale. Nothing was taught to me directly. I was meant to glean life lessons and morality from the ether, just as my parents had. Unlike them, however, I was an immigrant growing up in the United States. I was raised on a continent far from our Indian homeland, so I came of age without guidance or direction from the Kashmiri community.
My parents liked having young kids, but my growing up was not in their reckoning. Aside from hectoring me through school, they had no idea how to guide me to adulthood. As a typical Indian-American child, my first responsibility was to please my parents. I was never encouraged to focus on myself as a young person. And to this day, that is my habit. I have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility.
This month, our magazine’s theme is love, and I can write you volumes on the topic: how I love my husband, my children, my relatives and my friends. But I struggle to love myself. I am kind to those under my protection but ruthless around my own shortcomings. My inner voice is my critical parent, lamenting over my failures.
In 2020, with great courage and resolve, I exited from the endless, negative feedback loop I was gifted by my family of origin. I have worked hard on myself, and I have had a chance to think about my life from a place of peace, joy and hope. I am learning to appreciate the life that I have and to love the elements that make it mine.
I’m struggling to make sense of it all at the moment. I’m not where I am meant to be yet, but I am making progress. My belief system has been swept aside, and I’m scrabbling for purchase. But I’ve begun my journey to be more honest and accepting of my flaws. Life is messy. We all struggle. It’s time to peel back the layers.
I have spent five years telling you cute stories but now I want to share some darker ones, as well. I hope you will accompany me on my next chapter.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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