Long Distance is a Bitch Ch. 01byshiprat©
Note - This is my 2nd attempt at writing a story. I hope it pleases most of you. Fair note - it has infidelity, so if that angers you, like some of the comments on my last story, stop here, and go somewhere else. I thought that fiction is, by definition, understood to not be real. But the rage in some of the comments here makes me wonder. No one is begging these ranters to come and read these stories. The fact that you read them and then rant about them shows how idiotic and insecure you are. I also DO NOT appreciate the blatantly and shamelessly racist comments that a lot of idiots post on stories by writers with origins in the Indian subcontinent. How ignorant do you have to be in this day and age to slur an entire people? Any racist comment which uses racist slurs will be deleted at once.
I was sitting in a coffee shop downtown in a New Jersey college town working on a term paper, when the cellphone rang. It was Parag, my boyfriend.
"Hi sweetie!" I answered enthusiastically. "Just 48 hours!"
"Ummm.... Hi Anar." he said in a voice that immediately gave portends of what was about to come.
"Shit! Don't tell me! DO NOT FUCKING TELL ME!" I said. By now, the pattern was all too obvious.
"I am sorry darling, but I can't make it this weekend. Dr. Jones is really cracking the whip and....."
"WHAT THE FUCK!" I said a lot louder than I intended, drawing stares from the dozen or so patrons of the coffee shop and the barista.
"Please try to understand, Anar."
"No, you understand something, Parag. I am enrolled in a Masters program pretty much identical to yours. I didn't even want to fucking come to the United States. I was...."
"Yeah yeah, you were happy working as a code coolie in India." Parag said, his contrition suddenly turning to sarcasm. "I am the one responsible for throwing you in the nightmare that is America!"
"I don't think it's a nightmare." I said in a calm but frigid voice. "I quite like it here. I manage to get all my work done through the week and keep the weekend free for you! You're the one who keeps cancelling."
"Anar, I don't enjoy cancelling my trips. It's not like I love staying in North Carolina all the time. But the work really is...."
"The work is too much? Again, I am in pretty much the same program as yours, Parag. In a higher ranked university!"
"Well...." Parag seemed lost for words for a while but came back with an unsavory zinger. "It's not my fault that I am not a hot woman whom Professors take it easy on."
I silently seethed in anger at what he had just said. He stayed silent too. There was dead air on the phone for about a minute. Finally I gathered my thoughts and said,
"You asshole! Are you implying that I somehow have it easy, being a woman?"
"No, I am not saying that." Parag replied hesitantly.
"I work my butt off getting everything done, Parag. I have to work twice as hard as anyone to be taken seriously." I said, feeling my voice rise again.
"I am sure you do, honey. But you have to realize...."
"I don't have to do anything. You're the one who has to work harder instead of hanging out with your buddies playing stupid video games."
"Hey, those games help me relax!" Parag shot back.
"No they don't. They distract you from your work. If you had not wasted your time on those stupid MMORPG games...."
"They are not stupid. The gaming industry last year......."
"..... brought in more revenue than Hollywood. Yes I know. You keep repeating that idiotic little factoid you gleaned from NPR."
"Idiotic?" Parag said, now sounding upset. "You know what, even if I didn't have to work this weekend, I'd rather spend it playing those stupid games than take the bus to meet you!"
"Is that so? Fine then! Go stick your dick in a video game console!"
I said and ended the call. I stared at the phone angrily for a few moments and then looked around. Most people were ignoring me, but in their earnest indifference, I detected the hint of the fact that they had heard me have a big fight with my boyfriend. I cursed him and his video games in my mind and turned my attention to the term paper.
"Hi, excuse me...sorry to bother you...." a voice in my periphery said a few minutes later.
I looked up and saw a vaguely familiar face belonging to a man slightly older than me. He had a mop of brown hair and a brown goatee surrounding a friendly smile. He wore a white Coldplay t-shirt and stonewashed jeans. I had a strong feeling I knew him from somewhere, but couldn't quite place him. But just to be on the safe side, I flashed him a polite smile and said,
"Hi! How're you doing?"
"I'm good." he said and paused. Then he said, "I was wondering....are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." I said, trying to sound as nonchalant as I could.
"Okay....well...I was sitting on the next table and couldn't help overhearing....and since we see each other every day, I thought I'd just check up on you." he said.
I looked at him trying to keep a smile on my face, but trying really hard to figure out where I knew him from. He must have read my mind, because he said
"You have no idea who I am, do you?"
"I am sorry," I said feeling guilty. "You look familiar but I can't quite...."
"It's okay. I guess I look a lot different when I am not wearing a janitor's uniform." he said and smiled.
And then it dawned on me. He was one of the janitors in the department where I was a graduate student. He didn't work on the floor my office was in, but I did see him around the building on a daily basis. Especially when I went out of the building for a smoking break, and he was also there, silently puffing away at his Parliaments.
"Oh yeah! I am so sorry. I just didn't...."
"Don't be sorry. It's not like janitors and graduate students fraternize a lot. I only know you by sight cos I have seen you at the smoker's corner with your Camels. I don't know your name though."
"I am Anar." I said, extending a hand towards him. He took my hand in his and squeezed it gently.
"I am Dustin." He said and asked, "Say, do you mind if I join you at this table? I hate having coffee alone."
"Sure." I said. He seemed friendly enough. Dustin pulled up the chair in front of mine and sat down.
"So as I said, I couldn't help overhearing....."
"Yeah, sorry about that. I didn't mean to be so loud." I said apologetically.
"Oh no, that's fine. I was just wondering if I could be of any help. I've been in such situations a lot."
"Well, long distance relationships. Troubled relationships. Fights. Arguments. So if you wanna talk about it with someone, feel free to unload on me."
I looked at him for a moment. Dustin seemed friendly enough but I barely knew him. I didn't feel comfortable sharing the problems in my love life with him. But he was just trying to be helpful. So I politely said,
"Oh it's okay. I don't wanna bore you. It's just the same old thing. Same old fight. Nothing too serious."
"My girlfriend and I also keep having reruns of our fights." Dustin said, as the waitress got his cup of coffee and put it in front of him. "There are two episodes that are on the rerun all the time. One is, why don't I give up trying to be a musician and get a real job. "
"A musician?" I asked, surprised.
"Yeah, you don't think I am a career janitor, do you? I took this job just to pay the rent. I am part of a band. I am the bass guitarist."
"Wow, I had no idea!" I said, realizing that this janitor was a lot more interesting than he first appeared. "What kind of music do you play?"
"Oh we don't like to label ourselves. But it is kinda punk folksy alternative indie rock with underground and Brit-pop influences."
I chuckled at the complex but vague description.
"Yeah, I know. Sounds wishy-washy. But that's kinda our sound! When we make it big, we'll start our own genre." Dustin said, taking a sip of his coffee.
"And your girlfriend wants you to give it up?" I asked.
"Yeah, she does. She says I am about to turn 35. My band hasn't even landed decent gigs in Manhattan. Our time is done. Time to move on."
I was surprised to learn that Dustin was 35. As I said, he just looked a few years elder to me. I am 24. I guessed him to be in his late 20s. Maybe he looked younger because he had a small body frame. He wasn't more than 5 ft 8, and could not have weighed more than 160 pounds.
"But you want to keep playing?" I asked the question I assumed I was expected to ask.
"Well, we, my band members and I, figure we should keep doing it as long as it seems right. But my girlfriend insists I should stop. Which is ironic, because I met her at a concert of our band last year. So if it weren't for my band, we wouldn't even be together."
"What does she do?" I asked.
"She is a paralegal in a law firm in Manhattan." Dustin said. "I know, not exactly a high-flying career. But better than being a janitor. Honestly, I don't think the band bothers her as much as my being a janitor on the side."
"So why don't you quit that job?"
"I don't share her condescension towards the profession. You see, my dad was also a janitor at the university. He raised a family of 3 kids on his salary. We never lacked in anything meaningful. So I see now harm being a janitor in my day job while I work on my music."
I nodded, partly in admiration, partly in confusion. As someone raised in India, I instinctively looked down upon those engaging in menial work, janitors being among them. But since I moved to America, I was surprised and impressed at the dignity associated with any kind of labor in this country. How people like plumbers, drivers, carpenters, and yes, janitors, were not thought of as some inferior human beings. Just people doing their jobs. I knew enough about American society by now to know it wasn't exactly egalitarian. But for someone coming from India, the American society did seem to present way way more dignity for blue collar professions.
"I suppose you're right." I said
"I think I am. But she doesn't think so. I think she is embarrassed to tell her trendy Manhattan friends that she is dating a janitor from South Jersey." Dustin said, finishing his coffee.
"And what's the second problem?" I asked.
"Second problem?" Dustin asked, a bit confused.
"You said there were two episodes that keep..."
"Oh yeah! The second problem is, a couple of my female friends that she is always jealous of. She lives in Manhattan so we don't get to spend much time together. Just weekends. So she gets very insecure and jealous." Dustin said.
"And you think she shouldn't be?"
"She shouldn't. I mean, yeah, I admit that I have slept with more than my share of women over the years. But since Vicky and I started dating, I have been completely faithful to her. These female friends are just that, friends. But she gets jealous, and we have fights over them."
I took another look at Dustin. He didn't really seem like an Adonis. Sure, he was cute, with a good personality and an easy manner, but not something that would cause groupies to line up.
"That's shame." I said sympathetically.
"Well, that problem arises from the long distance part of the relationship. I live here in South Jersey and she lives in New York."
"New York? That's just an hour away!" I said, laughing. "Try being in a relationship with someone in North Carolina!"
"Wow, your boyfriend lives in North Carolina???"
"How did you two start dating then?"
"Oh, when we started dating, we both lived in Bombay. We were in the same class in undergrad. Started dating in our second year, or as you Americans call it, sophomore year."
"We were also lucky enough to get a job in the same company where we worked for a year. But Parag...that's his name... always harbored dreams of coming to America for his Masters."
"And you didn't want to?"
"It's not that I didn't want to. I just didn't care as much about it as he did. I would have been perfectly happy in that job, living together in India, getting married, having kids, raising a family."
"But he didn't want to?"
"It's more like he really wanted to come to the US. So he pestered me until I agreed to apply to Masters programs in the US in our field in engineering." I said, finishing my cup of coffee, which by now was really cold. "We applied to the same schools. We were sure we'd get into at least one program together. But as it turned out, I got admits from a bunch of schools totally different from the ones he got into. So we ended up choosing schools that were the closest to each other."
"And that was New Jersey and North Carolina????" Dustin incredulously asked.
"Yeah well, it turns out we hadn't figured out the US geography THAT well when we applied. And to be honest...." I said shrugging, "Parag overestimated his chances despite his grades being a lot lower than mine. So he got a lot fewer admits than I did. And this set-up is what worked best."
"So an 8 hour drive is the closest you could be?"
I shrugged again.
"So what's the problem you to are having?" Dustin asked.
"Well...." I hesitated a bit before answering. But he had told me about his problems in such detail that I felt guilty holding back. "Primarily, we are having trouble coping with the distance. We have never been away from each other before. This is tough."
"Secondarily, I don't think he tries hard enough to meet me. He seems to be behind on his work a lot, and keeps cancelling our plans."
"Well, they say grad school ain't easy."
"Yeah, but I am in fucking grad school too!" I said, testily. Dustin immediately looked apologetic.
"I know. But maybe he's just not as smart as you are."
"Sometimes I think he isn't as concerned about this relationship as I am." I said, and immediately bit my tongue. It was my worst fear, and certainly not one I should have shared with an almost-stranger.
Dustin wanly smiled at me. He gently patted my hand and said,
"I am sure he is. And I am sure it'll all be okay. It'll be okay between you and Parag. And it'll be okay between me and Vicky."
I patted his hand with my other hand and smiled. Dustin nodded his head and then got up.
"Anyway, I have to go for band practice. It was great talking to you." he said. "I'll see you around school. Don't be a stranger, now!"
"I won't. Seeya, Dustin!"
Dustin walked out of the coffee shop and I got back to working on my term paper. ---------------
I got done with the paper at about 10 pm and took a bus back to my apartment. I shared a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 other female Indian grad students. I paid half the rent and had a bedroom to myself. And the other two girls shared the other bedroom. I had chosen this arrangement because I expected Parag to keep visiting me, so I'd need the privacy of my own bedroom. He had made a similar arrangement in his university town in North Carolina for whenever I visited. But after the first month, when one of us braved the 8 hour bus ride to visit the other every weekend, the frequency of the visits had gone down drastically. And the only relief my bedroom offered me was freedom from the bickering of the two stone age bitches who were my roommates.
I shouldn't be too harsh. They weren't exactly bitches. Just very very childish and conservative. Both came from small towns in India so thought and dressed very frumpy. They were both strict vegetarians, and had never touched alcohol or a cigarette. They forbade me from cooking meat in the house, although I was permitted to bring in non-vegetarian food from outside as long as I ate it in my room. And they clearly disapproved of my smoking, although I did it outside the apartment. They also weren't happy at the fact that whenever Parag came over, he slept in my room, and we obviously had sex. They were like two conservative judgmental aunts I never had and never wanted.
But the worst part was, for all their problems with me and my so-called "lifestyle", it was each other that they couldn't get along with. They were always feuding with each other, which made life difficult since they slept in the same room, albeit on different beds. I wasn't even sure what the origin of the feud was. It had something to do with one of them drinking milk from a carton the other bought, or not cleaning the room or some such petty reason. But they kept bickering all the time. It was the worst living situation imaginable.
That night, luckily, there seemed to be some sort of a truce. Both of them were sitting in the living room watching TV. I joined them for a while, and then headed downstairs for a smoke. I could feel their disapproving looks burning into my back when I walked away.
As I lit up my cigarette, the phone rang. It was Parag. He called up to say he was sorry for being such an ass to me. He sounded so earnest that I apologized for being a bitch too. I assured him that I understood if his work this weekend had made him cancel the trip. Parag on his part promised me he'd try to word harder and visit me as soon as he could. We both said "I love you" to each other, and I went to bed feeling a lot better.
Over the next few days, I kept running into Dustin in the department. We usually chatted and exchanged a few words when we met in the corridors. He'd ask me how Parag was doing and I'd inquire after Vicky. Then one day, we both happened to be outside the building at the same time for a smoke. The conversation moved from small talk to elaborate talk. And both of us ended up sharing more information about our love lives than we previously had.
"To be honest, the problem is, I do have a roving eye. But just an eye." Dustin said.
"How do you mean?"
"Vicky is the first serious girlfriend I have had in four years. And I am not quite used to being in a monogamous relationship. And being in a band, I get a lot of opportunities to flirt with pretty women. Lots of temptations."
"But I have never acted on those temptations. The problem is, I usually end up telling Vicky about some of these instances. Like last month, two girls came up to me and our lead singer after a gig we had in a bar downtown. The lead singer is single, so he had no hesitation in turning on his charm at full blast on one of the girls. I was his de-facto wingman so I flirted, within limits, with the other girl. But it never went beyond that. I told about this to Vicky. And instead of appreciating my honesty and fidelity, she lost her cool over the fact that I had agreed to be a wingman."
"Well, it is understandable."
"Is it? If I wanted to cheat on her, why would I tell her these things?"
"But if it disturbs her so much, maybe you should keep it to yourself."
"Oh, I have tried that. But when I don't share such stuff with her, she gets paranoid and keeps asking me about whom I met at the last gig, When she can turnb up for some of the gigs we have, she gets jealous about some female fans flirting with me. And then we spend more of the weekend fighting."
"Yeah it does."
A few days later, Parag and I had another fight. One that made me really hate him. And this time, I sought out Dustin, took him outside the building and started venting.
"It's like he resents me for my success. For my brains. I think he just wants me to be a dumb housewife cooking for him." I started, after Dustin lit my cigarette with his Zippo.
"Come on, I'm sure he is better than that."
"Is he? Do you know what happened today? We both got our midterm results. I aced it. He got a C. Instead of congratulating me, he made snide remarks about my A!"
"What kind of remarks?"
"He said, and I quote 'well, if I were as hot as you, I could get straight A's too.' What the fuck? I slogged my ass off preparing for the midterms."
"I know you did. I saw how late you left every night last week." Dustin said, exhaling smoke.