Is there a limit?” asked my friend who I happened to meet over the weekend. At 27, she is expecting her second baby.

We studied chemical science together. Missing lectures, attending practicals which were few and far spaced in the academic calendar, whiling away time in the college canteen, staying at each other’s places under the disguise of college submissions, wandering to unknown places, watching movies, we were more sisters than friends. Who said only blood relations come a long way? Upon graduation, while I turned the page to a professional start, she decided to get married to a man she knew for 2 years, then.

Half arranged, half in love, she stepped into a marriage I could’ve never braced at 21.

Her eyes twinkled with mirth as she narrated tales of her new life. Tales that did not stay longer to keep her happiness going. Soon, I found her smiles loaded with lies and her face a mask of hidden anguish and regrets, desperation for dead dreams so obvious that life seemed so cruel to me as an onlooker, while word by word each time she wrote the letter of resignation, resignation from hope, life, her dreams and herself, gradually inching toward closure.

My heart aches for her. Each time, every time.  Every few months when we meet, sitting face to face, at either sides of the table, opposite to each other, makes me realize how really worlds apart we have gone, we are opposite in every sense, not just in that moment but in every page, every way, every phase of life.

You’re the only one I ever had who never asked me why I did things I did. Maybe because you trusted me enough. Maybe because you never cared enough. And yet, I knew I always have you”. I watch her while she says this and also how she wished we were back in those days when missing lectures and defaulting attendance were the only regrets we had. I watch her, solemn, without a word, while she has her eyes focused on the table, her overgrown red-painted nails playing with the crumbs of bread left behind from the bagel sandwich we just finished.

She wouldn’t look at me. It was on purpose. I know she didn’t want to face me. She couldn’t face me. How would she? Wasn’t I the one who always chagrined about her marriage, her hasty decisions, persuading her to follow her dreams?

She finally looked up and large beads of tears travelled down her cheeks. Her big beautiful eyes I always teased her about were so numb, tired of the struggles of the life she accepted while least prepared. True, we can never predict nor be totally prepared to face what challenges lie ahead of us, but time teaches us a lot and of that I am sure. We need to give ourselves time. Sometimes, we make the mistake of deciding against it.

I hated her when she went ahead with her decisions. Getting married at an age one hardly even knows the responsibilities that lie ahead. I hated her when she battled against death in the dingy room of the hospital while she delivered her first baby. That she survived is only a miracle. I hated her when one after another she sliced each of her dreams for her family that hardly ever acknowledged her efforts.

And with time, she only reminded me of what she was and what she became. I can try and be nice and clap her back for all her sacrifices all those years. But, I cannot.  Because I know they’ve come for a price. Dreams traded for disappointments.

Sitting with her, watching the words escape her lips in a deadpan voice, I barely know what to say.  “Is there a limit?” she asks. “To what?” I’m tempted to ask back. “To madness, insanity, dumbness, imbecility? To what?” But I don’t because I don’t know a better way of doing this without hurting her.  So I let her speak. After a moment, she asks again, “Is there a limit to pain, disappointments, sacrifices, regrets?”

I don’t know what to say.

I go back in time to that day, the year when we were 21. A month after graduation. I wanted to tell her about the new job I’d got. And she told me she was giving up her dream to be a Math teacher; she was getting married instead. I kept a tight lid on the overflowing cauldron of happiness in my heart and took back home the surging sea of despair that I could barely suppress.

-Asha Seth