Heart shaped face, big brown eyes, and full rosy lips. The only thing that could steal the spotlight from her beauty was her even more vibrant personality. I came over to her house often. I loved watching her in the natural space of her home, where the outside world could not change her character. After a long day of teaching, she returned to her family without a trace of exhaustion. Before she could even sit down to catch her breath, she scurried over to her son to kiss him and hold him in her arms. I could see the love she had for him trickle down from her body and drench his as they hugged. She then made her way to greet her mother and her husband to ask about their day and to know what they wanted for dinner. She was a selfless person and I did not want to be her.
She was on her feet every time I looked her way: cooking her son’s favorite chicken-pepper pasta, steaming vegetables to make soup for her diabetic mother, cubing thick chunks of beef for her husband’s stew. The sweltering heat of the kitchen dampened the edges of her hair with beads of sweat. The shadows under her eyes revealed the truth she hid behind her smile. She was tired. Her life was exhausting.
As I watched her, I thought about how she came to live this way. After raising her son on her own for the first five years, her husband brought them to the U.S. to live with him. He immediately made her apply for a job at a fast food chain to help pay for their living expenses. As an educated woman, she did not see herself working as a cashier for the rest of her life, hence she decided to get a college degree in the U.S. While she was working a full-time job, attending college and raising her child, her husband decided to quit his job. He justified his decision by telling her that he has done enough for them and no longer wants to work. From then on, all the responsibilities of the family came down on her shoulders.
The decision her husband made was the first domino that knocked over a series of conflicts that took place throughout her life. These conflicts tore holes in her that she covered for the sake of her family. I knew these holes existed through the endless conversations we shared during our free time. Hearing the hurt in her voice made me wish I could turn back time to save her. But what would I change? Would I stop her from getting an arranged marriage? If I stop her from marrying the husband she has now, how can I be sure the next person would not be the same? These thoughts I had left my mind when I realized she expected me to have one as well. She did not view arranged marriage as the culprit. When she saw the horror on my face with the thought of having an arranged marriage, she reassured me that my family will choose the right person for me when the time comes. But I did not share the same view as her. From watching her, I realized this part of our culture is broken, and I want to learn how it can be changed.