This American Life: A Promise | Anupama Menon

This is a continuation of Anupama’s journey in America. The first, second, third, and fourth parts to this story can be found, respectively, here, here, here, and here.

Two years ago, around March of 2010: it is 7:45 in the morning. I am driving my Lexus SUV to work, in Columbus, Ohio. The air is chill – not cold. The sun is bright – not hot. The trees are covered with the most amazing flowers. One of my all-time favorite songs is being played on the stereo. A few minutes back when I left home, I said goodbye to my son and my parents. I glanced at the full length mirror in my room – in a knee length skirt, a perfect top, and a bag to match the skirt, it is just one of those days when I felt good about looking just right.

The drive to my office took about half an hour – the half hour that set the tone to my day. Everything about that day screamed perfection! I was driving a car that held a prominent place in my list of dream cars, to a job that could not have been closer to my description of the perfect job, working for a boss I adored and with colleagues I loved. My parents were at home, playing with my son. My husband, working in another city during the week, was due home that evening for a long weekend. The original CD player in the car, with the best speakers, made the songs sound as though it was being performed live. There were no recent reports of ill health or other issues with any of our family members back home in India. I remember being too scared to actually verbalize my thoughts and admit that life could not be any more perfect!

I froze that moment – just so that I could revisit it as and when I felt.

It is two years later now. I could not be further away from that day – physically and otherwise. I am halfway across the globe, trying to find my way in London. Learning the ways of a new country, with my five year old son leading the way. A great place to live in itself, our life in London cannot be compared to anything we had in the US. To the annoyance of my husband and all our friends here, I refer back to my life in US once every few minutes. Although I don’t mean it in a way that life is better there than here, I don’t explicitly correct the feeling that might arise.

By the end of April/May of 2010, I knew for sure that I would not spend the end of 2010 in the US. Ajith had already left and now it was only a matter of him giving me a date. One of my senior colleagues quit the company to take up another job and a huge portion of her work responsibilities were assigned to me. I got trained on new software and new market research techniques. It was definitely not a Fortune 500 biz, but it was everything that I had wanted. During team meetings, I would look at the senior management and notice three out of four VPs being women – all promoted from within. I definitely had a shot. I fell head over heels in love with my job all over again. I contemplated asking Aji to come back to see whether we could continue in the States.

Sometime in the first week of August, Ajith confirmed his offer in London and asked me to put in my papers at The Dispatch. I picked the Monday of the following week to tell my boss about it and officially give my notice. I desperately hoped that Monday would never come by, but sadly it did. My parents had already left to India and so I had to rehearse my resignation pitch by saying it to Appu. I was kind of surprised that he acted as if he could not care less. Anyway, Monday morning crept up and I promptly cried all the way to work from Appu’s day care. I looked like a voodoo doll when I reached the work place, with mascara and eyeliner all over my face. Nevertheless, I marched into my boss, Sam’s, office and blurted out my resignation. I could not decide then, and do not know now, which was a greater loss – a job that I loved or working for a person like Sam.

My official countdown to stepping out of US had begun and it tore me apart every step of the away. I began dismantling my house and life of ten years and categorizing it into piles – ‘to take’, ‘to sell’, ‘to give away’, ‘to trash’. A vast majority of the things progressed through the stages as time went on, starting at “to take” in the very beginning and reaching the trash can few hours before I actually boarded the plane. Friends pitched in with all their might.

The worst feeling ever was when I had to give away my car – I’d had it only for a year, but it was my sanctuary. The drive to work usually took half hour – 30 minutes of pure bliss – heaven on four wheels. I would listen to the news or to a CD – and just simply enjoy the drive. In the evening, I could not wait to get back behind the steering wheel. Later in September, when Katya came to test drive the car to buy it, as much as I wanted her to buy it, I was disappointed that she loved the car as much as I did. In two days, in exchange of a few thousand dollars, she drove the car away from my parking lot. I stood there on the balcony of my home, watching the car till it was out of sight.

By the third week of September, everything else was sold and the rest packed.

Ten years of my life in six suitcases.

I gave away a few of my prized possessions to friends. Every tiny thing that I handed over to someone brought back a little flashback of memory with it – the place where I bought it from or the reason for which I had bought it or something else. I could not bother my friends with the trivia but I hoped that they would take care of it the same way I did. That they would treat it as a part of their life and not as an object.

On Sep 22nd, I boarded my flight from Columbus, Ohio to JFK, New York. The flight was at 6:00 in the morning and three of my friends came to the airport to see me off. I remember standing in the line for the security check and wondering whether there could be a way for me to turn back. I could not comprehend that I was leaving everything I had known for so long, to go and try my luck in another alien land. But the decision was made and I had followed through – there was no giving up now. I held my son’s hand tight – scared that I would run back – and waited for the line to clear.

A few hours later, inside the plane to Dubai, I bid goodbye to the US for good. In a few minutes, my entire life in the US rushed past. The finality of my one way ticket hit me. I would never come back here. I might – as a visitor/tourist – but it will never be the same. I remember feeling low and bawling my eyes out before I left for the US from India, ten years ago. But that was different. I could go back to India any time I wished. That was my home country. This was not the case with the US. I was there for a purpose – to study and work. I had accomplished what I had to and now I had officially no business in the US of A. But somewhere between my first step into America and my goodbye, I had come to love the place, its people, and – more importantly – the way this vast country worked – seamlessly, like relentless clockwork. Before you draw conclusions, let me clarify – I am not Americanized – not at all, not one bit. I am as Indian as an Indian can be. And I guess that is the beauty of this place and its people – it allows you to live and accepts you for who you are. It lends you the confidence to remain yourself and plunge head first into the American lifestyle.

It has now been more than seven months since I left the States. Not a single day goes by without my thinking about our life there. I notice that I mention it to anyone and everyone at the slightest chance. I crib about little things that do not matter and make a big deal about things I don’t even notice. I am not even sure whether I was this pleased with America on a daily basis when I lived there.

All said and done, the US was home away from home for me. It is where I set up my first home as a family and it is where my son was born. It is where I found my career-love for life and learnt that you can actually love what you do; I learnt to see the beauty in leafless trees in winters and love the sunlight that reflects from a blanket of pure white snow on the ground. I could go on and on for hours …

Every second day, I dream about going back to the US. I wish Ajith would get back from work one day and tell me that he misses it as much and that he wants to go back.

But then again, I am reminded of a much talked about phenomenon – one where the picture that you have in your mind is far more superior to the actual one. I am scared – almost certain, I might go back and find that life in America is not actually without faults – the little hairline cracks in the ever so perfect life, which I am consciously looking over now. The 20+ hour journeys to India, the brutally exhausting immigration system, the quintessential American culture that we know our son will pick up & grow to like in his teenage years and, come to think of it, a few other issues.

Now that I see it written in black and white, I guess there is no such thing as PERFECT.

Looking really hard at the flashback tapes, I see that I was kind of in a similar situation for the first few months in the US. I hated the winter, hated the flawless system, people who smiled at strangers…but then I grew to like it…or rather, it grew on me.

I see a ray of hope now.. Maybe I will learn to love the UK…slowly, but surely. Without ever loving it as much as the US, maybe I’ll learn to live with it. As unlikely as it seems, I hope I will learn to enjoy travelling in buses/trams and see the charm it has to offer, without ever forgetting my first love. And maybe the opportunity to work in London and travel around Europe at our convenience is not something to be particularly unhappy about.

So, with you all as my e-witnesses, I undertake this journey and promise myself to open my mind to this new place, to give it a fair chance – and to stay true to myself and enjoy life every step of the way.

For all this ado about nothing, maybe I ll show up five years with a write up about how wonderful the UK is and how I missed the life here for the ten years prior.

Looking forward to seeing you all on the other side of the fence…

Anupama Manon is in her early thirties, cruising through life with her partner in crime, Ajith, and a five year old, Hari. She’s not ashamed to admit that she loves life, and likes to give an impression that she lives life on the edge. Juggling a zillion projects at most times, she finds that twenty-four hours in a day is definitely not sufficient. A market researcher by day, Anu recently registered her own market research consulting firm in London. She loves travelling, photography, reading, listening to music, watching movies, writing, her day job, and just planning in general – planning for anyone, anything, anywhere: birthday parties, potluck dinners, corporate events – you name it! She also hates cooking, and will do anything conceivable to avoid it, but loves eating…is that the definition of laziness?

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