The first time I saw him, I was a girl. I only thought I saw a handsome foreigner and a beautiful novelty. I admired his dark skin and golden hair. I would hide behind a cabinet in Papa’s office for hours for a glimpse of him or a listen to his soft voice and lilting accent. (I never thought about what it meant, to be so fascinated with a man.) When he left, I gave him a handkerchief I had embroidered over the week, mostly hidden behind the cabinet. I told him I had bought it. I expected I’d never see him again. (I remembered the twisting in my chest in retrospect but didn’t think anything of it at the time.)
The second time I saw him, I was in the garden and he came walking up the drive. My heart skipped a beat. Then I saw my sister come running along beside him. She was laughing. He turned to look at her. My heart stopped, and my tummy turned. I averted my eyes from my discomfort by turning my attention to catching a lizard. When I looked up again with the lizard squirming in my hands, they were holding hands. I didn’t expect him to remember me, or even notice me. But my sister didn’t see me any more than he. My hands tightened around the lizard, and I realized too late that it wasn’t moving anymore.
It was the first time I knew that I’d fallen in love. I only realized because my hands and feet were suddenly freezing and numb like they weren’t getting enough blood, my chest constricting like my heart was wrapping around my trachea in an attempt to strangle me. So this was what it felt when a heart broke.
Three months was plenty of time to grow into a woman. Now I can hide my pain under poise. I offer suitable (if cliched) advice to warm her cold feet. I stay by her side all day while they say their vows. Then I slip away from the congratulatory crowd and into the bathroom, because neither of them even see me there, and the pressure on my chest is growing too heavy to bear. I take a deep breath, and let it out. One tear trickles down my cheek in sync with the breath. It is closely followed by another and another and another, and I can’t convince them to stop.
Footsteps make me realize that I am still in public, and I hastily lock myself in a stall. I hear happily chattering voices enter the bathroom but can’t make sense of what they’re saying. I don’t want to hear.
I never let myself wonder which of the newlyweds I envy more. It wouldn’t make a whit of difference anyway.
In less than ten minutes’ time, my face is dry, and I’m invisible once more at my sister’s side. Now it doesn’t hurt quite so much. I’ve begun to understand: I’m only a symbol to them. But I’m so much more than either of them, and my pain has at last begun to give way to a fire in my belly.
What gives either of them the right to look down at me? Both of them are only in managerial positions because they decided to work at their parents’ companies. They’ve made for themselves a cozy life, complacent and hollow and vacant of personality.
That won’t be me. I still have my whole life ahead of me. Just let them wait and see: one day, they’ll look at me and wonder when I became someone with strength beyond their comprehension. They’ll wonder why they never realized they were losing sight of me. Maybe they’ll criticize me for my “bad business sense” behind my back, the way Papa talks about Auntie. And just like with Papa and Auntie, everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear will know that they only criticize me because they wonder if they could’ve been me, if they’d had a mind to care.
And I will shine.