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Sai's Story

** Trigger Warning: Suicide **

I was born in Hyderabad, India, moved to the United States when I was five, and returned to India when I was 16. I went to the Tata Institute of social sciences, where I researched mental health and the prevalence of suicidality in agricultural areas. Later, I helped start a suicide hotline call center.

I had an arranged marriage at 20. He was my first relationship. My ex was from India, and our families had been close for generations. So, it felt like the relationship was between our families, more so than it was with me.

Shortly after getting married, the walls of our relationship started cracking. It's not that we didn't try, but I was 20, and he was 24. The relationship was muting me as a person, and I felt like I had no say over my own life. My ex was abusive and would follow places, show up at my mom's house at 4 am banging on the door, and once threw me against the wall. What he thought was love- was unhealthy.

I attempted suicide three times while married. We moved back to the US in order for him to get a green card in 2015. In 2016, my mom lied to me to get me to go back to India after seeing that the marriage wasn't working. Upon arrival at the airport- my in-laws were waiting. They took my passport and money, blamed me for not being a good wife, and kept me at their home. At one point, my father-in-law said, "if you kill yourself, we will just get my son married again." They kept me locked in the house.

I found a way to leave and finally moved away from my family at 22. I had no job and no money. Now and then, my dad would send me $100. But for a year, I worked four jobs. I ate peanut butter for protein. I had jobs at places like 24-hour fitness, so I had access to a gym. I worked at the Cheesecake Factory, so I had food. Finally, my parents said if I moved home I'd be taken care of, but then I'd be right back where I started.

So, I worked harder. Finally, I got a job working nights in a rehab- my first job related to what I studied. Every year I got better offers and made a little more money, all the while still working 3/4 jobs. The last few years have been challenging, but I went from nothing to becoming a Training & Development Director at the largest non-profit in my county at the beginning of the pandemic. Today, I'm working a dream job at Google. Hustle is what saved me.

My love and I met on Bumble in the middle of the pandemic. I thought we'd end up good friends- but we ended up soul mates. My twin flame. But the expectations of remarrying an Indian and going through the same trauma remain. My man is learning Telugu and watches movies with me. He's everything I wanted and then some. I'm 27, and I could honestly say this is the first man I've ever loved.

I finally told my parents about my partner, well, my mom at least. At first, hearing only about what he does and how he treats his family, she said, "I'm happy for you, as long as you're happy." She then asked what race he was. The response was immediate, not shocking, but still distasteful. She said in my language, "I could never even imagine such a thing." I try to remind myself of empathy and kindness when dealing with family who grew up knowing nothing else. I think it was a much better response than I expected, but there's much work to be done.

It's been a journey. A lot of pain and trauma processed, and a lot of family lost, and chosen family made. But I know I deserve love as much as anyone else. I deserve to not only be in love but be love.

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