Two weeks ago my fellow interns and I took a trip. (You have probably already read my co-interns posts about this trip, and I apologize for the delay; I have been having some serious laptop/Wi-Fi issues.) After four days of travelling, we arrived in Haldwani late in the evening after a nightmarishly long, crowded, and hot bus ride (I will never complain about Megabus not having Wi-Fi again). Exhausted, the four of us abandoned our plans to catch a bus back to Chirag and decided to find a hotel. Eileen and Aardra immediately passed out on the bed. But Caro and I, food lovers that we are, headed down to the front desk to ask the receptionist where we should eat dinner.
The young Arabic man working at the desk spoke some English and recommended a vegetarian place down the road. After attempting to map out the route with his hands, he decided to walk us. I thought this was a kind gesture, and he repeatedly told us not to worry about any potential dangers as we headed towards the restaurant. He sat down with us but did not eat, which I had not anticipated but did not think much of. But as Caro and I scarfed down paneer and roti slathered in butter, I watched something come over our guide. He completely shut down, staring off sadly and occasionally looking at his phone.
After dinner he showed us around the city. At first, conversation was merely awkward. He told us that he loved American culture and proceeded to ask if we watched WWE (no offense to any WWE watchers out there, but I would not consider John Cena to be the American most worthy of idolization). He explained to us that he works out in order to get taller. And words cannot describe the face he made and the lecture I received when I told him I am not religious. Caro and I began dropping hints that we wanted to explore on our own and would meet the receptionist back at the hotel. The hints became increasingly less subtle, but each and every one of them went right over his head.
Things went from weird to a little alarming when he casually mentioned his depression. I am very much a proponent of talking about mental illness as a means of reducing the stigma associated with it, but this struck me as bizarrely forward. As we mercifully headed back to the hotel, our exhausting day unexpectedly having turned into an exhausting night, he told us he wanted to tell us a secret. We braced for impact and began to wonder whether he was going to share his story at all during the dramatic three-minute pause that followed this statement.
Long story short, he got dumped. He told us this over the span of a a teary-eyed half hour, repeating over and over again how he was used, how he gave her everything for five years and got nothing in return, and how he wakes up every night at two in the morning. Then he talked about wanting to hurt himself, pulled up his sleeve, and showed us where he had carved his ex-girlfriend’s name into his wrist. We were completely taken aback. We told him what you are supposed to tell people when they go through a breakup—that he needed to look forward, that there are plenty of fish in the sea—but he was in his own private world of despair. Eventually, we had no choice but to outright insist that we had to go to bed. He followed us up the stairs to our room, and we basically had to shut the door in his face after promising to take photographs with him the next morning. We did, and he was delighted. As a means of sharing his contact information, he showed us his medical documents recording his name, address, phone number, and diagnosis: “deppretion.” We said goodbye, and he said we were his best friends.
In the days that followed, I felt strange and struggled to understand why this episode resonated with me so strongly. But something Caro said that night helped me start to make sense of things. “He’s just lonely,” she said. And it was true. He was lonely and heartbroken and confused, and it hit me that these are truly universal feelings. I am finally starting to rebuild after one of the most difficult years of my life, a year of loneliness, heartbreak, and confusion. The reason hearing this man talk about waking up in the middle of the night and watching him stare blankly into the distance took such an emotional toll on me was because, back in February or March, it just as easily could have been me crying in front of strangers who, in that moment, feel like best friends. I am not sure whether this realization saddens me or comforts me (I think it is a little bit of both), but I do know that I will never forget that strange night in Haldwani.