Leaves are spread like a yellow carpet all over the cemented lane, around the still trees, and on the barren, brown, burnt lawn. The autumn leaves have a glorious color—the color of Halloween pumpkins and radiant sunset—but I pass by without a glance as I walk out of the park. A duck or two are visible, sitting passively on the still waters of Lake Elizabeth in the beautiful city of Fremont, California. I stare blankly at the lake through my old framed glasses, feeling like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ancient mariner with “water, water, everywhere, not a drop to drink.”
I am in the land of opportunities—the Silicon Valley, California—but do not have the permission to work. Sighing heavily, I raise the sleeve of my blue shirt and notice that once again I have forgotten to wear my watch. I used to have my Titan watch fastened to my wrist. It woke me up regularly at 6 a.m. Back home in Delhi, after a brisk walk to the Mother Dairy in Pahar Ganj, I would skim through the newspaper headlines. My office bus arrived at 7 a.m. sharp and would bring me back home after a long day of work. Each day was exactly the same: hectic and vibrant. I felt exhausted at times but was compensated by a sense of achievement at work.
Back home there was Ma, Bauji, my younger sister Sheetal, and Raveena, Mayuri, and Deepti, my college friends. My world consisted of just these few people until Avinash came to see me. We got engaged and then, within a fortnight, we were married. Before I could realize what was going on, I had resigned from my editing job at Roles Press Publishing in Delhi and moved to the United States. Then I realized the implications of being on an H-4 visa. I could not work.
So I do not care much about what day and time it is ever since I moved to the Silicon Valley. This is the dream world for many out there, but not for me, with no job and not much happening. Traffic on the road suddenly picks up pace; Civics, Toyotas, and Mercedes all seem to be coming back from work. As the light turns, a teenager rolls past me on her skates. Listlessly, I drag my feet, one in front of the other. “What are you going to do this Autumn?” a friendly voice sounds in my walkman, like a ray of sunshine piercing through the dark clouds. “I will go to pick leaves with my mother.” I increase the volume on my portable radio; these voices have an unexplainable enthusiasm. “We will collect the leaves, and make a memory book from them and wait for spring to arrive.”
“Perhaps that is what I need to do,” I muse, “to pick up the scattered moments of my life and prepare a memory book that I can look back on a few years from now.” I don’t remember when I started talking to myself.
Many cars are parked in front of the library building. As the doors slide closed behind me, my eyes open to a new world. I stand in a huge well-lit hall. On all sides, in all corners, in every nook and cranny, there are books, brochures, cassettes, CDs, DVDs, newspapers, magazines, and posters. A world overflowing with information beckons to me. My mind awakens from a restless slumber as I browse through some books; a new chapter had opened in my own life as well. For the first time since I moved to the Silicon Valley, I start looking forward to each morning, waiting to glean a gem from the library’s infinite treasure. Each evening, I bring home books, magazines, and DVDs, a world of knowledge and entertainment in the palm of my hand.
On the newsstands at the library, I find the Network for Women’s Spirituality (a non-profit educational publication by Catholic Women’s Network). Articles on meditation, health, and intuition are enlightening. There is a caption contest. I submit my entry and soon I have not one, but a few captions published. I publish a short story and an article on spending time with friends.
Library resources hone my hidden potential. I find a brochure from Berkeley University and enroll in journalism courses. Instead of whiling away time brooding, now I use it constructively.
The calendar pasted on my fridge has lots of reminders: Meditation for Stress Free Living in the Dublin Library Program Room; volunteer work; a reminder of the library’s due date. Each lending gives me “something to look forward to, something to do, something to love.” The library, where I now volunteer, has given me the ingredients for a happier life. Each morning I have an editing project to work on and many golden moments to meet and make friends with other library volunteers.
My car zooms forward as the light changes from red to green. I am jolted out of my reverie—memories of my listless self, gazing at Lake Elizabeth— as my car pulls into the library’s parking lot. I step out of my car into the bright morning sun. There is a newfound zest in the air this morning. The hills are green and vibrant. The library building stands quietly down the hills, welcoming and enlightening curious minds. Quietly and selflessly, it has given new direction to my life.
The dull cocoon of ignorance and loneliness has opened up to inspiring, infinite possibilities that are always unfolding. A lot has changed in the four years since I moved to the U.S. Today, I go to the children’s area of the library, where my toddler participates in varied fun-filled educative activities. Though I have a work permit now, I can never forget those gray, then golden, H-4 days. “When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” I remember Dale Carnegie’s suggestion, one that has been validated by my own journey.
I share this experience with all the newly married girls who have just arrived with or joined their husbands on H-4 visas. Being alienated from the world you know and landing in an alien world is not easy. It takes time, courage and lots of patience to adjust. But if America is a land of opportunities, a land in which you are free to be whatever you want, then I suppose the H-4 is the price one pays to be in the States. Instead of suffering from low self-esteem, distress, and lack of personal identity, this golden time can be used to learn a new hobby or revive an old one. Painting, making quilts, pursuing higher studies, or providing volunteer service: take your pick and take the first step. When you look back, you will appreciate, as I do now, that you took charge of your new life.
Meenu Gupta is a member of Mothering Heights. Some of her other work may be read online at http://www.motheringheights.net