Of this I am sure: My boyfriend is "the one" I'm spending my life with.
His is the head of hair — black, thick — my fingers will keep running through. His will be the deep, calming voice at the other end of my call. His is the vast back on which I will throw my troubles, myself, and, on occasion, choice dinner plates.
Our steady past — we've been dating for more than 10 years, since we were at school together in Mumbai — lends me enough confidence to write of this future with "is" and "will" instead of "seems" or "might."
From 2013 to 2015, we attended university in America, separated only by a dozen stops on the Metro North line. They were peaceful years. On snowy weekends, we'd study quietly together, and whenever we needed to take a break and goof around we had each other. We'd discuss his economics assignments over cups of tea. We'd do gym workouts together, grunting and complaining in sync. We'd nap together, toasting on each other's warmth.
Last May, we both graduated. Now, unless we both get US work visas within the next few months, we could end up 7,786 miles away from each other.
He is determined to remain in America. "At least for a few years," he says, vaguely. He believes New York City is the place to start a financial career, home to the biggest, the quickest, the savviest. He trusts that Asia, and India in particular, will be the next growth story, and is waiting to move back "once the Indian government shows actual resolve to get the economy going."
Like most international students, he'll apply for the H-1B work visa. Every year, 65,000 H-1B visas are distributed. Every year, the immigration department receives triple that number of applicants.
But my single-minded swain is willing to take those odds. He moved to New York City last summer and started work as an investment banking analyst.
His investment bank is used to hiring international students and sponsoring their H-1B visas. In other words, the bank is used to paying between $1,500 and $4,000 in visa fees, and thousands more in attorney fees, for a one-in-three shot at visa success. There are no refunds.
I, on the other hand, work a muesli of part-time jobs: writing, researching, teaching. To apply for an H-1B visa, I'd have to find a full-time job, preferably in the literary industry, that would shell out thousands of dollars for a fractional probability of hiring me. Ha, ha.
If I want to remain in the US with him, and keep writing, I have one other option, which sounds like something out of a Roald Dahl novel or a Wes Anderson film.
I could apply for an O-1 visa for "individuals of extraordinary ability or achievement."
Many call it the "genius visa." The first line of its application states that applicants must be recipients of "a major, internationally-recognized award such as a Nobel Prize."
Mortals of lesser ability and achievement like me do sometimes receive O-1 visas, but they usually hire great (read: expensive) attorneys.
Perhaps the money would've parted my hands faster if I truly wanted an O-1 visa, if I wanted to stay. But I believe, as a writer, I must go home to India. It has simply too many untold stories per capita for me to ignore. Like the hypnotic green light in Sleeping Beauty, India throbs magnetically for me, emitting a glow I can always see, from every corner of my eye, even if I turn away, even through the thin wing of my eyelid, urging me to come and prick my finger on an ink nib there.
What if his career draws him into America and he doesn't move back to India? What if I get going in India and don't want to move to America?
"Plus, my whole family's there," I tell him. "I've been away for so long."
"Yeah," he says, after a short pause. "That's fair."
We lie quietly next to each other.
We don't ask each other the simple questions: If he stays and I go, how long might we live apart? How many times a year will we see each other?
Or the difficult questions: What if his career draws him into America and he doesn't move back to India? What if I get going in India and don't want to move to America?
I'm aware of how lucky we are to even have this dilemma. At a time when millions of refugees would be thankful for a mere roof above their heads, would be grateful to call any country their home, he and I can argue about living in New York City or Mumbai, or any other city in the world.
But my balanced anthropological perspective shuts down when he wraps his weighty, familiar arms around me, as he's taken to doing, and mutters, "Don't leave."
I know this hug so well. Its warmth, his heft. I love it so much.
That's all it takes. Before the embrace has even ended, my brain is hurtling through its choices again. H-1B, O-1, or the one? Lottery or genius visa? Home or him?
He and I belong to a curiously privileged, love-torn generation of Indian international students. Born in the '90s, we've grown up enjoying the fruits of India's economic liberalization. Our home cities offer almost every comfort and opportunity, except world-class universities. But though we study in the UK or the US, most of us are keen to return home.
Yet it's difficult to pack up and leave if the person you love isn't coming back with you.
My roommate works for a fashion house in New York City but may soon return to Mumbai; her company won't sponsor her visa. Her boyfriend works at a travel startup and will remain in NYC. He got his H-1B visa in the spring.
Another couple from my high school has begun racking up frequent-flier miles. She leads a digital media venture in India but flies to New York every month to meet him; he works on Wall Street. They're studying for the GMAT so, at least for two years, they can be at business school together in the US.
One of my best friends in London recently got engaged. Her fiancé is from Mumbai but studied in the UK. He wants her to move to Mumbai; she has a full-time job in London. They too are considering business school in America, to give themselves two more years to sort things out, two more years to enjoy their similarities.
These are our half-and-half love lives, which depend on global economies and visa regulations, on Narendra Modi and Barack Obama's decisions, on GMAT scores and admission committees, on the price of plane tickets.
They result in doubtful signatures on one-year leases, in math skills greatly improved through the constant calculation of time zones, in the frustration of owning two pairs of everything: 120V hair straightener, hair dryer, epilator; 240V hair straightener, hair dryer, epilator.
In New York City, Boston, San Francisco, there are thousands of us living with our hearts in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore. And vice versa.
We're sitting in his living room, watching the news.
"Any thoughts on applying for the O-1?" he asks, too lightly. "Or the H-1?" The deadline for the H-1B visa is April 1, just a few weeks away.
"I think … I think I should be back in Mumbai. For a bit. I mean, the minute I get there, I'll apply for a tourist visa, obviously. So I'll spend a few months in Mumbai, then a few weeks with you, then a few months in Mumbai. … You know, like that."
"Got it," he says, nodding his head. "So you're not applying for either visa."
These are our half-and-half love lives, which depend on global economies and visa regulations, on GMAT scores and admission committees, on the price of plane tickets
It's hard for us to accept that there's no villain in this love story. Nothing driving a wedge between us: no interfering exes, no heartbreaking affairs. We have terrific love ethics. If anything, I'm the bad guy, voluntarily choosing to keep us apart.
On the news, Trump is holding forth on something or the other again: evil Mexicans, evil Muslims, evil Democrats. I'm barely paying attention, but my beau sits watching with amused disbelief.
"The day that man becomes president," he says suddenly, "I'll have to leave the US. I'll book the next flight back home."
America, thank God I can't vote in your country.
Sukriti Yadava is a creative nonfiction writer. She is working on a book of personal essays about studying in Mumbai, London, and New York City. She holds an MFA from Columbia University.