For over seven years, I have built a home with my high school sweetheart, Swathi. My identity, values, and passions have radiated from and reﬂected back on this home to infuse both our lives with purpose and direction. While our romantic relationship has recently ended, our home stands strong; while my emotions are in ﬂux, my gratitude endures. To understand who I am, you must understand the architecture of this home. Chapter one in the book of my life is…
The Story of Micah and Swathi
I still remember the window open that signaled me to climb into your life,
From early days we lay foundation, you promised me that you would be my wife.
On August 19th, 1997, Swathiʼs family left their hometown of Madison, Wisconsin to honor her ninth birthday at the Hindu Temple of Milwaukee. That same day, my family left our home in Milwaukee to begin a new life in a new home, in Madison. Our families had not met, yet, but this early dance, and the coincidence of its occurrence, would epitomize a relationship set to begin seven years later.
This seven year stretch of pre-adolescence was as much the pre-Micah years as the pre-Swathi years. That is to say, I did not come into myself until high school introduced me to those activities – acting, public speaking, graphic design, newspaper editing – that gave me outlets for all my inner passions. And it was in pursuing these passions that I met Swathi.
Swathi and I had known each other since an eighth grade public speaking competition (gender split, thankfully, for me), but we only became friends once this joint passion for competitive public speaking introduced us to the diverse and campy world of forensics, in high school. It was because of forensics that we served on a board together to organize the performing arts club at our school; and it was because of forensics that we travelled around Wisconsin and to Philadelphia for state and national competitions. Together, we were a powerhouse, feeding off each othersʼ support and energy. This synergy prevailed in our charitable work, too.
Swathi introduced me to community service our sophomore year of high school. That summer, our high schoolʼs community service club ﬂew us down to St. Louis for a Junior Optimist conference. While here, I was introduced to Wash U, and gave my ﬁrst impromptu speech on building a progressive future. The next summer, the conference was in New Orleans, where Swathi sang an inspirational song for the 1000 adult Optimists, and I joined in the chorus. Senior year, Swathi and I founded a student-run community service day for 150 teens; and our freshman year of college the two of us returned to our high school to make sure that that SPIRIT day (Service Projects Inspiring Responsibility In Teens) became an annual event.
As best friends we inspired each other and as novios we loved each other. But our relationship was tainted as soon as it started: because Swathiʼs Indian parents did not believe in dating, let alone dating non-Indians, we lied to them (and to be safe, our high school community) about our relationship. This meant that from early days our romantic relationship was consumed by ﬁnding open windows where others had closed doors – both metaphorically and literally.
Climbing through basement windows is exhilarating for a teenager, but the stress of living a lie is a strong tempering agent. And when we entered college in 2006, she in Madison and me in St. Louis, our relationship only became trickier. I couldnʼt tell the people I met that I was in a relationship, because Swathi and I knew Indian students from Madison at Wash U who we couldnʼt trust to keep a secret. And so, for years, we danced a long distance secret tango over phone, Skype, and occasional visits. Despite the distance and the secrecy, we continued to grow together; this time, however, our growth was emotional rather than academic. We became family and matured to adulthood not only through mutual support but also through contemptuous quarrels, where we were each challenged to question our own stubbornness and hubris. Our growth gave us the courage to ﬁnally come out to Swathiʼs parents last year; and when they accepted us, and me, into their family, the years of secrecy were vindicated.
This past summer, when Swathi broke off our relationship, I was undeniably distraught. But, upon reﬂection, I am also grateful. I am grateful for the years of love and growth we shared; grateful for the opportunity to enter adulthood with someone whose support was constant and whose warmth was enduring; grateful for the experiences that helped me on my journey toward self-actualization; and most of all, I am grateful to have gained a lifelong friend.