Vidya Madabushi with Jason and their two children

I met Jason the day after I arrived in Australia as an international student. It was 30 July 2004, his birthday – although I didn’t know it at the time.

It was July-cold – the kind of cold that made a mockery of the “winter coat” I’d purchased in Bangalore – when I dragged myself to my first creative writing class at Sydney Uni. I was late and slid into the only vacant spot in the classroom, next to Jason. Afterwards, the class, new and longing for camaraderie, went to the pub. On paper Jason and I were a poor match: a girl from a conservative Hindu family in small-town India and a boy raised as a Jehovah’s Witness in small-town USA, though we’d both left behind our religious upbringings.

But that day we sat at the same table, drinking too much wine and discussing too much Dostoevsky, Camus, and Voltaire. Despite our vastly different routes, we were heading in the same direction.

I fretted about sharing my short stories, and worried more when he shared his poetry, fearing we would disappoint each other. The first time I read his work, I yelled to my astounded hostel-mate: “His poems don’t suck!”

Falling in love felt so easy, like falling into step with someone. But neither of us was prepared for it. We spent every day together reading, writing, playing Scrabble, listening to Billie Holiday and Diana Krall and talking late into the night.

We had come to the country seeking adventure, but I had every intention of returning home, while Jason wasn’t sure about his plans. At some point our relationship felt too serious for two people who’d signed up for a light romance. Did we really want to stay in Australia? Were we ready to change our plans for love? Were we willing to face all the visa obstacles to be together? The answer was no. After nine months, we broke up.

During our time apart, we independently found employment on 457 work visas that extended our stay in Sydney – he as a restaurant manager and me as a technical writer. However, our stay was linked to our jobs. I played the 457 game a few times, transferring my visa between jobs, but it was hard and there was always the fear that I could be going home soon.

We saw other people casually, but often we’d send each other late-night texts and emails. Poetry on birthdays. Postcards when we travelled. It felt like hard work to stay broken up.

‘I joke I’m the best birthday present he ever received’: Vidya Madabushi with Jason and their two children.

After months of no contact, one day on a whim, I decided to visit him at his restaurant on King Street Wharf. I don’t know why I decided to go there, but my heart was beating fast, and I sensed it might be the last chance for our relationship.

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The restaurant door was open and I could see him from across Lime Street – he was looking down at the reservations book, while other staff members were setting up tables behind him. I remember his purple shirt, and his expression as he noticed me approaching before pulling me into a tight embrace.

I don’t remember if we talked about how we’d been or what we’d gotten up to, only how he held me, and the way he looked at me. I knew then we had something I would give myself to wholly – if he wanted it too.

We met at a bar the following night and Jason asked, “If I were to ask you to marry me, hypothetically, what would you say?” I said, “Hypothetically, yes.” It wasn’t a proposal so much as the utterings of two vulnerable people, terrified to commit to what it would take to be together. Before time, our previous nos turned to yes. Yes, we would face visa challenges to be together. Yes, we would commit to a life together. Yes, we would change all our plans. Yes, yes, yes.

It’s been almost 20 years since our first classroom meeting. I joke I’m the best birthday present he ever received.

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