[runaway lovers: the ongoing story]

Topic: Personal

Last spring, Jenny and I played host to a pair of runaway lovers, James and Tejal (here’s the original post). We watched them struggle — with New York, with their predicament, with each other — and finally retreat, heading their separate ways.

Now, almost a year later, I just received an update on their story from Lem, the guy who originally alerted us to their situation:

As far as I know, James and Tejal fell in love at Columbia College Chicago, because that’s when I first saw them lounging around together on the uncomfortable office furniture in the main lobby of the Center for Documentary, where I was the Technical Coordinator. Tejal was one of my student employees, James studied down the hall in the Animation Department, and I felt a certain responsibility for them. Don’t know why.

They met like any other pair of urban college students: running into each other on the Roosevelt stop of the Red Line, exchanging brief pleasantries, working together on a few video projects, and eventually hooking up. (Their romantic meetings were pretty furtive, since Tejal lived with her parents. That’s probably why they spent so much time in the Doc Center.) This was in 2003.

Tejal called me one winter night in 2005. I hadn’t seen her in well over a year. I stood huddled by my kitchen window, which was the only place I could get reception. Here was the deal: she and James were on the run from her parents, who wanted to marry Tejal off to a nice boy in India who would send home regular portions of his paycheck. Somehow, I was persuaded to allow Tejal and James to crash on my couch for a few days (which turned out to be a few weeks) as they hatched their plans.

Three weeks later, I had developed an ulcer, but what the heck, I got the satisfaction of seeing those two find apartments and jobs together in big, bad New York City. Or so I thought; by the end of the summer of 2005, anger and money troubles (including an ill- advised $1500 dollar shopping spree in SoHo) had torn them apart, and they broke up. James headed to a cushy job at a multimedia company in Chicago, leaving Tejal to flee to her sister’s place in Florida to avoid the wrath of her parents.

They disintegrated as they fled from the city. James blew over $200 getting to Islip Airport and paying for his luggage. While he was fuming and waiting for his delayed flight, Tejal was pulled off her plane and interrogated for being a terrorist because she had a strange name and unlabeled spices in her suitcase. Freaking out, she called James, who tracked her gate down and offered her his second slice of pizza. They ate in silence, waiting to fly in two directions.

Utterly crushed, Tejal ended up working in a Walgreen’s and a Subway in the suburbs of Orlando, running from one shift to the next with the knowledge that roughly half of the money she was making was going back to Chicago to support her parents.

James, in the meantime, had become increasingly angry with his latest animation position, and finally gave notice. He began to consider his fate. He had fled from Chicago to New York, then back to Chicago again. It seemed like all he did was run. It was December, he hadn’t heard from Tejal in four months. He wondered what had happened to her. (She had become completely unreachable because she didn’t have internet access and had lost her cell phone’s battery charger, which she couldn’t afford to replace.)

James decided to fly to Orlando one evening on a round-trip flight after work. His boss tried to dissuade him. Love Doesn’t Conquer All, he said. She’s Just Going To Turn Out Like Her Parents: Old-Fashioned And Closed-Minded. Focus On Your Career, You’re A Brilliant Designer. Haven’t You Heard Of Lavalife Dot Com?

Undeterred, James spent over $900 to fly and stay overnight in Orlando at a shabby motel. He didn’t feel like eating, so he drank bottled water and figured out which Walgreen’s Tejal would be at. When he found a cab, he accidentally stepped into a foot-deep mud puddle. Soaked but determined, he drove out to meet her.

Tejal was working the afternoon shift. She says she wasn’t even sure what was happening for several minutes after James walked in the door.

They drove around the Lakeland residential area during her half hour break. They talked, and then pulled up onto someone’s grass and made out hurriedly before she had to get back to work. Then James flew home.

“I went there to bring her back,” he told me. And he did. When I visited Chicago at the beginning of January, the two of them sat grinning across from me at the Ohio House Diner, like neither of them had ever left. The only difference now: they’ve stopped talking to Tejal’s family altogether, and they’ve squeezed themselves into their first real Chicago apartment.

A fiery passion will take us to strange and necessary places. We get lost and ultimately end up back where we started.

When I saw them a week or two later, Tejal and James said they would give me a ride to the airport. This meant the two of them showing up at the front door of my building in a hired taxi. They blew $40 on cab fare and coffee for me.

I had a blast listening to them tell me about their latest schemes (apparently, pharmacists make pretty decent money). I said goodbye and sat on the plane, hoping no one would mistake me for a terrorist. I’m coming home, I breathed. Chicago is cold this time of year.

Love is a funny thing. I’ve never personally gone through one of those against-all-odds love affairs. I tend to doubt whether stormy, off-and-on relationships, so familiar from the extended TV courtships of Dave and Maddie, Joel and Maggie, Sam and Diane, Sam and Rebecca, Frasier and Lilith, Niles and Daphne, Ross and Rachel, et. al., are actually viable.

On the other hand, would we still believe the stories if they never came true?