Graphics by Anushka De and Oishee Misra
Tiny Love Stories
Finding pockets of love within our community
February 15, 2021
This Valentines’ Day, read the tiny love stories of eight members of the MVHS community below.
Home away from home
The spicy aromas of her grandmother’s cooking, mixed with the sweet perfume of freshly brewed milky tea floated around the room. A cold gust of wind filtered through the window, cutting across sophomore Avni Gandhi’s face. She shivered. Tucking the blanket underneath her, she huddled closer to her cousin as the stationary ceiling fans above her creaked in the breeze.
The chilly December air found her entire family bundled in layers of clothing and blankets, and even then, the cold seemed to find a way in. Gandhi was sprawled on a sleeping bag on the ground in a tangled mess of her six cousins’ limbs and blankets. Her uncles sat stiffly on one corner of the queen bed with her grandfather, and her aunts and grandmother lied on mounds of pillows opposite their husbands, siphoning off of each other’s body heat and tightly wrapping their jackets around themselves.
On this particular night, Gandhi’s entire family had gathered in one room at her grandparents’ home in Jaipur. Her mother’s three siblings had travelled from Udaipur and Mumbai, and now, the entire extended family lay cramped in one room as crackly old Bollywood music from her grandfather’s outdated stereo punctuated her family’s shouts in Hindi.
As her grandfather crouched over a game of Subway Surfers on his phone, the rest of the family joked and teased each other good-naturedly. They praised Gandhi’s oldest cousin for her erudition and good grades and fawned over her youngest cousin, the five-year-old baby of the family. They fondly recalled Gandhi’s older brother’s adventures in India as a child and how Gandhi and her cousin sister used to insist on wearing the same clothes everywhere they went.
As the night snaked into the early hours of the morning, Gandhi dropped her head on her cousin’s shoulder and closed her eyes. She drank in the sounds of her family’s voices and the smoky smell of India. She felt peaceful and whole — the love around her seemed to spill from her family’s voices and wrap her in a tight embrace.
“I felt so happy and so loved,” Gandhi said. “I was so excited to eat my grandma’s food and sit there and talk to my grandma, my grandpa, my cousins and my aunts and uncles. Everyone, even my little baby cousin, was huddled around me and it was like a big group hug. I felt like I had returned home.”
Coup de foudre
On her 25th wedding anniversary, Biology and STEM teacher Renee Fallon found herself seated opposite her husband Jim Fallon at an extravagant restaurant. At the time, Jim had been undergoing chemotherapy for a severe form of cancer — his chances of survival were 50 percent. For the past year, Renee had taken care of Jim throughout the treatment, and the illness had placed a physical and emotional toll on both of them.
At the end of their meal, the restaurant’s maître d’ asked the couple if they wanted to sit by the fire. Renee was thankful for the opportunity to allow the effects of the alcohol she’d drank at dinner to wear off before driving home. As soon as she sat down, the maître d’ approached the couple with an envelope. Inside the envelope was Renee and Jim’s original wedding invitation, which Jim had preserved for 25 years, and the arrangements for the couple to go scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands the next year.
“Understand that there’s a lot of history behind this,” Renee said. “I’m a biology teacher, right, so when he met me, he promised to take me to the Galapagos [Islands]. He made those arrangements while he was on chemo, he got us the best cabin we could have in the most expensive dive boat — [it was a] fantastic trip, and he had pictures of the boat, the trip [and] our cabin. [He’d] taken pictures of them and put them in our actual wedding invitation.”
Twenty six years earlier, as the highway between Berkeley and Mountain View flew by outside her window, Renee sat back and smiled to herself. She glanced over at the man next to her. They’d met at the high impact aerobics class her roommate taught, and after a couple of conversations after class and group outings, he’d asked her out to dinner. He lived in Berkeley and she lived in Mountain View, and after arriving at her house 30 minutes late, he’d insisted that they take her car because his car would not make it to and from Berkley a second time. Now, as they sped back from their date at a Thai restaurant in Berkeley, she was struck by a sensation that even years later, she wouldn’t quite be able to articulate.
“I don’t know how the hell I can explain [it],” Renee said. “The French have a really good saying for it. They call it coup de foudre instead of love at first sight. Coup de foudre doesn’t really translate, but the best translation I can come up with is that it’s sort of an iron-fisted blow.”
There was no second date. From that first meal together, Renee either got home and left a message on Jim’s answering machine, or got home and played the message that he’d left on hers. “We never really talked about it,” Fallon said. “We just were.”
A year and a half later, Jim proposed — but not with a ring. Jim knew that Renee didn’t want a ring — not only did she find the entire practice of trading diamonds unethical and somewhat meaningless, but she was also a scientist, and a diamond on her finger would quickly become a nuisance, tearing through her gloves and interfering with her lab work.
Instead, Jim decided to borrow a tradition from a country 8,000 miles away — he would propose with Nepalese marriage beads. Renee had travelled extensively throughout India and Nepal, and one of the stories she’d told Jim about Nepal was how, instead of rings, marriage was signified by thick strands of colorful glass marriage beads. Renee’s parents had been travelling in India when Jim decided to propose and he contacted them through telegram. He sent them $400 for the marriage beads — which ended up costing 50 cents — and asked for her hand in marriage.
“I don’t remember the first time he said I love you, and I can’t really tell you when I first knew I loved him,” Renee said. “But for my husband and I, it was as close to love at first sight as you can get. He says, and we didn’t talk about this until we’d been married for a couple of years, but he says that he felt the same way. We knew we were getting married after that first car ride.”
I got hit in the head with a sledgehammer, the text from her boyfriend read. I’m at the hospital, but I’m fine now.
English teacher Jessica Kaufman was in the middle of teaching a class on a Friday afternoon when she received the message. She instantly felt ice cold panic rush through her veins. As soon as her class finished, she rushed to the hospital where the doctor and her boyfriend’s mother filled her in.
Her boyfriend of barely one year at the time had been hit with the sledgehammer at work — he worked in construction — and had minor bleeding in his brain. The doctors decided to keep him at the hospital overnight for another CT scan and further observation. Kaufman stayed by his side through the weekend, doing her best to take care of him.
The next week, a couple days after she and her boyfriend returned to work, one of her students delivered flowers to her from her boyfriend. Kaufman was astonished — she’d never received flowers at work before.
“The flowers [had] a little card saying, ‘Thank you so much for taking care of me and for being there,’” Kaufman said. “Taking care of him was just something I never thought about, I just did, because I care about him and that’s what you do when somebody gets hit in the head with a sledgehammer — you take care of them. You don’t leave them on their own. It was just a moment where he made me feel really special and really cared for.”
The love language of food
She remembers feeling a spike of jealousy whenever she watched her classmates unwrap Oreos or rip open boxes of Ritz crackers. I just have fruit, she thought to herself.
But fast forward to years later, and senior Harini Arunugam is now grateful for her mother’s fruit, grateful for her mother’s meticulous care with cooking for her family every day. She remembers the bowl of fresh raspberries that had rested on her desk just the other morning, a recipe for alleviating stress that she didn’t even ask for. Her mother just knew.
Arunugam’s mother expresses her love for her family through cooking — every morning, she wakes up early to prepare the day’s meals, and Arunugam has learned to be grateful for her mother’s priority of healthy food and fresh ingredients, her hard work and, of course, her constant love and care.
Her mother doesn’t need her to explicitly ask Arunugam the meals she wants. Her mother just knows.
One day, Arunugam mentioned to her mother in passing that she was craving pizza, and the next morning, she woke up to the wafting aroma of pizza dough rising — her mother had woken up earlier than usual, making sure the dough would have sufficient time to fully rise.
Over quarantine, Arunugam’s mother has started teaching her how to cook too — Arunugam says that learning to make Indian food in a country that’s across the world from India feels special. And bonding with her mother in the process is even more so.
“My mom makes Indian food most of the time because it’s the food that she grew up eating,” Arunugam said. “She received love from her own mom and she’s kind of passing that down to her kids. She goes out of her way to look for authentic Indian spices, fresh vegetables. I love all of it. It’s something I’ll definitely miss in college.”
It started with Ravenclaw
He messaged Anthony because his profile mentioned he was a Ravenclaw.
When English teacher Randy Holaday and Anthony, his current boyfriend, began to chat, they immediately clicked, bonding over Harry Potter.
Holaday calls himself and Anthony “huge nerds” — after texting on an online dating app, their first date took place on St. Patrick’s Day, where they continued their theme of magic. Anthony taught him the card game Magic: The Gathering.
And years later, they will be celebrating their eighth anniversary in March.
Holaday says they still like magic — they played with their Magic decks last week, with the Super Bowl on TV in the background. Not only are they “huge nerds,” they’re also “fantasy nerds”: they like to read and discuss sci-fi novels, are currently watching “His Dark Materials” on HBO together and are hooked on the video game “Genshin Impact.”
“I’m an introvert and I like being alone,” Holaday said. “But having him there feels natural. I like the down time that we spend together. I can feel like I’m getting my alone recharge time with him there. My favorite thing to do is just sitting, playing video games next to each other. And feeling like I have somebody there, but I don’t necessarily need to talk to them.”
They love to travel together too, and Holaday says that since Anthony is a huge foodie, their guiding question for every vacation they take is: will Anthony get to go to all the places he wants to eat?
When they went to Nashville, one of their favorite vacations to date, Holaday remembers eating a lot of food. He also remembers watching a live show together at Bluebird Cafe; a lucky opportunity, since Holaday’s friend’s dad happened to be a working musician there. And he remembers the bluegrass music emanating from the stage, making for a perfect moment.
“Don’t stress out about love,” Holaday said. “I didn’t date anyone until my current partner; he was my first boyfriend ever. I was 24 years old. I think in high school I was very much like ‘Oh no! Everyone’s dating, you need to find somebody.’ And now I find this guy, and I can’t get rid of him eight years later.”
Sophomore Aristotle Yang remembers his first time playing golf — his dad taught him how to grip the golf club, his arms gently guiding Yang’s as they stood on the golf course, accompanied by the strong scent of fresh cut grass and a soft breeze.
Now, playing golf together is a regular occurrence. After Yang’s dad noticed his interest in playing golf, he signed Yang up for golf lessons. Their roles occasionally reverse now — Yang, armed with newfound golf knowledge, corrects his dad’s techniques. When they play alongside each other, they talk about anything and everything — work, school, people.
This past Christmas, Yang’s dad, recognizing his drive to continue improving his golf skills and hoping to make the varsity team, bought him a brand new golf set, which Yang says he really loves and has helped his game significantly.
Yang reciprocated with a card.
Thank you for the golf set, it read. I really appreciate it. I know it wasn’t cheap. Thank you.
“You should appreciate your family and do that with your friends as well,” Yang said. “Sometimes I feel a little guilty for not doing that enough, not really showing that I care, so that’s what I try to do now, a lot more often.”
From the authors to the authors: our own tiny love stories
To Anushka De, From Oishee Misra
The first time we interacted, I remember thinking, Aww, she’s so cute.
Yet looking back, I’m a little irritated at my past self for using such a mediocre, somewhat meaningless adjective. Sure, you’re cute. But you’re so much more.
You’re passionate, inspiring, intelligent, talented, and of course, so f–king funny.
I love that we can talk (and write) about anything — whether that’s sour gummy worms or economics or boys or female masturbation (did we really write a story about that?).
I love that your passion for writing and journalism mirrors mine — thank you for believing in me, in my abilities, even when I don’t believe in me. When we talk, your excitement and infectious energy seem to make both our insecurities dissipate, and it seems possible, even probable, that our big dreams will one day come true. Maybe I will write New York Times book reviews for your bestsellers someday.
I love that you can make me laugh until I can’t breathe. Living in the midst of a pandemic is so challenging that even calling it challenging has, in a sense, become a cliché. But your smile is contagious. And your jokes — even when they’re as weird as asking me to export a file with the correct bleed settings for you and having “i am bleeding” as your email subject line — are my silver linings.
I grew up an only child, and I’ve always wanted a little sister. Thank you for being the little sister I never had.
I love you.
To Oishee Misra, From Anushka De
To say I met you for the first time in A111 on my first day of sophomore year would be incorrect. The first time I met you was in a column I read freshman year, late at night, when I really should have been studying for a math test. It seems almost poetic that one day I will be reading your columns in the New York Times.
Your words were an inspiration to me long before you were, but ironically, no words could ever do you justice. As a journalist, I admire your persistence in learning every perspective, your passion to cover the stories that count and the grace with which you cover even the most nuanced and complex topics. As a person, I am inspired by your humility, your kindness and your incredible ability to uplift everyone around you.
Thank you for making me randomly burst into laughter— I know you thought that email was funny — and for getting excited about the same things I do. Thank you for your unending guidance, your constant support and for showing me what kind of person I want to be.
From sour gummy worms delivered to your doorstep before 6th period to the rants about the failings of our Sex Ed. curriculum, I have never spent a moment with you I have not loved. Thank you for the endless kindness and advice, for being the big sister I never had and for being the person I strive to be.
I love you.