Love in the Time of COVID-19

Difficult trials sometimes bring out the best in humanity, but they could also reveal its worst and most depraved behaviours. It depends on what type of news we want to hear. We could either see acts of solidarity and compassion, or witness domestic violence, looting and the re-emergence of dictatorships.

It has been a mixed bag for me. On the one hand I have been forced into a calmer simpler and more introspecitve existence. And on the other I have seen the revival of my inner recluse. The person who is happier with much less direct social interaction.

Even before the Corona Virus introduced the term social distancing, I had been practicing a form of it for years. I had trimmed down my connections to the few people I deeply care about, and those who bring positive energy into my life. While it took a self-quarantine order for some people to rediscover the comfort of retuning to what is essential, I knew exactly what this meant. A few years back, I realized that I only needed a few people in my life, those who understand me properly, and those who can be trusted with my pain, fears and darkest thoughts. I had little space for transient social acquaintances to drink, dine and party with, if the connection we shared was only over food, drink, good times, and trivial conversation. With less space in our lives now, most of us know who our true friends are. They are the ones we reach out to first, the ones we think about often and need to hear from. The rest are familiar faces we greet at the lunch counter or at the coffee station, in better times.

Today I count my blessings for being an introvert, and thus better prepared for long isolation. I am also lucky to have a steady income. I have a roof over my head, food in my pantry, and I get along with the two people I am confined with. One is a pre-teen who gets on my nerves at times, but I learned to smile at his antics and forgive his shortcomings. I can offer him the love and compassion he needs, because I have given them, and received them first from the other person I am stuck with, me. It is important to remember to care for, love, and get along with ourselves first. Because if we fail to nurture our soul with love and compassion, we will not be able to give them to anyone else.

Love yourself first. If you are single, console yourself with the thought that at least you are not forced into confinement with a partner you no longer love, or who had stopped caring about you. If you are on the other hand, thus confined, you can always try to look at that partner with a little more compassion. Perhaps dig down deep to what is essential, beautiful and still present between you. If you can, hold your child, and your partner a little closer. And if you care about someone and cannot hold them close, for now, tell them you love them more often. We need to spread more love around, to help us overcome this test, and survive.

Unwritten

Time passes quickly, and things could change in the blink of an eye. It has been over two months since I broke one self-imposed silence, and two weeks since we all had to self-isolate. I am glad that I met him while I could, before the offices, and our shared coffee stations closed. And somehow it was a necessary step towards letting go and accepting.

It happened on a Monday, my second week at the office after returning from holiday. I went through my usual routine of looking him up, to see whether he was away, or had blocked some busy times for meetings. His public calendar showed that he was free for the next 8 hours. I opened a blank email message, stared at it for only a minute or so, then drafted a single subject line. Do you have time for Coffee today? Without hesitation, I pressed send.

I don’t think I planned it. It was just a normal day, and on a normal day I think of him at least a dozen times. Thanks to technology and social media, I always know, in the broadest sense, what he is up to. I had needed to know, sometimes, even while I kept the pretense of trying to forget him. By the end of last year, I knew that my attempts at forgetting were futile. I also dreaded the prospect of a chance meeting that will disassemble me anew, and painfully remind me of things I never forgot.

The year I spent away, trying to get over him, had served its purpose. First, I walked away with my wounded ego, when I felt that he rejected my open adoration. Then I was confronted with the layers of my pain, and by chance discovered that it all originated from a deep unfulfilled need. Because while I had a wonderful childhood where I was loved and unconditionally by close and extended family, things drastically changed when I became and adult. As soon as I grew into a woman, I was judged superficially for my appearance rather than my essence, and found that I need to work very hard for genuine appreciation and validation from others, all the things that I received freely as a child. The moment of realization came one late afternoon. I was complaining to a close friend and colleague about lack of recognition from my supervisor, then I found myself talking with bitterness and pain about the abuse I suffered in my marriage. Finally, I dissolved into tears when I remembered the final rejection from the man I loved. This meltdown sent me on a journey of self-discovery, where I learned to be kinder and more accepting of myself and others. I now know that I can always offer myself the love and compassion I needed, and I no longer crave as much validation from others as I did before. The journey is ongoing, but I have gained a better sense of my genuine self, and I realized that letting go of the ego, means less pain or at least less suffering.

My trusty therapist accompanied me on this journey. After ten sessions of talk therapy, she told me that I was now better, and perhaps I did not need her on a weekly basis. At the time I was going on holiday, and it felt right to have a break. However, one question she asked stuck with me and tortured me. She asked me whether I saw the man I loved again, and I told her that I have successfully avoided him after our last chance meeting some three months ago. During the calm time of the Christmas holidays, and embraced in the safe caring circle of my family, I spent long times ruminating about this problem. Does avoiding pain really equate to healing? How can I be over my heartbreak if a chance meeting would tear me apart?

By instinct I knew that avoiding my almost-lover was useless. I always criticized others for trying to run away from themselves, yet here I was trying to avoid my soul’s deepest desire. How could I ever think that I could leave him, when he has never left me? But this had been a recurrent pattern of my life. My intuition and heart were always way ahead of my mind and intellect. So on that day in January, I let my heart lead my fingers as I typed the email asking to meet him.

When I sent the email note, I did not know that he was in the middle of one of his usual work crises. It took him some time to reply but when he did, he accepted my invitation without hesitation. Later he commented on my timing and how I caught him at the worst possible moment in his working life. I seem to have a knack of doing that all the time. He never asks himself why it is so, but I know that my soul must be very close to his that I feel his distress.

We did not meet for long. He bought me coffee and I filled him in about the most important events of the past year of my life. I filled him in about my trip home for example and the reason for it. He told me that he thought I had left, since he never saw me on the street. I said I was still here, but did not mention that my departure was still a possible future outcome. He did not say much about his life, preoccupied as he was with the immediate work concerns. I tried to point out that work was not everything, but he was quick to counter that it was a bad time for advice.

I did not need to tell him that I was still ‘weird’, I felt our connection just like before. I still looked at him in the same way, and he asked me, like he usually does, to stop staring. He said that we resembled an old divorced couple, and he joked that he did not remember the middle bit, just the divorce. He said it would be nice if we met again, every quarter, then left to resume his professional battles. I finished the rest of my coffee, alone but for the warmth he left in my heart. I knew that I still loved him, perhaps more than before. The pain was still present, but I would live with it. Neither of us could change what was and would perhaps remain between us. We were just one and the same. Time and space meant nothing when we were together.

I meant to write that love letter then, to tell him how meeting him, and recognizing him as my twin soul was one of the most unsettling and challenging events of my life. It was, and continued to be, my greatest learning experience, and the catalyst for my ongoing spiritual growth.

Before him, I was hiding inside my protective shell of cynicism and apathy. I saved my love and affection for only a few select people, and avoided the rest of humanity. Then he found me and eventually broke the artificial barriers I built around my heart, to shield myself from disappointment and pain. He broke through my defenses because he knew me, and I was not prepared to love so selflessly, to relate so completely, and to look into the mirror of my soul. The ego resists and rejects experiences of true love, because they threaten the boundaries we keep between the self and the other, between what is wholly ours and what belongs to God or the universe. But as love destroys the ego, it offers the clearest passage to enlightenment. I finally understood what God was. God is love, and love is where he is, in my heart.

I remember the only time I held him. In a hospital room, I told him that everything will be Ok. We will be fine. Then, I looked into his eyes and said: “You will learn something”. Undoubtedly it was my intuitions speaking even then, because -unbeknownst to my rational mind- my heart had already opened up to the spiritual journey, that our twin soul is destined to to take.

I never managed to write this letter, not on the first day we met, after such a long time. I still had so much to process. But I thought I would write it later here to celebrate his birthday in February.

But his birthday has now come and gone. I sent him a greeting on the day, even though I knew he was away, and invited him to a celebratory coffee a few days after his return. A day before the appointed time. His message ringtone chimed on my phone and I was dumbstruck at first then delirious with happiness. That ring tone has gone quiet for over a year, and I could never assign it to anyone else. For the past year, it had always unsettled me whenever I heard it from a stranger’s phone. The shock could hit anytime, in the supermarket, in the cafeteria, or worst while boarding a plane, and I would be back to the twin thrill and disappointment of hearing it, then knowing it was not coming from my phone. This time I was to keep the thrill. His text adjusted our meeting time, and I was drunk on my own happiness for almost 24 hours in anticipation of a small meeting over a cup of coffee.

That meeting was a bit longer, and he was more relaxed. He talked to me about his business trip to a desert kingdom, and his real and imagined adventures there. His real escapades included skydiving and bar-hopping and what I suspect some less important socializing. The imagined ones included running away to live with the Bedouins in the desert, and I said that I would join him for that.

While we were talking I thought I misplaced my phone and looked for it for almost a minute in my purse before I realized that it was sitting there next to my coffee cup. He confuses me this way, whenever he sits opposite me. He said that my forgetfulness reminded him of a movie he saw “The Notebook” where one character was suffering from dementia. I reminded him that I was not a movie person, and he said, that it was a nice love story.

This time I told him that I was waiting for news about an application I made to transfer to another duty station. He asked me when I would know the outcome, and I said, perhaps it would be a month. We parted, and I told him I was giving him a virtual parting hug.

That second meeting was tougher on me than the first. I felt more, and I feared saying goodbye soon. After I left, I shed some tears in the privacy of my office. Later at home, I realized that I had seen the notebook in December. My parents are TV addicts, while I only enjoy televisions programs as part of family time with them. I watch with half of my attention, while knitting or crocheting. Most of the time I listen to improve my German, but sometimes the story sucks me in. I was only half-watching for the first part of the movie. Two young people in love who end up together despite the obstacles. The second half seemed unrelated at first. An elderly man visiting a care facility and suffering the rudeness and maltreatment of a woman resident. He is often berated by younger visitors that he is wasting his time. At some points, we the viewers find out that the elderly man and the woman are the same lovers whose story we saw earlier. The man is retelling to the woman, through letter, or through this notebook he kept. He visits her all the time waiting for the one rare moment she returns, and recognizes him. I cried my heart out when I saw the movie. I cried again that Thursday evening, because that story was a metaphor for how I loved him. I was just waiting, never abandoning the distant hope, that one day he would, maybe, recognize me.

Since that second meeting that left me in tears. I reached out to him twice. Once near the end of February. He answered me that he was going to be unavailable for the next three weeks, on short leaves and then workshops. Then last week I wrote to ask him how he was doing with the self-isolation, but that email is not yet answered.

Perhaps my third love letter will remain in my heart, unwritten. But anything I write will not come close to the simple beauty expressed in one of my favourite Arabic songs, “The past is only what time has managed to change. But neither time nor space could make our love a thing of the past.” I have decided to embrace the truth of what he is to me. In this lifetime I will work on my spiritual evolution, to find myself. If he was the twin soul I think he is, then I will find him too. And if he wakes up, to his genuine essence, then he will recognize me. When he does, this lifetime or the next, I will be waiting.

Two Love Letters

I wrote so many letters to the man whose existence in my life was an outward curse but an inner blessing. Two of them, separated by almost a year of suffering, punctuate and chronicle the evolution of my feelings for him.

In the first, the theme was an awakening. I described a cynical woman who has long given up on human connection, let alone a belief in love. On a sunny afternoon, the woman was enjoying time alone with her book and a cup of coffee, when a tall older man, with charismatic blue eyes, intruded on her space and insisted to make a conversation, which evolved into a connection.

Their meetings for coffee continued, and they were always more than just chats. The two connected on deep levels, even while they joked about their funny friendship. When the woman had to be admitted to hospital, he watched her awaken from post-anesthetic haze, held her hand, and planted a chaste kiss on her forehead. She knew by then that she loved him, more than she had ever loved anyone in this lifetime.

The connection was too intense for her, she refused to accept it even when it was exhilarating. And when it became heart-wrenching during the longer periods they stayed apart, she yearned for the times she was free of heartache. More than once, she attempted to walk away. She tried to regain her autonomy, her freedom from this connection that sometimes felt like a restraint to her free spirit. Yet even when he was not around, even when she refused to speak to him or contact him, he stayed with her. He was always the first person she thought of when she woke up in the morning, and the last image her mind conjured before she drifted to sleep.

Sometime in that first year, the woman conceded defeat. She simply could not resist the pure joy, the energy that their meetings generated. She realized that the few moments of connections she experienced with her love were more precious to her than some years of her life. The mere thought of them waking up in the same city or listening to the same rain shower was sometimes enough to give her a smile.

By the end of the letter, I asked to restore the connection. I asked the man I adored to write to me, text or email me, every once in a while, because I knew that I could not severe our bond.

To my knowledge, this first love letter remained unread. He refused to look at it, for fear of being drawn into the web of what he thought of as ‘my emotions’. Instead he took a course of denial, trying to dismiss or disbelieve what is written in the stars.

The second letter, was meant as a goodbye letter. A letter to forget. It was never intended for his eyes, and was not even meant to be kept. The therapist asked me to write it. The theme here was letting go of grief for the unattainable, even if it was true love.

In this letter too, I told the story from the beginning. I described our meeting, and the growing awareness. There were more memories, the kiss on the cheek that I stole from him as he collected our used coffee cups, and the way I turned away and ran after this unusually bold act. The surprisingly profound pronouncements I made from my hospital bed, with my brain in the semi-dazed state of pain-killer haze. I told him, that I felt him, “here”, and pointed to a space on the left side of my chest right under the rib-cage.

I recalled how every meeting with him felt like a sunshine in the heart. And how every short stretch we walked in step together felt like a winged flight above the clouds. I remembered the moments I felt he cared. But I still reproached him for starting this whole thing up, for persisting on breaking me out of my shell then retreating behind an indifferent mask.

In this letter, I still struggled to make sense of the experience, to put it to bed, to bury it, and say goodbye to it, because even the beautiful memories caused me pain. I cried while writing about them and I cried again as I read the letter to the therapist.

I have been broken by this and emerged as a different person. You have made me what I am, like the sleeping beauty that was awakened by a prince, and this is something I wrote in the letter you never read. I read every book I could on grief and how to survive it. But I often return to the theme of love, which I think I finally understand. I was always skeptical about the concept of soul-mates, and scoffed at love as a passing fancy. Now I know better, because it is enough for me to see you from afar for all this to re-awaken and torture me. I wake up at odd hours at night with this sense of loss. As if a part of my soul is missing and I cannot replace it. When the pain is too much I miss the days when I considered myself whole and above any feeling of desperate love.

In all my other relationships there was this desperate angst. The constant questioning and worry: Does he love me? Doesn’t he? will I be with him? This is totally absent in this one. I see photos of you on the web or on Facebook and I am struck by the single thought, that you are simply my twin soul. I am also certain that I love best this present version of you. The older man with the eyes full of pain and unspoken words. Not the goofy younger guy who was extremely handsome. If I had met you as a young man we would have completely missed each other.

I have exhausted myself talking about this and cried several times in the process of writing. I just pray that you are happy and at peace. If not, then there is nothing I would not give to make your life a bit less sad. I write this and the part of me that used to be rational cringes at what a pushover I am. I am the quintessential desperate female, but surely I am not on the lookout for love, or affection. It is just you are the one person who moved my soul. Again, lots of poetry and quotes about love seems to resonate with me and describe my condition quite truthfully.

In Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte makes Catherine say about her love for Heathcliff – I do not know what souls are made of but his and mine are the same. And Elif Shafak in Forty Rules of Love writes this– “Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.”

You were the only person who changed me so profoundly and for the better. I wish I could tell you this in person. Because I believe that, at least on some level, I changed you too.

It has been a while, but I think I wrote this letter before the wound of my beloved’s final rejection. Before he told me off for being weird, and invited me to fall in love with Jimmy the postman. My last attempt to walk away came as reaction to this rejection. It was my final stand for my ego, because after his persistence on breaking me out of my shell, and after his role in liberating my capacity for unselfish love, I felt that he had no right to deny me my right to express those feelings and live them.

I managed to avoid contacting him, writing him texts or love letter for 447 days. During that time, every chance meeting broke me. And he never left me. Perhaps I forgot about him briefly at times when I was preoccupied with my sister’s illness, or when I was visiting her. I might have felt invincible against the pain for some time after a long therapy session where I read that second letter, and for a longer euphoric period after I finished my first marathon. But when those events faded or settled back into normalcy, he returned where he belonged, in my heart. So perhaps it is time for that third, and final, letter.

On The Couch

On a recent visit to my therapist, we went through an exercise aimed at helping me find closure. I read a letter I wrote to the man I love, and tried to process it while listening to alternate drumbeats through the headphones. At the same time, the therapist, standing behind my chair, gently tapped on my right and left shoulders alternately. The session, as she explained, was aimed at taking the experience from the feeling side of my brain to the analytical side. I understood that this might limit my emotional reactions, and bring me back to the realm of logic. I am always in for that, but I am not sure whether it worked for me on that day.

I wrote the letter some ten days ago, on the same evening I had my previous therapy session. Writing it was heart-rending, I cried over the text several times and became exhausted by the memories it evoked. Reading was less intense, marginally. I could read some sections without emotions, so I am quite curious whether the alternate activation of my brain hemispheres did actually have some effect.

At the end of the exercise the therapist asked me to visualize the man, to make him progressively smaller. I jumped the cue on this and immediately visualized him very small and held him in my palm even before she asked me to do just that. Her aim was to make him gradually smaller, reducing his power over me. I am not sure whether that strategy worked for what ails me, where the man is concerned. As I saw him in my mind’s eye, small and vulnerable, my feelings for him changed, but not in the way the therapist expected. I felt tenderness towards the little creature he became, as if I held a tiny animal, a bird, a hamster or even a mouse. I wanted to hold him gently in my palm, and perhaps keep him safe, and care for him. I never had the urge to crush him or obliterate his existence.

When she finally asked me to do whatever I wanted with the miniature man, I turned him into a bird and let him fly away. Then, on her request, I imagined walking away from him and from the situation of my prolonged grief. I walked away towards a sunset on Shela beach in Lamu. The wet sand was glimmering under the sunlight, and I could see the green of the mangroves, and the metallic blue of the lagoon. I was at peace, but a tiny bit of my heart still wished that the little bird I set free would alight on my shoulder again.

The only power the man has over me is his love. And the love I carry for him has no remedy, at least not on the therapist’s couch.

Your Final Gift

Love is not measured in minutes or days. If I added up all the moments I spent with you they will be one or two days at most. Yet I grieve your absence from my life, like a widow who mourns the passing of a husband she loved all her life. Because in that brief time, you were that to me, the love of my life. I let you into my world and shared with you everything I know and love. You sat at a table with my closest family. I saved you a portion of every treat I enjoyed. I broke with you bread and chocolate. I bought you dates as sweet and soft as kisses, and juicy baby tomatoes bursting with sunshine and flavour. I introduced you to my favourite books and authors, and to my stories and memories. You shared some parts of yourself too, but I left nothing out, I was an open book. I told how I felt, and I even wrote you a love letter.

You sampled and tasted. You took the gifts, but rejected the underlying emotions. Apart from the times your eyes or words betrayed you, you gave very little, only some impersonal or discarded pieces of your chaotic universe. You liked to see me, but did not want to see my pain. You wanted me to look at you, but not look into you. You disliked me reaching into your soul. You liked to feel adored, yet you left the love letter unread, because reading is getting involved in the emotions of another. It did not suit you that I was expressive, that I spoke my heart, and fully acknowledged and accepted what I felt. You labelled me weird, where I was merely honest. I went through my own phase of denial, but unlike you, I eventually realized that love is a wholesale preposition. You cannot cherry-pick the joyful parts and discard the sorrows. I could not pick out for you the parts that you wanted, so I decided to keep everything that remained to myself. Now I am free to be honest and emotional. I can weep with the memory, and laugh alone at a joke or an anecdote that I am sure you would have enjoyed.

I left you because you rejected the most elemental part of me – that I loved truly and deeply. You did not understand that it was the one thing beyond my will or control. You could have asked for anything else. I would have plucked the stars out of the sky for you, but you went and asked me to deny or ignore the one truth I cannot change.

I left you but you did not leave me. I still see your empty seat at the table. My joy in the simple sights, sounds and tastes is now forever diminished. They were only perfect when shared with you. A small piece of sorrow remains for me at the heart of every joyful moment, each time I taste a perfectly brewed double cappuccino, and every time I read a brilliantly crafted phrase, or an engrossing and touching story. I will never stop looking for you to complete those experiences, even in moments we never shared. I look for you to walk beside me when I am taking a solitary walk on the beach. Alone in my bed, I turn to you on the pillow next to mine, to read you a passage I found interesting. And I see you looking at me over your reading glasses, and your eyes tell me that you are truly with me, listening to me, and seeing me with your soul, not just your eyes.

The last day we met I left empty-handed. You did not give me anything that deserved to be kept. I only have the memories I lived, and the visions I fantasize. The most lasting of your parting gifts has proven to be the grief I feel, the sadness that keeps assailing me and eventually flows out of my eyes. And since it is the last gift, I am reluctant to part with it. It is the only piece of you that is truly mine, and the final proof that you, and what I felt for you, were real.

This Too Shall Pass

I always dreaded a chance meeting with my imaginary lover. When this happened in the past, I used to get a terrible adrenaline rush, my heart raced uncontrollably and my leg muscles twitched and trembled in a fight-or-flight reflex. I felt close to passing out, and most of the time I needed to sit down. Later I would cry and suffer for days, like an addict with a relapse.

As late as last week, I wrote how his imagined form, that my subconscious mind summoned in a dream, was sufficient to break me, and put me out of kilter for a day or two. In time, that sadness passed too. My trials, however are not over.

Today I was supposed to be already on vacation, if it weren’t for my misunderstanding of my son’s holiday calendar. But fate has other plans. I had to extend my stay for one more week, and one unintended consequence was meeting him by chance, after over five months, and not once but twice.

My colleague and I have recently established the refreshing habit of going for a walk, around mid-morning. We talk about work, about our kids and a little bit about heartache. She has experienced a recent break-up herself, and I told her my own sorry story. I have stopped being ashamed of it some time ago, because it looms so large in my consciousness. And even if it had all the hallmarks of an illusory affair, it was real to me. In fact it is still real, because I am mostly still living it.

Ironically, I had little thought of my heartache today. We leisurely circled our block, cleared the parking lots near the modern blocks of his agency, the areas I usually ask her to avoid, and climbed up the circular path that skirts the compound. And all of a sudden a boxy 4×4 parks on the grassy shoulder right ahead of us. Out of the corner of my eye I see his tall figure climbing out. I think he lifted his arm in robotic salute and half-smiled but I looked straight ahead and did not acknowledge. My friend must have noticed that I chocked in mid-conversation. I muttered under my breath, explaining in shock that it was him. She was sweet, and tried to distract me with other subjects. I stumbled on, both in step and conversation, but deep down I was grateful for two things, the presence of my friend and the reflector glasses I was hiding behind.

We were still halfway through the path, when my friend said she was feeling tired and it was too hot. So we circled back towards the main hallway that returns us to our office. This time I had my sunglasses off and again in the distance I saw the tall, thin, bald figure I know so well walking towards the lobby in our direction. He was deep in attentive conversation with a much shorter Asian-looking woman, I am really not sure, as I only managed a short look at a great distance. As I took all this in within a fraction of a second, I said to my friend “please don’t tell me it is him again”. In another millisecond I know for sure, and I dive for my phone feigning intense interest in its screen, even though I cannot see a thing there without reading glasses. It is a well-worn, and obvious, device for avoiding eye contact. But I make it clear, I refuse to acknowledge.

At the office I feel a bit stunned. I have to admit that I still had the tiniest hope that he would perhaps acknowledge this rare meeting with a text, but my rational mind knew that it was not going to happen. I sigh now and realize that I survived this dreaded encounter, and it was not as bad as I imagined it to be. I remember that I also survived a surprise encounter with his wife about a month ago. My son and I were at the supermarket and I saw a tanned lady wearing an understated elegant white shirt over tan trousers and comfortable sandals. She carried a big leather bag with the shoulder strap across her body. I pointed her out in the distance to my son and said this how I imagined my friend’s wife looked like. I turned a corner in the shop, and next thing I knew, she was facing me in a supermarket aisle. The woman I only ever saw in the rare photos I stalked on public Facebook and Instagram pages looked at me gave me the warmest and kindest smile, as if she recognized and knew me. She also broke me that day to a thousand pieces. It was perhaps a message from the universe to let go.

The universe should know by now that I am listening. I received the message and I am doing all I can to let go. Even though he visits me in my dreams. Even though I spend most of my time these days translating the documents of his ineffectual and broken agency. I try to live from day to day and survive one month to the next. The tears will come either now or later, but I will still survive this day, as I survived the ones before it.

This was an important step forward for me. A chance encounter was bound to happen, and it is no use going out of my way to avoid it. Today the chance meeting hurt me less than it did a year ago, and I now have reason to believe that the next one, if it happens, when it happens, will hurt less than it did today. I also have to believe that the man I love exists only in my head, and still, to a certain extent, in my heart. The man I met by chance today is a stranger I do not need to acknowledge.

His Poisonous Arrow

A lazy and careless remark that he threw at me has found its mark. Like a poisonous arrow with delayed effect it hurt me deeply.

When he belittled what I felt from him and invited me to fall in love with “Jimmy the Postman” he did not only degrade himself but insulted me as well. As if I were so delusional and indiscriminate in my affection, that instead of loving him I could have loved any other John Doe. Not even having a taste for certain types of food can be put down in such ludicrously dismissive manner.

There were also touches of hypocrisy. While he sat there sharpening his poisonous daggers, throwing them silently and carelessly at me, he had the gall to contradict me when I stated that I would rather my son grow up a bit less sensitive to pain, than like me, the one who wears her heart on her sleeve, and who carries the hurt and pain of every person she loves. He begged to differ he said “do you mean it is better to hurt others than get hurt?”, and here he was hurting me, but it would have only mattered if he cared, and he was on  a mission to prove that he did not.

In a business communication course I attended some time ago, the facilitator chose to break the ice by elaborating on the South African greeting I am familiar with. The Zulu greeting is : Sawubona, and it means, “We see you”. The Bantu language in its simple wisdom recognised that acknowledgement and recognition are the first path to friendly communication. And so it is in all human relations.

The cruelest thing your loved one can do to you is not the rejection, but denying you the recognition and acknowledgment of your feelings. Sometimes all you need from the person you love is an acknowledgment. Yes, I see you, I know how you feel. I am sorry. The ultimate cruelty is not rejecting the love that was given, it is denying its existence, calling it an illusion, a passing fancy or a transitory moment of lust, when it is none of the above. The man I love is doubly cruel, because he led me there, fired those first sparks that burned the house down, then walked away pretending that it was an accident.

It is human to flirt with danger, and to covet the forbidden. We all make mistakes, and sometimes the actions we take or the things we say set off a chain reaction of unintended and regrettable consequences. I prefer to own up to my mistakes and take the consequences, other people choose to run. It is not a matter of courage or cowardice, it is a matter of maturity and taking responsibility for your action, as an adult.

Courage or cowardice should actually be neutral characteristics. Their context determines their value as virtues or vices. Some courageous acts can be foolishly irresponsible, and some cowardly acts are simply retreats in deference to other people.

So on that day in August when I met him, I grabbed hold of my tattered heart, and faced up to the man I loved. I did not wear my heart on my sleeve, I presented it to him, open, forgiving and asking for nothing. That letter I wrote and deposited in the cloud was a final offering and surrender. But even in my fragile state I proved stronger and more grounded than he is. I could feel his unease with my open adoration, and his discomfort at the prospect of reading my letter. He claimed that he might read it if he could find the attachment.

When I walked away that day I knew that he had broken something deep inside me. But I did not know then the depth and the extent of the damage. And I am only beginning to fathom them now.

I have received the ultimate rejection from the man I love. He either did not appreciate how deeply I cared, or he understood my feelings and was afraid to acknowledge them, along with his responsibility for their existence. In the interest of my sanity I decided not to ponder anymore whether his cruelty was out of ignorance or cowardly self preservation, or both. It is the same difference to this wounded heart.

Hope Dies Last

I did not make the 100 days mark. Today it has been 98 days since I last saw my beloved Englishman, and I had to see him again when he texted me to have coffee.

Over the past few months, and especially during my holiday, the pain of missing him gutted me. When I surrendered to my longing and texted him he sounded off, unhappy, worried, or even apathetic. In our acquaintance, it had always bothered me that so many things were left unsaid, and although I am sure he knows how I feel about him, he never really heard the full story. So I wrote a simple love letter that I sent as an attachment through a messenger application. Whether he reads or not, it is his choice.

The last time I saw him, we met at an LGBT event where I gave him a rainbow flag. This love letter is my proverbial white flag. I am done with hiding from him, deleting his contact and blocking him on social media. I am also done with meeting him frequently over coffee as normal friends do. In my letter, I just made the simple plea that he write to me or text me every once in a while, to let me know how he is doing. I promised to see him a few times every year, if he wanted, because I feared that my heart could not handle more of these public meetings.

We exchanged some texts after I wrote the letter. He knows that I sent it, but I now doubt that he will read it.  When I arrived back, I told him that I had a little package of chocolates for him. He texted me today to ask if I would have coffee, and I acquiesced because the pain of missing him and worrying about him was greater than the risk of unsettling my heart again after meeting him. My heart was already unsettled over his strange and melancholic texts.

So we met today, and we talked. I did not pass out, I did not cry, and I did throw my arms around him. I deserve credit for at least that. I lost control over my train of thought and speech a few times, but I managed to demonstrate my capability for restraint. He talked about his expensive hobbies (good ! I disliked his acquired snobbery), and his family travels and activities with his wife and daughter (also good, keeps it real). We lightly touched on emotional issues, which were apparently all mine. Perhaps I will finally believe this?

I have done my part. I loved this man for the past year, and I loved him well. I cared enough to let go. I still love him, and will miss him for some time in the future. This time, I am not promising to cut all ties with him, I will leave the lightest of connection between us, just in case the longing grips me again by the throat.

There is a Spanish proverb that goes: Lo ultimo que muere es la esperanza – Hope Dies Last. A tiny flicker of that treacherous sentiment still resides deep in my heart. My beloved found me once when I did not want to be found. And although this event unleashed deluges of tears and many days and nights of emotional torture, I am grateful he did, because ultimately he helped me find my true self, my heart and my capacity for love. Perhaps one day he or someone like him will find me again, if by then I still did not mind being found.

Why ?

Why is it, that when I think of my beloved, it feels like my love for him combines all the love I felt for all the boys and men in my life, their past and their present? Why do I yearn to comfort the fatherless boy he was, like I embraced as a girl-child the remembered sorrow of my dad, who lost his father at eleven? Why does my heart channel towards my beloved the painful sympathy I felt for my brother when he burned his soft baby hands on the stove? and the ache I felt with my son when he cried bitter tears at losing a beloved toy I could not replace? Why is that man now my ocean, towards which flow all my emotions of love, longing, and tenderness regardless of origins.

And why is it, that whenever I see him, I feel bathed in the warmth of full sunshine? And no matter how many people are around in a room I only have eyes for him.

And why is it that even when I am thousands of miles away, and haven’t seen him, spoken to him, nor texted him for weeks, I still feel my love for him and the space he occupies in my heart ? And why is it that he is the first person I think about when I open my eyes in the morning, and the last one I remember before I drift off to sleep?

And why is it that I now cry at love stories and love songs, as I have never cried in decades?

And why is it that I have to suffer this heartache, when I was not even looking for love, and have long given up on romantic relationships and rejected casual hook-ups? And why is it that my heart chose him when my mind knows and accepts that he is possibly terribly unsuitable as a partner, even if he were free?

And why is it, that even after I abandoned social media, erased his phone number and blocked him, I still stalk his accounts, know his number by heart, and return to contacting him, when the stranglehold of missing him threatens to suffocate me?

And Why is it, that on a hot day when I could hardly breathe and feel like I am about to die, I have an overwhelming urge to speak to him just once before I exhale my last breath?

And Why ? When I neither want nor need him to belong to me, I feel that I still belong to him, and want him to know this? Why do I still yearn for his company, his presence, his voice or even his texts?

Why doesn’t my heart follow the script and listen when my mind is honestly and sincerely set on letting him go ?

Thousands of questions why, and not a single logical answer.

 

An Onscreen Love Story Gets Me

I am spending my holiday with family in Germany. My father is retired and my mother is semi-retired as she only does a few hours a week, helping out a lady who cares for her severely disabled partner. I enjoy my parents’ company and therefore I readily join them around the television to watch the offerings on German television.

The programming seems to be specifically designed for retirees, with long-running German telenovelas, and dubbed American series from the 1980s and older. I usually get into the telenovelas quickly, occasionally asking about the fate of some characters that have disappeared since I last watched. And I always manage to catch episodes I have seen before when I watch old  American series such as The Twilight Zone. As for the repeated movies, my father said jokingly “We only watch the movies we know” and so it happened that I caught a glimpse of one of my favourite movies “Die Brücken am Fluß” which is the German title for Bridges of Madison County. I was not in the mood to weep so I did not watch it in its entirety. Unlike my father I am not a fan of watching a movie I have seen before, least of all the ones that open up the wounds in my heart.

My mother talked me, however, into watching the movie Love is All You Need. I watch very little television, and I probably see less than half a dozen movies per year. I acquiesced this time because my mom praised this film so much and said she had seen it twice already, once as recently as last week. Also, the male lead was played by Pierce Brosnan, a handsome actor I had a crush on back in the 1980s when he played the mysterious detective Remington Steele, and I followed almost every season of that series. And while Remington Steele appealed to the romantic minded teenager I was in the late 1980s, the older Brosnan, is definitely more attractive to the middle aged woman I turned into now, and the character he played even more so.

The movie is simply a love story in the stunning setting of an Italian villa surrounded by lemon orchards, beautiful blue skies, and clear turquoise waters. The female main character Ida is a Danish hairdresser who has just finished a course of chemotherapy and has lost her hair to the cancer treatment. To add to her woes, she walks in on her husband having sex with a younger co-worker. The couple were supposed to attend their daughter’s wedding in Italy, and Ida decides to travel there alone. She runs into different problems on her way there, and is further humiliated when her husband shows up with the young airhead he is having an affair with.

The wedding location is a villa that belongs to Philip, the father of the groom, who also owns the lemon orchards surrounding it. He is a widower with a sour disposition, and he has several run-ins with Ida, who is brilliantly portrayed by a Danish actress Trine Dyrholm. I have never seen her before, but she was utterly convincing as this optimistic, and gentle soul, whose indomitable spirit shines despite her suffering and perhaps as a result of it. Philip finds out about her illness and has seen the bald head she hid under her blonde wig, but he is attracted to her optimism and thirst for life. This was my undoing in this love story. A man who is attracted to the woman’s soul rather than her body. A man who reassures her that no matter what her prognosis is, whether they will be together for ten minutes, a few month or many years, what is truly important is that he has the pleasure of her company for the time they are both given.

I have felt like this, so I know. I was married for almost nine years, and I remember very little from the decade I lived beside my ex husband since we first met in 1998. The years of my marriage seem like a vast empty space punctuated by decisions on home locations, careers, business, and finances. Except for a few words uttered in anger, there is almost no trace of left of the intensity of feeling we shared, if we ever did. I was living in an emotional wasteland. By contrast, if I added up all the moments I spent with my beloved, and included even the occasions we exchanged texts, the temporal will add up to a few days. The physical will amount to me kissing him on the cheek, and him kissing me on the forehead. We joined hands a couple of times, and I think I put my lips or cheek to the surprisingly soft skin of his palm. Yet the emotional intensity of these few encounters was, to me at least, worth years of methodical and loveless spousal couplings. I remember nuances of speech, and whole conversations exchanged without words. I have lived a lifetime of feelings, in a few texts, in mundane details exchanged. When he once lent me his jumper I felt it as an embrace, and when our eyes met and held, I felt him holding my very soul.

Life is not about how many breaths you take, or how many years you live,  it is about the moments that take your breath away. I now treasure those moments, whether lived, felt or remembered. Some love stories capture such moments, and those are the ones that get to me. The movie ended with that love declaration. I am sure that everyone who has ever loved understands it. Whether for a moment, a month or a few years, true love deserves to be treasured. I wept at the end of that movie too.