It was a spring-like day; one of those February days when the sun shines so bright, the sky is incredibly blue, and you feel warm for the first time after so many months. It makes you wonder if spring has come early this year – and you enjoy it.
We sat on the balcony of my friend’s charming apartment in an old building of a traditional Lisbon quarter, on a steep street like so many others that go up and down the city’s seven hills. Being French, she poured two glasses of Champagne rosé, served delicious French cheese and there we lingered, sipping our drinks and catching up.
We talked about life and love, about pre-retirement and new projects. I knew she had lost her boyfriend some two years ago, and I recalled theirs was a romantic love story, so I asked her to tell me about it again.
It all began when she was fifteen.
She was born in Brittany, France, in one of those villages by the rough, pitiless, Atlantic sea; they met one summer, when he was there for holidays with his family, and she fell in love for the first time.
From teenage holiday sweethearts they went on to live a love story that lasted a few years. She loved him, but she could not wholly commit to the relationship. The child of divorced parents, who had split when she was barely three, she had grown with an embittered mother, who taught her to distrust men; she feared her story would follow the same path as her parents’. In the end they went their separate ways and lost touch for years.
Years later she married a Portuguese man who lived in France and had a daughter. They eventually came to live in Portugal, but her heart was never in that marriage, and, as much as she would resist it, one day she had to accept she had never forgotten the love of her youth. She and her husband had a friendly divorce, and life went on.
One day, her daughter already at university, she went back to Brittany for holidays, as she often did. She was having dinner with a group of friends when one of them asked her if she knew her former love was ill. She had no idea – she didn’t even know he was living in Brittany, in fact had heard nothing of him for years. She was shocked to learn he had cancer.
The following day she knocked at his door. He could not believe his eyes when he saw her, and they spent hours catching up. It turned out he had never married but had had a relationship for some years which had given him a son. He had decided to move to her village and now he was fighting for his life.
Soon they resumed their relationship, admitting they had never been able to forget each other, and they thought of the years apart as a parenthesis in their lives. There were some who warned her she should not begin a relationship with a sick man, for it was likely to make her suffer, but, while she was aware of it, she chose to go on and live that love, for as long as she could. He was the love of her life, the one man she had always wanted to be with.
In the end, he was in remission for five years, five wonderful years. He continued to live in France, and she had her life and her work in Lisbon, but they met at least once every month and enjoyed every minute in each other’s company; they travelled, spent summers walking by the sea near their village, and she showed him the loveliest spots of Lisbon, her adopted city, that she had come to love. They lived their love story to the full, and found happiness together.
But happiness is elusive, as we all know. His cancer came back, this time more aggressive, and for two years he fought it bravely, but after a certain time they both knew what was going to happen, although she would not accept it. She believed a miracle would save him for her and dreamed of taking care of him for the rest of his life.
Memories of a happy time
One day she received a phone call telling her she must come quickly, if she wanted to say goodbye. She asked for urgent leave at work, packed her things and went to him, only to find he had passed away only a few hours before her arrival. She sat by him, and said her farewells, tears falling down her face, and she promised he will always be in her heart, for as long as she lives. In truth, he had never left her, even in the years when they were apart.
When she finished, there were tears in her eyes and in mine too. What a sad, but so truly beautiful, love story. She simply added, “I know I was fortunate to have such a love in my life, but it hurts… it hurts so much. No one knows.”
We change the subject and again she is the bright, vivacious woman I know. The moment has passed. We go for a long walk through a deserted city (we are still in confinement, so all shops and restaurants and cafés are closed). I look at her and I wish such a great love story might have had a happy ending. I think of how these two lovers lived their story to the full, and, in the end, only were separated by death. And I feel we should all try and live our loves as intensely as we can, while we are alive; if we don’t, one day it may be too late, and we will deeply regret it. My friend made the choice to live her emotions without fear, even knowing she might deeply suffer in the end; which she did. But she is adamant – she would do it all over again. We should not refrain from living a great love for fear of pain. While it lasts, it is worth it. And then, when it is over, the memories will always remain; a time of our life that was happy and fulfilled.
You were right, my friend, I think as I come down the stairs of her building and wait for the Uber to arrive. I wish more people would be like you, for this would be a happier, more loving world.