I first met him more than ten years ago when he came to help me with some IT problem. He was a fat, somewhat dishevelled young man. While he fixed my pc he told me he was married and had a little daughter, and we talked about our respective children as parents often do.
As we got to know each other better – I always needed his help as I changed equipments – I understood the reason why he was so fiercely protective of his daughter; she was slightly disabled and he worried that she should have a completely normal life. He showed me photos of her and she looked so cute with her huge brown eyes and a mass of curls. And although he worked long hours I could see he tried to spend as much time with her as he could and I saw him as a devoted father.
Time went by and one day when he came and I asked about his daughter he told me he was separated from his wife. He looked unhappy and said he missed his little girl very much as she was now living with her mother and he only got to see her on weekends. As a strong believer in joint custody I asked him why this was not their case – after all it has become more and more usual in the last few years – but he sadly told me her mother would not agree to that; as he didn’t want to have a judicial fight over his daughter he – even if grudgingly – accepted the situation.
Again some months or years passed without my needing his help but inevitably the day came when I called him again. As the doorbell rang and I opened the door I could not believe my eyes: this was not the same man I had known before – he was no longer fat, on the contrary, he must have shed some 30 kilos and was slim and fit. He looked younger and had a huge smile on his face, as he saw my surprise. While he was fixing our printer I understood the reason for his metamorphosis; he was in love, he had a new life, and he was happy.
He told me he had found a new love and had moved in with her and her three children, of whom he seemed extremely fond. His daughter came to visit him in his new home and all seemed well.
Again time went by. Whenever he came we talked; well, he did most of the talking as he was working. He told me he had begun having some problems with his daughter, who was jealous of “his new family” and had stopped visiting him. He later understood why – his ex wife had told the little girl that her father now had a new family and didn’t love her anymore. His daughter was growing up and was now more conscious of her disability and becoming more of an introvert. On subsequent visits he told me his daughter had stopped going to his place at all and I could see he was very sad about it. Another case of an embittered mother who uses her child as a weapon against her ex, I thought. If only these mothers understood the harm they are doing their children with these attitudes, they would simply stop! Still, apart from this, I felt he was really happy with this new woman; each time he looked better, more elegant, smartly dressed and even handsome. Love has a way of transforming people, I thought, and I was so glad for him.
A love story
Again I needed his help with our new printer and last week he came by. He sat down and as usually I asked about his daughter; he told me he hasn’t seen her for some time. That’s why he looks so sad, I thought. But then he mentioned something like “I’m back at my mother’s”. I thought I was not hearing well and when I asked him what that meant he burst out “I’ve left home; I am no longer with my girlfriend”. And then he told me his story.
He met her when she was almost a child, only 13. He was 22 then, already a man, and she looked a few years older. The first time he saw her he was dazzled by her, and he told his friend “This girl will be the love of my life”. His friend laughed but it was if as lightning had struck him. Later they were introduced and when he learned her age he kept his feelings buried deep inside and was content to be her friend. Time would pass, he thought, and he went on living his life and having fun as was normal for a young man his age.
He kept seeing her from time to time and barely two years later he was utterly shocked when he heard she was pregnant – clearly someone had not had his scruples regarding that young girl! He could not believe his ears when he heard she had decided to keep the baby against the advice of her family and he decided to keep away. In the end she had her baby and lived with the child’s father for some time.
He lost sight of her. He married and had his daughter and settled in his new life, if not happy at least comfortable. He heard she had found another love and given birth to twins and again he was worried about this young girl who had been burdened with adult responsibilities so early in her life. However, as far as common friends told him, she seemed to be coping.
Then one day his life changed. After his separation from his wife he ran into her by accident on the street. He found her as beautiful as ever, or even more beautiful, her bright blue eyes and long blond hair no longer those of a girl but of a young woman; he saw in her a mix of experience and wonder, of confidence and frailty, that strongly appealed to him, and from that moment on he realised he had never stopped loving her, not for one day, not for one moment, and he knew he wanted her to be with him forever, he wanted to protect her from all perils and make her happy.
She was lonely and he was protective and at first she only saw him as a friend. He was patient – he loved her in silence, and waited until such a time as she was ready to love him. Only when he understood she was receptive did he tell her he had always loved her, from the very first moment; and she loved him back, or rather allowed herself to be loved by him – which of those, he told me, he will probably never know.
He moved in with her and her children and they were very happy for a while. But slowly, slowly, things changed. She became restless and when he tried to understand the reason she told him she needed to be free, to live her life as she had never had the chance to. After all, being a mother at fifteen had robbed her of her youth. Instead of enjoying those crazy years “in between” when you have so many new experiences, so many loves and so many heartaches and live through so many funny episodes, she had had to grow up too quickly and take responsibility for another human being. While her friends went to discos and enjoyed escapades with their boyfriends she was breastfeeding and rocking her baby through sleepless nights. And now she needed to be free, as she had never been.
When a man loves a woman
I understood this, of course. If you don’t live those experiences during your teens and young adult years, if you miss out some stages in life you’ll have to go through them sooner or later. I know of some people who married too young, then separated and lived as if they were back to their teenage years…sometimes in their forties! No wonder this girl felt she had missed all the fun and wanted to get some of it back. Even if that meant breaking the heart that so deeply loved her.
He was very sad as he finished telling me his story. My heart went out to him when he said “She is undoubtedly the love of my life. I have loved her for so long and then she was mine and now I feel so empty without her”. And when I asked him if he thought they might have another chance, he replied “I hope so. We are still seeing each other as friends and I’ve been taking her out and listening to her. I hope I can give her the space she needs and make her understand I’ll be there for her when she is ready, after she has lived whatever she wants to”.
How he loves her, I thought. He will suffer, no doubt, as she tries to go back in time and recover her lost youth. Which I’m not sure will make her happy, but of course she will have to try. In the process, she will certainly meet other men; have the experiences she did not have the chance to have. And, from what I understand, this man who loves her so deeply, so strongly, so passionately, will be hoping she realizes he is the one for her as she is the one for him, and he will no doubt be waiting for her, risking it all, as he knows she may never come back to him.
But then, as the song goes, “when a man loves a woman/he can’t keep his mind on nothing else/he’d trade the world for the good thing he’s found”.
I closed the door on him and whispered “All the best”, and I thought of how so many women dream of inspiring a love like this, and of how only a fortunate few find one. And I went back to the kitchen, humming “When a man loves a woman”…. What an amazing song, and how true.