Part One: Les Etangs d'Ixelles
Part Two: The Course of True Love
Part Three: Poste Restante
2008. I turned seventy in October. Raising children and a professional life are memories now. I have lived alone longer than I ever did as a wife, and I am contented here in the Northwest where the climate reminds me of my native Belgium. It is a solitary life but a pleasant enough one filled with visits with children and grandchildren, new and old friends, art classes, books, my rose garden, sunny weeks in the French house I share with a friend.
Witnessing my granddaughters in the throes of young love inevitably evokes my own first love but I don't allow my heart to linger in that painful territory. Though I regret not sharing the simple pleasures of life with a companion, I have long ago come to terms with that sadness. It's a locked box relegated on a shelf in my memory.
December 6. My mother's birthday and the anniversary of bringing my new two-year old daughter home. I am not dreaming of either milestone when the phone wakes me up at 2:37 am. Instantly, the fear of unspeakable harm to my children fills me with panic.
-Françoise? (a faint Belgian voice ) Françoise? (Michel? Yes, Michel)
- Oui? (fear recedes but my mind goes blank)
- Do you know who this is?
- Yes. Yes. Of course I know. (does he imagine I could ever forget his voice!?)
I can't go back to sleep after that night's long emotional conversation. I am stunned. Literally. I sit on the edge of my bed and cannot put two thoughts together. I cannot figure out what I feel, too many contradictory emotions collide in my head and heart. Like Pandora's my box has burst open and all the ills and pains of that impossible love are washing over me. The urge to flee them is as strong as the temptation to believe Michel who is finally free and who for decades has held on tight in his heart to that one last nugget: hope.
Four months and many letters and phone calls later, still filled with misgivings, I wait for him in a hotel room in Brussels. My escape plan is ready just in case this meeting proves disastrous. Then, we are in each other arms and all is as it should be. The next 40 days are the happiest of our lives, "as though" to quote someone else, "after a parenthesis of 50 years, life is finally back on its normal course."
Living on separate continents creates many geographic, practical and legal complications. And so, Dear Reader, I will not marry him. We'll live sometimes here and sometimes there. Together. At long, long last together.
The end . . . and the beginning.