Part One: Les Etangs d'Ixelles
Part Two: The Course of True Love
1977. It's been 16 years since I left Europe. The Belgian girl of the 50's is gone, I am a working California mother of four, who just graduated from college. There is a husband, too, but we haven't been a couple for many years. After an absence of 12 years, I return for a visit to Brussels.
It's heady being back by myself and re-connecting with my family and friends. One evening, on an impulse, I look up M's name in the phone book and call. What did I expect? Just to have a catch up conversation and hang up? That he would invite me to share a drink ? I am taken unawares when a young boy's voice answers, "My dad isn't here." I explain I am an old school friend and leave my name and number.
Three days later I sit waiting on a public bench. He approaches from behind and puts his hands on my shoulders. (Later I thought, "If he hadn't touched me . . . ") I look up at pure happiness in his smile and in those blue eyes, and it hits me: the certainty I made a terrible mistake 20 years earlier. He takes my hand to lead me to a small restaurant. I remember only that I kissed him in the middle of the meal, and when we parted an hour later my life had changed irreversibly. This love is hopeless, of course. Spread over two continents, there are five young children and two spouses to be considered, and I am no Anna Karenina.
For 4 or 5 years we exchange music, like this Mireille Mathieu song, and anguished love letters addressed "Poste Restante". I manage return trips "home" and we steal hours of passion, guilt, love, followed always by the shattering pain of separation.
By 1982 I am single again. Our children have grown older but M's wife has become dependent and fragile and he feels honor-bound to stay by her side. We meet a few more times while I work in Europe in the late 80's, but nothing has changed and I am too disillusioned and resentful to stay in touch. Despite his pleas, I stop writing and deliberately close the door on memories and hope. I begin a new life, free but alone.