I've been thinking of a former French boyfriend quite a lot in the past few weeks. When that happens it usually means the person in question is wondering about me too. I think we were madly in love once- I use the word 'think' because more than twenty-five years have passed since we met. Were we? Who knows? The fact is we're not together and much has happened in both of our lives, the equivalent of War and Peace in mine and I can only assume, the same in his.
There is no trajectory in anyone's life which is plain easy and nothing is ever what it seems. One of my university friends deliberately cut off contact because she struggled financially and found herself unemployed. I only learned of this some twenty years later and by chance from a third person. In our shallow and facile 21st century living where social media dictates that we are all wonderful, successful and beautiful, if you're out on a limb, you don't actually want to be reminded of not being perfect. The same could well apply to my French boyfriend. Although he was relatively successful and well-known when we met, there's nothing to be found about him on the internet. Does this mean he is dead? Or could it be that he disappeared into obscurity and is padding peacefully around in his slippers talking to his houseplants? Maybe he became a drug addict and his career crashed. Maybe he lost all his money and is living on social benefits on an estate reminiscing about the life he once had and the one woman he should never have let go.
None of us will ever fully understand if we made the right decisions in our lives. The late John Hurt famously replied when asked if he had regrets, that yes, he regretted everything because in hindsight he could have always behaved differently. Just as my heart was broken, I'm responsible for breaking a few too and pretty shamelessly at the time although I only understood that after the fact. And yes, I probably should have listened to my mother and married DR BORING WITH ZERO PERSONALITY but at least by now I'd have been enjoying a comfortable retirement trapped in an utterly loveless marriage for the sake of it but thankfully too comatose to notice. (Cue the joke of the husband and wife who claim to get on very well because they never speak.)
I still have the couple of love letters my French boyfriend wrote to me. The last time I found them by accident as I was throwing stuff away to prepare for a house-move, I couldn't believe my eyes. I remember it all as if it were only yesterday: the way we looked at each other when we were introduced (when kismet had to be and was not forced through a computer screen), that feeling of 'there you are', how he captivated every waking thought, and yet if we were to cross paths in the street we probably could not bear to speak to each other. I think that's true love. When no amount of words could express what could have been or should have been and how sorry we both must be that we didn't have the guts to forge a life together. Sometimes there are those who place their stamp so indelibly on our hearts that it is simply too painful to revisit the past or even see them again because we could never recapture what we once had. So what do we do instead? We convince ourselves that life must go on and we just carry on.
My late mother had no end of suitors in her time and turned down many marriage proposals before she deigned to marry my father. One suitor, a Frenchman called Claude, never forgot her. Several years into her marriage with children of her own, my mother was riding down an escalator in the London Underground one day when she heard someone call her name. It was Claude. They spent hours over coffee filling in the gaps of the previous two decades. Claude eventually died and to the end kept photos of my mother which he would often gaze at wistfully. Claude's wife, Marie, informed my mother of this after Claude had died. Even when Alzheimer's had destroyed Claude's memory or so it would seem, the one person he remembered and would speak of was my mother.
Love therefore shares a lot in common with our British weather which is notoriously unpredictable and follows no particular pattern. For example, it's not unusual for warm sunshine to follow an endless freezing downpour or for a menacing cloud to suddenly waft away revealing the bluest of skies. And in the summer we moan endlessly that it's too hot and how we wish it would rain! In the course of life we will experience both sunshine and showers and more often than not, it will rain on the days we forget our umbrella at home. We discover too late that matters of the heart are as transient as the clouds in the sky and when we look back, we only can see the happiness we thought we knew.
Photo copyright SvD.