Updated: Jan 5
"Many of my closest family and friends will be shocked, as they will only find out when they read this."
He took me to an ice cream parlour in London on one of our first dates. As we sat enjoying our desserts, he told an astonishing tale of his past and I absorbed it, having never removed my eyes from his gaze. The ice cream melted as he explained, each detail more shocking than the next. To protect his privacy, I won't get into details, but many of my friends would have gotten up and walked away. I didn't; I was intrigued. I wanted to know more.
In the months to come we became good friends. I wanted to be around him all the time. I never knew what he would do or where he would take me. It could be the cinema or an impulsive trip to Paris, either option was offered with the ease of asking “so how do you take your coffee?” He was the quiet man who would sit in the corner of a room whilst simultaneously being in control of the show. Our time together was extravagant and reeked of easy money - made so easy, it’s money to be spent.
On a trip to Mauritius, as it came to an end, we sat in a romantic candlelit restaurant looking at our menus. He spoke to me very clearly and calmly. After the trip had ended we were to return to London and he never wanted to see me again. It had been months of him demonstrating his desire to be with me. The trips, gifts, and time spent together were his way of courting me. I had always politely rejected his advances, giving just enough to show interest but concealing my emotions. He wasn't my usual type. His past was dark. His current situation… well, the less I knew the better.
He stood by his word and refused to speak to me. I wrote, called, and all but pleaded, but he ignored my advances. It was only once I lost him that I realized just how extraordinary he was. Having achieved all that he had, despite his past, and being so humble was inspiring to me. I desired him and was willing to do whatever it took to get him back. He, in return, had put his guard up and there was no penetrating it. I wanted to be with him so, when we finally met, before he could utter a single word I kissed him.
Our first kiss. He had made his point loud and clear and I would no longer play any games; I was his.
Our relationship finally began.
Soon after we became inseparable. The relationship was adventurous and excessive. He was incredibly generous. We were the underprivileged ones with difficult upbringings - we weren't meant to live the way we did. We felt invincible. I loved him without condition.
I had found the person I could finally open up to about my past. The many events I had chosen to forget, my experiences of love, love lost, pain, and secrets. To this day I don't think there is anyone in the world that knows me as well as he does. To be that open and accepted was something I had never felt before; I was at peace.
We sat in bed one day and I told him a story.
It was the story of the human heart. I believe that when we’re born, our heart is filled with the purity of having never experienced any pain. It’s vibrant and full of joy. As we get older, though, and feel the disappointments of life, our hearts become a bit more wounded. A dent here, a scratch there.
In my youth I experienced enough pain to last a lifetime. My heart took a beating. Like a man returning from battle, I was wounded but functioning. I didn’t have much left that resembled a heart, so it became even more precious.
I held my hand up and showed him my open palm, where an imaginary, fragile heart lay. Then I closed it tightly. Too much had happened to me and I was riddled with fear, as I loved him deeply. If I placed what little I had left in his hands and he were to hurt me, well… I’d have nothing left to give. It could destroy me and it was a risk I wasn’t sure I should take.
He looked me in the eyes, having realized the importance of what I was saying, and opened my closed palm. he took the imaginary heart and held it to his chest. “Leave it with me,” he said, “and I’ll protect it from now on as you heal.” For the first time in my adult life I felt truly loved by a man. My heart strengthened.
We were married in a town hall. It was a small ceremony with only two close friends who also served as witnesses. I wore a dress which I bought off the rack for £15. He looked amazing in his designer suit. As we read our vows, I cried.
Unbeknownst to us, the marriage would be our downfall. The timer had started and it was the beginning of the end.
He came from a religious and strict Muslim family. Their culture was so different to mine and they had expectations of us which I could not meet. I had always been a free butterfly, off on a new adventure and filled with a joie de vivre, free to live my life without structure. Only now, I had the man I loved by my side. He embraced and accepted me even as some members in his family rejected the adventurous western woman. I wasn't going to set a good example for his sisters and community. I wasn't going to convert to Islam.
It didn’t matter much as neither of us were religious. As the years went by, he always stood by my side despite his family’s disapproval. It wasn't that they disliked me as a person, it was that they knew I would never be like them. He had a son from a previous marriage and his son became my son. I loved him as if he were my own.
Life wasn't always perfect, but it was ours. We were each other’s escape and strength. It really felt like it was just us in the world, living in a luxurious bubble.
Then the bubble burst.
A criminal case, which he assumed had been closed years ago, had been reopened. He was being charged and the penalty was up to 12 years in prison.
We were devastated. We imagined our only worry in life was the decision or whether or not to convert religions; now it was whether he would stay or leave.
The day he was taken, we spent the morning in bed lying in each other’s arms. It had been organized that he was to be extradited to another country later that afternoon. He never asked me if I would stay with him and I never declared that I would wait. I would wait, though. His prison sentence became my prison sentence.
It was decided he would serve 18 months, I found out during one of our daily calls. I told him it would be alright and to be strong. I’d take care of the rest. He was always my rock and now it was my turn to be his. I was suffering, but I never let him know. He held my heart and I wanted to be his reason to keep going.
It was also around this time that I began to live two separate lives. I chose not to tell anyone of his prison sentence, instead opting for a fake breakup before miraculously getting back together when he returned. He had left on a long business trip and no-one would see him for 18 months. I was embarrassed by the thought of potential gossip and being judged. I was ashamed that if I told anyone the truth then I’d have to come to terms with the crippling pain of our separation. Family and friends would certainly ask me to leave him; I was young and could start over, they would say. We weren't the perfect couple, after all.
There were two close childhood friends which I confided in, as well as my mother. Many of my closest family and friends will be shocked, as they will only find out when they read this.
Two lives, one person.
Sometimes I was the supportive wife, picking up my stepson from my husband’s ex and having him for our designated weekends. Liaising with the solicitors. Accepting daily calls from prison. Other times I was the grieving ex, not quite ready to date again. When friends pushed for me to move on, I simply said I needed more time. Ensuring I never painted him in a bad light, I was awaiting his return.
We wrote each other 100 love letters during his sentence. It was exciting to get home and receive a beautiful bouquet of roses. Even in prison, he didn't forget an anniversary or Valentine’s day. He was always romantic. He continued to support me and I continued to support him.
Finally, the sentence was over and he returned home. He was a different man from the one I knew, worn down and defeated. He never complained and I never saw him cry. There was no self-pity. He just wanted to get on with his life, so we didn’t speak of it again. We had reconciled and I was happy to have my heart back.
The topic of converting to Islam became more prevalent with his return. He would do anything in the world for me, and I anything for him - except convert my religion. It became a stubborn battle of wills.
We tried our best to not bring it up. Neither of us liked confrontation or arguments. We were a perfect fit otherwise, but there was always the elephant in the room. He had become religious and wanted me to join him on the same path.
I want to be clear that I respect Islam and all religions. I have a Quran. I educated myself on this beautiful religion, which is often misunderstood. It’s based on sound ideals that I admire and aim to follow, but it simply wasn't my path. I tried to be more open to converting, but it didn't come naturally. I asked God for guidance and decided I would continue without a religion, remaining spiritual.
We moved and travelled to other countries. Perhaps a change of continent would change our ideals and help us in our vision of the future; it didn't.
It all came to a head one bright and sunny afternoon as we drove in Cape Town. He was leaving me, having become unable to come to terms with my desire not to convert. I jumped out of the car and walked along the ocean’s boardwalk. I walked until darkness literally overcame me. It was over and I was to return to London without him.
They say time heals everything, but I disagree. As the months went by, I felt progressively worse. I was traumatized. I had given him all I had left of my heart. I had nothing left to give - not even enough left to love myself. This double life had taken its toll on me. I lost his son as well. it was too much to bear.
I left to visit an aunt in Colombia. She lived on a farm out in the countryside with stunning views of the West Andes mountains. It was stripped down to the vital necessities but incredibly charming - no electricity and no need to check my phone. I had escaped as far as I could go.
We sat on rocking chairs facing the mountains and she asked me what was wrong. I told her everything. The ice cream parlour, the trips, the romance, the son, the prison sentence. The double life. The religion and having lost my heart.
I needed to tell someone to extract this pain which was torturing my mind. The words flowed out like a poisonous venom. I cried often and would pause only to find I had even more to eliminate. She sat in silence, rocking in her chair, listening but never making eye contact. At some point I released the last bit of poison and was exhausted. I observed her peacefully rocking away. How could she be so calm? My world had ended. I lost the human that knew me the most. I was shattered and had lost my joie de vivre.
Finally, she broke her silence and asked if I had told her everything. Could it be that I’d missed a detail? No, I pondered, I had told her everything. I offloaded it all. There was nothing left to be said. “Good,” she said, “If there’s nothing left to be said, then it’s a thing of the past. Move on.”
And just like that, I felt a sense of relief flow through my body. I was resurrected. It was over and my life began again.
Much has happened after as I began to rebuild. I travelled solo for 8 months in search of simplicity and peace of mind.
I did see him again. We spoke about what we had gone through. He apologized for if he ever made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. It was not his intention as he loved me entirely. He just knew we had a different future ahead of us. I told him of my travels and living in the jungles - of all the amazing people and experiences I had discovered as I fell in love with myself again. I was healing and had my heart back; a new one I created from within. He was proud of me. I was still the butterfly that never clipped my wings.
We are no longer in contact. Occasionally I have heard of him or seen him in the background of a picture. We don’t share mutual friends. I don’t know what country he lives in.
We used to say that our last thought on our deathbed would be of each other. He was the man that met me as a girl and saw me flourish into a woman. I will forever treasure our time together and, despite the pain, there’s nothing I would change about it.
There is so much I chose not to disclose to protect his identity and story.
However, if he were to ever read this, I want him to know this is my last love letter to him. I want him to know I live a life full of love and he will always occupy a space in my growing heart, till our deathbed and beyond.
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