Maria (44): ‘This is the story about the two loves in my life, which have nothing to do with each other and everything at the same time. The story of a woman – me – who had to learn that life is water and rock. That if you’re just water and you keep adding to the other, you get skewed proportions that you get back like a boomerang. It may sound a bit too metaphorical, but looking back, that was the lesson. If only I had been more rock a little more often. Even though I’m not a frightened, compliant woman, I was always drowned out.
Man one I have known all my life. He is the son of good friends of my parents, we are four years apart and when we were little he was mainly friends with my older brother. Together they acted like a comedy duo at the expense of me, the little sister, and I tried my best to fit in. Growing up, we lost touch, but he faithfully visited my parents. And when he suddenly called when my brother and I were just taking care of my mother, who was seriously ill at the time, he immediately said: I’m coming. I was 23 years old. It turned out to be a happy evening, a little bit of fun after all the worrying we’d done the weeks before. We drank, played games, laughed and at night I fell asleep in the neighbor’s yard. He found me the next morning after looking for me all night, and then it happened. He grabbed me, we kissed and ended up in bed together. The next day there was a giggly and also intimate atmosphere. A bit strange, because he was a kind of brother, had I slept with my brother? Was this a fad? And why was I suddenly so attracted to him?
In the years that followed, we kept in touch every now and then, but that one evening never happened again. I soon met a wonderful other man and got married. I was pregnant when husband one came to see me one afternoon. Again we had a great afternoon in which we were doubled over with laughter, it was uncomplicated and overwhelmingly familiar. He told me he just got divorced after a very short marriage of twelve months, we drank tea, and I thought: this man belongs to me. This man is family and will never leave. In that comfortable knowledge we said goodbye. ‘See you next time.’ I had two children. My husband wanted a career abroad and together we followed his ambition. Every few years we lived in a different faraway country, from Africa to the US. When he wanted something, he kept up the pressure until I gave up my resistance. I saw how he grew from the recognition. He was a jovial, charming, very witty man. I was proud of him and of our lives that never had the slightest hint of routine. With him around, something unexpected always happened. And I thought: go ahead, then my own career will have to wait a little longer.
Until, like my mother, I became ill and my husband, someone of the great gesture, quit his job outright to take care of the children. His boss suggested that he could also just take unpaid leave for a while, but in his eyes that was half the job. He was like a pinball machine at times and didn’t want to see that his well-paid executive position was the fuel on which he lived. Not the hum of the washing machine, not the bustle in the schoolyard, not the daily rounds with the dog or the disc of five. My husband got grumpy, especially when I recovered and – now that he was home – was finally able to go back to work. I had overcome my illness and noticed that I was also highly valued outside the door.
Out of piety and to spare my husband, I started at home to plug the holes he left behind. After work I made sandwiches for the next morning, did the laundry and cooked. I knew that my perfect marriage was going downhill, but I saw it as a phase, a crisis that we would get out of. We had built up enough credit in the years before, our marriage wouldn’t just fall apart. But it got worse and worse and he was too proud for therapy: ‘If we can’t fix this ourselves, we should split up.’ We had a horrible fight in a hotel room with our kids next door when he thought I was dating a colleague. In response, I started to try even harder and to keep all the balls in the air. It wasn’t fair. In all those years of marriage, I’d never liked anyone else except husband one. But that was out of the ordinary.
My mother died and at the funeral man one spoke, so calm and good and warm it was as if he cast a fishing rod and hit me on his hook. The connection that had been there all our lives provided guidance in my married life, which had become so uncertain. And the lunch he invited me to shortly afterwards turned into a drink and dinner, where I screamed with laughter just like when we were young. In between I told about the problems with my husband and he about the problems with his wife. At the third and fourth lunches, which I hid from my husband, we kissed. We started sending each other apps, poems, letters. This took a year and a half. A year and a half of mad love, of feeling guilty, of repeated attempts to save my marriage and put man one back in his cage, that of a friend of the family. It did not work. I have been divorced for a year. Man two soon had a girlfriend and man one chose his wife anyway. That’s what I mean by water and rock. If you have too much water, you will find yourself short of breath and drown.’
At the request of the interviewee, the name Maria has been changed.
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