BOOK SLICE. A good part of Paulo Coelho’s The Witch of Portobello that I am obligated to share to my audience.
The next day, I told Athena that I wanted a divorce. She asked me why.
“Because I love you. Because I love Viorel. And because all I’ve done is to blame you both because I had to give up my dream of becoming an engineer. If we’d waited a little, things would have been different, but you were only thinking about your plans and forgot to include me in them.”
Athena said nothing, as if she had been expecting this, or as if she had unconsciously been provoking such a response.
My heart was bleeding because I was hoping she’d ask me, please, to stay. But she seemed calmed and resigned, concerned only that the baby might hear our conversation. It was then that I felt sure she had never loved me, and that I had merely been the instrument for the realization of her mad dream to have a baby at nineteen.
I told her that she could keep the house and the furniture, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She’d stay with her parents for a while, then look for a job and rent her own apartment. She asked if I could help out financially with Viorel, and I agreed at once.
I got up, gave her one last, long kiss, and insisted again that she should stay in the house, but she repeated her resolve to go to her parents’ house as soon as she’d packed up all her things. I stayed at a cheap hotel and waited every night for her to phone me, asking me to come back and start a new life. I was even prepared to continue the old life if necessary, because that separation had made me realize that there was nothing and no one more important in the world than my wife and child.
A week later, I finally got that call. All she said, however, was that she’d cleared out all her things and wouldn’t be going back. Two weeks after that, I learned that she’d rented a small attic flat in Basset Road, where she had to carry the baby up three flights of stairs everyday. A few months later, we signed the final divorce papers.
My real family left over. And the family I’d been born into received me with open arms.
After my separation from Athena and the great suffering that followed, I wondered if I hadn’t made a bad, irresponsible decision, typical of people who’ve read lots of love stories in their adolescence and desperately want to repeat the tale of Romeo and Juliet. When the pain abated — and time is the only cure for that — I saw that life had allowed me to meet the one woman I would ever be capable of loving. Each second spent by her side had been worthwhile, and given the chance, despite all that happened, I would do the same thing over again.
But time, as well as healing all wounds, taught me something strange too: that it’s possible to love more than one person in a lifetime. I remarried. I’m very happy with my new wife, and I can’t imagine living without her. This, however, doesn’t mean that I have to renounce all my past experiences, as long as I’m careful not to compare my two lives. You can’t measure love the way you can the length of a road or the height of a building.
Something very important remained from my relationship with Athena: a son, her great dream, of which she spoke so frankly before we decided to get married. I have another child by my second wife, and I’m better prepared for all the highs and lows of fatherhood than I was 12 years ago.
Once, when I went to fetch Viorel and bring him back to spend the weekend with me, I decided to ask her why she’d reacted so calmly when I told her I wanted a separation.
“Because all my life I’ve learned to suffer in silence,” she replied.
And only then did she put her arms around me and cry out all the tears she would like to have shed on that day.
Lukas Jessen-Peterson’s story, pp38-41