Last week I met a fascinating woman. What would be the most appropriate word to describe my contact with her? You see, she passed away some time ago. But I have come to know her in a profound way, gradually, step by step, word by word… and I am very grateful for this encounter across rainbows.
Two weeks ago (this was back in the summer of 2012) I visited my best friend in New York. What a wonderful time is when we are together! We are mirrors in our likes and dislikes, in our passions and repulsions, we have the same favorite past times, same curiosities. Beside the Broadway shows, walking the NY streets, buying books at Strand and strolling in Central Park, beside the exquisite dinners and the Harlem music clubs, we spent a lot of time remembering old days, talking, reminiscing, looking through old photographs and digging up old memories… She stumbled onto five old-looking notebooks and said: “Oh my God! You have to read these. You’ll understand!”. I took them gently, almost puzzled and frozen at the idea… personal journals of a woman I’ve never known. She passed away some years back, her personal notes where gifted to my girlfriend by the woman’s son, my friend’s boyfriend at the time. Complicated, puzzling, unexplainable… the life of these Notebooks as the life of my wonderful heroine…
What serendipity to have these precious shreds of an existence in my care! I started reading them back home in the quiet of a Sunday morning. How careful I am holding the old papers, how conflicted the feeling – do I have the right? But how can one resist? I am treading lightly… I’m reading with respect and admiration, and I am handling the fragile pages with utmost care… The more I read, the more sacred they become, a conversation across years, across realities…
I am astonished! There are five journals. The first one starts in August 1971 and goes on until 1973. It is a torment to read… how any human being can go through so much suffering and humiliation from the person one loves most… I won’t go into the details, but two years later the booklet ends in one word: DIVORCE.
Her second Notebook is all love. In fact, all her journals, every single page, are ALL LOVE. This Notebook ends in Feb 1975. With a deception. In love.
From her third journal I infer her age while writing the notes. It starts in Oct 1979 and the journal is about her 20-year university graduation reunion. How fitting! When she wrote this, she was my age… I just attended my 20-year college reunion this summer… what a surge of emotion!
At the end of this Notebook, she comes back with one page written in October 1984, 5 years have passed from her last entry in this notebook. Poignant.
The fourth Notebook is the fall of 1981, titled ‘Jurnal de Vacanta, 1981’, a vacation diary. A special, happy time, a visit to her sister in Munich area in Germany. I feel elated that she spent this wonderful one-month visit in Bavaria and some parts of Austria. I live the novelty of her travels and discoveries through her words.
Her fifth Notebook starts in November 1988 and goes through October 1989.
1989! The year of the Romanian Revolution, the fall of communism! I can’t help but put her words into a context I’m so familiar with… There is one last letter she wrote, dated July 1995… A woman of ‘a certain age’ as French would say, giving advice to a younger woman on how to deal with heartbreak in a love affair. She gives as a Post Scriptum the last line from an old Italian movie, when the unhappy heroine of the movie looks outside her window onto an empty street and says: “How many windows, how many women like me… nevertheless you NEED TO LIVE”. And then my wonderful heroine, the real woman of my lines adds her words in brackets “and you even need to LOVE your life”… This was the motto of her life! I’ve seen it in her first booklet.
Now, April 2017 – I am continuing this, writing five years later. Five years have passed since I’ve had her journals… Another serendipity perhaps, to come back here and tie this up… just like she tied up one of her journals after five years… I have long returned the precious Notebooks to my friend… deeply grateful for such a special gift. My friend was right, I understood.
The woman that I’ve never seen, but got to know so well, talked about feelings, dreams, hopes and illusions… heartbreaks, embarrassment, regrets… And yet, the overarching message of her written thoughts was strength and self-reliance, starting all over again every morning, upbeat and vulnerable, smiling at the world… in love with life… She is the archetypal woman of great novels and classic Italian movies, the ones she loved so much.
I am so taken with her never-ending faith that life is beautiful… I haven’t seen an image of her but I know it from her words… she was so beautiful, inside and out!
I cannot end this without a word of thank you to my girlfriend for sharing these precious Notebooks with me… I wrote most of this post immediately after reading the Notebooks but hesitated much whether to share my thoughts on them or not… so sacred, so personal, but so universal. So now I have decided Yes… a woman’s life distilled in everlasting perfume is for sharing… a nod to my archetypal woman and also to my girlfriend in the same breath.
I think of her at times… and, at times, I think she is around…