I tracked down the love of my life — 40 years after my mother broke us up

Monday, 29 May 2017, 11:09:58 AM. My family moved to California from the Philippines in 1977 and made Los Angeles our home. I was 19. I studied nursing, met my husband and had two children.

My family moved to California from the Philippines in 1977 and made Los Angeles our home. I was 19. I studied nursing, met my husband and had two children. Then, after 22 years of marriage, the problems we had could no longer be ignored. We divorced.

One night, long after that breakup, I dreamed of my first boyfriend. It was decades earlier, when I was 17 and he was 20. When I awoke from that dream, I found myself crying, thinking of him, day and night. It seemed like I had penetrated a memory tucked away in my brain. It felt like it was just yesterday. And just like that, I realized: I'm still in love with him.

One of the memories that surfaced was a deeply rooted,  painful incident that occurred between my mother and me. It was the very incident that led to my separation from my boyfriend, without ever having the chance to say goodbye.

You have to remember, this was in the “olden days,” and stern rules were prevalent among Filipino families. Children learned to obscure their true emotions for fear of punishment.

My mother had found out that I had a boyfriend, and she disciplined me severely, physically and emotionally.

I was punished for falling in love.

Our entire clan and neighborhood witnessed the turmoil in our household after my secret love was discovered. The harsh words and physical beatings were almost unbearable. I wanted to rebel against the societal norms that that said I was far too young to date, especially without my mother's permission and supervision. But I knew it would lead to my destruction and more pain.

I did the only thing I could do. I numbed myself, lost my soul and my dignity.

I lost myself.

Later, after I studied psychology as part of my nursing, I learned more about what I had done to survive that ordeal: I had found a way to force myself to forget the painful incident and suppress it in the back of my mind forever ... thinking it would stay there forever.

But that dream told me otherwise.

After that dream, I felt a desperate need to find him and to apologize, to explain.

Thanks to Facebook and Google — technology I could never have imaged when I was a teenager — I found him.

I discovered that after we broke up, he had graduated from seminary school and was planning to join the priesthood before changing course. He was still living in the Philippines. I tracked down a number and reached out to him by text, but there was no response.

Finally, I sent him an old pocketbook I had kept, which he would have remembered from our time together in 1974, along with my favorite high school literature novel, "Wuthering Heights." It is a story, of course, of a deep love that is carried to the grave.

He responded and said that he doesn't hold grudges any longer. I was so relieved but not satisfied. We continued to communicate on and off, but he became a man of limited words, unlike me. I tediously wrote him prayers, love notes and greetings for every occasion that came around. I kept trying to revise my thoughts so I could penetrate his heart. Last Christmas came and I sent him a wish across the miles: "I give you my heart and soul, because I realized that after all these years, I still belong to you."

I also wrote to him about what happened with my mother, which I had never told him before. He was shocked. He said, "I should've been there. I'm sorry it was all because of me. Now, I understand everything."

He told me, “I love you very very much forever.”

It was the greatest gift of Christmas … my absolution.

Earlier this year, as my mother was dying, I worked up the courage to tell her that I had found my old boyfriend. I apologized, and I explained that we still love each other very much. My mother uttered, "I'm sorry." My eyes were pouring tears with joy and sadness. That was my redemption of myself, my soul and my dignity. I went home to text him what transpired and he said, "If our memories were good, why would you cry? What we have enjoyed, we can never lose. All that we loved deeply becomes part of us. The pain passes, but the beauty remains."

He told me he has lived a lonely life and that love had finally found him after all these years. He recently sent me the lyrics to the song,

I want to know what love is, I want you to show me

I want to feel what love is, I know you can show me

That caused my heart to sink with sadness. It was a powerful revelation. But what had I done to us? There was nothing else I could offer but the love I deprived him of four decades earlier. He wished me a “happy ruby anniversary.”

But he's on the other side of the world. 

We still write each other but nothing has been said about a reunion.

The author is a nurse living in Chino Hills with her son and daughter. 

L.A Affairs chronicles love in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments, or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.

To read the article in Spanish, click here

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