Names: Valentina & Leo
Been together since: 1966 or 1980 until 1997
I am not going to lie, my story has got twists and turns that I never imagined possible, life played cruel jokes on me and then showered me with blessings again. Looking back at the journey of my true but crazy love, I smile and the warmth fills my heart, because I know that I did everything right. I did everything that I was meant to do and I truly have no regrets. I followed the current of life, I flowed with the river and it took me to my ocean, my Leo!
It was October 1966, I was just 19, we just battled the exams at the university and were exhausted from burying ourselves in the books. We celebrated. My university peers and I went to a café, where the live band was blasting the retro beats. Young, open-minded, joyful and adventurous, we were laughing at silly things and danced till our feet couldn’t carry us any more. Just as we were leaving the lively café, I was stopped by a gentleman wearing a felt hat and a long trench coat. He was older, at least 10 years it seemed, he had a serious expression on his face and asked me for my name. My friends were tugging me to the exit, but this man captured me with his inquisitive eyes, so I lingered. He said that he noticed me in the café and was drawn to speak to me. He muttered that he wanted to get to know me better but he realized that we didn’t have much time and that I had to follow my friends. He simply said: “What is your full name? I will write you a letter and send it to the main Post Office. Look out for it.” My impatient friends pulled me by the hand and shouted my name to him. As I was disappearing into the noisy street, the gentleman half waved at me and half smiled…
You are probably guessing what happened next… a month later, I paid a visit to the post office where a letter was waiting for me from him. Leo. He was telling me about himself a bit and asked me to write in return. He was living in Latvia at that time, although he was originally from my hometown, Ivanovo. He wanted to keep in touch this way and hopefully to meet soon. It was a simple and direct approach. I felt comfortable and unattached.
We kept writing each other for the next 8 months… 8 months of long distance made us much closer and when the exams were finished I jumped on the train and headed for the capital of Latvia, Riga, where my “pen pal” boyfriend was waiting for me. Blissful time, I still feel the joy of our encounters in the European hiding place! He was 12 years older than me and at times I felt like a high school girl, getting treated like a lady. He was gallant and sophisticated, attentive and wise with a passion for everything exclusive and rare. I felt I was exactly that for him.
Believe it or not, we dated for 4 years like this, up until 1971. I was visiting him in Riga, he would come back to our hometown. Years flew by. I was still quite young but the question already formed in my mind: Where is this all taking me? Do we have a permanent future together? He already was married once before and had a son from his first wife. Things didn’t work out between them and they were long separated before he even met me. Will our love eventually grow into marriage, a family too? I loved Leo with every single blood cell and every breath I took, but this question was niggling at me, grating my confidence shred by shred.
On one of such trips to Riga, we had a fight. I was foolish, I let him see me walking with another man. I had no intent other than making his blood boil and opening his eyes on what he might lose. We quarreled and I jumped on a train back home… I was angry at myself but more at him! This was going nowhere, I thought and I didn’t wish to entertain it any longer. I needed to get away and think, I needed to clear my head (oh, those famous words).
My friend, at that time, asked me to accompany her to another town on a trip that was important to her. Without thinking I said yes and packed my bag. We rushed to the station to catch the train. Let it be, I thought, let it be what’s meant to be!
That very same day that I left, Leo arrived to our hometown to speak with me. He wanted to apologize and to bring me back. He rang the doorbell of my house, my mother told him swiftly that I was gone on vacation and I should be back in a few weeks time. He only missed me by 30 minutes! No rush, let her have her time and have a break, he thought! I have time!
This is the part when my destiny changed its course, it took me in the opposite direction, it was cruel to be kind…
During my holiday I met a guy, of my age, of my energy, of similar circumstances. We started dating, things went so smoothly that I had no time to think properly. Within 3 months we were married…
My mother only told me months after our wedding about Leo’s visit and his intentions. She was only trying to help, she only wanted me to be happy. In all her enormous love and care for me, she only lacked the ability, like all of us, to see the big picture. And it was impossible to see the big picture. I agreed with her and to this day, I know she did the right thing!
I had a son with my new husband, we moved away, life was taking a different shape now and only from time to time, we would get in touch with Leo on birthday occasions to wish a happy day, nothing more and nothing less. We wrote to each other exactly 3 times during 8 years. I forbade myself to think of my love towards this man, I suppressed the wonderful memories of love we shared, I silenced my heart for the sake of my family.
In 1979 my husband passed away. Our ordinary and domestic life ended in an instant. I slowly started to make sense of it all and eventually all my thoughts were drawn to Leo. I had to get in touch with him… I had to see him regardless of the fact that he could be now happily married and have 8 sons after our last meeting. So I did, I braved it. I booked a plane ticket to fly to Riga. Upon arrival I met a frail and unrecognizable version of the Leo I used to know. He was diagnosed with stomach ulcer back in 1971 following a radiation incident, right after our break up. He spent a year in a hospital fighting for his life. As he held me in his arms that day he was telling me that every day of the hospital stay he was hoping that the door would open and I would walk in, out of nowhere, unannounced, like a magic breeze. This hope was making him stay alive and fight.
We got married that same year and I vowed to never leave him again. I kept my promise and stayed true to him for better or worse. I fell pregnant within months of our marriage and when I told him the happiest news, he was angry and devastated. The doctors diagnosed him not only with a stomach ulcer years ago but also with the infertility as a result of the disease treatment. He refused to believe it was his child, rightfully so. It took months of persuasion and begging him to believe that he was the father… he finally surrendered. When our baby girl was born, he cried like a child in disbelief of a miracle that he was blessed with. It was truly his daughter, the apple of his eyes, his new life and new beginning, our Valeria.
I wish I could end the story here… and I wish he helped me write it too. But, alas, his disease returned 10 years later and started to take years off him faster than from any healthy person. 17 years of our marriage, with multiple joys and also countless arguments, struggles to provide for our family and keep the emotional well being of our children. He put up a great fight with his disease but eventually he had to surrender to it. He passed away in May 1997.
Our story does not end here, it lives through our children and through the love that we carry dearly in our hearts for Leo. My ocean!
What advice do you have for anyone who is looking for love?
It will find you, whatever routes you take in life. Whether long detours or short cuts. The true love will only shine with time. Things you might be feelings for someone right now, might be important but it will only have a golden shine once you have gone through the tests and trials and you have won, but won what was rightfully yours from the very start.
What advice do you have for couples going through a hard time?
Kindness and respect. When you close your eyes at the end of the day, ask yourself, was I kind, did I show the respect to my other half. Cause in the end you can only be true to yourself. Wisdom does not come in one day.
One thing I have learnt about love is…
When you feel love, it is dented deep into your bones. Anger, disappointments in your other half might mislead or weaken you but if your heart still whispers love to you, listen to it! Heart is always right. The brain is always rational. The choice is yours!
(Interview & write-up by their daughter Valeria)
Read more stories of these categories: Craziest love stories, Gone but not forgotten, Long distance love