Berta looks at her husband as if trying to see underneath the surface. Sometimes she can hardly recognize him as he has significantly changed over the last six years. They used to be a normal couple, being married for more than thirty years and getting ready for a quiet retirement life. Everything was planed and taken care of by him; their life was pretty much plain and simple.
Martin was a very busy business man, jumping from one accomplishment to the next one without looking back. Right before one of his objectives was achieved he started planning the next one… buying a house for them to retire, opening a saving account for the children’s university, raising a wealthy patrimony for them to inherit, etc, etc. He spent most of his time at his office or working from home. He never felt secure enough so he kept ensuring that everything was under control. But then, without warning their safe world was turned upside-down. What they had built with hard work and perseverance was suddenly been destroyed. The family was torn apart, proving that they were not secure after all.
She still remembers the day he was sentenced to five years in prison, charged with the deadly accident of one of his construction workers. The man tripped and fell from the third floor of the building her husband’s company was constructing. Despite the medical report showing the high level of alcohol on the man’s blood at the time of the fall, and the technical report showing that the company met most of the safety requirements, Martin was found guilty. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and therefore became the guinea pig of the system, in an attempt to enforce the new safety laws being implemented for the construction workers. Not even the best lawyer could save him from going to jail.
Her husband spent the first year in prison crying over his innocence; he went into a deep depression and refused to see anyone. By the second year he started to write letters to his wife and the children, but was still refusing to see them. Finally, after three years he called and asked to be visited… he was ready.
The Martin she saw didn´t resemble the man she knew; this one looked content, settled and greeted her with an affectionate smile and a cheering hug. He was full of life and quiet at the same time; he looked at her for a very long time as if trying to recover the years lost. Then he said: “I love you very much and I want to spend the rest of my days with you. I also want to apologize for all the years I have been with you without truly being with you. My love, will you marry me?”
Berta could not believe what was happening, she immediately thought her husband has gone mad, so with great concern and tears flooding her eyes she said: “But Martin we are already married! Have you forgotten?”
He looked at her with an intensity she has never seen before and then said: “I have not! But this time I want to do it right, I want to be with you and make each moment count. I want you to be my partner, my friend, my wife, my lover, my companion, my soul mate!
What happened to me wasn’t right, I was unfairly used by the system to prove a point, despite that I’m now thankful for the experience. I wish I could have learned the same differently, as my time in jail is a nightmare. But if that was the only way, so be it!
At the very beginning I was very angry with life and everybody else. The bitterness I felt was such that it brought the worse out of me. I kept fighting everyone, annoyed and feeling superior to all the other prisoners, until the day I was badly beaten up and almost killed. That day I realized that I needed to change, I needed to move on and re-assess my life’s priorities. What shocked me the most was the awareness that I was living as if I was never going to die and I almost died without living.
In here I have the chance to meet all types of people… the guards, the inmates and their visitors. I have experienced all the colors of love, even the not so nice ones! The things I have seen and gone through within these walls made me appreciate the life I used to have. I finally understood the popular saying “You don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it!” Only then and there I was conscious of what I was missing; I was so focused on achieving success that I forgot the most important, to enjoy while doing it. I forgot to live!”
Martin took a deep breath and then said: “My dear Berta, take your time and think about it, do not answer me now. The day I get out of here I want you there if that is what you want. I’m living my life to the fullest, and because I love you I want you to do the same.”
She kept visiting him every weekend and slowly started falling in love with him again. She could have never imagined that she was capable of loving with such passion at the autumn of her life. This was the time for grooming grandchildren and having long and boring card games with her old friends, but instead she was romancing with her husband as they had never done before.
The day Martin was released from jail; she was waiting for him by the gate. He looked at her and kneeling down asked: “Will you marry me?”
From that day on, their life has been an adventure, living each day as it was the very last. They count their blessings and not their problems; they count their friends and not their enemies. They choose to remember the good moments instead of the bad ones. Always making sure they will not forget again…
© 2009 photo: Gabriela Abalo – Author
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