I SUPPOSE WHEN you love somebody, Sting had the right idea. Set them free, and they will come back to you.
But for two years, my mother didn’t come back to Brazil or to my dad.
My dad travelled to Boca Raton, Florida, where my mother had been doing her undergraduate degree in Social Services. But by the time he made it, my mother had already graduated and moved back to Colombia to get married to the other guy.
“I went after her,” he tells me, clearly distressed to remember that time in their story. “But she wasn’t there. I could only meet with your aunt Marien and she said to forget about it. I guess she was a little hurt because I made her go back and because we didn’t get married. So I went back to Brazil and dated other girls, but nothing serious.”
And then what happened?
“You have to ask your mom.”
“I didn’t just break up with your dad because I met someone,” she tells me. “I was hurt because we had already set a date to get married, but he didn’t have enough money to do it. He wrote me a letter that said ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t have enough money, so we can’t get married’. He didn’t even call, he put it in a letter. So I was disappointed.”
By the time my father went after her, my mother was engaged to be married to the other guy and looking for a job in Colombia. Since she had graduated in the USA, her diploma was worth next to nothing until it got validated by the government. Though she had studied something she liked, she had not studied what she really wanted to study: medicine. Lost, and a little bit desperate, she decided to start validating her degree to do a masters’ degree in physiotherapy.
Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. And when my mother wasn’t looking, things suddenly fell apart.
“I don’t know how I found out.” Her thoughts are far away from me. “But I started noticing my fiancée and I weren’t spending that much time together, and that he was always in a hurry after seeing me.”
He was cheating. But memories are hazy, and she didn’t tell me much.
“I must have blocked it from memory. I think God works in His own way,” she continued. “Imagine if I had married that guy and I found out years later that he was cheating constantly. So when I finished with him I decided to send your father a letter…I needed a friend. And I was so angry because I knew your father would never do that to me.”
And so a letter full of questions and news was sealed in an envelope, stamped, and flown all the way from Colombia to Brazil, two years of no contact – except on my mother’s birthday.
“I was confused,” my dad said.
I could only imagine receiving a letter from the love of your life after two years of believing all was lost between you. Did he tear it open in curiosity? Did he stare at it for hours in shock? Did he frown in befuddlement?
“She was asking me what I was up to and told me what happened and that she had finished with the other guy. She said she was contacting me because we had a nice history between us. There was a phone number she said I could call – so I did. I wanted to know what was going on.”
The phone rang and with every tone he heard, he got more curious. What did she want? After two years, what could she possibly want? It was odd, definitely unexpected and somehow uplifting. Confused, he hoped someone would answer.
“Why did you call her after all this time?” I asked.
“Because I still loved her.”
“After two years with no contact?”
When she picked up the phone, she told him everything that happened, how she found out, how she felt, that she was a little bit lost in life. She thought he would be married by now, two years without contact left questions unanswered between them. But my father wasn’t married.
“The person I want to marry hasn’t said yes yet,” he answered.
“Will you come to Colombia in December?” she blurted out.
She needed a friend.
“I need to think about it,” he answered.
“So, did you really have to think about it?” I queried. It wasn’t a decision to be done lightly, two years is a long time. People change and circumstances are different. But I also imagine he would be eager to see her after two years apart.
“Of course I did. But I decided to go. I had some vacation to take at work so I bought the ticket and I went to Colombia to spend the holidays there.”
My mother’s family in Colombia is immense. My great-grandmother, Sarita, had 14 children, and all of her children had children, and some of the children’s children were old enough to have children of their own. In short, when celebrating the holidays, my mother’s family had to rent an extra-large tent to fit everyone in the same space.
Picture My Big Fat Greek Wedding times five, with hundreds of aunts trying to feed you every hour of every day with Colombian delicacy, and you will be getting close to what it actually looks like. It’s some kind of lovely, but to my father it was a new, eerie culture. Curiously, just like Brazil had been for my mother.
“It was weird,” he told me. “I didn’t know if we were together or not, because she was still sad about the other guy. So it was very strange. I left and I didn’t know if we were still together.”
Time can heal all wounds, but my mother had not given her heart enough time to heal. The hurt of a broken heart is also filled with fear of commitment, a ghostly dread of trusting again with all your strength, a weariness to try again. A 23-year-old Zamira knew that her first love would never hurt her like that, but the scars were still sore, fresh – maybe even open.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have called him so soon after,” she speculated. “At the time, I was tired, and I didn’t know whether I should even try anymore. You stay faithful to one person and they go out and cheat. I kept thinking – what’s the point?”
With no decisions made, and no wedding to be scheduled, my father came back to Brazil to be hired as a trainee in London for nine months. He called my mother and invited her to come with him – they would live together in the UK for nine months then come back to Brazil.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to go. But I was trying to validate my American diploma and the process was going to take around a year.”
On his way to London, my father stopped by in Colombia to see her. In the UK, customs and passport control were very suspicious of his intentions. Surely, there must be some cocaine somewhere on this guy. They questioned him, why would he stop in Colombia before coming to London? Was he some kind of naïve drug dealer?
Well, no, of course not. So he was released from the clammy hands of customs and went off to a life in England.
“As soon as I got to London, your mother called me and said she wanted to come and live with me.”
So she did. And they spent six months living in a tiny loft in Kensington (which my father has been caught complaining about, even though, you know, it’s in Kensington*). They both fell in love with the city; the green parks, the leaves of autumn.
The Phantom of the Opera, though an odd musical to use as a romantic basis for your relationship, was an experience they both had together. Neither had ever seen such an electrifying theatrical production. The songs were remembered and played endlessly in the Froio residence (seven or eight years ago, the record changed to Mamma Mia) years after their wedding.
In Brazil, they made it official – mostly because my mother needed the residency. My mother wore a whipped cream dress (it really looked like the frosting on a cake) sewn by my grandmother on my dad’s part of the family. My father had a mean moustache and looked a bit like Freddie Mercury – to this day, people ask my mother when did she leave Freddie for my dad?
On April 7th, 2013, my parents renewed their vows to celebrate 25 years of marriage. My dad doesn’t look like Freddie Mercury anymore, and my mother doesn’t wear frosting inspired outfits anymore. They’ve renewed the promises they made to each other all those years ago. But has it been a good 25 years?
“I’d say there have been more good moments then bad moments. It’s been good,” says dad.
“I thought it went by so fast. When I think about it I don’t think it’s been 25. I only remember when I look at pictures,” says mom.
After exchanging rings in the little church where the 2013 ceremony took place, the priest blessed us all and wished my parents good luck.
“Ready for another 25 years?”
*Kensington is one of the richest parts of London.
My parents renewed their vows on April 7th 2013, to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. The first part of this story is available here. Thanks for reading.
Corrections by Make Me a Sammich.
Photos from personal archive, editing by Nicole Froio.