The end of a love affair is often a painful, long-drawn-out experience akin to mourning.
There is denial, anger and bitter recrimination as it plods its way to the wavering finishing line of finality and some form of acceptance.
The last rites of any affair are bad. But it is worse, much worse when the object of one's almost deranged focus has been present for most of one's life. Living without is to stare into an abyss of loss, but to continue is as dark and deep.
We met, briefly, when I was 15 years old, despite my incarceration in a convent boarding school. An older friend introduced us one summer's day at the bottom of the hockey field nearest to the main road, but I was too jittery, too scared, I suppose, to pursue the undoubted attraction further.
It wasn't that I feared the X-ray eyes of the nuns, which read every bad thought; more that I knew I simply wasn't ready. My far more experienced friend rolled her eyes and her lip in superior disgust.
At 18, as I began my newspaper apprenticeship in a provincial English seaside town, we met again. This time, with the sophistication of one newly released into the world, my resistance didn't last long. I was willingly, and horrifyingly quickly in retrospect, won over.
At first I kept the relationship semi-secret. There could be weeks without open contact and then, well, it seemed ridiculous to hide it. Everything was possible and permitted in that era, for God's sake.
In fact I positively flaunted the relationship; relishing my transition into full-blown adulthood; feelingly ludicrously free and, yes, extremely sexy. After that, we were rarely apart and if we were, questions were asked and jokes made as to how I was managing to get through the evening alone.
At dinner parties, even the most conventional, stuffiest ones, it was grudgingly accepted we came as a package. The subject was not up for discussion.
Throughout the years, there were one or two other significant relationships, the most important culminating in the birth of my son. But even then, barely minutes after being returned to my post-maternity bed, I demanded access to my one constant love, barred from seeing me this day. This day of all days.
Indeed, in tears and need, I threatened to blow up the hospital with a lighter I'd secreted under the bedcovers, if permission were not granted. I held it, unlit, next to the oxygen unit until a kind, if ferocious, nursing sister ordered my wheeling out to a neutral meeting place. It was obvious she was in a similar situation and understood all.
I felt no shame through my tears of relief, though the child lay mewing behind me. Other needs had to be fed before him and this would help me better attend to him - afterwards.
In fact that rendezvous after the long hours beforehand was one of the most memorably wonderful in all our time together. I can still recall it now – the awesome knowledge of giving birth as I celebrated with the only one who could calm, steady me and still my panic; crown my achievement.
The years rolled on, as did we, but slowly I came to realise that there was a colder face being turned towards us, even from some of my best friends. I was asked to come alone to many houses where we'd once been made welcome.
Society was changing. Attitudes too, even among the most tolerant of my acquaintances. Strangers felt it quite permissible to berate our relationship in public. Such rudeness and aggression made me equally so, and a swaggering defiance now accompanied us. Love me, love us. Your choice.
Life was made harder and harder for us to be together. As the world grew more giving and understanding to all others, it became increasingly hostile to our solid, faithful pact. In truth, a part of me half-knew that at some point it would have to end.
I was/am in a toxic relationship. In thrall to a master who has kept me hooked and mildly spaced out no matter what happens in a day.
Since coming to France the relationship has become even more intense. With long hours to while away, and no restrictions or boundaries, I can entertain my "friend" at all hours of the day and restless night.
My need increased as I became more sedentary and I saw our times together escalate. I finally grasped it was not what I wanted.
The other week in the city of hills, Marseille, I felt for the first time the clutch at my lungs caused only by my great love.
I found myself quite shocked that my pacifier had finally turned against me. I thought I'd be the exception. Don't we all? Checking in with my Spanish doctor who has ended up in Lavit, he sounded my lungs and with the sadness of a former smoker himself said: "It's time, Fidelma. It's time."
It is. I'm trying. It's hard. I have an electronic cigarette so I still get my hit. At least I'm trying.
Love is the drug.
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