As told to Anamaria Legori
Read more at Nua e Crua
After a childhood of loneliness and problems with my family, I grew to become a very vulnerable person. At 17, the growing personal and family grief I was experiencing triggered the onset of depression. That was when Dani entered my life.
I was completely rejected before I met him.
My parents were believers in the Hare Krishna religion. They were fanatics. And their beliefs set the tone for my childhood. I lived in a world completely outside of the realities of my native Brazil, with traditions and customs completely removed from our everyday lives. I couldn’t eat any of the food my classmates ate because, first of all, I was a vegetarian. And in addition, my parents held fanatical beliefs that had nothing to do with vegetarianism: they didn’t let me eat anything that was prepared by anyone outside of the people we knew, because then I might absorb the karma of the person who had cooked the food. As a result, I could only eat foods made by my parents or by people they trusted. My dream as a child was to try chewing gum. Not a very complicated dream, but a dream of mine nonetheless. I also dreamed that one day I would open the window of an airplane mid-flight, grab a piece of a cloud and eat it, so that way I would know what cotton candy tasted like.
These social and diet restrictions were made worse by a disease that delayed the aging of my bones. As a result, my body’s development didn’t keep pace with my age. When I was a child, this was very difficult. Though it doesn’t affect me today, when I was six, I still looked like a toddler, as if I were three or four years old. It was disproportionate. When I was 14, I looked like I was still 11 or 12, right as my teenage years were beginning, an age where people want desperately to fit in. I ended up being routinely bullied, and I cried all the time. My friends were “girly girls”, and I still looked like a child. I looked like the younger sister of the rest of my classmates. Nobody wanted to hang out with me. People were ashamed of me. I was that weird kid who couldn’t eat anything, who couldn’t travel with anyone because of my eating restrictions, who went around preaching a crazy religion in the classroom and who had a strange name. I was completely left out.
When I was 17, in addition to my family and personal issues, I felt abandoned. I entered into a period of deep depression, which required treatment by a psychiatrist. I had an identity crisis, I lacked affection. I went through treatment with antidepressants for a year. I had two psychotic outbreaks, something that I never again want to have to experience.
I hadn’t known Dani for very long, but he was always there, helping me. One of the outbreaks I had was with him, because I felt abandoned. That was the beginning of our relationship. He was going to take a trip, and I thought he should take me with him, but he didn’t. That triggered my abandonment complex. During the outbreak, all I wanted was for it to stop. But it didn’t stop. I hit myself over and over, trying to make myself pass out, but all I did was cover myself with purple bruises. I tried to escape from the trance, but I couldn’t. I thought about throwing myself off my balcony, hitting my head against the ground and ending it all. I wanted it to end. I felt awful.
All those horrible feelings I had came up right at that moment, and I wasn’t thinking at all about the consequences.
But then, my inner voice of reason told me that I knew what would happen if I threw myself off the balcony. So, I didn’t do it. And Dani forgave me, even after all the horrible things I told him. Any other person would have told me to go to hell — he was very brave, he spoke clearly, and though he didn’t look at my face, he gave me a hand and helped me out. He came along at a miserable time of my life and he gave me a lot of strength. I felt that we helped each other out with these difficult issues, since he also went through very awful periods, through things that made him very ashamed. So I don’t want to talk about what happened, out of respect for his memory. Those were the worst nightmares of his life, but I was by his side, and I never left him just like he never left me.
We were together for nine years. We helped each other a lot, it was an exchange. He was a calm person, which was one of the things I admired most about him. He could have potentially been a much angrier person, always acting out and treating other people like shit. His childhood and teenage years were very difficult, which led to devastating consequences. He had already hurt himself many times, and had went through accidents. When he was a kid, he suffered an accident, and spent five days in a coma with several broken bones. He was poor, his family lived a very basic existence, and he was bullied at school because he was too quiet. And there were many people who treated him very badly, badly in a way that nobody will ever be able to describe.
When he was 17, he had a relationship that ended up breaking his heart. So when I met him, he didn’t believe in love anymore. He had been hurt very badly. But I began to help him. The difference between other relationships and ours was that, in many cases when people give each other a hand to lift each other up, one of them is stronger than the other. When we gave each other a hand, we each pulled each other with the same strength. I entered his life during one of his hardest moments, and he entered my life in one of mine. We gave each other strength, and the affection we gave each other got us through those terrible times.
We were completely open to each other: we told each other our worst fears, our biggest secrets. He knew everything about me, and I believe I knew everything about him. I wanted to hear everything about him, even the things he had done that would make me jealous.
I wanted the truth. I wanted it to hurt, because pain makes people stay together.
If pain is awful, then why did it bring me something so wonderful Pain is good, so we would feel it until it hardened and came to an end.
We would make ourselves feel pain until we could laugh about it, and never be hurt again. I never suffered depression again, we each improved very much together. He had values, certain characteristics that taught me many things. He was a beautiful person. And even with all the people who had treated him so badly, he never had any enemies and never held grudges. He said that I had to forgive people who did bad things to us. Many people were so awful for our relationship, but even so, he told me that I had to compliment those people, I couldn’t let myself hate them or look away from them. He loved them.
And he forgave them all.
This is the legacy he left in my life, such a powerful lesson of love… mostly having to do with loving your fellow man, and not expecting anything in return.
A few people gave him good reason to hate them, but he never did. And what fascinated me about him was that he won everyone over. It was impressive.
At Dani’s funeral, coworkers from all his former jobs came, and they each had an uplifting story to tell of what a good person he was. And I’m certain that it wasn’t just to make me feel better. His classmates from college and his friends described him affectionately. At the funeral, his coworkers said he was unique, that he brought them cake — cake that I had baked. Dani said, “I don’t need to eat this whole cake, I’m going to give it to my coworkers.” That was symbolic of the generous spirit he had. He taught me many things about learning how to love. He worked for 10 years in a carpentry shop, and his boss did many things for him, which showed how much he liked Dani. He wanted to change jobs but his boss didn’t let him leave. The whole event was a gift, a wonderful gift, that Dani gave me.
He wanted to give me something, but he knew that I didn’t like ready-made gifts, I was never interested in material things. I’ve always told him not to give me bouquets of flowers, but instead bouquets of arugula, so we could make a salad and eat together. So, he spent months and months carving a box and a pendant out of wood.
Dani was my first boyfriend, and he was the first person I had a sexual relationship with. And it was a sign of the evolution of his unconditional love for me when he told me that he didn’t want to be the only man in my life. He always said: “I want you to live your life. I don’t want you to be tormented by your own curiosity. I want you to experience things, I want you to be happy.” There was a part of him that liked being the only one for me, but his love for me was so great that he wanted me to have other experiences. He wanted the same thing.
The day before he died, we had an incredible night together, and I was certain it was a farewell. That night, we drank wine and beer together and we chatted. And we made that our last night together as well, in addition to talking about nothing in particular and about how much we loved each other. We talked about some of the mistakes we made together — we always told each other about the unpleasant stuff we did for each other. I asked him if those things still hurt him, and he said that he had forgiven them. This really touched my heart, because I was planning on leaving Brazil to spend some time in Italy. I bought a ticket to stay for two months, and I didn’t really know what to expect from that trip. My idea was to study during the trip, probably not for a very long time, but we would still be apart.
Dani died early the next morning from an accident at work. I was still sleeping. That same morning, one of the last things he told me was: “I know that your most important dream is living outside the country. We’re going to end our relationship when you’re traveling, so that you can live your life. I don’t want half of your heart to stay here in Brazil, I don’t want to be the reason you come back. Go ahead, live your dreams, don’t think about me, don’t come back just because of me, but do send me photos. Go meet other people, do all the things that you couldn’t do because you fell in love so young. Go fucking crazy!” We laughed.
How could I ask for a love more unconditional than that?
I don’t know where he came from, or who he was in his past life. But his death made me love him even more. Even though he’s no longer alive, he’s still taking care of me. It was all very painful; I lost 18 pounds in a month, but I told myself I would do what he told me to do. Wherever he is, I want him to feel my love, and not my sadness, because that’s what he did for me. Because if I was suffering, he would say, “I’ll call you, now fuck off!” He would tease me for it, I’m sure.
He learned that loving those around you makes them love you very much. And many things happened after he died.
My grandfather cried when Dani died. My grandfather always had a very strong, complicated personality. He was jealous of me, a difficult person to deal with. And somehow, magically, or by some alien force, Dani won him over. For 25 years, I’ve never seen my grandfather shed one tear. And because of him, when he heard the news that Dani had died, he cried.
He won over my grandparents and my parents. My dad told me that he didn’t imagine he himself would love Dani so much. His death was moving for people who had known him, it made them think about their own lives in one way or another. My dad began to think about things differently. He said he learned a lot from Dani, he said that we shouldn’t expect that our learning shouldn’t depend on some demi-god coming down on a magic cloud to tell us what we have to do. And he learned that the great teachers of our lives are the people who are close by.
The distance between me and my parents due to everything that had happened in my childhood and adolescence shrank. When Dani died, we made peace, we came back together. I began to enjoy being with them again, and they saw the error in their ways. They made a real change.
Even as an adult, we were very emotionally disconnected. We fought all the time, I still felt lonely, I didn’t know how to deal with them, and they didn’t know how to deal with me. And that hurt me. I envied my classmates when one of their moms came and they would call them “mami”, and they would talk together like friends. I envied them so much that it made me cry. I wanted to have a relationship with my mom that was just as close as theirs was. And I was never able to have that type of relationship with my mom or my dad. It was like we had been fighting and never were able to settle our differences, because so many things happened during my childhood that led me down this path. It was one of the things that hurt me the most in my soul.
After the tragic loss of Dani, we did something that I envied other people for, and that I thought would never happen to me: we took a family trip together, a little more than a month after his burial. We went to Ushuaia, in Patagonia. We lived one of my dad’s dreams, which was to play in the snow with me. He told me it was one of his dreams, and that it had never snowed enough here in our city for us to play in the snow. And at the same time, it had never occurred to him for us to take a trip to do that. So, we brought one of the dreams of my mom, my dad, and myself to life, which was to travel together. And we were all inspired by Dani.
My other dream was to live outside Brazil, and I was able to live both of those dreams, finding out once again that pain can cause good things to happen. I don’t feel like I’m in pain. I was very sad that things happened the way they did, but Dani gave off so much love, so much love that even during this most difficult time he continued to give off love that people could feel. And not just for us, he did many other good things for other people too. And he’s still doing good things. My grandfather, who didn’t want me to live abroad, eventually accepted that, and understood that money isn’t everything in life. He’s treating my grandmother better as well. Someone who’s 85 years old has learned new things, thanks to Dani.
And his love is spreading.
I told his story to people who didn’t even know him, and he changed their lives. I met two people who later called me crying, and asked me that if one day I could talk with Dani again, to thank him. One person was having trouble loving again after a difficult relationship, and told me that hearing my story turned his life around. Another person told me that she loved Dani, even without ever meeting him, and asked me that if I would be upset if she got a tattoo in his honor.
During our trip to Ushuaia, I decided to get a tattoo. While I was there, I realized how many good things were happening, and I couldn’t let this lesson of love go to waste. This couldn’t be in vain. I had never gotten a tattoo before, I never wanted to be someone who had tattoos. But there, I was absolutely certain that I wanted a tattoo, not for his memory, but to remember the lesson of love that he had taught me. So that I would never forget, and never stop evolving. If he can see what’s happening in this world, he can see this, to teach a lesson of love, and that’s what I need to understand.
I will carry on this lesson as long as I’m alive.
The symbol I got for my tattoo is called the “knot of infinite love”, it is shaped into several hearts. I had it tattooed on my ring finger, which is linked to our hearts, in addition to being the finger we use to symbolize engagements to one another. It doesn’t mater who, it matters how: love must be unconditional, and it can’t have outside interests. It must exist in its own right. It makes us better people. I feel like I am a better person because of the love he gave me. If he hadn’t taught me to love, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I know that I’m a better person because of this, and I know that many people have become better people because of it as well.
I make it my business that people benefit from the the things that he has brought to the world. I believe in his mission. He was one of the most incredible people I ever knew, even though he didn’t believe this himself, because he had such an unshakable self esteem. He never imagined that so many people would cry after he died, he thought that most people didn’t like him and he questioned whether he was really a good person, even though he was someone who gave something to everyone.
Dani worked his ass off, he took eight classes in the university and still had his commitments to me, he had a family and all the problems that came with that family. And I never saw Dani complain. Neither about the pain, the exhaustion, even having to endure such difficult times. Sometimes, we become attached to small things and forget about the bigger things in our lives. He understood that complaining all the time was a waste of time. He teased me because I complained too much, he thought that people should accept things the way they are.
The fact that Dani died at work is symbolic. People judged him based on his past, on his turbulent teenage years, but he lived his own life, he worked, he was honest, very honest. He donated a lot to his mom, and did everything I needed from him, even when his schedule was full of things to do, even when he was out of time. Silly things, but things that made him who he was; he looked for me, he took me places, he did everything. He did it because he liked me, he wanted to do those things for me. And that’s how he was with everyone. With his dog, his mom, his bosses, his brothers.
As sad an event as his funeral was, it was also one of the most beautiful funerals I have ever seen. Because he died in peace, and people were there out of love. The fact that his body was there didn’t matter to me, he had already gone. But the people he loved remained. They were there. And it was those hugs that I needed to get, and those were the people who needed me to hug them. I will always carry part of Dani around with me. He will never leave me. It doesn’t matter if I’m with someone else, of if I have children, he will always be in my life. He was in my life for nine years, and I know that I’m the luckiest girl in the universe because I had the best person in the universe there with me for those nine years. A person who loved me, respected me, who taught me and who made me a better person. He may have died, but I knew him and I was very happy. And this will never change. No one can take that away from me. And I will love him all my life.