"Marie, let's suppose that two firemen go into a forest to put out a small fire. Afterwards, when they emerge and go over to a stream, the face of one is all smeared with black, while the other man's face is completely clean. My question is this: which of the two will wash his face?"
"That's a silly question. The one with the dirty face of course."
"No, the one with the dirty face will look at the other man and assume that he looks like him. And, vice versa, the man with the clean face will see his colleague covered in grime and say to himself: I must be dirty too.
I'd better have a wash."
"What are you trying to say?"
"I'm saying that, during the tiime I spent in hospital, I came to realise that I was always looking for myself in the women I loved. I looked at their lovely, clean faces and saw myself reflected in them. They, on the other hand, looked at me and saw the dirt on my face and, however intelligent or self-confident they were, they ended up seeing themselves reflected in me and thinking that they were worse than they were. Please, don't let that happen to you."
I would like to have added:that's what happened to Esther, and I've only just realised it, remembering now how the look in her eyes changed. I'd always absorbed her life and her energy, and that had made me feel happy and confident, able to go forward. She, on the other hand, had looked at me and felt ugly, diminished, because, as the years passed, my career - the career that she had done so much to make a reality - had relegated our relationship to second place.
If I was to see her again, my face needed to be as clean as hers. Before I could find her, I must first find myself.