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An Ocean Apart

Updated: Jun 29, 2020


| This is the 315th story of Our Life Logs |


I was born on December 18, 1978 in San Francisco, California, the home of a famous windy road that’s the busiest street in the city. For some reason, every person in the country wants to drive down it—for the “thrill” I guess. Seeing the excitement of the tourists made me want to travel and feel the same kind of excitement. Since I was a child, I’ve been an open book and eager to have new experiences. I wanted to “see the world,” and perhaps, find the woman of my dreams.  

And I did. When I was in my 20s, I moved overseas to the luscious rolling hills of Ireland to start a new life. It was there that I fell in love and married a black-haired Irish beauty who I thought would be my forever. Sadly, that marriage ended and I roamed the cobbled streets a broken-hearted man, trying to survive in a place very far from home. I took the time in solitude to focus on myself, taking it day by day and trying to keep the heartbreak out of my mind. Of course, I still had to make money and spent my days working as a barista at a small cafe in, Galway, Ireland. I wasn’t really looking for a new relationship.

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Then one night while I was working in 2005, I saw this mesmerizing cream-skinned angel take a seat. I didn’t have the nerve to speak to her or even take her order. But she came to the café a couple of days in a row, and one day, I finally gathered up the courage to walk over. With a nervous smile I asked, “What can I get you?” She responded in Italian, but all I could hear were bells and music—I was struck by everything about her. Her voice was as smooth as silk and her eyes so captivating that I couldn’t stop smiling and nodding to whatever she was saying.

After that first encounter, I was desperate to speak to her again, but I didn’t know a lick of Italian. Luckily, my roommate had Italian parents and could translate for me. I learned that her name was Mara and that she worked as the head chef at a downtown restaurant. Eventually, she asked me out on a date. Utterly shocked that she was the one who initiated it, I obviously said yes.

Our first date was a little awkward because of the language barrier, but it was clear from our body language that we both felt a real connection, something big between us. Soon enough, we fell into a very deep old kind of love. Over the next set of months, Mara studied English and I studied Italian. I taught myself the phrase “Il mio amore” (“my love”) and I used it dozens of times a day. The smile it brought to her face brought a tenderness I’d never felt and reminded me that we had a love that was meant to be cherished.

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In the next couple of years, I left the café and went to work at Mara’s restaurant. We were happy, enjoying every moment we had together. I could see that Mara was very homesick. Her parents were getting older and she wanted to be with them in their final years. I had no problem with moving as Ireland had become like a scar to me. The skies were always grey, like the country was pulling me down despite how happy I was with Mara, reminding me of my past.

So, we made the decision to move to her village outside of Rome in 2007. I was more than ready for this fresh start in a new place. I had big dreams for Mara and me.

Unfortunately, those dreams were ravaged when my passport and paperwork expired, shortly after we’d moved to Italy. I was forced to go back to the US and leave my love behind in Italy. At first, I took it as a small misstep. We’d have Mara apply for dual citizenship and she could move to the US with me at some point. No big deal. I swore before I left that we would find a way to legally be together as soon as possible.

However, my idea of as soon as possible did not match our countries’ citizenship offices. Mara applied for dual citizenship but was denied. For two years, we were apart. I was in San Francisco working as an EMT (emergency medical technician), and Mara was in Italy taking care of her parents. We talked on the phone whenever we could, but I desperately missed her, and my love was deeper than ever.

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I wanted to be with Mara for the rest of my life, and knowing it would help with legality, I proposed and offered to fly back to Italy to marry her. I could hear the crack in her voice when she said yes, stunned by my devotion to her. On July 18, 2009, we finally tied the knot, giving Mara the wedding that she deserved.

Enjoying our first few moments as husband and wife.
Enjoying our first few moments as husband and wife.

Unfortunately, soon after the wedding, Mara’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Not wanting to leave her father in his dying days, Mara decided to stay in Italy a little longer to care for him. Of course, I understood and not wanting to be apart from her again, I quit my job in San Francisco and moved back to Italy to be with her.

We purchased a small store so that I could make an income, and things went smoothly for a year. Then, the economy in Europe tanked in 2010. Three factories in her village alone shut down within months. No one wanted to buy anything and our store crumbled. We decided to cut our losses and sell the business. And—as hard of a decision as it was—we decided that it was best for me to move back to the US to get a better life started for us, and we’d get Mara over to the US in a year or two, so we could be reunited.

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A year passed. Two years passed…and three, and four, and five…and six, and seven, and eight.

Life has a funny way of testing our patience. I filed every type of paperwork necessary, but nothing got Mara the okay to come live with me in the US. Since we got married in Italy, our marriage certificate was not enough proof for the US government and they still refused our reunion. I never felt a worse feeling than being away from my wife while she struggled in Italy.

For all these years, we only saw each other for short visits. Living thousands of miles away from Mara was excruciating. There were days I’d wake up and all I’d want to do is take her into my arms. But she was an ocean away. A few times, I wanted to say “screw it” and move back to Italy to be with her, not caring if we were poor, but Mara always talked me back down. We had to be realistic and achieve some sort of financial stability. We knew we were making the right choice, even though it was hard.

For a long time, I was frustrated and disappointed by our situation, but with the love and support of my family and friends, I was able to find some comfort being apart from the love of my life. I couldn’t change anything about it right now, so I needed to enjoy the life I had and make the best of it. Through their support, I found my passion working as a park ranger. I had always loved nature and traveling (as you well know), and when I walked the vast forests of California, I could forget about the pain and frustration of being apart from my wife. I could listen to whistling winds and be grateful that I have Mara in my heart, even when she was a continent away.

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It’s been almost nine years and we are still an ocean away from each other. Mara is currently waiting for approval for an interview at the US Consulate in Italy, and we stay hopeful. Due to finances, our reunions have been scarce and short, but each time we fall back into each other’s arms it’s like we’re kids again. In the smell of her hair, and the ring of her laugh, I’m home. Thousands of miles are hard to overcome, but the love we share is greater than just us.

When people ask me why we are still together or if I really am even “married,” I’m dumbfounded that my commitment to my wife is even questioned. I am entirely, 100 percent, married to Mara. In love, distance is irrelevant. While Mara and I are still fighting to be together, we have accepted the cards we’ve been dealt. We may be apart, but our love is as strong as ever. I have faith that one day we will be reunited. Like two halves of a whole, we will lock into place.


This is the story of Matthew Tolmasoff

Matthew, 40, lives in California where he works as park ranger in Sameso County. Matthew traveled the world in his 20s and eventually found love in a beautiful Italian woman who came into the café in Ireland that he was working in. Mara and Matthew have been married for 10 years, but have spent the majority of their marriage apart due to citizenship request denials. Their love story could have been written by Nicholas Sparks because it’s so sad, yet unyielding. In the time that Matthew is forced to spend apart from the other half of his heart, he paints and spends time with his friends, father, mother, brother and sister, along with their wonderful children.

Matthew and Mara.
Matthew and Mara.


This story first touched our hearts on January 29, 2019.

| Writer: Samantha Grimwood | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

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