Relationship

How we met: ‘She was the love of my life – but she had to focus on getting sober’


Brooks Almy joined a cruise ship in 1977 to work in theatre. She was introduced to Maurizio Papalia, an Italian nurse who had also taken a job onboard. “We had a really nice connection straight away,” she says. They spent the next four months as a couple, sailing around Mexico and the Caribbean. When Brooks’s contract came to an end, they tried to make it work. “I came back to shore every few weeks,” says Maurizio. “But two months later I had to go back to Italy. We were both upset, but decided to keep in touch.” Without email or affordable travel, it became difficult, so they agreed to start dating other people.

In 1978, Maurizio married an English woman and had a child, but by 1984 their relationship was over. By that time, Brooks had moved to New York to pursue a career on Broadway. “I went to see her and the connection was still there,” says Maurizio. The pair started dating again, but their happiness was short-lived. “I was a very heavy drinker at the time,” says Brooks. “I’ve been in addiction recovery for 35 years, but at the time I was crashing hard. I went to meet Maurizio in Italy in 1985, but I was in an extremely fragile state.”

When he told her he had to leave for a week, she was unable to handle it. “It was no big deal, but I took it as this huge betrayal,” she says. “I told him he’d ruined my life and left.” Maurizio recognised that Brooks needed help. “I still considered her to be the big love of my life, but I knew she had to focus on getting sober. I moved on and had other relationships.”

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Brooks overcame her addiction, but it was a long time before she was ready to make amends. “In 1997, I realised I needed to apologise, but I couldn’t find him,” she says. Brooks moved to Los Angeles to work in television, while Maurizio stayed in Italy. In 2006, he began working for an Italian NGO that builds and staffs hospitals in developing countries. “After years of searching every few months, I found his name online and realised he was working as a nurse in Afghanistan, taking care of children who’d been blown up by landmines,” says Brooks. “But I still couldn’t find a way to contact him.”

Eventually, at a wedding in June 2008, she told the story to a group of young Italian guests, who offered to help her track down Maurizio. “They called me and told me that she was looking for me,” he remembers. The next morning, he called Brooks. “It turned out he had been looking for me, too. We spent hours on the phone catching up,” she says.





Brooks and Maurizio in 1977, on the cruise ship where they met



‘We had a really nice connection straight away’ … Brooks and Maurizio in 1977, on the cruise ship where they met. Photograph: Handout

By then, Maurizio was working for an Italian hospital and taking regular NGO missions abroad, while Brooks was living in California. They wrote to each other and spoke regularly. “In February 2009, he came to visit me,” says Brooks. “It took us 12 hours to realise we wanted to be together. We just had to figure out how we were going to do it, as neither of us were ready to give up our careers.”

They spent the next few years travelling between Italy and the US. “We were able to spend about five months of the year together and would have romantic Skype meals when we were apart,” she says, laughing. They married in 2011 at a friend’s house in California. In 2018, Maurizio had to retire due to a cancer diagnosis. Brooks was not ready to retire, but they bought some land in a small village on the Ligurian coast in Italy. “We came here when Covid hit and we have no intention of ever leaving,” says Brooks. “We spend a lot of our time Skyping our new grandchild. We were never able to have children together, but Maurizio’s son has just a child and we can’t wait to go to London to visit them.”

Maurizio says Brooks always makes him laugh. “We’re so often thinking or saying the same thing. We’ve always been on the same wavelength.” She says it was her husband’s kindness that first attracted her. “There’s always been an intense connection between us. I think we always belonged together, but if we had stayed together at the start it never would have worked, because we were too wild and immature,” she says. “Now we’re back together it feels like destiny.”

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