Reader, I did not marry the right man. “I never knew my spouse,” people have been heard to say, “Until it was all over.” Not that I married a bad man, I didn’t, he just, perhaps, never understood me or me him. Maybe we didn’t talk to each other. It’s all about a small reflection, made here or there. Maybe one, maybe more. Well, when we lived together there were quite a few unpleasant reflections thrown my way as to my purpose in life, yet I regarded them quizzically, as in “Does he really mean that?” Not possible. Which one of us was blind? What did I say back?
I delight in painters. (No, he is not a painter.) I love painters because of their spaces. Work spaces, visually organized collections of thoughts put here or there in this or that corner. Loosely or substantially connected. Many years ago I went to visit an acquaintance who was working part time, like myself, at an office in a crap job description. It wasn’t as bad as bad nowadays and the office floor was stuffed with artists of some sort or another, all of us understandably mentally under-stimulated at a call center. Her real life, her studio, was in a part of Amsterdam that had a poor reputation. Her studio was located in a building with a dire reputation. I picked my way around the trash and used intravenous needles in the waning heyday of a 70’s Cement Utopia one spring afternoon. The buds were just beginning to warp the tree branches. I would never have gone there at night. On the top floor, the apartment was filled with light from all angles. Considering the rabbit hutch rumors, apparently whole extended families of illegal immigrants had a tendency to squat in one apartment, the space was empty and peaceful, canopied by billowing clouds floating overhead, just above the flat roof in the cramped Dutch airspace. The year I moved to the Netherlands a cargo plane plowed into one of the complexes’ buildings and killed many unknown people. Unknown as in unregistered, and the Queen cried upon visiting the disaster site. My friend paid a pittance to rent out one of the top floor apartments; a classic attempt at rejuvenating the neighborhood via impoverished artists with courage. And nothing worthwhile to steal.
I had a fantasy that we, my husband and me, would decorate our walls with real art, as in not reproductions but one offs - originals. Little did I fully realize at the time that the mere mention of decorating a white wall with a scrap of paper would send him into a mood of objection, and that gradually over the years, I’d become worn down. But that particular day I examined my friend’s canvases with great interest and hope. Then I went home, and that was that.
These days we are heavily discussing my nationality, my value and my future. I watched the mediator blink her eyes.
“You can go live in the Bijlmer. It’s cheaper for you.” He had said, turning to me in disagreement with the location of my present apartment.
“He must be rather irritated.” A girlfriend said. He did a good job of passing the virus on to me. What did I say back?
Then she told me a good story. Well, it’s not a nice story but it’s good one about an upper middleclass family who happens to be Japanese and lives in a well off area Amsterdam. The elderly father lay dying, at home, surrounded by his sons and daughter, supported by friends.
“He’s dying. There is nothing we can do.” Explained the assigned Dutch nurse on duty. She was wearing an ensemble which was far from respectable. She lit up another cigarette. She was politely asked not to smoke in the house. She ignored this request.
“Do you know,” she said cornering the eldest son in the hall, “It’s a secret, but I was the love child of an Indonesian prince.” She made signs with her hands, running them from her neck upwards as if her father was the kind of guy with pointy ears. “Don’t tell anyone this, it’s a secret. I’m half Indonesian.”
Was she identifying with the Asian family? They wanted to sack her, but there was little point for the few hours to come.
“You can touch him and kiss him. Don’t be afraid.” She suggested, crossing cultural boundaries as the old man slipped into a coma.
The father was nearly drawing his last breath. Grieving in various manners, they all waited for the end to come. What was the reply?