It’s a Sunday, and the mandatory cup of tea is by my side. The windows and balcony door are thrown open, and a light breeze is coming through the house, carrying with it the fresh scent of the rain, which I can hear falling quietly on the windows and leaves outside. Upstairs, my neighbor gently strums his guitar and in my apartment David Gray’s album ‘White Ladder’ has just come to a stop. Birds are chirping. The dog is sleeping.
This all paints a very zen picture, but then I look across the room and see all of the clutter that I just created and my chest starts to clench up again with that suffocating feeling.
So. Much. Stuff. Where did it all come from? How can I get rid of it?
A few months after my mother and I moved to Belgium, she went away for a week to Germany for work.
For a few days I wandered the floors of our new house rattling around like a penny in a coffee tin. It was a big house, the largest we had ever lived in. Our meager belongings, which had been shipped over from New Jersey, barely filled two rooms. Including the kitchen, this was an 8 room house spread over four floors with a further 5 bathrooms and a basement with garage. It was a lot of space, way more than I was used to, and walking from room to room admiring the crown molding and oddly tiled bathrooms did little to clear the house of my loneliness.
I wasn’t working yet, and didn’t know anyone, so had nowhere to go and no one to call. At 20 years old, this was also the first time in my life that I had lived without a pet in the house. It felt so lonely.
So I went to the animal shelter to look for a housemate.
I think I went with the intention to take a look, but within a half an hour I was heading home on the tram with a very heavy and very vocal black and white cat in a small crate. The ladies at the shelter told me that he had been there for years, was very smart and friendly, and I should take him. He had done his time and deserved a loving home. ”Say no more,” I said, and took him home with me.
For the next few days, having Louis as company helped. Now there were two of us wandering the expanses of the large house, getting lost in the nooks on the staircases, calling out to each other when the quietness became too quiet, when the vastness too vast.
My mother came home within a few days, and I met her at the front door with every intention of confessing that I had just made such a large decision for the both of us without her knowledge, that we were three now. “Don’t be mad, but I have something to tell you…” I started as a greeting.
Just then her gaze dropped to the floor behind me, where Louis had come to see who was at the door with a questioning meow? I watched with bated breath as my mother’s eyes widened and her mouth opened into a perfect oval. She dropped everything there on the landing- her bags, her briefcase, her purse- and started to crawl towards Louis on her hands and knees, cooing a high-pitched, “Heeeeeeeeeey. Whoooo iiiiissss thiiiiiiiiis?”
And from that moment on, Louis was no longer my cat, but hers. Having kept me company for a few lonely days, he focused on a bigger challenge: keeping my mother company while she worked through her own issues- an ending relationship, culture shock after a move abroad, a huge career shift, and like me, loneliness. He was a great cat, and he took his job very seriously.
I can say without a doubt that Louis became one the Greatest Loves of my mother’s life and lived a comfortably spoiled ten years with my mother until his passing early last year.
As for me, I found work, met new friends, and eventually started dating.
Dave has been away to Ireland since Tuesday on a week’s holiday, gallivanting with friends and family.
For the first few days I relished the silence, and having the apartment all to myself. My choices on the TV, my dishes in the sink, me stretched out across the whole couch, me stretching across the bed, four pillows to myself, my, my, my, mine, me.
I went to work, I went to the gym. I took Mylo for walks. I tried something new. But then the rains came, and after a few failed attempts at going out, and maybe one too many rented movies, I started to wonder what it was that people did in this city for fun, and why I wasn’t with them. Which is ironic, as I write a blog telling others what to do in Amsterdam for fun, but could think of nothing enticing enough to drag myself out of the house.
This apartment is much smaller than that first house in Belgium; I could fit four of these apartments into that house, and my things fill this place much more than it did the house in Brussels. I have a job, I have friends. Plus, I have Mylo here for company.
And yet I still rattled around the house this week, moving from room to room and back to the first room (because there are much less rooms). The dog moved with me- to the kitchen, to the living room, back to the kitchen, back to the living room.
What I was looking for, I don’t know. But suffice to say, I couldn’t find it.
On the fourth day that Dave was gone, I got a flatmate. She moves in on Monday. I told Dave by text while he was somewhere on the west coast of Ireland enjoying the scenery and probably a hangover. I thought it was best not to surprise him at the door like I did my mother all those years ago. He was surprised, but not upset.
So I’ve been spending the day clearing out the spare bedroom, taking all of that clutter and dispersing some of it throughout the apartment, and some of it into black trashbags, which as I mentioned above is serving only to cause me to suffocate and want to burn it all in a great big bonfire. When you have four rooms and then suddenly must fit into just three, a sort of imbalance happens. So much stuff. Where to put it? (FIRE!)
I’m not sure there’s a lesson in this post, but if there were I think it would be something like, “Don’t be left alone for a week” or “Don’t make decisions based on loneliness”, or maybe just a simple “Don’t collect so much”.
And now I have to go and finish making room for one more person in the house. And take the dog out one more time, and go to the gym one more time, and maybe rent one more movie. As of tomorrow, it will change, and by that I mean it will all go back to normal. Until the next time I’m left on my own.
In just three days I will be touching down in the United States of Freedom again!
Life has been a friggin whirlwind these past few weeks.
How to even recap? I’ll try…
I was asked to carry a package from Amsterdam to Prague. That sounds shadier than it is, and I didn’t blog or facebook about it beforehand lest I got panicked phone calls and emails from my mother about the dangers of being an unsuspecting drug mule.
It was a Wednesday when my boss asked me if I would bring a watch to Prague on Thursday (flights and hotel paid for). So the next day- BOOM!- that’s where I found myself, the watch having been handed over, and the rest of the day and night was for myself alone to wander the streets of Prague.
And do you know the HIGH that I was on, because I was alone and far away from home, and nothing to do but think? It was like someone released the catch on the lock that has been holding my brain captive, and whoooooosh the thoughts just kept on coming. I couldn’t take down the notes fast enough.
It felt good.
The next day I flew to Brussels for the weekend, where I remembered how much I love that city. Like, really really love it. It’s where I spent my early 20′s. Brussels and I have been through A LOT. I even contemplated moving back there again, picking up the ol’ francais, bathing in chocolate and waffles again.
But we can never take a step back, now, can we?
Did I mention the semi-promotion at work? I don’t think I did. I got a semi-promotion. It’s been keeping me very, very busy. I like that, but damn the days and nights pass quickly when you work 40 hours a week. Did you know that it’s already halfway through June? Did you?!? That’s madness!
But I love this job, and am extremely grateful to be doing what I do. By the way, if you miss me blogging here, you might very well find me there.
Am I rambling? I feel like I’m rambling. That’s what happens when you step away from your blog for a moment and life swoops you away.
Back to the point: I’m going to the States again! I’ll be in New Jersey, New York, Philly, and Washington DC, from this Friday onward, and I can’t wait. I’m tickled.
So I probably won’t blog much while I’m away, but I promise I’ll be thinking of you all (lie) and I will bring you each back a souvenir (lie).
It was a pretty eventful weekend on several levels.
So here goes:
- It was Queen’s Day this past weekend. You know the story: lots of people, lots of orange, lots of mean drunk Dutch people, but also lots of friendly fun ones too! So many other bloggers have already given their 2 cents about Queen’s Day with lots of photos, so I’ll leave it at that.
- Lola turned 6 years old! Where does the time fly? I remember when she was just a smudge of a puppy.
In love with a smudge.
That was the summer of 2004, and now here she is, big and hairy and 6 years old. This is the longest relationship I’ve ever had.
42 years old in dog years
- I had an unexpected guest in the form of Petra Jordan, a long-time friend from my days in Brussels. Several friends from far away were in town this weekend for Queen’s Day, but Petra was the only one that I actually got to meet up with. You just can’t make plans on Queen’s Day weekend and expect them to come to fruition, end of story. But I always have a good time when Petra is in town, and it was good to see her again. This week she heads into the studio to record her album, so keep an eye on her site or her facebook!
My favorite song of her’s has always been ‘Home’, because I always thought it would be a great summer festival song. Also because I know the story behind the lyrics, and the subsequent outcome. I can’t wait to hear her singing it one day during one of Europe’s music festivals!
- I snuck into The Next Web Conference and for an hour or so acted like I belonged there. I listened to a talk by Tim Ferriss, author of ‘The 4 Hour Work Week“. Tim was also staying at Hotel V for the weekend. He’s a nice guy, I’m totally not surprised that he’s a successful business guru.
- I drank a lot. No surprise there then! It was fun, but I think it’s time to rein it in a bit. Have to focus on some other things for awhile, and drinking tends to steer me away from those things.
- I also let the crazy out one night. In the most horribly vicious way that I could muster. And I woke up the next day absolutely disgusted with my behaviour. Because in my drunken stupor, I set out to cause pain, and cause pain I did. But when I woke up the next day I realized that I had hurt myself just as much, and I haven’t felt right since. The fact that I was forgiven just kind of makes it worse. I have too many unresolved emotions floating around inside that are absolutely killing me, so it’s time to focus on ridding myself of the negativity so I can be happy and carefree again.
- Oh and I also met a Cosmic Buddha Jigolo! He was……interesting? Definitely an abstract thinker, to put it mildly. I’m not sure if I believed him when he said that he was a jigolo, but his story was so detailed and out there, that I can’t help thinking that he maybe possibly could have been essentially a male escort. Bizarre.
He told me to pose in my most Buddha-like pose, and then took this photo and proceeded to tell me that he costs €1,300 per day. A-w-k-w-a-r-d.
Trying to keep a straight face at that insane price tag.
- And a quick mention, although my friends are already sick of hearing about it: I got this beauty and haven’t been able to stop petting it since. I have finally joined 2010! Huzzah! My, it’s awfully bright and sunny here!
How do you find someone who you haven’t spoken to in years, the last number you have for them isn’t valid, the last email you have is bouncing back messages, the last you heard he was in California on top of a mountain and was heading to Russia, and who probably purposefully eschews from online things such as facebook or linkedin (because it’s just his nature to be and not to be online)?
Last night I slept restlessly, in that floating space between deep sleep and wide awake. This happens often when I have to be up early to be at work at seven thirty in the a.m. My mind won’t let me sleep soundly for fear of oversleeping the next morning. Then the whole day today I felt that extreme tired where your eyeballs hurt as if they have been raked over and your nerves are paper thin and the hours can’t pass by fast enough while the work piles up. We’ve all been there.
After a day like this I would normally come home and crash into bed again, but today I fought it with all I had. I didn’t want bed, I wanted something else. Anything else, anything that would stave off the tiredness and stretch the day out longer.
It helped that I had three cups of coffee in my belly by then and the day was sunny and brisk. I put out a call to arms on facebook for company to go have drinks on a terrace somewhere. No one took my bait. Either no one I know in Amsterdam is the least bit spontaneous, or I waited too late to invite the world to have a drink with me.
In the end I found unexpected company and headed out to a bar that I haven’t frequented since those late nights in about the summer of 2006, when I had nowhere to be in the mornings and no fear of hangovers just yet. I miss this bar- the music is good, the ambiance perfect. It was good to be back.
The company I was with was also nostalgic of those very same times, back when things were a little less confusing and everything sparkled a bit brighter. Back when I didn’t know what unexpected turns were coming my way. The conversation flowed easily over a few drinks, and then over dinner and cocktails nearby, and then back to the same haunt because I had forgotten my phone on my seat and we thought we might as well have one for the road while we were there and the night was still young.
We laughed over stupid stories, talked openly about our days, and shared a comfort that is hard to find elsewhere. I even found myself writing down music recommendations on the back of a coaster, just like that night years ago when the thought of Amsterdam was so far away and the night was never not young and the rounds so endlessly flowing. I still have that first coaster saved somewhere, although on the walk home tonight I lost this one.
I remarked that I still had the urge to have a cigarette, and so on the way out he handed me one, and I walked him to his bike. The cigarette felt strange in my hand, funny that something so small and light could feel so foreign and heavy. It wasn’t until we parted ways smiling that I really allowed myself to focus on the cigarette, and I took a deeper drag.
It was a little shocking to me that the first thing that it reminded me of was being 8 years old in the third grade, when myself and two friends of mine would smoke half-gone cigarettes that we would pick off of the ground or from our parents’ ashtrays. We called them ‘doegywows’. I won’t explain how to pronouce that, nor do I remember where the name came from, but it was our code word for cigarettes, and for about a month we fancied ourselves smokers until the trivialities of being 8 years old distracted us and we “quit”.
Halfway home I found myself laughing at the memories, and how a mundane Monday had turned into something much more interesting and unexpected. I also found myself feeling ultra silly over this farce of me smoking. I decided to stub it out, but when I did I realized that I had smoked the whole thing anyway.
I promised this story a while ago, and since I’m coming up a bit empty-handed for blog posts these days, I suppose now is as good a time as ever.
I worked at The Wild Geese Irish pub in Brussels two times during the five years that I lived in the city. Once was back in 2002 when he was my boss. The other time was in 2005 after a 6 month period of unemployment where I was climbing the walls of my apartment and wandering the streets of Brussels every day, completely at a loss as to what to do with myself, how to fill the long hours of every day.
I happened to be at the pub having a drink one day when I asked one of the girls that I knew there if there were any jobs going. She said no, but a few days later I got a call from the manager. It turns out they did need people, and quite badly, so I was back working at the pub the next week.
As much as I dislike bar work, I have to admit that it can be quite fun at times, especially when you close for the night and have a few drinks at the empty bar, throwing around stories of the assholes that you served that night, or the funny things that happened during the day. I had only been back working for about a month when I worked a busy Friday night shift and we finally closed the bar at 3 am. After cleaning up, we were settling down for our after-work drink by 4 am and the stories were flowing. There were five of us in total, and after one drink, the other girl went home. The assistant manager let her out of the side door, and came back to his seat, so it was just me with the three fellas.
We were just enjoying an after work drink when suddenly...
Now, as is always the case, hindsight is 20/20. After the events of that night, I was able to look back and think, “Yes, it was odd that I saw 4 men dressed in black passing the bar at about 3:30 am in a very non-residential area of Brussels,” but at the time I thought nothing of it, didn’t realize that what I was seeing were 4 robbers “casing the joint”- the joint that I happened to be in, merrily drinking away the night’s hard work.
And again in hindsight, the assistant manager should have locked the door after he let the one girl out. He really kicked himself for this afterwards, but we couldn’t have predicted that any of this would happen. And those guys were outside anyway, just waiting for the opportune moment, so when they saw that the door was left unlocked, they grabbed their chance.
We were just turning back to our drinks again when the door flew open and four men ran in, dressed totally in black, with ski masks, black gloves, and guns. Black shiny guns that they were waving around.
Did I mention that they had guns?
First thought: haha! What a laugh. But who do we know would pull a joke like this?
Second thought: Oh. Crap.
"On the floor! Now!"
So that’s how the four of us ended up facedown on the ground, each with a gun to our head. The robbers were yelling and yelling in French, and I have to tell you, after five years of living in Brussels and struggling with French on a good day, my language skills were never so sparkling as when I had a gun pointed at me.
WHO IS THE MANAGER? WHERE IS THE BOSS?
He’s not here. He wasn’t working tonight.
WHERE IS THE SAFE?
WHERE IS THE MONEY?
In the safe.
WHERE IS YOUR ATM CARD?
In my bag. (Here my bag was thrown down in front of me, the contents strewn about and my wallet taken out. He flipped through the cards, asking which one was my debit card, and pulled out an expired card.)
WHAT’S YOUR PIN CODE?
That card is expired. (So helpful of me! Just because you’re being robbed doesn’t mean you should forget your manners.)
I saw the right card in my wallet, and willed it to somehow hide itself. Stupid card didn’t listen, so he eventually found it and pulled it out, waving it in front of my face.
WHAT’S YOUR PIN CODE?
I gave him my number. I was fully aware that there was an ATM machine across the street, so they would probably go use the cards, and by lying about my number I would get caught out.
WE WILL KNOW IF YOU ARE LYING!
I know, but I promise that’s the number. It’s my mother’s birthday.
THIS WILL ALL BE OVER SOON.
Thinking: What the fuck does THAT mean?!?! Over soon how?
Anyway, while this was going on with me, the three guys I worked with were also being robbed of their personal belongings- mainly money, cards, and phones. Then they took the assistant manager upstairs to get him to open the safe (he played stupid and didn’t open it, although they roughed him up a bit). Then they told us to get up, marched us back to the kitchen, and had us lay facedown on the floor back there. Then one went to steal money from our cards at the ATM machine across the street while the others stood guard, telling us over and over again that it would be over soon.
Oh no, not the kitchen. I've seen this bit in the movies...
During this whole thing, my mind kept swaying between two basic thoughts. The first was: “ohshit-ohshit-ohshit-crap-crap-crap” and was accompanied by visions of the flash of gunfire, and wondering when that was coming, and how it would feel. I was bracing myself for it.
The other more dominating and rational thought was something along the lines of: “They won’t shoot. It would make too much noise, and they want to get away as quietly as possible. And besides there is no reason to shoot us. They’ll just take what they want and be gone.”
But I have to admit that when they marched us back to the kitchen I couldn’t help but think of all of those stories that I heard growing up where workers in bars and restaurants were robbed, then brought back to the kitchen and shot execution-style. I had a flash that this was a bad, bad sign, but then the rational side of my brain would remind me that there was no reason to hurt us, no reason to shoot.
Moments later another voice was above me, yelling at the back of my head:
YOU WERE LYING! WHAT’S YOUR PIN CODE?
I wasn’t lying. That’s my pin code, I swear.
DON’T LIE TO ME!
I promise, that’s the number!
The Jersey girl in me got a little indignant here, I have to admit. Pfffff. Calling me a liar when he’s pointing a gun at my head? That’s a laugh.
I think because they were in a rush to get out as soon as possible they didn’t press the issue much further. I remembered later that I had in fact given the wrong number to my debit card, having just gotten a new card recently. So they didn’t get money from my card, but they did take my phone and €300 that was in my bag for my rent. But it was sheer stupidity and forgetfulness that saved what little money I had left in my bank account.
I have a feeling as well that because I was a girl I got a bit of an easier time than the three guys, who were hit and kicked about a bit, while I was just nudged and pushed.
Anyway, they told us in the kitchen to wait for 10 minutes and then they disappeared. We all layed there in a row, quiet as church mice for about a minute until the assistant manager looked back at me. I flashed him the biggest cheesiest smile I could muster with two thumbs up signs, laying on my belly on the nasty kitchen floor, and the two of us burst out laughing.
That’s when we got up and called the police.
The police came and the manager of the pub came around. After giving our reports and seeing the police off, the manager gave us a few hundred euros to go into town and have a few drinks to unwind. He felt really bad that we had just been through this ordeal, but besides a bit of shellshock we were overall in good spirits, more in disbelief of the whole situation than anything else. One guy, however, was a bit more shaken up and decided to go home instead.
So we went into town but it was too late for any bars to still be open, so we bought cans of beer and sat on a bench in the city center, asking if this really just happened to us, and going over the finer details to compare what each of us had gone through. Then we headed back to the assistant manager’s house and hashed it out some more. It all felt so surreal and incredulous, something that happened in movies, not in real life. So we just drank and laughed and marvelled over how imposible it all seemed, bonding over this thing that we had just been through until the sun came up the next morning.
Our laughter made me feel strong. I felt like a survivor, but I knew I didn’t quite deserve that title. It had been an ordeal, but I was more fascinated by it than frightened. My rationale had kept any panic at bay, and for the most part- except for a few tense moments- I knew that we would come out unscathed when it was all over. It was only hours later, after several cans of beer, when I arrived home in the morning, that I broke down and cried.
You always think about how you would react in certain situations, and I can assure you that whatever you think you would do, you never actually get around to doing. The shock is too sudden, your mind clicks off, and you kind of just numbly react.
Anyway, I did walk away from the situation with a bit more awareness. Any job I’ve had since you can be damn sure I’ve checked the locks on the doors twice at closing, and kept my head about me when leaving the place at night.
I can now chalk it down to one of life’s more interesting experiences that I have had. And it may seem kind of odd, but for that I’m actually somewhat grateful.
Disclaimer: I realize before I even sit down and fully type this post out that this song memory is going to raise some eyebrows.
Westlife? Am I serious?
Yes, yes I am serious.
Brussels/Ireland, 2002-2003. It may seem like all of my Song and a Memory posts are about ex-boyfriends, but that’s not the case. This is the first. The rest have all been friends.
In 2002 my life was all about excesses. I had doubled up classes at university so that I could finish my degree in half the time, I was working two full-time jobs, I was drinking a lot (every night), and I was seeing two (and eventually three) guys at the same time. To say life was hectic would be an understatement, but I was 22 and invincible, and ready to take on life headfirst and rip it to shreds.
One of the guys that I was seeing was my manager at the Irish pub where I worked nights. He was a monster of a guy in height and width, and commanded a presence that I’ve yet to see matched elsewhere. He was a heavy drinker, and a heavy gambler, and he seemed to always win. He downed his pint of Guinness in three gulps, and told me that the measure of a man was how many rings of Guinness foam he left behind in his pint glass- the fewer the rings, the bigger the gulp, thus: the bigger the man. His laugh was loud and rumbled out from the bottom of his belly, and he like to laugh a lot. He was at times hilarious, at other times extremely obnoxious, but I was a sucker for guys who made me laugh, and I was a complete sucker for him.
For some reason, we just clicked, although our relationship was volatile, to put it mildly. I was trying to keep up my precarious balance of jobs, classes, and relationships, and he just wanted to party every night. Smashed glasses or holes punched in walls became the standard. I often showed up at work straight from an all-night binge, and would close my office down and sleep under the desk. Once I was shooed away by the guards at work at 9 am because I smelled so bad of alcohol and looked a mess. “You look like a bar room floor. Go home and get some sleep before you get yourself in trouble,” they told me. It wasn’t a proud time in my life, that’s for sure, but I was having fun and didn’t care about what damage I was leaving in my wake.
He wasn’t the first Irish guy to want to whisk me off to Ireland, and he wasn’t the last, but he was the one that brought me there for the very first time. During the summer of 2002, together with another couple we flew up to Ireland and rented a car for the week. Since they were all Irish, we drove around to all of their towns and stayed with friends and family, and sometimes the odd B&B. I couldn’t have asked for a better first trip to Ireland. We drank a lot, laughed a lot, and danced at every pub in every town we stopped in for the night.
At the time, this song had just come out and was being played pretty much non-stop everywhere. It was absolutely the cheesiest song ever, so it naturally became our anthem for the trip. We would just be settling down into a pub or club for a long night of drinking when this song would come on and up we’d get, bopping around the place. The next day in the car, hungover and headed towards the next town, this song would inevitably come on the radio, and we’d all start bopping again, a bit more delicately this time due to the hangovers, but still laughing over memories made the night before.
At one club I drunkenly tottered into the bathroom wall, and when I joined the group again, blood was dripping down my arm.
“What happened there?” he asked, pointing to my arm.
I looked down. I was just as surprised to see a cut there. “I dunno, I must have cut myself when I fell.” I worried over the cut, trying to wipe up the blood. “Man, that’s going to scar.”
He stared a moment, and then let out a belly-rumbling laugh. That loud, loud laugh. “Good. Now you’ll always have a memory of your first trip to Ireland!” he roared.
We kept on drinking. That scar lasted for years. I just checked my arm; it’s finally gone.
We partied so much during this trip that we even missed our flight home because we were sleeping off our hangovers. Not good when there were classes, exams, work schedules and other boyfriends waiting back at home.
When we eventually made it back to Brussels, the stresses of my life and future goals snapped me back into reality and I tried to be more serious. By this point, my excessive behavior had caused more damage in my life than I cared to admit to myself, and I was trying to sort myself out. I had spent too long stamping on those in my life who loved me and wanted to support me, and had spent far too much time trying to please this guy by staying out all night drinking with him when I should have been studying or in bed.
The break up was an on-again, off-again thing that spread over several months and two countries when he moved back to Ireland later that year. I flew up several times to see him there, and he came back to Brussels to spend time with me, but we both knew it was ending when the last time in Brussels in early 2003 he wanted me to come out at 3 am even though I had an important final exam the next morning. He showed up at my apartment in the wee hours of the morning, clearly coked off his head, and angry that I wouldn’t come out, handed me back the keys to my flat and left. I never saw him again.
I don’t think my mother has ever forgiven me for that relationship. She thinks that he was the single worst thing to ever walk into my life, but I have a lighter view on the whole episode now that it lives in my past. It wasn’t that he was a bad person, he was just the wrong person for me. Every decision that I made to stay out drinking rather than stay home studying was my own choice. Every time I got in the car after a night of heavy drinking (I am ashamed to admit) was also my choice. I don’t blame him. It was all my own fault. I made some stupid, stupid decisions, but I take full responsibility for each of them.
I think every girl has to go through one of those horrible relationships and emerge alive again on the other side, maybe a bit battered and bruised, so that she can have a proper perspective on things. I certainly learned my lesson, and that is that my life is my choice. I can either fuck it up consistently, or choose to be a better person, make safer decisions, and surround myself with people that I am proud to be friends with.
I walked away from this period in my life newly single for the first time in ages and spent the next year reconnecting with friends that I had neglected, finishing up my degree (with perfect grades I might add), and spending one glorious, blissful year as a complete bachelorette.
Overall, I can’t regret that time in my life, because it was a very important step in the path that led me here, today, right now.
And that’s what I am reminded of every time that I hear this song.
Brussels, 2001-2002. I found a letter that you had written to me recently when looking through old boxes of things at my mother’s house. It was sewn up in a cloth envelope, with a heart drawn in red ink on the outside. The memories that it brought back made me smile, although the letter that it contained was somewhat bitter and stand-offish. I glanced briefly at the letter and put it aside for later when I was alone and could read it in private, but I must have misplaced it because I can’t find it now.
Your friendship was a force to be reckoned with. You were funny and intelligent and had plans, big plans for the future. We made lots of plans together, and wrote them all down so that we would be sure to stay on track. Our biggest thing was that we wanted everything to be made by our own hands. We were going to each write a book, and it would be hand-printed on paper (paper that we made ourselves), and bound by us as well. Did I mention that we were also going to make our own ink?
You decided one day to learn to play the cello, and so you got a cello and started practicing. Just like that, like deciding to buy a new shirt. Then you took me to see Yoyo Ma at the Palais des Beax-Arts. It was my very first foray into classical music, and in the middle of the show you leaned over and whispered to me to close my eyes. “Just feel the music,” you said. And I did. I felt it down to the very tips of my fingers and toes. It left me breathless.
When I went vegan for the first time, you did too. Not to support me, but to prove that you could do it, and do it better. We survived solely off of french fries and potato chips, and this friendly competition went on for six months until we had a falling out over something small and trivial. Then, out of spite, you ate a huge hamburger and we didn’t speak for a few days.
Months later, distracted by a new love in my life and freaked out by one night in particular in which you and I stayed up late into the night and didn’t talk and listened to Alkaline Trio for hours, I would push you away to the outskirts of my life. Your friendship was like a full-time job, and I didn’t have enough time to give. Looking back I can see that it was the energy you projected, and the way you really looked at me and understood me that made me push you away. I just wasn’t ready for such intensity at the time. I wasn’t ready for that night.
It certainly wasn’t the last time that I would fuck up a good friendship in my life, and these seven years have shown me that it also wasn’t the last time that I would let fear drive me away from someone.
I have this song in my playlist for the gym. When it comes on, I always smile big and run faster. It is so typically you- not just because you were a big fan of Alkaline Trio- but because it is a love song with the words ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ in it.
And that was you, in a nutshell. Lovely and coarse and refined and hilarious. Classical music mixed with “love punk” (as you referred to it).
A few years ago I got a call at 4 am. You were sitting on a mountaintop in California and had thought of me so decided to call me right that very moment. You said you were helping to herd sheep or something just as obscure, but you had plans to walk around the world. Yes, you were going to fly from California to Japan, walk around there for awhile, and then take a boat to Russia. Then you’d walk across Russia into Europe and then head south down through India and then who knows.
All of this was conveyed to me down the line in a rush of excitement and no stops for breath. Then you got distracted by someone walking up the mountain and hung up, and I haven’t heard from you since. I have no doubt you ended up doing what you had been planning, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if life led you on some other crazy journey.
I do know, however, that I would always welcome a call from you at 4 am, no matter what or when or how. Always.
I have been looking for this song FOREVER. I always sing it to people and say, “Don’t you know this song?” but I should know better because my singing is, um…less than spectacular. People NEVER recognize what I’m trying to sing. Seriously, it could be ‘Happy Birthday’ and I’ll still get “Huh?”
Anyway, interwebs to the rescue! Thank goodness for the bazillions of lyrics websites out there, because I now know that this is “Tu Es Foutu (Tu M’as Promis)” by In Grid. Which is kind of ironic because those are the lyrics that I used to search for this song. D’oh!
Brussels 2002 to 2003. Every morning you would get up and go into the bathroom to get ready for work, and before anything else press play on your CD player, and this song would come on. It was inevitably what woke me up every single time that I stayed at your apartment- sometimes in your room, sometimes in the spare bedroom.
Un beau matin, je sais que je m’veillerai,
Diffremment de tous les autres jours,
Et mon coeur delivre enfin de notre amour
Et pourtant.. Et pourtant..
One beautiful morning, I know that I will wake up Different from all the other days And my heart will finally be free from our love And yet…and yet…
Those were pretty crazy times in my life; drama was flying at me from all sides. You were the friend I ran to to get away from it all. I would come to your place, and you would turn my phone off, and just like that I was on an island of solitude, a vacation from all the crazy going on, if only for one more night.
You were positive, a deep thinker, and extremely full of yourself, but you made me laugh and you humored me as we made insane plans for the future. You disapproved of my boyfriends, and I amusedly watched as you pursued the idea of countless girls while settling on none. We took as many classes together as possible, and once we tried to adopt a dog from the shelter but you rushed me out the side entrance when I started to cry at all the poor abandoned dogs in need. Instead you got us two tiny rabbits, and mine died the next day.
Being both stubborn, we’d fight like cats and dogs, but always come around again within a day.
…Until one day we didn’t. The stubborness won in the end, and just like that we never spoke again.
But this song always reminds me of you and those chilly Brussels mornings when I woke up to the sound of Charles Aznavour singing about walking away from his love forever.
I’m feeling invincible lately. I don’t care what happens; whatever the outcome is, I’ll be fine.
The truth will set you free.
+ + +
Four Years Ago Today: I was fed up with Brussels. Or should I say Brussels was fed up with me? Let’s see, it took: a messy breakup (the kind where your clothes are thrown out onto the street), a bout of homelessness, a robbery at gunpoint, a speeding ticket, a car without brakes that nearly killed me, locking my keys in the car while it was running, a break-in to same car in which the radio was stolen, and finally that car being towed before I finally decided that Brussels and I were breaking up. For good. Within 3 weeks I had packed up and gone to Amsterdam.