If I ever end up in a band, I want to sound like this song.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005 Anniversaries, autism and the kindness of strangers
And then Monday came, and I woke up way too early. Again. I tried to fall back to sleep for an hour but it obviously wasn’t working, and it wasn’t much fun either. The sun was threatening to shine (again); Lupe was about to walk into the room smiling (again: she’s great like that); and if we got out of bed, into the shower, out of the house and into the bus to Waterloo early, we’d probably have time to go on the London Eye. Which, if you asked me, was an excellent idea.
“Boyfriend! Wake up! It’s Monday!”
Except boyfriend mumbled something grumpily, turned around sulkily, and the day went out of the window. It wasn’t as simple of course, nor as straightforward. I don’t abandon my intentions of having a happy Monday just because Martijn doesn’t feel like getting out of bed when I want him to. Most of the time, I don’t even mind. On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to celebrate an anniversary if you don’t have a boyfriend. And what I’m trying to say is that on that day, I didn’t.
Now, for you to understand the tides that shaped our London weekend –that shape our lives– I need to tell you something. And that is: Martijn is –as I put it– somewhat autistic. By somewhat I mean he is pretty mildly affected; so mildly, in fact, that it had gone unnoticed until recently. Or, well, almost unnoticed. He was considered strange, but no one thought it was a big deal (and then he went on to become a mathematician, and so he was surrounded by people who were often even stranger). And, well, really, it wasn’t a big deal. Except if you started adding all the little things up, joining the dots. Or looking under the surface. Or asking hard questions. Especially, asking hard questions under stressful circumstances.
Then it slowly became apparent that there might be something missing. A deeper understanding of things perhaps. Confidence in the ability to make sound decisions based on feelings and judgement. Instinct. The boy himself sometimes. I’d ask a question and get an answer that corresponded to another question. Or an answer that sounded right but somehow wasn’t. It’s not hard to tell when someone’s heart isn’t in what they are doing, is it? Martijn’s heart wasn’t in being here in this world a lot of the time.
It was frustrating as hell.
It still is, for that matter. Especially if it is 365 days since we first met, and I like celebrations. Even more so since approximately 300 out of said 365 days have been long, and hard, and I still like celebrations. I longed for something to celebrate. I wanted to look back at it all –the train station story, the year– and say yes again, and again. But the sun was shining, we were in London, off work on a Monday and we had a bit of money to spend — and I didn’t have anyone to say it to (metaphorically, but still very tangibly so), even though I tried. (Believe me, I tried.)
So I shouted. First on a bus that went to Old Street instead of Liverpool Street, then, soon afterwards, on a street in Shoreditch. Then, later on, on the empty upper deck of a double-decker bus through Oxford Street. (Oddly, that was kind of fun. At least, it felt like we were in a film or a book.) Then on Oxford Street. I ended up (later on still) crying desperately, unconsoleably, against a pillar just off the corner of Oxford and Orchard street, wishing I could find a way to stop. Find something –anything– that would make that wrecked day, that trying (beautiful, but trying) year seem a little better. Something that would rearrange things in my head just enough to make them look a little brighter.
So I cried. Until some random driver who was waiting for the lights to change shouted “excuse me” out to Martijn (who had been standing uselessly on my side, at a loss for something to do) and handed him some napkins. It was so unexpected, so sweet, so touching, and so much like a television commercial, that I just had to stop crying and start laughing. Which did the trick: it got the day going again. We looked around a shop or two, caught a bus for a long bus ride, had a panic attack in an organic supermarket (when I discovered I had to come up with a new idea for something to cook in 15 minutes – and it had to be greek, sweet and vegan), and ended up baking a cake at midnight, which was crazy but fun and made my memories smell of cinnamon and cloves and orange peel.
It didn’t save the day. It definitely didn’t save the year. It didn’t change the fact that what we have is not exactly a relationship but rather fragments of one tied together on a string, with lots of empty space in between. It didn’t make it any easier that there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about that. But it kept me going, and there must be a reason for that. It might be that I am, by definition, an optimist, constantly thinking that things will get better tomorrow. It might be that I am stubborn, and I don’t like to take no for an answer. Or it might be because those fragments of a relationship are just about perfect, and it would break my heart to let them go.
Or it might just be that I do believe in love.
Sunday, December 18, 2005 Will you marry me?
If the rest of Saturday (the post-phone call part) was a roller coaster, Sunday was just plain nice. (Even though I felt sick for half of it.) We had breakfast with our hosts in a diner, went to Spitafields Market with my cousin and to a free gig in a pub with the “aforementioned boy” from Wednesday’s post, and Martijn was impeccable through most of it. The perfect boyfriend I used to think I had. It felt so great that I joked I’d send his dad a Christmas card, thanking him from the bottom of my heart for helping my boyfriend grow up.
It felt particularly great because it promised that Monday –the day of our ‘anniversary’– would be as great. I suddenly felt I had a lot to celebrate.
Sunday, December 18, 2005 Perspective
Saturday morning. I woke up in London once, and I was happy. It felt like such a perfect morning: a long day of leisure stretching in front of us, the sun almost shining, perfect company sleeping in the next room. Martijn gets out of bed for a while, and on the way back I notice him looking at his phone.
“Did anyone text you?”
Uh oh. That doesn’t good. I don’t have time to worry about it though because he calls straight away — and starts crying soon afterwards. I don’t speak Dutch, so I spend the ten, maybe fifteen, minutes of the phonecall holding his hand. Staring at the blanket and wondering what has happened. Who has died. How I will ever console him — and how I will ever console if it is the baby. Then he hangs up.
“My dad has left my mum! He has a girlfriend.”
I didn’t really say that, but I was close enough. It did feel very good. Not for all the sober reasons with which I came up later (it was time something changed, and they will all be better off in the long run, find themselves, become stronger, learn to rely and believe in the right things — believe me, I know: my dad’s a lot worse) but for the mere fact that they were all alive. Healthy. No one had accidently run over an old lady while driving home, no one’s house had burned down and the baby still intended to join us in a few months.
Disrespectful as may sound, I still think it’s good.
Friday, December 16, 2005 Warm corners
Friday morning. I wake up after a night of dreaming of children, too excited still, and I’m in London. Or rather, in Hackney — on the wrong side of Stoke Newignton High Street. Grey light is slipping in through the window and I’m starting to realise what everything that has happened on Thursday means.
“Boyfriend! Wake up! We’re moving to Exmouth!”
It sounds as if we’ll be moving today which, for the moment at least, I wouldn’t mind. As everything slowly sinks in I start feeling intensely homesick. I can’t believe everyone I met yesterday is still there, discussing schools and children and reading, and I’m not. But then a smiley Lupe enters the room and my homesickness soon dissolves on a warm room, tea, bagels (with olive oil spread and vegemite) and the company on some of the loveliest people in the world. On second thought, being able to stay in bed all morning isn’t half bad either.
Later on we wander around this Hackney – Stoke Newington place as the sun sets (the sun sets very early), which proves to be very charming indeed, and when we get home we meet the one and only (very sleepy but even more charming) Mark Mononne, who smiles the best smile ever and makes us some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. By that time I have forgotten to be homesick. I’m just in love with the London-ness of it all.
Ps By the way, here is a photo where Exmouth looks like it looked to me last week. Thank you, Richard Clarke, whoever you might be!
Thursday, December 15, 2005 The place I want to be
Thursday morning. I wake up at 6.17 or something equally crazy. The alarm isn’t due for another hour, but it doesn’t really matter. I am in Exmouth, I am nervous, and I am excited. More excited than nervous, in fact. Outside it is dark.
Fast forward a bit. 9.15. Me, Martijn and an inordinate amount of luggage are all standing at the entrance of the Owen Buidling of Rolle College, where someone called John is supposed to be looking out for me. Except, there’s no one who could be him around. Time passes. I get shy. Everyone stares discreetly. Martijn is convinced to go up to reception to explain the situation, but no one has seen John, who is not in his office. Neither have they seen Trevor, who is supposed to be teaching a session with him just now. Everyone is very sweet and kind to us so we take seat and wait patiently. This is much aided by the discovery of a plug and a network plug next to the seat. I am quietly checking my email and beginning to find the whole thing fun when someone arrives to take me out to the classroom where John and Trevor and the level two students are. Said someone is very nice and informs me John is a bit forgetful sometimes. I find this rather funny.
When John sees us approaching through the windows he suddenly looks very embarassed. I’m nearly giggling, very happy not to have to answer any serious questions and just to be able to say “it’s okay, don’t worry about it” instead, even though I still say this rather nervously. We slid in quietlly. Everyone stares even more discreetly and I feel very conscious of everything for a while, but it ends before I have time to think about it: what’s being said is too interesting, and I’m drawn in. I forget myself.
Four hours later I head back to where Martijn is sitting, cuddling the laptop with headphones in his ears, and the first thing he says when we’re out of everybody else’s earshot is “you look so happy” — which says more than I can say about those four hours. I was really happy, because I had felt at home.
There’s more to the story: lunch, an interview (but talking about that is almost showing off), Exmouth’s seafront, a couple of delayed trains (you’ve got to love England), darkness, cold, London, Lupe, but the point is this: I loved them, and they loved me back. And so I will become a teacher. And I have a place to be.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005 The Jane Austen Book Club (by Karen Joy Fowler)
I don’t like Jane Austen. I picked this in a second-hand bookshop on Stoke Newington Church Street, because, well, I was in a second-hand bookshop on Stoke Newington Church Street. It was a lovely place to be, and a lovely afternoon, and it was impossible to resist making it even more perfect by buying a book. (Anything can be made better by buying a book, as far as I’m concerned.) I picked this one because I’ve considered buying it only to put it down again so many times before, I thought I might just buy it to save me time in the future. Also, I quite like the cover. And I couldn’t find anything I wanted more. And did I mention it was £2,50?
Still, I thought it would let me down. That it would be fun to read but not very good. Rather superficial, in fact. And I was wrong. ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’ might not be the deepest book I’ve ever read but it by no means is shallow. It doesn’t shy away from important things, or play them down. It just looks at them sweetly, and find them pretty, rather like my grandmother might do. ‘Comforting’ is something I read about it on its back cover and I have to say, it’s true. Finally, I’d say that it is original, or rather, well-written and originally structured: not in the way a post-modern house would be but in the way a flower garden can be. In a way, it was almost poetic.
I was happy reading it; inspired; the world looked like a slightly better place for that time. All in all, I think that was the best-spent £2,50 of the London weekend.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005 How will we know where my house is?
So. We came back to Athens. I went to sleep for ten hours (after having spent an hour saying hello to my computer – priorities are everything, right?), I dreamed a lot, and I woke up knowing I don’t want to be in Athens. I want to be in Exmouth, which felt like home, or London, which felt like an extension of home and where everyone made us feel very welcome and special. Life here suddenly seems grey, full of things to do and still somehow empty of meaning. Hard, too hard even, without a reason other than to pass the time. The good news is that we will move to Exmouth. The bad news is that it won’t be before July. Eight months to go. I think I’ll make an advent calendar – or just keep a diary.
On other news, a friend I know a little but like a lot is flying over the ocean to be with the girl he loves, and a boy who, for some rather obscure reasons, has a special place in my heart is starting a clubnight tonight. It all makes the day seem sweeter somehow.
Oh – and ‘How will he know (where my house is)’ is a song by the lovely Michaelmas. Well, we saw them play on Sunday evening and I thought they were lovely from the opening notes to the first song. There was something in their sound that instantly put a smile on my face, I’m not sure what it is but it has to do with them seeming to enjoy things – life, being there on stage, playing their instruments, singing their songs, the crowd – the way children would. Spontaneously, simply, without feeling the need to hold it back. The aforementioned boy, on the other hand, (who happened to be present) had seen them on Thursday and wasn’t very excited about the prospect of seeing them again. He made that much clear. Until sometime halfway through the second, or perhaps the third song, when he turned around to tell me “I told you they were good, didn’t I?”. Which probably made me dissolve into giggles. What can I do, that’s what I’m like.
I should get off the computer, and you should listen to ‘Winter starts today’.
Wednesday, December 7, 2005 So. Yeah. Nijmegen…
…looks better in the winter, somehow. I would show you how, except my camera apparently decided this life was too much for it and took it upon itself to die just before I got to London (on Thursday) for the annual pre-Christmas pilgrimage. It’s not fair. How I’ll ever survive London without taking photos (because we have somehow also managed to forget Martijn’s camera in Athens) is beyond me –London is where I’ve taken half my best photos– but I suppose I’ll just have to.
By the way, I wonder why I promised to write “soon” in the post below. As if I don’t know it by now that I am the occasional sort of blogger: the one who can, and does, write three posts on a day spend in front of the computer but then forgets to post for a week or so. I’m not sure it is what I want to be, but for the time being this will have to do, too.
Thursday, December 1, 2005 I wish I had a proper reason to cry for
Well, not really, I don’t, though I did feel like this a couple of days ago, and it’s something that comes back every now and then. It’s such a precious feeling, gently pointing you in the direction of what you’re really crying for. Another reason I’m posting it here is because it is a beatiful line (in a beautiful song). Isn’t it?
“I wish I had a proper reason to cry
And it reminds me of that Eggstone song that says “I wish the dog would bite me / not so I would die / just to make me cry” and of the first time I heard it and of the sunshine on that day and of Nick who had made me that mixtape and… But let’s get back to what I wanted to say. One of the emails I got about The Gig said “it made me like even those few songs of his that I didn’t before”. And I have to say, it happened to me too.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a crush on Jens. I have a crush on that weekend.
(Oh. And after a ten-hour journey, I’m in Nijmegen. I’ll write more about that soon.)