Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Anniversaries, autism and the kindness of strangers
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 9:50 pm
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?
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 11:29 am
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.
I say ‘anniversary’ because it’s not, technically, the first day of anything. We fell in love gradually, over the internet: it took longer than a month, and even though there are a couple of day –nights– that stand out in the process, they never felt the right days to celebrate. We first met in London, on a Friday –December 10th– and the world stopped turning for a few seconds on that day; and yet that didn’t feel like the start of something either. I settled on the following the 12th –the following Sunday– because it was a day we spent entirely together (riding buses and wandering around, mostly) and it was as happy as fairy-tale ending, as easy as playing out.
And because at the very end of it –at 3 am on Monday morning, in fact, but let’s not be too strict about it– in a very cold and nearly empty Victoria station, while waiting for my train to Gatwick airport, Martijn told me about his grandparents: how they were over eighty, still together, and still in love. How his grandad wrote his grandmother notes saying “you’re the sweetest of them all”. And how he wants to grow up to be just like them.
I could see what he was saying but I could hardly believe it.
“I can’t imagine what that is like”
It was true. I couldn’t imagine it. I had no idea what it could be like.
“I’ll show you!”
I still couldn’t believe it.
“I mean, I will show you my grandparents, at least. If you want to.”
That was all he could say to stop himself from blushing wildly, and it didn’t work.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 12:25 am
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?”
“Yes, my sister. She asks me if I can call them urgently.”
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.”
“Oh that’s good then!”
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
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 2:43 pm
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
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 1:04 pm
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.