WEDNESDAY, October 13 – It feels great to be able to surprise your beloved with breakfast in bed.
MONDAY, September 6 – It can be quite a perilous undertaking, making love in the shower. Like dancing on a slippery cord. Not long after C and I met for the first time, in France, we escaped to a bathroom, where we found the first opportunity to be together physically. The unsuspecting children were playing in the pool.
Every time we stand there under the warm jets of water, I think back to that memorable moment. Just as now, one thing led to another, but this time it was a recollection of Jennifer that surfaced. Perversely and at random, memory tapped me on the shoulder, taking me back to the sole occasion when Jenn and I made love under the shower.
It was the evening before our wedding. A pre-nuptial shag in the shower. Just to get that out of the way. And those goings-on took place exactly fourteen years ago. Bizarre the cold shivers that suddenly ran down my spine.
SUNDAY, August 29 – The slight hesitation betrayed that she was searching for a polite, but perhaps not entirely honest answer. On the way to the station, I had to ask – what had she thought of C? After a slight pause came the reply. ‘She’s a sweet person. Someone who’ll take good care of you.’
And that was that, an example of how mothers think. In any case, my mother. A daughter-in-law must meet the minimum requirement of what she considers a ‘caring person’. In her eyes, Jennifer met that requirement, and so did C, now, in a sense. In any case, during her visit she had seen this with her own eyes. A woman full of warmth who made her guests happy.
What I was hoping she would notice above all was the visible love between C and me as well as the affectionate relationship between C and my children. The happiness that has gradually become a bit mundane for the six of us, was quite overwhelming for my mother.
Hence her cautious reply, which was keyed to my happiness, as opposed to our happiness. Happiness for me. She added that, in all honesty, it was not possible to gain a good impression of someone on the basis of an afternoon and an evening and that, in the end, it was, above all, difficult to accept that Jennifer was no longer there. That was the undertone of her reply. That her daughter-in-law had been ‘replaced’.
That is also the first reaction within our own circle of acquaintances, as I’ve been noticing in the last few weeks. Friends and acquaintances still see you as the man without the woman: Tim without Jennifer, the single man with two children, the family without a mother. In our blind but loving haste, we have perhaps failed to take that into consideration.
Where Jennifer’s parents are concerned, I have been very cautious. While we were in the States, I mentioned the woman and her two children we had visited in France and last night seemed like a good opportunity to give Jenn’s mother some more information. So, I told her how the mother and her children arrived in Holland and how well the children get along with each other. Also, I explained that she and I are more than friends and that we have actually developed a relationship.
No names, no details, no rejoicing. What was important was the fact of it and that is what I wanted to share with Jenn’s mother. Happily, her response was favorable. She said immediately that that was what Jennifer would have wished and she stressed how important it was for me to have a partner again, someone I can talk to. That did me a world of good. At the same time, I was aware of the pain this new reality might cause, so I did not go into detail about the intensity of the new relationship.
Our friends and acquaintances would prefer the hour hand to move more slowly, while for us the minute hand can’t go fast enough. Time does not heal all wounds, as we’ve been taught, and that goes equally so for my mother, mother-in-law, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and others who knew Jennifer. C is not a band-aid that heals the pain and, above all, she is not a replacement. She is my new love. Get used to it, world around us. Take as long as you need.
MONDAY, August 23 – C and I go to see friends of mine. Two couples enjoying a glass of wine. It’ll take a while for them to get used to seeing us together.
It’s still strange for me as well, biking through Vondel Park, going out and meeting people, doing things together. It feels great, this life of mine: not only as a single father, but also as a loving partner. Two parents with their own, but also shared responsibilities. Strange? It’s already becoming familiar.
MONDAY, August 16 – Here I am, hopelessly stuck behind a stubborn farmer on a tractor, who’s chugging along at a snail’s pace in the direction of Hilversum. The rain is pelting down, as if autumn was already upon us. Back in the wide curve of that provincial highway, which not long ago I had christened my personal vale of tears, I catch myself smiling broadly.
I’m happy. Overflowing with a zest for life, I’m tempted to open the window, stick my head out, and tell the whole world that I’m in love. The rain and the empty fields convince me of the futility of such public rejoicing and, anyway, I’ve already made it known worldwide via Facebook.
It was a simple check mark in the Friends Only section: Tim is in a relationship.
I left it at that. Friends are free to draw their own conclusions. The announcement quickly led to enthusiastic responses. Most people said it was ‘great’, some wrote to say that they were happy for me, others wanted more detail, and at work colleagues cast a knowing glance in my direction.
Not bad for a Monday morning.
SATURDAY, August 14 – Writing on my Facebook wall, I report to friends that: ‘After 2,800 miles on the highway (4,5 pounds heavier from all the snacks we ate in the car), meeting many friends on the East Coast, not having read a single book (although I’m writing one), but lots of adventures in the air, underneath the waterfall across the border, I want to thank all our American family and friends. Jennifer’s ashes were scattered in a beautiful spot and we will now follow our life’s paths in new directions.
At nine o’clock in the morning the first steps in this new direction has taken us to the arrivals hall at Schiphol Airport, where C is waiting for us. We head home, where her daughters have prepared a welcome home breakfast. During our absence they stayed in our apartment – pending further plans after their three years in France. The future is uncertain, at least as far as accommodations go, even though C and I see more than enough future for the two of us. We agree that for the time being they’ll be staying with us.
Out on the balcony, we drink our second glass of champagne of the morning. Our downstairs neighbor, who’s working in the garden, looks up and smiles. I introduce C as a guest who’ll be staying with us for a while, together with her children. On the way to the supermarket we walk down the street hand-in-hand. My colleague T cycles by and waves. Shyly I smile back and gradually it dawns on me, my houseguest is my girlfriend.
MONDAY, August 9 – Night has fallen, but we’re wide awake and restless. In the moonlight the waters of Lake George continue to roll restlessly. On the small pier in front of the hotel we see three comfortable chairs and we accept the invitation.
We realize that we’re tired and ready to call it a day – to leave the country we still regard as our fatherland, but Amsterdam is our home, even though we speak English there. Her and their native language. Even I find it easier to express my emotions in this language.
‘I smile a lot more,’ Eamonn says, as we attempt to draw up the balance. Things are improving. It’s not all good, but it’s better. A lot better, in fact. I remind Eamonn of the moment when he declared that he would never be able to have fun again. ‘So things actually can get better,’ I say.
Sander agrees. ‘Things feel right. We’re starting to get over it.’
I have no desire to undermine, qualify or feed his optimism. I leave it at that. Sitting here, on the pier, we can take on the whole world.
‘You know what, Papa? I’d understand if you and C got married.’
‘Watch what you’re saying,’ I laugh.
‘No, I mean in a year or so. That would be all right.’
‘Thank you, Sander.’
Eamonn has something to say, and requests the floor.
But first: ‘Papa, you mustn’t put this in your book. Not yet.’
I give him my word.
Then he tells us what he’s planning to do in a little over two months, what he wanted to do last May, but couldn’t. What he’ll do later. Sander and I are deeply impressed. On one condition, he says: that we do it together. Sounds like a great plan.
And one thing is clear: We’re doing well. Very well, indeed.
SATURDAY, July 10 – Call it idyllic. I’ve flown to the south of France this morning. Under the olive trees, fourteen steps away from the swimming pool, the sun that winks at us under the parasol. Our tempo is lazy now that my children are three thousand miles from here and hers are with their father. We kiss.
We saunter via the kitchen to the bedroom, where we make love. And then we stroll to the pool to rinse the sweat away. Recover in the sun, where again we can’t keep our hands off each other, and now feeling sheltered enough under the tall hedges. And so, we pass our days drinking wine, eating, making love, sleeping, cuddling. It’s permitted. We’re allowed to live.