FRIDAY, June 25 – Family dinner. Two boys, two girls and two parents. It’s a bit crowded, at the table and in the bedrooms, but it works out all right.
TUESDAY, June 22 – Another winding road down a French mountain, this time during the day. I ask Sander if things now seem a bit more logical and less overwhelming. I’m pleasantly surprised when the answer is a wholehearted yes.
‘Well, you mustn’t forget that it was all so sudden and unexpected. But I can understand what you want, and how you feel. So it’s only understandable that some day you’ll want to get married,’ says Sander.
I laugh and tell him that we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.
But then Eamonn goes one further. ‘And even if you do remarry, then I won’t call her ‘Mom’. I’ll just call her by her first name.’
‘Boys, boys, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. She’s my girlfriend. That’s all for now.’
I hear myself saying the words. My girlfriend. And there’s a grin on my face.
SATURDAY, June 19 – Whoa! We couldn’t help it. C and I saw each other for the first time, after three weeks of detailed emails, intense phone conversations, and affectionate text messages. We were simply no match for this intense lovesickness.
Kissing. Kissing in front of the boys (and her girls). It felt so good, so embarrassing, so natural, so honest. Also, somewhat confronting for Sander and Eamonn. They totally ignored our kissing, but not really, as later became clear.
‘You probably noticed that C and I are very fond of each other,’ I began, as we headed back to the campgrounds after midnight.
Mumbles of assent.
‘So how to you feel about that?’
Sander began: ‘You know what you promised us in the hospital, right?’
‘Yes,’ said Eamonn, ‘you promised us you wouldn’t remarry.’
In a fraction of a second I was back in that moment. I remembered exactly how I responded to Eamonn’s remark, scarcely a minute after I told them that Mom would never wake up again. He was on my lap and Sander was standing next to me, all three of us were crying. And then, in a mad moment of visionary clarity and prospective anxiety, he turned to me and said: ‘And now you’re probably going to get married again. But not really, are you?’ My head was spinning as I replied with the words, ‘Kids, remarrying is probably just about the last thing on my mind.’
Fast forward to this night, in the car, on a jet-black, winding road in the hills outside Nice. It wouldn’t have been helpful to get into a discussion about the precise wording, so I said nothing.
Then Eamonn said, ‘Whatever happens, she’s not my mother.’
At least that was an opening.
‘Eamonn, you only have one mother, and that’s Mom. No one can ever replace her, and you can take my word for that.’
‘And, in any case,’ I said into the darkness, ‘marriage is so totally out of the question at this point.’ Definitely the last thing on my mind. Children apparently think several kisses ahead. I wonder how this is going to affect the security of their world?
‘Sander, what do you think?’
He didn’t feel really at ease, he admitted. And he’d had his suspicions earlier in the day. All that obsessive text messaging back and forth.
I had to laugh. He was not amused.
‘It feels as if you’ve already left Mom behind you. But actually, I don’t really want to talk about it.’
So we let it pass. But it was still racing around in my head. I was searching for a bit of wisdom that would do justice to their feelings – and my own.
And I found it. (I hope.) ‘Boys whatever happens, I will always love Mom. Forget her? Never, never, never. For grown-ups, for me, there’s also such a thing as personal happiness. But do you know what is even more important? My sons. You and you. You’re what counts. And nothing – and no one – will ever change that.’
And I meant every word.
TUESDAY, June 15 – We’ve booked a site at a campground in France. We leave this coming Saturday, and will be back in a week. I’ve had enough and really need a break. We bloody deserve it. Away from it all. It’s not far from C, that too. I want to see what I’m getting into. I want to see her and she says she wants to see me.
SUNDAY, June 13 – My bedsprings creaked as a result of all my tossing and turning, and I woke up to find myself in a state of extreme confusion. Under the shower I rinsed away my nocturnal fatigue, ran a towel over my face, and looked in the mirror. Then it became clear.
It’s so simple, flirting with single colleagues and mothers in the schoolyard, and sampling various other romantic possibilities. It’s satisfying, enjoyable, sexy, and good for your ego. But God almighty, how do you keep it up? How do you combine it with work. With children? And why? What’s the object of the exercise?
In her book You Can Call me Anytime, author and widow Karin Kuiper says that the patience of the people around you usually lasts about six months. They figure that the period of mourning ought to be over, and before long the potential partners descend on you like flies on molasses. And she’s right. I’ve seen it happen. And while it’s fun, in the long term it doesn’t get you anywhere.
This is something I realized during a long telephone conversation with C. I’d been corresponding with her for some time by email. She’s a recent divorcee with two daughters. At the moment they live in France, but they’ll soon be moving to Amsterdam. This morning was the first time we’d spoken to each other. It’s clear that we have a number of things in common, but we have more to offer each other than consolation. We are genuinely interested in each other, and this morning under the shower I was conscious of a kind of turning point in my present life: one step back in superficiality in exchange for one step forward towards potential love
19.30 – Damn it, stomach ache. I mustn’t let on. Stomach ache due to nerves, but I see to it that my face is all smiles. Again and again I emphasize how jealous I am and what a lucky dog he is to be able to go on the trip. He just nods.
The youngest son is going on a class trip.
Not a day trip to an amusement park, but three days in Brussels, for Space Camp to learn what it’s like to be an astronaut. The high point is the micro-gravity experience: the sense of being weightless. That’s what he’s really looking forward to. Just as I’m looking forward to the moment when I can put my arms around him again. Damn it! Why am I so worried? He wants to go, he’s enthusiastic, he’s going to be away three nights and he’s excited that he’ll be sharing a room with two of his best friends. So what’s the problem?
I pace back and forth holding the letter from school, with the list of things he’s supposed to take along and another list with the things he’s not allowed to bring. Sleeping bag, pillowcase, mattress sheet, shoes with white soles, three pairs of underpants plus one extra, socks, three T shirts and an extra pair of pants go into the sports bag. In his backpack he’ll have his Dutch passport, a copy of his insurance card, and twenty euros for the souvenir shop. Cell phones are taboo, but they’ve made an exception for Eamonn.
He’s raring to go. But I’m not. I remember how he came home holding the letter in which the space camp was announced. He was simply wild about the idea. Jenn and I exchanged glances, thinking how big our little guy was getting. We had all sorts of plans for those three days. We would have no problem finding an address for Sander for three days.
In the week after her death Eamonn announced that he would definitely not be going. He didn’t feel like going anymore and he couldn’t bear the thought of being away from home for even one night. Far away from me. I said: we’ll see how you feel when the time comes.
And now that the time has come, I’m grateful and deliriously happy that he’s looking forward to the trip. Which is why I have a stomach ache.
MONDAY, May 31 – In the schoolyard I get into conversation with one of the teachers. She was at our party with her husband and child. It’s a beautiful day and I’m in an impetuous mood. I remark that spring has gone to my head.
She tells me about her twin sister who last October went through an unpleasant divorce. I say ‘If she’s just as pretty as you are, maybe we should arrange to meet.’ She takes my suggestion seriously, and explains that she’s already told her sister what we’ve been through. A sorrow shared, etc.
When I get home, I look her up on Facebook and send her an impudent email: ‘Okay, when and where are we going to dance?’
MONDAY, May 24 – I email a thank-you note to the hostess:
‘Thanks so much for inviting us to the barbecue. It was a great bunch of people and the kids certainly enjoyed themselves. Sometimes I realize that there are things that keep me from accepting invitations. As a single dad with certain responsibilities, you have a totally different social life. But I’m slowly learning to shrug things off and the great group you had there last night really made me feel good.’
Is that it? Am I now a single father instead of a grieving widower? Do single women or mothers no longer see at a glance what kind of shit I’m carrying around with me every day? I wonder if they see what I can still see: that there was once a wedding ring on my left hand.
MONDAY, April 12 – Had a long talk with K. She was worried because of my uncommunicativeness, the vacuum I’ve created around myself, my mourning for Jennifer even though she understands my need to do so. The grief, the profound need to cherish her memory… neither enough time nor enough space for a new relationship. Not yet. It’s too soon. I feel like a bastard and an egotist, but I need to think about Jennifer, only Jennifer. So, I opt for my own needs and we stop seeing each other.
SATURDAY, April 10 – Things are going fine. Until you’re pushing your cart around the supermarket and you find yourself next to a young couple. The father had clearly not slept well and the mother, who’s pushing the baby carriage, is annoyed but doing her best to ignore his conduct. He repeatedly reprimands his young daughter, who’s having trouble navigating her miniature shopping cart down the aisle. I’m annoyed not only with them, but also with myself, because I feel a stab of jealousy.
Or am I being overly-nostalgic and sentimental? A yearning for the days when we ourselves formed a young family of four? Father, mother and two young children. The future beckoned: we were building a life together, with expectations and doubts, ambitious plans, and daydreams about the years to come. You gradually get used to the routine of being a parent – the lack of sleep and also from the friction that inevitably arises in trying to establish equitably parenting commitment. Parental care and parental cares.
I feel the urge to wallow in depression and am poised to give in. Most of the articles in the shopping cart are taken from the list that Jennifer always used. I know it almost by heart and every week I end up buying too much food so when I get home, I first have to throw away all the food that’s already gone bad – usually without a trace of remorse.
My culinary creativity also leaves something to be desired. I have great plans and purchase the necessary ingredients, but then I don’t enjoy the actual cooking. I seldom try out a new recipe or surprise myself with some culinary tour de force. As long as the meal is hot and the ingredients have not gone bad, it’s okay by me. Oh, and every week I forget my bonus card. If only that was all…
The same family is now behind me in line. The little girl is sucking on her lollipop, the father contemplates the rest of the weekend, and the mother leans over to kiss the baby. Your average family. One of thousands.
14:00 – I think about K. a lot … but not that much. My head seems to be overflowing. I want to mark time for a while and go back a bit so that I can grieve for Jennifer. Go back to my wife, to the mother of my children. Not only physically, but also mentally. Back to the past and back to the future which are both so much a part of the present. I want Jenn back. I want to embrace that impossible desire undisturbed. And alone.
SUNDAY, April 4 – K was talking about vulnerability, something that’s assumed to be primarily a feminine sensation. A woman wants to surrender, a man wants to conquer, and yet, when it comes to sex, there’s a kind of mental block for her and for me. It’s probably a question of relaxation and creating total trust between us so that we can make love without thinking about it. Another new experience.
For me, thinking about it entails all sorts of problems. During sex an alarm bell suddenly goes off. A small voice says, ‘Hey, Overdiek, what do you think you’re doing?’ It’s not a reproach or a warning, but simply a reminder. I am with someone, inside someone while for almost nineteen years I had shared a bed with the same person.
After all that time sex was, of course, no longer an adventure. It was planned, prearranged, and perfunctory, but nonetheless it was no less intimate or pleasurable for that. All this was going through my head last night.
‘Do you feel guilty?’ K asked, not for the first time. No. One hundred percent no! Why should I? Intimacy, affection, caresses, a good screw: these are things that every human being – every body – is entitled to and needs. At least, I do.