These are the glory days of summer. We spend long evenings sitting on our terrace, telling each other about the books we’re reading (him: the brain, and scrum theory, me: Abraham commentaries and young adult novels). I drink home made ice coffees with coffee ice cubes (thank you pinterest) and he has a German beer in his favourite beer glass from Bornholm.
We watch the planes coming in during the evening, see them approaching from the west and swoop in low over the houses. I imagine all these people coming home from business trips to London, Berlin, Copenhagen. Or maybe they got a weekend in Nice or Barcelona.
We talk about our plants like proud parents. The cherry tomatoes have gotten a little overexcited in this hot weather and have turned the balcony into something of a jungle. And the chilli plants are going mad too, which makes his eyes widen in anticipation of all the spicy dishes we’ll be eating in a few weeks.
We sleep downstairs on the mattress pulled from the sofa bed, because this is the coolest room. And I wake up to the sound of him making coffee and eating breakfast a few metres from me. I brave the gym because at least this heat means there are less people there to compete with.
And I think about writing a blog post. I look at the screen for ten minutes of so, and then I get up to make another ice coffee (decaf this time) and tell myself something will come later.
Most days it is fine. It’s been months now, over a year. And I remember every day, but usually the remembering brings with it just a sigh, a moment of sadness, a pause between sentences.
Then there are days where it arrives unannounced. The sun is shining and the sky is cloud-free and I am walking to the nearby park with a straw picnic bag stuffed with a blanket, cookies and my sunglasses. I sit on the sand playground surrounded by women I adore and their two dozen children – crawling, toddling, running towards the slide.
And then the grief hits me like an express train and I wonder how quickly I can leave without it looking bad, because remember that I was the one who organised this mass play date. And new friends are asking me “which ones are your kids” and I’m replying “Oh I don’t have any children” and that one line which by now I can normally rattle off my tongue with only the smallest amount of fake in my smile, now makes me want to hide.
The rational side of my brain tells me this is silly. These women are your dear friends, you adore their children, you have done this countless times in the last year without wanting to curl into a ball. Why now? Just relax and enjoy it. Everyone is so nice! Start a conversation! Go push a kid on the swings!
But the other part of me has stopped caring what is rational or normal and just wants to be able to look down and see my six month of baby rolling on the rug, grabbing at discarded shoes and toy spades, trying to eat sand. But he’s not here and he won’t be.
So I put on sunglasses and make conversation and chat with a gorgeous six year old with a clipped English accent about her jewellery making endeavours. And as soon as the first mum mentions needing to get home before nap time, I fold up the rug and wave a quick goodbye.
And I cry walking the 100m home to our flat.
On Friday night as we are counting the planes coming in, we realise we have no plans for the weekend.
“Let’s go to Maastricht then” I say. And so we do.
It’s a few hours drive through green Belgian countryside and we drive with the top down and I remembered to bring a scarf for my hair so that I wouldn’t look like Bridget Jones when we arrive. And we drive with Muse playing on the speakers and his hand resting on my knee and I think these are truly my favourite moments with him, just the two of us, going exploring.
We head first for the watermill bakery I’ve heard of. He knows me by now and doesn’t even laugh when I organise each new visit by the things I want to taste. We drink strong drip coffee and eat slices of sweet Vlaai and talk about things we’ve talked about dozens of times before but I’m not bored.
We walk the old streets and hold hands and um and aah over where to eat lunch. I pay the €4 to go into the cathedral because I can never see too many churches and I walk slowly, watching my feet on the ancient stones, and wonder how many people have walked here before me and did they meet God here or did they stand like me in the back of the church and realise it’s impossible to trap him in these buildings, although sometimes he is gracious with his presence there.
There are stained glass windows here of women – Anna and Elizabeth and Catherine and Isabella. I take photos on my phone, happy to find them here in this place, wishing they could come down so that we could wander the cloister and talk about the glory days, and the hard ones too.
Outside he’s bought a coffee and is waiting for me on a bench under a tree. I walk towards him feeling overwhelmingly lucky to have found him.
Back in Luxembourg we walk into town towards the sound of jazz music and people meeting. It’s the cultural highlight of the year and we find our friends next to the old abbey, under the cave-dotted cliffs. I’m tipsy from too much cremant already and everything just feels right here. We sway to the saxophones and one out-of-place didgeridoo and shout our conversations to each other.
And we leave when I’m tired – I’ve grown past the age of trying to stick it out longer – and decide to walk the long way home through the valley. It’s dark and quiet here, and I watch the moon come up as we walk, and we stop on the hill to stretch our tired legs for the last kilometre home.
“I know these will all be stories some day, and our pictures will become old photographs. We all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now, these moments are not stories. This is happening. I am here, and I am looking at her. And she is so beautiful. I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive. And you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song, and that drive with the people who you love most in this world. And in this moment, I swear, we are infinite.”
― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
I finished reading this book this morning, lying on our makeshift bed next to the dining table. And I felt a little raw when I’d finished it, because I can’t read a good book without becoming its characters, their thoughts and feelings staying with me for hours, sometimes days later. And this one was brutally beautiful.
I read this on the very first page: “So this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”
This summer is full of glory moments. And there are also the moments where my chest tightens like a vice and I wonder how to feel safe again. And they come together. The glory and the pain. And I think that’s just how it is. And I think I’m slowly learning how to live there, in the gap between the promise and the reality.