I understand his sadness. It is hard to watch him from outside it. And it is hard not to feel responsible for his pain.
In the morning, I bring him coffee, he is still asleep. I bring a biscuit that I baked from the day before. When he wakes up and sits, stretching, I move into the circle of his lap. Place the biscuit to his lips and watch him bite. Then I take a bite. I kiss his mouth in between. We drink coffee like this too.
We take the tram in. We arrive at the office together and pass people in the hallway who say hello over the morning pungency of more strong coffee. We step into our office corner. Some mornings, we are distracted. But because now our business really has to work, we have adapted some discipline during business hours. It is a lot harder than it should to be. I always want to touch him.
Bran meets with people, so some days he leaves. They come from other countries, people he knows and people who know someone he knows. He attracts people to him. He is the kind of person people instantly like as soon as they meet him because he is unpretentious and has an easy going personality. On the days he is in the office, we work together; I work on images, he gets engrossed in the other things he does while we talk about the clients he keeps finding.
This is so different.... this way I see him now and this way that I see us too. It reminds me of developing old photographs in a dark room. When you first drop the paper into the chemical bath, it is blank. And then you see an image. And then this image becomes more and more detailed. I see so many things in him now.... those things that make me see and understand why or what it is that drew us to each other.... and I see a lot of things I had missed before, subtle glimpses of inner mines. They are more clear now than when we were too busy rushing to airplanes. I see those things too that he doesn't know that I can see.
We have work to do to keep our minds off things like the legal problems that he is facing and my own falling out with Dean. Dean, who I have managed to avoid with the exception of a few phone calls. He says my things have been packed up and asks if I am ever coming back. I don't know if it is my imagination, but he does not sound alone.
All that I miss about the US is my daughter. Nothing else. I know that I will have to go back eventually, but I don't want to. I have always felt buried there. Some kind of smog over my mind. It feels as if the person that I was growing up in Amsterdam I left here when I went to the states. I had to become this person that I never was, a persona in order to assimilate. It was never me. Because the real me never fit in there.
Ruud asks us if we would like to join his family for dinner.
When we arrive later with flowers and a bottle of wine, Ruud introduces us to his wife Marijke. They are both very tall and very blond with very tall adolescent children who run around wildly.
After dinner, after a lot of wine and conversation, Ruud says to his wife,
“and I am trying to convince these two people who are madly in love, to stay and become a business partner.”
“Oh you should!” Marijke agrees and openly laughs because she realizes that her husband has just embarrassed us. She says, “but you are in love, he is right, anyone can see it, it is written all over your faces. You make me jealous because you two make such a beautiful couple.”
It can be so jarring, the people of this country tend to have this affinity; this flair for blunt conversation that can feel, often, impactful, and at times, abrasive. But now, the awkward honesty clears the air. I decide to clear the dishes. It seems like the natural transition. She tells me I don't have to. But I really want to. Instead, she calls her children, Famke and Willem. She wants us to go and sit down in the living room while her husband is pouring us more drinks. So we drink some more and talk some more. They don't make any more awkward remarks and, strangely, the ice is broken, as if some secret code has been cracked.
There is a sudden jolt, a chill down my spine as I become aware of something. And I know he must be thinking the same thing as we are sitting here together in this nice Dutch family's home.... This is the first time we are socializing like two people who are.... together. Always, before, it has been clandestine. And I am thinking how strange and exciting it feels. As if now we are no longer a secret; our secret is public. We have outed.
We walk home from Ruud's, walk silently through the streets, his arm across the shoulders of my coat. We are both quiet. We stop at the bridge that is all lit up, the lights multiplied by the reflections in the water. He stands behind me with his arms on either side as I lean up against him. We stare into the water. It is so pretty. So calming.
And yet even with my back to him, I can feel an intensity that hangs around him like an aura that has been present all day. We walk home quietly and go upstairs and get ready for bed. We decide to take a bath and in the bath tub he draws me close. He is vulnerable. We talk about life and death. We talk about how strange and fleeting life is. The value of our moments.
He tells me,
“I remember my father when he was my age and it really doesn't seem that long ago. Life just goes by so fast, it's weird.”
He is thinking so much more than what he is saying because there are long pauses where he stops to think.
“I should explain something to you so that you don't keep thinking that it's you who really came between Clair and me. I never told you....before you and I met, things with Clair were --not right....something was just ….not there....” he puts his hand against his chest and shakes his head. “It was like this a long time....After Detroit, I was worried about losing my kids. So I tried to make it work with her again. For them. But... I couldn't. Being there. That emptiness....like I was already dead.... just one foot from the grave.... overwhelmingly oppressive.... but it is the house where I have these memories with my kids.... and that is the part that hurts, that part with them which has to end.” He sighs heavily with self-disgust and says, “I'm turning my back on them. I'm a terrible father and husband.”
“But maybe it is better to be honest in life, Bran....” I say now, “I understand the part about feeling empty. Because that is how I felt. Is it selfish that even a living being, like a plant or a tree requires the sun to live?” my legs are around his waist, our skin sticks to each other in the warmth of the water. “I don't have the answer to why we ever met.... But that emptiness you describe-- the one that I know so well too.... if that emptiness was death.... than maybe this is its opposite.”
And for awhile he doesn't say anything.
Then he says,
“you know, she sold my motorcycle? ...Fuck it...she did it to get me back because of the time I threw out her necklace when she cheated on me years ago.”
“She cheated on you?”
“It was before we were married.”
“I guess things were never really great with Clair and I.... I just never wanted to have to face losing my kids.”
I don't want him to withdraw into himself. I breath into his ear,
“are you all right?” but he does not answer. And then I feel the heat of tears run down my breast.
He is my father figure, but sometimes, it is the other way. I want to tell him that he will not lose his kids, that they will always be his.... but I know how empty that would sound because I have been through this too. And there is a part of me that still feels responsible for what is happening now to him. To all of them.
“I knew when I first met you I knew how much I needed you in my life....” and he is kissing me, and as we move to connect, the water splashes and goes over the side of the tub.