There was a time when Amsterdam was the coolest, most progressive, most hip place in the world to me. I was so much younger back then and that tolerant mini city with it’s majestic canals and left wing ideals was all I ever wanted. I would have given away everything for Amsterdam and I did, my friends on the other side of the world, my exciting life in New York City, even my parents and siblings, I gave them up all up to start my new life in Amsterdam.
I spent a great portion of my life in that watery world. I guess we all have some sort of relationship with the place we live in. Eventually I got caught up in my own life, in the lives of my friends and the illusive beauty of the city faded into the background. Yet for me I could never forget those first days and this most precious of wallflower could still find a way to comfort me when I needed her most.
Just recently I had passed a nondescript café while sitting in the tram. I remembered that café, that time sitting there one Spring afternoon as people sat around me laughing in animated conversation. It was at that very table, sitting on that very chair where my lover told me he was leaving me. The conversations of those around us, the music, the people, all noise infact blocked out as I felt that primal silent scream coming from the deepest part of me and those feelings, like salt slipping through my hands. It was at that moment my life as I had known it slipped away forever. I remember that pain like it was just yesterday, it was that pain that was the most defining moment of my life, it will be that pain I will still remember on my deathbed. In the end the memory of him and me, of us, of our places in Amsterdam became too painful for me to deal with. Everywhere I seemed to go memories of us lurked. Certain streets, certain parks became off limits, my mind became a war zone and my soul became collateral damage. In the end my once beloved city could do nothing but crush me and it wasn’t the cities fault but mine. Amsterdam became the hulk of a great ship slipping below the waves and I was no more than a little child screaming on it’s deck. Amsterdam could never be the same again.
I lost faith in humanity. I had loved and cared for someone so carefully, there was no sign that our relationship was in trouble. I had been betrayed on such an immense scale that I couldn’t quite grasp. I hurt so badly inside. It sounds so strange but all I had was God. I felt I could never trust a human being again. Can you imagine I was unable to go outside into my city of ghosts yet the inside of the apartment would torment me too as we had chosen all the furniture and paintings together.
Seperating from him and how I struggled to find my place in the world again was the hardest thing I ever had to go through. I’m forever changed now. Things that I used to hold dear became irrelevant. Someone once said that with each passing decade a person changes so subtly yet so profoundly that they almost become unrecognizable to the person they once had been.
My perception became so strong around that time. I seemed to be able to look through people, through places, through things, through everything. I couldn’t stand sitting in places like Paris or Zurich anymore with their sidewalk cafés, it all seemed so dead and neat and airbrushed, I needed to live whether good or bad, I needed to feel something again.
Even as I went through these irreversable shifts Amsterdam would sometimes catch me off guard and I would notice hints in her understated beauty once more. The last time she seduced my eye was just after returning from Beijing when the moon was positioned so perfectly above the rooftops of a row of townhouses on the Herengracht canal. The water glistened that summer night, the city glistened too.
Flying over the Alps for the last time towards my new home in Africa.
Now I sit here in my new home in the Sahara desert, far from the watery world. Amongst the shifting sand dunes, amongst the flies in the market, amongst the inhabitants of this honeycomb African city I listen to them speak in tongues I do not know. I left Amsterdam, I left Europe, I left that certain pain forever. I thought I would have cried as the plane took off but infact I felt no emotion at all. The weeks prior to emigration had all gone by so quickly, resigning from my job, giving up my home, destroying letters and photos I had cherished since childhood, destroying all trace of me infact.
My last image of the Netherlands was a few farmhouses huddled on a polder being lashed by sleet as the plane climbed higher until my Dutch life became obscured behind the grey clouds for eternity. Amsterdam slipped once and for all below the waves. That plane was my life raft. European refugees sometimes arrive on the shores of Africa, I should know, i’m one of them.
I will never forget you Amsterdam, I don’t know why I was meant to suffer beside you but don’t remember my tears. Remember me when life was so much more innocent, when I would laugh cycling over your bridges on summer days, remember me learning to ice skate on your frozen canals, remember me when I used to lie in the park amongst your flowers looking up at the sky counting the clouds, remember me walking in the snowflakes, the rain, the falling cherry blossoms, the blizzards, the sunrays, the hailstones, the moonlight.
I will never forget you. I gave you the best part of me, the best part of my life and when I think back now I realise you gave me the best part of you too.