The Young Man
This is a true story. It was related to me by my grandmother, my Omi, before her dementia set in. I honestly, truly, believe this could be made into a film.
On October 21st, 1952, Omi's 20th birthday, it was time for her to leave her family and country. She was to leave the Netherlands and reunite with her fiancee in Canada. He had gone on ahead 2 years prior. He was a hardworking man, and had served in Indonesia in the Dutch Navy before going to Canada. During his time in service, he wrote Omi 360 letters.
Omi could not pack very many belongings. She had to decide what to do with the letters, and did not want her younger sisters to read them - so, she burned them.
Omi's mother, sister, and aunt said goodbye to her at the train station. Her dad and father-in-law-to-be went with her on the train to Rotterdam. Once there, they got permission to come aboard for a visit, since Omi's father had been a customs officer. They toured the ship, and the time came to say goodbye.
Omi, now age 92, told me, "I can still see my dad standing there. It was the last time I saw him."
From Rotterdam, the ship sailed to France. Upon leaving Le Havre, the weather became very stormy. Omi shared a hut with seven other woman and a baby; his little steel crib would slide from side to side in the cabin, moved by the swaying of the ship upon the ocean.
Staying in the cabin was lonely; several of the other women were standoffish. They were traveling with family, and did not talk to other people. She had no one her age to talk to in her living space, so she spent time touring the ship.
Her wanderings led her to meet a young gentleman with a story similar to hers; he was sailing to Canada as well, to meet his own fiancée. Omi and the young man had something in common, and it made her feel safer and less alone. They spent most of the trip in each other's company, talking about Canada - what would it be like? How would the landscape look? How would life be different there? They would have to study English. Dutch was not the common language in Canada.
After 12 days of sailing, the ship reached Canada. Omi's plan was to take the train from Halifax to Union Station in Toronto; the young man was also going to Toronto, and asked: why do we not travel together? We can keep each other company a little longer.
The train was very old. There were no blankets, and passengers had to sleep on wooden benches. Pillows could be rented for $0.25 a night.
Omi did not like the Canadian scenery; the weather was very dreary. But the trip was a lot more pleasant in the young man's company.
He lent Omi his coat to use as a blanket. She was shy to sleep next to a man she did not know, but he turned his back to her and faced the wall so she would feel more comfortable. She turned her back to his and they slept like that for the 2 nights it took to arrive.
At 6:00 a.m. on the 3rd day, they arrived in Toronto and disembarked. The young man waited with Omi at the station for her fiancée.
Omi's fiancée arrived with a cane. He had been in a motorcycle accident, and was still recovering. Along with him was his brother, who had just gotten off work at a mechanic shop, and was covered in grime and oil.
The young man was hesitant to leave Omi when he saw this. He was concerned for her safety. She reassured him that she would be fine, and, eventually, he left.
Omi and her fiancée were married a week later.
Life in Canada was a hard adjustment. Omi did not speak much English, and her husband did not either. They had not been together for 2 years, and it took time to grow used to each other again. He found work at a factory doing manual labor, and Omi busied herself with housework. It was not long before she discovered she was pregnant.
A year passed.
Things were easier now then at the beginning. Omi was a happy mother, doting on her little boy. Her husband was learning conversational English from his workplace, and Omi was doing the same in her bible study at the church they had recently become members of.
On a warm Saturday morning, Omi was serving pancakes to her husband, and spoon feeding applesauce to her little boy, when there was a knock at the front door of the house.
She went to open it. Standing in the doorway was the young man from the ship.
He had not married his own fiancée. They had gone their separate ways.
He had used the passenger listing information from the ship to track down Omi's whereabouts.
He wondered if maybe - just maybe - if she had not gotten married either.
He wondered if she would be with him.
When Omi told me this story, she could not give all the details of the interaction; she could not bring herself to say everything.
She told me, however, that after saying goodbye and closing the door, she stared at that door for a long time.
Then, slowly, she went back to the kitchen, where her little boy and her husband - my Opi - were waiting.
She never saw the young man again. One year, while cleaning, she threw away her own copy of the passenger listing, not thinking about how time changes things, not thinking how one day, she might want to look at it again.
That is her biggest regret.
She does not even remember his name.
wait till you hear what she did
"Last night, I found out from my brother that this girl he's been talking to (and I know her, mind you, she's my friend's little sister), has been -
Wait, that's not enough context.
Back when we were kids, she would always get into my... actually, that's going too far back. Let me try again.
[BEEP]. Her name is [BEEP]. She has[BEEP] hair and a penchant for [BEEP], and constantly tries to get us to [BEEP] [BEEP] [BEEP]. I'm pretty sure she knew -
...You're censoring this for privacy reasons?
Oh. Ok. Um... Here goes.
If you've ever found mushrooms where you didn't expect them, like in a stir-fry, and you happened to hate the slimy things, but you also happened to love stir-fry - and you were at a new friend's place for dinner - you'd be face with a conundrum, right? Option 1: pick the things out, making it clearly obvious what you think of the cooking. Option 2: choke the things down and pray for instant death. Option 3: interrupt the conversation to wax poetic about the negative effect mushrooms have on your mental health and the probability of your immediately vomiting, should you choose -
No, it's related, I promise! It's an analogy, I-
Is that her?
In the audience, right there."
*covering microphone *
"Well, I - where was I? That's -
I- okay. But you should be careful who you serve in here. Wait till you hear what she did - you need to know -"
*microphone cuts off*
i never thought you were the fragile type
you met the Woodsman and he's got a bite
in twisted verse
he smiles maroon and he takes your fight
you're breaking, bent
fade out under the faerie lights
why'd you run to the trees
to the mossy green
when the rivers always treated you right?
why'd you mar your feet?
all that dirt and heat
would've washed away in the water bright
but you've sunken into the scene
your name, you forget what it means
the Woodsman's got your heart and you've melded with the bark
you're a broken little forest queen
It’s a rule of thumb in my family that we call each other out on our bullshit. Bottling things up doesn’t fly; it’s stupid, we figure, and just prolongs the problem. Most of us are confrontational by nature. It’s easier this way.
The thing is - we’re supposed to stay logical. It’s not that we can’t express emotions - emotions just don’t hold against tough love reality.
You’re pissed because someone told you that you handled a dating situation badly? It’s true. Do better next time. Move on.
You’re offended because someone said you need to stop complaining about never having time to clean your house? Stop committing to every little social thing and solve your own problem. Boom.
You don’t like when people joke around about you always asking if your boyfriend of six months is also invited to the party? We’re not mocking you - it was just funny.
A lot of people don’t get it, the way we talk so openly with each other; they see two or more of us arguing over something and think we’re actually fighting, or that they need to intervene, or that shit’s about to hit the fan. Back up, buddy - this is communication. We don’t do grudges; and if someone tries, they’re probably doing too much navel-gazing. It’s healthier than the ‘let’s pretend the problem doesn’t exist’ method. It’s better than ‘beat around the bush and gaslight’. It’s faster than sitting in therapy for two months indirectly insulting each other and playing the victim.
(This started as a journal entry, but I'm playing around with the idea of using it as the start of a novella or something. Let me know your thoughts!)
I will carve out a place
myself, I need a rhythm and a reason just to
trace my cells
to keep track
of all the ways that I have
become my own
my being, my person,
to start to call this skin "home"
I will challenge the lies
I will fight back the tide
I will look in the mirror and I will not be denied
If it's this figure, then I figure
"leave the bad thoughts behind;
all the persecuting bullies
were just words in your mind"
embers haunting (May 1933)
relics, on the burning pile
flickering tongues, all text defiled
turned to cinders
free thought razed by flames, hostile
they lay in ashen heaps, entwined
white skeletons succumbed to soot
all contrast blocked out by the grime
liberty burned, the true closed book