Susan (US) and Antien (Holland)

Posted on June 13, 2011. Filed under: Stories - from other sites | Tags: , , , , , |

I moved to Amsterdam in 1998 from New York City to be with Antien, my partner now for nine
years and the love of my life. Excuse me for gushing right off the bat, but
true love is hard to find, and sharing my life with her renews, delights and
amazes me.

I met Antien on December 31, 1989 at a New
Year’s Eve party in Brooklyn, New York. Our hosts invited the assembled guests
to express themselves on the occasion of the demise of the 1980s. Cast your
mind back – we’d just been through eight years of ketchup as a vegetable. It
was a decade when image triumphed over substance again and again, and most of
us were relieved to bid it adieu. Antien’s contribution was a modern dance
improvisation. She had recently graduated from the Rotterdam Dance Academy and
was in New York to study in the Merce Cunningham studio. She moved that evening
with a dramatic, theatrical intensity that riveted me to my seat. I couldn’t
take my eyes off her. She was so “out there” that it almost hurt to
watch. I was a complete dance novice then, and I wasn’t sure what she intended
to say about the 1980s, but whatever it was, it got my attention!

I think I loved her from the moment I laid
eyes on her, but we were friends for a period of years before I acknowledged to
myself – and to her – that I was in love. I bared my heart to her in 1993, and
we have never looked back.

By that time, of course, Antien had returned
to her native Holland. I knew I was in love, but could I actually uproot myself
to move to a new land in mid-life? Could I leave my friends, my community, my
professional life? I wasn’t sure, and so Antien and I conducted a long-distance
relationship between New York and Amsterdam for five years. [No one has ever
called me impulsive.] Fortunately, her work as a dance teacher gave her the
summers off, and my employers in a small consulting firm in New York were
sensitive to my situation. Still, for five years, we never spent more than two
consecutive months together, and probably saw each other for no more than four
months out of every year. Missing her was one of the keenest, sharpest pains I
have ever felt.

When we were together, we fantasized about
what it would be like to share a daily life, to wake up in the same bed, to
tell each other our stories at the end of the day. Just being together – what
so many couples take for granted – seemed almost unimaginable. When we parted
at Schiphol or JFK, we cried our eyes out. When we were reunited, it was
sweeter than sweet. We had a spirited, old-fashioned pen and paper
correspondence. We spent a fortune on plane tickets and phone calls.

After five years of travelling back and
forth, I decided I was ready to move to Amsterdam, a city I had grown to love.
I had lived in New York for 11 years, and I felt ready to trade in that crazy
human carnival for a city on a more human scale. I was certainly ready to be
with Antien, but being ready didn’t make it any less wrenching to leave my home
and my friends. I sorted, packed and divested. I gave up my apartment and all
of my furniture. I gave away my appliances, my television, even my desk. I gave
away hundreds of books, and put hundreds more into storage. I found homes for
my two cats. I arranged to work freelance via the Internet for my company in
New York. I borrowed a friend’s car and made a ten-day road trip to Boston and
western Massachusetts, my two other previous homes in adulthood, to say those
good-byes.

The opportunity to start “anew” in
mid-life was a gift for me. I arrived in Amsterdam when I was nearly 40, and I felt
that I was starting fresh: free, unburdened, eyes wide open. Like the first day
of school.

My life in Amsterdam is rich and growing,
and I am grateful for it. I love riding a bicycle everywhere. I love living in
a city that is just so damned cute. Getting acquainted with a new culture is
endlessly fascinating (and occasionally vexing). Making new friends reminds me
that everyday of our lives is a new act of creation. The language…now that has
been a struggle. Learning Dutch has been completely humbling, particularly for
a perfectionistic verbal person like me. I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve my
goal of speaking with effortless mastery, but I now speak with reasonable
competence. And I’m learning to let that be good enough, for now. Making a
second language my own has been, in many ways, like all good process projects,
its own reward.

But I also gave up much to be here. When
people ask me what I miss most, I joke and say half-and-half in my coffee. I do
miss half-and-half, but of course I miss people the most. Sometimes I ache for
the friends who have known me 15, 20, even 25 years. That kind of intimacy,
that kind of deep knowing, is irreplaceable. I see family in California at most
once a year, my nieces and nephews are growing half a world away, and that is
also a loss. I spend considerable time and resources every year travelling back
to the US to maintain my relationships and connections there.

I don’t know if Antien and I would choose to
live in the United States now if we could – Dubya is making this a particularly
easy time for me, personally, to be an expatriate – but the point is, we don’t
have the choice. The Netherlands recognizes our relationship and welcomes me as
her partner, and in the United States our commitment to each other has no standing.

Even my closest friends and family regard my
decision to move here as a choice, which in a way, of course, it was. I think
of it as a choice, too. No one held a gun to my head. But it was not an
entirely free choice. I think of it as a compelled choice. If I wanted to have
a daily life with Antien, it was the only choice I had. Does one option
constitute a choice? The longer I am here, the more it sinks in: I may call
Amsterdam home for the rest of my life because my own country doesn’t, can’t,
won’t see me.

– Susan

Susan posted this story at the following
URL: http://loveexiles.org/Susan_story.htm

 

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