Two blue damselflies were dancing around each other at the shore of the pond and at the little canal that connects the two ponds. They were completely mesmerised by each other and I too.
Because the weather forecast promised good weather, we cycled, still in the dark, to the beach, and when we put our bikes away, the sun peeped over the horizon in the east. Beautiful colours in the sky, the sea looked blue, and the air above the water a soft pink too. The crows sat waiting for their picture, those poles are made for them, or so they think.
I am five years old. In the morning early before school we wake up in the dark, walk a short distance over the bridge to the cafe where our Volkswagen Beetle is stalled. My father, my two brothers, and me. My mother stays at home. We drive to the swimming pool on the Haarlemmerstraat in town. It’s quite odd that it used to be a church, and that the children’s pool (‘kikkerbadje’) is exactly where the altar once was.
Now I am in it. I have to learn to swim, and so my father puts me in a safety belt that is attached to the ceiling. There I lie flat in the water. What am I supposed to do? I nearly drown or so it feels. I am the only one in the small pool. Then I step out of the water, and watch the large pool where all the others are having fun. They can swim, of course. They play tag, dive from the high platform, and have fun. I feel cold and shiver whilst looking at them.
It’s not a big surprise then that I did not learn to swim, and actually became more afraid of water. I remember going to the sea often, a cycle of ten kilometers, and feeling frightened by the grey water and the high waves. I hardly ever went in deeper than my knees.
On holidays I had to try with my mother, who had never learned to swim. We managed to do a few strokes in the undeep part of the lake. Once my father urged my mother to swim to the other side of a small Italian lake. Both shores were shallow, but it was deep in the middle. My mum obliged and began to swim. In the middle, however, she stopped to feel the bottom, and when she couldn’t stand, she sank. My father jumped in and pulled her out of the water. Later she said: ‘I felt peaceful. My only thought was that you and the children had to go home alone.’
Finally, in the last year of primary school, when I was twelve years old, I suddenly had a break through. A kind swim instructor came to my rescue. He put a long hook under my belly and guided me through the water. I learned to swim very quickly. What a relief!
In highschool lessons continued and to my surprise I was asked if I would like to join the local swim team, called the ‘Golfbrekers’ (wave breakers) because I was such an elegant swimmer. I joined the team and my training programme began. Soon I took part in swimming contests as well as water polo matches. I found the long distance contests exhilarating, even though the water was usually very cold. It was fun to be part of it, but I also remember the tedious and endless exercises. My heart belonged to ballet and I loved giving performances. When I left the team at 16, I swore never to swim tracks again. I only wanted to swim for fun.
Do you know what it feels like to be the apple of your parent’s eye?
Well, I was my father’s favourite. It certainly had advantages, but sometimes it was a burden too: feeling obliged to be perfect for fear of losing that privileged position.
My father was very charming when everything went his way. When his anger was aroused, however, this would change. He had strong opinions and found it difficult to understand that not everyone shared them. When I was a child I tried to understand his anger, but I couldn’t apprehend his reaction to things I innocently said in front of him. And I could certainly never forget these incidents.
The first moment was as follows. One day I came home from school and I said to my father: “I love Jesus Christ more than I love you”. As we were a catholic family, I attended the Saint Barbara school. I was rather zealous in my religious convictions and I wanted to pronounce what I had learned. (Once, I even tried to convert the girl next door). It had struck me that what I was taught at school differed a lot from what we were thought at home and I wanted to express my devotion. My father was very angry and condemned my utterance, leaving me upset.
The second one was when I said how privileged I was to have three grandmothers. A rather strange thing to say, as I never had seen the third one. My father’s parents had divorced when he was 15 years old and he didn’t want to see his mother since. He was furious when he heard me say that.
Thirdly, my father was an autodidact and he loved to discuss philosophy with his friends. One time I listened in on their conversation. They were talking about solipsism. Out of the blue I said that I agreed that we were essentially solipsists. The reaction of my father shattered me, when he said: “Women cannot do philosophy. Period.” Had I not been a feminist before, I certainly became one there and then.
Lastly, I had been invited by a friend on a tandem bicycle tour through the countryside and we had had a lovely day. In the evening we went for a drink in the pub. I had never had been in one before. My father had been a teetotaler int the past and in his opinion pubs were bad. When we left the pub, we ran into my parents who were just leaving their friend’s house opposite the pub. What a coincidence! As a consequence, my friend was banned(!) from our house. For the first time, I defied my father’s wishes and kept seeing him. Eventually my recalcitrance won. By Christmas time he was allowed to come around and we married some time later. Have I told you that we have been married for 45 years now?