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Monday, November 3, 2014

Love Stories: Della and Martin

More love stories!
I met Martin twenty-one years ago in what was a period of flux for us, having both just arrived in The Netherlands from two different corners of the world. By serendipitous chance we’d enrolled in the same Dutch language course and I remember sitting at a desk by the door when he first walked in. He was a few minutes late and settled in noisily, arranging his bag and books at the desk next to mine. I’d already been marveling at all the different faces and accents around the room, fascinated to be part of such a diverse group of newcomers.

My first reaction to Martin was distraction at the colour of his hair. It wasn’t only blonde, but the shade of pale wheat all the way to the root – evidently natural, and much lighter than I’d ever seen before on an adult male. I deducted from this that he must be from Germany or some other northern European country, and my assumptions, though naive, were soon proven right.

The teacher had grouped us into pairs so that we could practice a few simple conversational phrases. It was from this first, stilted conversation – Dutch rolling off his tongue more casually than it did mine – that I discovered he was from Berlin and the youngest of three children. I told him that I came from outside New York City and was also the youngest of three. These minor similarities felt like inroads to all that was different in our backgrounds and before long we were laughing at the same jokes.

I remember it was a giddy feeling to be making unlikely friendships in the most likely of circumstances. He and I, and others in the class who we befriended – no matter how different our backgrounds – were all in the same boat. We were struggling with a new culture and language, new rules, and for most of us, the reality of being a foreigner for the very first time.

By mid term my Dutch was advancing sluggishly. Memorisation and a grasp of the grammatical rules had little positive effect on my everyday conversation. But I continued to persevere, and was a little shocked on the day when Martin, sitting next to me in class, literally shut his text book and told me he’d had it with studying. I was shocked but also impressed, as from then on his Dutch only blossomed.

It’s more similar to German than English, he’d said to me kindly.

It was this type of remark, with its sweetness and sympathy, that I now know was not just very lovely but very characteristic of the man who is now my husband. Twenty-one years and another country have gone by in a heartbeat, and he is still full of sweetness and sympathy today. Whenever I think back I realise how chancy happiness can be – how lucky I was to have enrolled in that particular Dutch class and to have chosen a seat by the door on that day.
 Della DeMarinis is my fabulous, Berlin dwelling cousin. She writes young adult fiction, paints, has two tremendous kids and an awesome font crafting husband. Della's fluent in English, Dutch and German and is twelve kinds of wise and funny to boot. Check out more of her Tell Me a Story posts here, here and here.

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