Amsterdam, The Netherlands
by Veronica Faison
A boyfriend is complicated at any age—and in any language.
Blood-curdling screams echoed through the small European household, bouncing off walls, resonating in my tiny ears. Tears streamed like rivers from her red eyes. Empty containers of ice cream littered the living room. Such a waste, I admonished silently. She rolled on the couch bawling. She might have said words, I mused. But, to me, she sounded as if she were possessed by demons, wailing in a foreign tongue.
I was worried for my cousin; more because she was the only one in the house with me than my worry for her sanity. I was tempted to ask her what was wrong, but my endeavor was interrupted by a feeble pillow throw from my coz. Banished, I sought temporary refuge in the room I stayed in. Through the closed door I still heard muffled cries.
It was as if my mother had sent me to a mental asylum. Perhaps, even then, a mental ward would have better company.
Within in the first few days of my staying in Holland, I concluded that the Dutch were greatly disturbed. My aunt and uncle were an erratic pair, my two male cousins, Marvin and Rayon, were overly studious, and my one young female companion, Lorraine, seemed to be prone to mental breakdowns. I convinced myself that I’d witnessed “European Madness.” Unbeknownst to me, this condition only seemed to be applicable to the members of my family.
“Diner is klaar,” my aunt’s voice carried upstairs.
I waited for Lorraine to translate for me, as she was supposed to, in order for me to learn the language. However, it became evident through her fetus position on the bed that she felt no initiative to do so. I ventured out of the room to investigate, partly out of curiosity, but more-so because I’d heard the word “dinner” in my aunt’s call. There are certain sacred words that can be understood in any language.
Rayon peaked out of his room, his tall figure looming over me. “What are you doing, coz?”
“Tante Lydia called us. To eat I think.”
“Lorraine told you?”
“No I figured it out.”
Rayon smiled, lifting his glasses on his nose. “Prachtig! Good job, coz. But what you need to learn is when my mother is cooking, call down to dinner is not an invitation, but a warning.” He relayed to me that tante Lydia’s food should be avoided like the black plague, lest you catch it. He told me that if no one comes downstairs to eat, my aunt would soon interpret the not-very-subliminal hints and take us out to eat.
As a child, I was a very picky eater when it came to eating out. I held my mother’s marvelous cooking in such high esteem that dining at a restaurant couldn’t compare to the master-chef skills of my mother’s. I assumed that my aunt’s cooking would be up to the same par (since they’re siblings), however when my aunt finally caught our efforts of evasion and managed to force “food” down our throats, I’d rather have eaten horse or whatever foreign foods they had in Holland.
The only redeemable mention of my aunt’s cuisine, which in retrospect wasn’t hers to make, was the cheese. When I first sank my teeth into the staple of brod en kaas, I understood why Americans called Dutch cheese “Gouda” for it was very good, ah!
Later on that night, my uncle ordered pizza (even he couldn’t take my aunt’s cooking), and it took my mouth to farther places than either Amsterdam or West Palm Beach.
As the weeks passed, my aunt had me enrolled in school. Although she planned to walk me there herself, she was working, as was my uncle. My two male cousins were busy with their afterschool sports; therefore I was left, once again, with Lorraine, who, after many days, was still very bitter over her ex. She walked me to my new school. It reminded me much of a gingerbread house, with its red accented windows and blue doors. I was nervous because I hadn’t “mastered” the language beyond a few phrases my mother used around the house, and the muttering of Rayon whenever Marvin brought up the subject of Lorraine’s emotional state.
I wanted to ask her about the school, the teachers, and learn more about my Dutch peers, but Lorraine remained unresponsive to my puppy eyes. She dropped me off in my class, and left.
I sat in a seat directed to by the teacher and observed. The girls outnumbered the boys in the classroom, and most of the girls flocked to one boy with a cow-lick whose name, I gathered, was Kevin.
Two of them, closest to this boy, were picking at his shirt and smiling a bit too widely, and I wondered aloud what this boy could have said that was so funny.
“Probably nothing,” a small voice said from behind me. “See those girls by his arm?” I nodded. “That’s Sam and Alexa.” She went on to say how they were in a rivalry over who Kevin would choose as his “girlfriend.”
“Girlfriend?” I echoed. I had heard that term before in elementary school, the television, but I also heard that word when Lorraine would cry on the phone to her friend.
“Yeah, he’s the cutest boy in the class so every girl wants to be his girlfriend. Oh, I’m Jennifer by the way.” After I introduced myself, I asked her, “What exactly does being someone’s girlfriend mean?”
Jennifer went on to say that it determines who gets to be the mommy and daddy when in the playhouse.
“Like marriage?” I asked. She nodded her head. She said that’s how you find your soul mate, and how popular someone is. “And everyone wants to be popular.”
“Why aren’t you trying to be Kevin’s girlfriend?” I said.
Her expression became mournful and she wore a distant look on her face. She told me that she used to be Kevin’s girlfriend but that he “broke up” with her after she spilled glue in the playhouse. That now, nobody will speak with her, and if one of them does, it’s to call her the derogatory name of “kip,” meaning “chicken.”
I came to understand why Lorraine was so distraught over her “break-up.” It was as if she had become someone to avoid like the plague.
I relayed to Jennifer my cousin’s romantic situation, and she concluded that Lorraine needed to kiss another boy in order to attain a new boyfriend, and she would have another to play the husband when their friends play “house” during playtime. However, Jennifer said, that because my cousin is much older, the simple kiss with have to be heightened to an exchange of “tongue.”
When Lorraine came again to pick me up from school, I told her what I’d learned despite the fact that she hadn’t asked. I informed her of what Jennifer had told me.
She shot me a quizzical look that soon turned to a wide-tooth smile, and began to laugh hysterically at me.
As if I were the one who was crazy.