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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chapter 11 - No toilet flushes the same and how does one call for an operator?

Sunday August 14th, 1988

I have escaped! Well, really I just went for a walk. I think I really need to be alone. If I stayed in the house one more moment with the smile plastered to my face it may just freeze that way. My mother used to tell me that would happen when I made a mean face, isn’t it the same with the smiling face? Won’t it stick also?

Just down the road there is a wonderful mini forest tucked away from view. Hidden in the back between a few houses. Is it really a forest? The tree’s look like pencils, tall and skinny, nothing like the giant sequoias that are in my back yard in California. I don’t know why they surprise me and delight me all in the same moment. But they do. They bring a real smile to my face as I stand in front of them.

I excused myself from the house with JP and Quentin. They were playing pick-up sticks in the living room. His mother watching with a sad look on her face. She is a dear woman but she just seems like either 1. I am not right for her son or 2. She is scared of something. That and I know she doesn’t get to see her grandson as much as she would like, so I thought they could use some time together without the awkward American in the way.

I needed to be alone. I needed to walk around and see what this side of the world has in store for me. JP seems so happy here. This is his element, and while it’s not mine, he is happy here. Last night we went out to another Tavern, it just seems to be what one does in Belgium. People kept buying me drinks, the men especially. At one point I had 3 cointreau tonics lined up waiting for me to finish. How can one person drink so much? I didn’t understand it till I had to use the restroom. Everyone kept leaving the table, going to the restroom and coming back ordering more beers. Where are they putting them all? I’ve had 1 drink and not quite sure I’m going to be able to finish the other 3! I asked JP to walk me to the restroom . He does, and as I walked in he started heading back to the table. I took one step in and quickly took a step back and grabbed his arm. “I need the woman’s restroom!” I exclaimed. He was drunk I knew, but really, he led me to the men’s room. There was a man peeing in front of me!

“That is the toilet” He said. His accent thick and slurred. “They’re all the same here”

If he was annoyed with me or surprised, I didn’t know. My legs tightened together, I needed to go pee. He turned and left back to the table and I stood in front of the door labeled ‘Toilet’. Great! I took a deep breath, grabbed for the door and walked in holding my breath. I was immediately met with the 2 urinals and 1 stall of which was being used by a man throwing up!

I let out my breath and surrender to this country that I can not understand. Drink till you puke, how mighty brilliant and a waste of good money I might add.

I head back to the table, relieved and disgusted and whispered in JP’s ear, “that guy over there was just throwing up in the restroom.”

“So?” He says so nonchalantly I just had to ask.

“So? Why is he still drinking if he’s sick? Shouldn’t he go home?” That made perfect sense to me. If you don’t feel good go home!

I got the disgusted annoyed look. “He’s not sick, we throw up so we can keep drinking. Empty our stomach’s so we can drink more!” He excused himself from the table and headed towards the ‘toilet’.

I was disgusted even more!

I am still disgusted.

But that doesn’t change the fact that as I stand in front of these mini trees that JP seems happy. We aren’t fighting here and I am falling in love with him all over again. That and I am blessed beyond belief that we made it back to his sisters house still alive and am I remembering correctly that I petted a porcupine last night?

I shake my head and start heading back to the house. We are taking his parents to Brugge today. Well, really, I think they are taking me to Brugge. I am the foreigner that has never been.

Sunday, August 14th, 1988 - Evening

It’s official - Waffles in Belgium are the most different and wonderful thing that I have ever had! I have found the recipe and marching my butt home with the special sugar and butter laden concoction!

You have not lived till you’ve had french-fries from a stand off the side of the road drenched in Andalouse Sauce! They are so much better then what I have ever had. I am still trying to figure out why they are called ‘French’ fries when they were created in Belgium. But that is a later debate.

All toilets flush differently. When in doubt check the toilet way before you actually have to go. Some have a lever up on the wall, or above the toilet near the ceiling, or a small hiding button on the side or some are just a knob on the top of the tank where you either push or pull! You have been warned. Check before you have to go!

I have found the house of my dreams and someday I may just own it! This large beautiful house that sits on the rivers edge just calls my name each time we pass by it. It’s odd roof angles, white trim, red curtains hanging inside and 3 chimneys seen from the outside. It is calling my name. I wonder what you have to do to flush the toilets in that house.

But I am officially sick of going out partying and drinking. I’m 20 years old and I can’t figure out why all these people are so dead set on drinking and wasting time and money hanging out in a smoky tavern trying to one up each other. I am sick of it! I refuse to throw up just so I can drink more! How the heck do I politely get myself back to his sisters house?

I don’t!

Tuesday, August 16th, 1988

Yesterday we spent the day with Quentin. We still ended up in a Tavern. I’m trying to keep an open mind I really am. I ordered a coke, I’m just done with drinking, I don’t care what people think of me anymore.

This morning we are sitting at breakfast visiting with his parents and sister. His father Albert is not very well. He shakes a lot and has this sad look on his face. I swear I can look in his eye’s and see a man that worked hard his whole life. But what else is behind your eyes? What stories could you tell me about the war and being captured and shot and escaping? There is history in this man’s eyes and my language barrier is a hurdle I can’t overcome. He catches me starring at him and he wink’s at me. I wink back and smile at him. I may not speak his language but I put love in my smile.

A car pulls down the path and everyone starts talking real fast and gets up. His mother starts talking faster and throwing up her hands. JP gets up and heads to the door opening it letting Fifi in. This larger then life man stands in the front room, everyone is talking fast and his mother does not have a pleasant look on her face. There is history here that I do not know. Something is up and I can’t make it out. I stay seated at the table and wait it out. I can’t understand, they are fast talking once again.

JP comes up to me and says that Fifi asked if he could take him out for an hour to introduce him to someone. Would I mind?

I wasn’t being invited! Who was this person he was going to meet? And yes go, but wait, don’t leave me home alone in this house. We don’t speak the same language! If I need something how am I going to ask for it? Where are you going? How do I get a hold of you?

“Oh sure hon’,” I reply, “I’m about an hour away from being ready to leave anyways.” My voice leveled in a cheery tone for the Fifi that is watching my reply.

It has now been 6 hours and he is still not home. I have spent 1 hour getting ready, 1 hour starring out of the upstairs bedroom window at the drive willing the car to come back, 2 hours watching his mother pace the tile off the floor in the living room, 1 hour walking in the back grounds with the cows admiring the garden, 30 minutes watching his mother with the phone book frantically calling all the local taverns to see if JP was there. I heard her say his name a lot! This last 30 minutes was spent packing.

My flight ticket firmly in my hand, the rest of the travelers check’s counted and placed in my pocket, I stand in front of the phone. I need to know what number to dial and as I pick up the phone and press the zero on the key pad I am not met with an operator.

His mother is standing in front of me, tears running down her face, she is breaking my heart. Correction, he is breaking my heart. It’s now been 7 hours! I know there are phone’s in every single tavern and payphones all over the towns. Every home has a phone. I know he has the number. He knows we don’t speak the same language. This is cruel for all of us. He may be happy here, but it’s time to grow up!

I show his mother my flight ticket and point to the phone. She nods, takes the ticket, picks up the receiver and begins to dial a number. She fast talks for a bit and then hands me the phone. Holding it out to me to take. I put the phone to my ear saying “Hello? Do you speak English?”

I let out a sigh as a woman on the other end of the line says yes, and offers me help. We talk for a bit and I explain to her that I have a ticket with a departure in a week and can I please move it up. The news isn’t good. They don’t have any seats free for days and on top of that the cost of changing the ticket would be several hundred dollars.

I count the money I have with me. JP has most of it and I don’t have enough. I am once again stuck! She tells me that she will look into it some more and call me if they can help me in anyway. I hand the phone back to Marie whom gives her their phone number and I sit to wait, willing for the phone to call back with a solution.

I want to go home. I want to be on solid American ground with English speaking people and large trucks and cars and brown landscaping and toilets that all flush the same way. I have no idea how I am even going to get to the airport, but I wait for the call anyways.

The night draws closer and the sun has gone down. It has now been well over 10 hours since JP left for his ‘hour’ I carry my suitcase back upstairs, deflated that she never called me back, but determined to try again tomorrow when yelling from downstairs is heard.

I look out the bedroom window and see Fifi dropping off JP. Marie and Albert are out the door yelling again in fast French that I don’t understand. A mother and father ganging up on their adult son. I stay upstairs. It’s safer up here for me. Besides, they seem to be doing a really good job at setting him straight for me. I don’t understand a word, but from body language and the tone of voice, it’s not a pleasant conversation.

JP is drunk. He is down right plastered beyond belief, I can hear it in his words that he is slurring together and can see him stumbling to get inside the house. He waves off his friend and waves off his parents and I hear him fumbling up the steep ladder trying to make it upstairs.

For a brief moment I hope for the stairs to give way. Or possibly for him to fall and make a larger fool out of himself. But neither happens. He makes it upstairs and into the room. Take’s a look at my packed suitcases with anger on his face. He starts talking in French.

I interrupt. “I can’t understand you! English!”

“Who fuck you think are?” His words molding together, but it’s his famous line. I know what he meant to say.

I don’t hold back. “Your wife!” Out of respect for his mother, who seems to be more upset then I am at this moment, I keep my voice low. “The wife you left here for over 10 hours, worried about you and scared you left her or worse, got hurt. The same wife that doesn’t understand or speak the language in this country you have brought her in to!” I pause. “Who the fuck do I think I am? I know, I am your wife!”

“Fuck you, learn French you stupid idiot.” He stumbles out.

I am taken aback. Has he not seen me trying. Has he not told me over and over that I can’t speak the language and to stop butchering his language as I do. He knows my speech problems as a child that I had to overcome. He knows there are words I still can not say in my own language. He knows, I know he knows, because I have told him.

I don’t respond as he is waiting. He looks at me with what appears to be impatience. “I’m not going to fight with a drunk man.” I reply.

“I’m ot runk” He slurs out.

I look at his red face, black eye’s, soiled clothes. He reeks of cigarette smoke and booze. All I can do is look at him in pity. “Really? OK then. Tomorrow you can take me to the airport. I’m going to bed.” Fully clothed I plopped on the ‘whatever you call this type mattress’ and will myself to fall asleep. I’m not going to fight with a drunk man. They may be fun to watch make fools of themselves, but this one I know for sure is dangerous to fight with.


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