It was July 3rd 2014. I woke up alongside Anouk. We both slept on our own mattress, in our own sleeping bag in what was our house the last two years. My hand was in her sleeping bag, holding hers. She was warm, like she always was in the early morning. I longed for our bed. Normally I would get out when I woke up, have some breakfast and rumble a bit around the house to crawl back in bed and lie next to her again for a while. It´s these moments one treasures when they’re gone. This morning was different. Anouk woke up early as well. We looked at each other and knew this would be the last time we would wake up like this, together. From today on we would both be going our own way and really start to grow apart. I hoped it was not true. I hoped my story, our story, would still have a romantic ending in Istanbul.
I took a shower and packed my mattress and sleeping bag for the first of many times that would come. The atmosphere was strange, a bit uncomfortable. My feet were aching to go, to meet the adventure head on. But how could I leave this woman? Why did all this happen? Why couldn’t she forgive me, forgive herself? I told her I would forgive everything she did, I told her we could carry on together if we wanted. My head and heart both told me not to go. It felt so unnatural to leave everything and everyone I loved behind. But still, somewhere deep inside me I felt a pull. There was a restlessness stirring inside me, forcing me to leave. This trip was not just something I made myself do, it was meant to be. Or so I liked to think.
I stepped through the door and turned the key. I gave it to Anouk and from that point on, I was homeless. Everything I would have available to me the coming months was on my back. I could not but smile faintly on the realization. Together Anouk and I walked through the inner garden of the former monastery where lived, up the stairs and out. Although it was early, the sun shone warm upon our faces as we walked towards ‘de Duivelsberg’. After an hours walk it was time for Anouk and me to say goodbye. My parents would walk with me from here for a couple of hours to see me off as well. Anouk and I said goodbye quite often the last couple of weeks. We would never really know how often we would see each other again, but now it was a definite goodbye. Or at least, that’s what I thought. Mom thought about that differently. As she was hugging Anouk she said: ‘’I don’t feel as if this is a definite goodbye.’’ ‘Thanks mom’, I thought, ‘exactly what I need to hear.‘ Because we said goodbye so often the last couple of weeks and kept coming back to each other, I hoped we really could not let each other go. But this goodbye was real. And if it wasn’t, it still was. It had to be. Now it was time to let go, now it was time to walk.
It was this song that came to mind.
Weird how two feelings can be so opposite to each other. How does one discern between them? Is choosing for the one worth sacrificing the other? How does one know which choice is the best? I don’t know. All I know is that in this case, and in many more to come, there was no real choice. For none of us. It really felt as if we were all part of a game someone was playing. My mind could always make me think I had a choice, but deep inside me I felt there was no real other option. It’s an art to let choices unfold like this. And maybe even a bigger challenge to be happy with the way things unfold. It is an art I would learn to understand better and better the coming months. I choose (at least, that’s how it felt) from that point on, to let myself be guided by this feeling. And so it was, my parents and I walked up the hill, into Germany while Anouk returned home.
As we walked along ‘de Duivelsberg’ little reminded us of the long history of the area. It being the highest point in the region, it has been a strategic point ever since the Romans build their ‘Noviomagus’ on the banks of the river Waal. As part of a push moraine stretching from roughly Haarlem to Nijmegen, ‘de Duivelsberg’ was formed around 200.000 years ago. In the Middle Ages it was home to fort Mergelp, of which unfortunately nothing remains today. During the Second World War the hill got its nickname ‘Hill 75.9’, after its height. When operation Market Garden ended the war in Southern Holland in 1945, the Dutch government decided to annex parts of Germany to compensate for the suffered loss due to the war in 1949. ‘De Duivelsberg’ was one of these places. In 1963 most of these territories were given back to the Germans. ‘De Duivelsberg’ would remain Dutch till this day, however. It is to this history the signpost along the way points.
Soon after we crossed the border, we bumped into a cherry tree. As we were trying to hit them off the branches, my dad did some predictions about my trip. ‘’You will eat yourself an aching stomach from all the cherries and blackberries. And after that the walnuts and hazelnuts will provide you some food. And then, winter. Oh, you will have to suffer during the winter. The days will get shorter, the nights longer.’’ ‘’We’ll see about that in a couple of months,’’ I told him, looking at the clear blue sky above us. I learned very early not to look ahead too far. Just a day is enough. Of course I would have to walk in winter, but that would only be a real concern in three, maybe four months. It was high summer now.
In Kranenburg I said goodbye to my parents as well. Again, this was one to the things you would rather not do, saying goodbye to ones parents. But these challenges come with the adventure. ‘’I love you.’’ I told them. I wanted to say it for a long time, but I just couldn’t. Too personal maybe. But now it was the time, and now it felt real. ‘’We love you too, I love you too,’’ said my dad. ‘Typical dad’, I thought. He says what he feels like saying but thinks over it rationally just a second later. He then realizes he could actually not be sure my mom felt the same way. ‘’I love you too, my son’’ she said. With tears in my eyes I turned around and walked away. The first steps on my new adventure had been taken. Now it was just me, my pole, and my backpack. Oh, and my mind of course, which would give me great times by going everywhere I was not…
July 3rd 2014: Day 1
Want to read more of the history of Nijmegen and surroundings?
Visit http://excitinghistory.com/ for an introduction in history
http://www.npogeschiedenis.nl/andere-tijden/afleveringen/2000-2001/Eisch-Duitschen-grond.html tells you a lot about the annexation of German grounds by the Dutch, in Dutch. I’m sorry.