A few days ago, my husband and I moved from our first apartment in Boitsfort to a house on the other side of the same town. In my many years of traveling and moving from one place to another, I have begun to see a pattern to the process.
- The first place I live in will likely not be the last. In other words, it generally takes me about two tries to find a place that will provide the kind of sanctuary I desire in a living space. I have experienced this in many places I have lived, and Brussels has once again proven to be the rule rather than the exception.
- Don’t expect to feel instantly in love with your new environs. For some, it may be love at first sight. For me, it can take a while to adjust to being in a new place. As a friend once told me, it can take a while for the spirit to catch up with the physical body when you travel a great distance.
- It can take a while to create community. Good friends and a feeling of being a part of a meaningful community doesn’t happen overnight. I recommend diving into the pastimes that bring you joy, especially the ones that get you out of the house (if you are an introvert like me, you might need an extra nudge). This will bring you to other people with similar values and passions. This is how I have been able to find kindred spirits in my own travels.
- Moving sucks. It was a pain in the butt to get our selves, our two cats, and our stuff to Brussels. It was less painful but still not fun to move 1.3 kilometers from our first apartment to a new house. Even with the limited belongings we brought with us to Belgium, I somehow manage to accumulate so much stuff everywhere I go. Case in point, as we were walking to the new house to meet the realtor and proprietor to sign the lease, I noticed a beautiful lamp in a pile with sign that read À Donner (To Give Away).
I want that lamp, I said to my husband, making my sweetest possible, pleading eyes at him.
We are already asking our proprietor to remove most of the lamps at the house, he replied. I don’t think we should walk in with another one.
Maybe, I could take it and hide it in the bushes? I suggested.
How about you can take it if it is still there after we sign the lease?
Ok, I responded forlornly.
We began walking away, but I kept turning back.
Finally, my husband said, Ok, go back and get it. I scampered back toward the lamp, trying to get there before the woman walking toward the free pile from the other direction. It was my lamp, not hers!
You are ridiculous, he laughed and rolled his eyes at me when I returned, triumphantly carrying the lamp like a precious baby.
Later in the afternoon, I walked by the spot where I met my lamp on my way to meet my husband our new landlord at the bank, where they had driven in her sporty two-seater Mercedes, I saw that every single item that had been piled up on the sidewalk completely gone, as if nothing had ever graced its presence. Had we walked a different way, I would have been none the wiser. My material load might have also been lighter, but such is life.
We moved into our house the next day. We woke up early, drank coffee and ate a hasty bowl of oatmeal. Then, we proceeded to make countless trips down and back up the stairs, bringing our not-so-small collection of belongings to the ground floor so my husband could pile them into a tiny European Zipcar Peugeot 208.
The night before as we lay in bed, we had taken bets on how many trips it would take to get all of our stuff from our apartment to the new house 1.3 kilometers away.
Ten, I suggested. No, 12!
Eight, my husband wagered.
Good thing we had no riches to lose. I used to joke that I had married Rich, but the joke ceased it utility when said husband Rich took a leave of absence from his job to become a starving PhD student, wife in tow.
Ready to take the first load, my husband said. He got into the Zipcar and drove off while I waved. I walked back up the stairs. A few minutes later, my iPhone buzzed. The key isn’t working, my husband had texted. Can you walk over? Quickly?
We are on the clock with the Zipcar, so I put on my sneakers, grabbed the keys, headed downstairs and out the front door, and began to jog the 1.3 kilometers. I figured I would run until I had to walk, but stubbornness runs strong with me, and seven minutes later I had pulled up panting at the house.
Goose! My husband laughed. I didn’t mean that quickly.
Well, I said, I wanted to see if I could do it. I didn’t add that it was pure stubbornness that wouldn’t allow me to stop running, even had I been in pain.
In the United States, there is a saying, No pain, No gain. I remember a former coworker musing, What if there was just no pain? No pain, No pain.
Huh. No needless suffering? What a concept. Clearly, this idea is far too enlightened for American culture.
Back in Brussels, I drank some water, and then my reward was a ride back to the apartment in the Zipcar. Huzzah! Riding in a car was a rare treat since selling our Prius and leaving vehicular travel behind.
No pain, No pain was clearly not in my immediate present or future. By the end of the day, I could barely walk up and down the stairs. Each time bend of my right leg sent shooting needle-like pains through my knee. The next day, I hobbled around for a few minutes every time I sat up and tried to walk.
Now I remember why I stopped running, I told my husband. It sucks!
At this point, we were both downing ibuprofen and hobbling around.
BUT we were out of our petit enfer (little hell) and hoping against all hopes that we had begun life anew in a petit paradis (little heaven).
A couple of nights later (when we could both walk in reasonable comfort), we decided to go a walk in our favorite forest, which was now just a few paces from our front door.
We walked along the sidewalk toward the forest, passing a row of attached houses on the way.
Is that an anchor? I ask my husband, pointing at a rusty object with three individual hooks all attached at the straight edge.
It looks like a grappling hook, he said.
How do you know these things? I try not to tell him too often, but he really seems to know everything.
Grappling hooks, I mused. I feel like I have heard that in a song somewhere.
AS we neared the forest, we felt a cool breeze beckoning us to enter, which we did without hesitate.
Ah, we sighed as we stepped beneath the canopy and into the crisp, cool shade.
Let’s follow this trail, I suggested. There was a tiny path leading up into a part of the forest we had not yet explored on our previous wandering.
As we walked, I furrowed my brow, deep in though trying to figure out where I had heard those two words: Grappling hooks.
Dar Williams’ As cool as I am! I shouted and started mumbling the lines, trying to find the phrase with grappling hooks in it.
I think it’s loneliness, suspended to our own like grappling hooks, I trilled.
Suddenly, I felt firm hands on my shoulders, shaking me out of my reverie.
Marieke. Slow down. Be here. Now. In the forest.
I stopped and looked around. It was breathtaking, tiny leaves appeared as if suspended in the air, light trickling through the canopy from small openings where sunlight filtered in tenuous streams.
We stood for a moment, breathing, and then began walking, more slowly this time.
Is that a fox?
I lifted my gaze and looked ahead.
A creature with a bushy tail had turned to look back at us before disappearing into the shrubbery on the left of the trail.
We walked to the spot and decided to turn left onto yet another enchanting path.
There he is, my husband whispered.
We stood still, watching the fox watch us for a moment before once again disappearing, this time not to return. How could he be there so completely and then just be gone without a trace, I wondered.
Let’s look for a fairy ring, my husband suggested.
Careful, I warned.
As we walked, I could feel the forest healing us, drawing out our anxious energy and replacing it with energy as calm and green as the leaves that floated around us.
Stinging nettle leaves swayed as if dancing in the breeze.
You should take a video with your phone.
I didn’t bring it. I figured I could use yours if I wanted to take a picture.
Ha. I didn’t bring mine either.
We laughed. We were free.
I love you, I whispered. Raising my voice felt somehow incongruous in such a sacred, ancient space.
I love you, too.