A Conversation for Depression Survival - a Personal Account
Revisiting my survival ground after 35 years.
Alfredo Started conversation Nov 15, 2006
My story of revisiting, after 35 years, the city and house where I once lived for five special uplifting years.
It was a period and location I lived, in stead of only survived.
Hope this story can be of any support.
It’s the last day of September 2006.
For months I can hardly repress the desire to visit Rotterdam again. It’s the city, I ended up in after my flee from my parent’s house. All alone and lonely I left with a suitcase, by train, following my desires. I was going abroad, find myself a job, and never come back. Things went differently, but I never came back.
It’s autumn 1969.
The first night I did sleep at the doorstep of someone I vaguely knew, in Harderwijk, but who didn’t happen to be at home. His doorstep was quite a lot to me, compared to what I had left behind. The suitcase became my pillow. It was for a reason that I got in my family the nickname “The Shadow”, as, on the inside, I had been gone for long.
Now I was actually gone for real.
In the morning, the person whom I had hoped to find woke me up. He was just coming home and saw me sleep at his doorstep. I told him why.
“I understand, do you want something to eat?” he proposed friendly.
I went inside the house with him.
Because of an exposition, he had to go to Rotterdam, later that afternoon, and hearing that, I was happy to join him. That seemed fine to him.
In Rotterdam, we also did end up at the place of an ex-family-member, whom I liked very much. She had remarried, and in the middle of our conversation she proposed that I could stay with them for a while, and that I could simply sleep on the couch.
Another hopeful turn in my adventure.
Within a week it became clear to me, that their home was strategically the best location to be, in order to really settle in the city. Lots of exotic folks came round in a hospitable environment. Within a month I worked as a barkeeper in a sherry bodega, which was bustling with cultural city life (and is said to still do so), and I was offered a room at 100 meters from the bodega. This all within the old inner city. I landed in an unprecedented world that I wouldn’t let go of anymore.
My room was part of a large house above a store that had about eight rooms, of which five were sub-rented. It was not a students’ house, and also the occupants weren’t students.
Our 50-year-old landlady (with boyfriend) was responsible for the hat store on the ground floor at the same time. She was a wonderful person, lived day-by-day, and could tell odd, but amazing stories. So that was perfect and she really liked me. I often drank jenever (Dutch gin) and smoked cartons of cigarettes with her till the early morning. Also in between the occupants the adventure lived.
This was actually my first real “home”, and instead of my old existence in the shadow, after nineteen years, I finally stepped into the light. Here, I did feel save.
I had my very own way of living day-by-day and did whatever I liked doing , no matter where or when, as the adult world had no authority at all for me anymore. My playground had almost no borders, except for violence. That option was non-existent.
Every day I let life take me on its path, sometimes suddenly gone - wandering around in Spain - and suddenly back again. Gone again, back again, and there was always a place for me in the house, even if I could not pay the rent. I was and would always be welcome.
After about two years though, I recognized that in my life, my happiness could only exist within a free fall down. Unexpectedly this created a new kind of loneliness, but I kept that feeling at a distance, as much as possible, as I couldn’t find an answer to it.
However, the owner of the house, who lived in Groningen, figured out that special things were happening in our house and after a long judicial fight, all occupants, land-lady and her boyfriend included, were kicked out of the house eventually. Half of them didn’t know where they would live next. After all, we mainly lived day-by-day.
The owner of the bar across the street offered me a place to sleep on the floor in front of his stove. I pretended that everything was o.k. and said: “fine” and so I did sleep there
about thirty nights.
Only a month later though, I lived in an old postal truck that I had bought. I did park it at an undeveloped part of the city center. I was quite happy there.
Within a week, a Volkswagen with a caravan appeared: “Yeah listen up Alfredo, we also don’t have a place to stay, so we are going to stay here with you!” And so I suddenly became landlord of my own former landlady with boyfriend.
Within half a year everybody found a new place and we only met each other in the streets. Two years later I left Rotterdam at last, as I was mainly talking in past tense more and more - about bygone days in the city - and I grew conscious of the free fall I was living in. Living turned into surviving again.
I returned to Rotterdam for a night every now and then – especially around the births of my children - and I found a lot of recognition every time. Apparently I still lived in two worlds.
This time,2006, I haven’t been there since 1995, and as I said, the feeling to go to Rotterdam was surfacing strongly. The feeling was that strong, that I told myself: “I’m going, even if it is just to know why I need to.
It is Saturday, September 30, 2006.
It’s a bit of a sweltering end-of-summer day. After a thorough preparation, I get on a train in the afternoon, first class. At half past four I am standing at the station Rotterdam.
I keep standing there for a couple of minutes. The first vague familiarities force themselves upon me, although they are more vague than they used to be.
I buy some juice, leave the station and walk cautiously into the city centre.
At ten to five I suddenly find myself in the shop of what used to be the hat store. It is a DIDI store now. I had not a single plan to what I was going to do in the city, and I am really surprised to be standing in the former hat store so suddenly.
I walk around inside the store. When there are no customers , I introduce myself to a saleswoman, about 50 years old. I explain to her what used to be there around 1970 in five sentences, and ask her whether she is the main occupant of the building. “No, it’s not inhabited at all anymore. It’s all empty”.
Surprised, I say goodbye and go outside. I cross the street, turn around and look thoroughly at the house, scanning every part of it. The low iron railings in front of the windows, they are still there. My little room is over there, at the right; land-lady’s in the middle; one floor up are the other rooms. Some faded, grey net curtains. The dark black rooms seem to be the holes in a carcass that look straight into my eyes. Everything seems frozen in time.
Inside of me, it grows silent.
Suddenly I see a ceiling of white hardboard that has partly come down and I’m startled.
It seems like this house wants to show itself to me as much as possible and wants to confirm to me what happened there in those days. The abandoned house that willingly shows itself and wants to speak about itself.
“It is true, Alfredo, you used to live here. When all of you left, you turned out to be the last inhabitants. The house remained empty. It’s still empty. This was your first home. Others had a good time here too, and yes, your landlady and boyfriend ,it was as if there was no end to it.
Everything is totally deformed now and faded by the sun. Look at the ceiling.
I wave at you, but you’d better turn around now and follow your own adventure as long as you can, and in that way, we’ll stay connected to each other”.
I realize that I’m looking at an historical adventure that is able to tell its own story even today, like a real fossil. May be it’s full of clichés, but these are my very own, whole truth.
I stand frozen.
I listen and recognize.
I enjoy immensely and hold myself.
Two minutes later I wake up as I hear the sales woman closing DIDI’s door. At that moment I wave at her and turn around to walk deeper into the city. Luckily, she waved back. Hidden in my gesture I waved mainly to the house, that again, unexpectedly, showed me full hospitality.
I never turned my back to something so dear to me, with this much delight.
While I let the wind blow through my hair while walking on the quay of the Rhine, with an extremely clear crescent moon at the horizon, a big group of young girls and boys on bikes approaches me. The whole bunch of bikes are put against a wall.
“What are you guys up to tonight?”, I ask, like I was hanging around in my own neighbourhood.
“Salsa, or something like that?”
”No, ballroom dancing!”
“Well, have a lot of fun.”
“Yeah, have fun yourself!”
I follow my path and take the train to Utrecht, first class.
Alfredo, September 30, 2006
I received the following email from a 15-year-old Dutch boy, who had read this story (in Dutch). It is very carefully translated for me in English(like the whole story) but in this specific e-mail, I wanted the mistakes in Dutch grammar, etc. fully respected. It has it’s own charm.
“Touched by your story I just had to respond to this extremely beautiful story “Home along the Rhine”.
Since my very first consciousness I’ve been AT HOME ALONG THE RHINE.
All 15 years of my wonderful life I’m a fanatical inhabitant of Rotterdam.
Been always proud of our (yes, our) city, and I think you describe the Rotterdam feeling very well: the wild life, the antiquity, the pureness, how the city bustles with life, the perhaps a little magical radiation that goes out from the city, and above all, the hospitality.
Rotterdam is hopefully a starting place for an adventurous and beautiful life, like it has been for you.
Thank you for your story!
I’m not someone to tell long stories so, I’ll shut up, and don’t take the effort to write back.
This doesn’t have any use really, but I know that a little appreciation is always nice.
X Y X (Rotterdam)”
Greetings from Amsterdam, Alfredo, 2007.
Key: Complain about this post