John Could Be Anywhere! He Could Be Cutting Off His Ear Right Now!

May 23rd, Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum


Going on 486 hours of no sleep as I write this, so no promises!

John and I have finally arrived! We are here in the land of tulips and clogs and delicious waffle snacks and people who look as though their skin has never been introduced to the sun. They are blond and tall and lean and glorious looking. Ethereal and wise, like the grandparents who died long before you formed memories of them.  And now, after crossing at least one canal and waiting for every mother loving bicyclist to cross before us—that is unless they’re waiting at a traffic light!! What?!?!

We are here at the Van Gogh Museum. I am hungry for those thick, bold streaks of paint, those vertical lines like exclamation points and immoderate dots, bleeding one into another, and the subjects so alive and vivid it is like looking at life were it a roaring fire. I have been here many moons ago, and perhaps remember a painting or two, but I am so deeply excited to be here again. It’s a dandy way of spending a 7 hour layover if I do say so myself. 

We’re walking and listening to the audio recordings that correspond to various paintings when suddenly my audio seems to stop working. Oh. Not so fast, universe. The joke is not going to be on me—she who cannot take command and properly work anything electronic, connected to a computer, or powered by one. This time, I ain’t falling for it. I will not be duped. I am not going to lose it if Mr. I-Fix-All-Tech-Issues-in-Two-Seconds-Don’t-You-Wish-You-Were-As-Brilliant-As-Me comes to my rescue, like a junior high school who has accidentally thrown his retainer in the trash and asks his friend to retrieve it. 

“John.” My tone is firm and portrays the idea that I mean business and am a capable person (or at least I hope this is what it conveys.) “My volume isn’t working.” I hesitantly hand the headset over to him, fearing the worst. He fiddles, pauses, fiddles some more, and tells me to use his headset instead. Aha! He has no idea how to fix this thing which means I am not the village idiot at long last! Hallelujah! Moments when my husband is not perfect are like moments when the shape of the Virgin Mary appears to people—no one can believe it (truly) and one is skeptical whether what you are seeing is in fact even happening at all! I live—LIVE, I say, for these moments.

I’m looking at another painting when John gently taps me on the shoulder and says, in a masked tone of defeat (I know everything about this man!) “Um, your headset isn’t working. I’m going to go downstairs and replace it.” “Fine. I’ll stay here.” I say. 

And so John swoops off like a masked avenger and I wait, and wait, and wait, and wait long enough to know something has gone dreadfully wrong. I’m thinking amber alert wrong. This is not the result of a particularly congested line for audio headsets. This is not a how-delightful-we’re-having-digestive-issues-whilst-traveling (AKA epic) trip to the restroom. No—John would have warned me of that. And that’s when I start to try and put the pieces together. He’s gone. Where is he? He could be anywhere! And my cell phone is useless right now! His phone is off! OFF of all things! He could have been taking a quick breather outside to smell the tulips, meanwhile 5 pasty white dudes jump him and ask him to teach him the ways of tanning or he’ll REALLY be sorry! And they rough him up real good just to prove their point. Here the poor guy is amongst the manicured shrubbery, his 1987 sweater of fluorescent shapes (worn unironically I might add) now spotted with blood, his tongue lolling out of his mouth as if in a bad, melodramatic play. Meanwhile, I am frantically traipsing up and down the stairs like a neurotic white girl at the gym, questioning his whereabouts from all the English-speaking employees of the museum, more and more convinced of foul play. And then the worst thought occurs to me: he has left me for good. I didn’t react with fevered praise at the sunflowers painting, while he did. That must have been the deal-breaker right there. How does ANY couple recover from a lack of mutual reverence for the same painting? I should have seen it coming.

I approach the top floor, where we had originally decided to meet, and John is suddenly there, casually browsing the paintings. I take a deep breath and approach him. “Oh hey, what’s up?” I ask. I see that he sees the look of panic on my face but knows better than to touch the subject. We stay married for the next 40 years. 

Tyler Graves