NO TIME FOR FEAR

1986

I wondered if I would ever walk again. 

Lying on the floor, while in agony, I looked at the ceiling. I had collapsed and couldn’t stand up. My body had gone into shock. My husband, Matheu, had beaten and strangled me and while I was down, kicked my breast and body. After some time, I saw him looking at me. He had panic and fear in his eyes. I could see his thoughts rushing at a million miles an hour, wondering what he had done. He must have seen that I couldn’t move, but instead of helping me, he left me alone. I felt emotionally and physically broken.

It was the 1980s and cell phones were not readily available or I would have called the police. My head felt dizzy and the pain in my back led me to doubt whether I would ever be able to walk again. 

“What will happen to my children?” I wondered. 

I couldn’t understand how a husband could do this to his wife; not once, but repeatedly. Yes. That’s right. He’d tried to strangle me several years before this, but then I’d been able to fight him off. 

How could I go on after this? Desperation and questions flooded me like a tidal wave. Would I be in a wheelchair? Would a man who just clobbered me, care for me? This was not the life I had dreamed of when I was young. Violence had not been part of my upbringing. It was a long and winding path that had led me to this moment in time.

 

A few months later, a judge presided over my case. After reading the medical certificate which detailed multiple, severe injuries, the judge mumbled to himself. I heard him ask under his breath, “ I wonder what you did to deserve a slap in the face?" He never directed the question to anyone in particular and never allowed me or my lawyer to reply to this comment. He just assumed I was at fault. Incredulous! This was how it worked when you had powerful connections. 

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Growing up, we were a family of four - my parents, my brother, Hans, and me. My parents had a textile business in the southern part of the Netherlands near a town called Maastricht. My mom was the creative one, designing women’s clothes and managing the 200 people who worked for their business. I enjoyed being with her and was just big enough to reach the pedals of her sewing machine. I would make clothes for my dolls. She was a warm and giving person with a compassionate character. I have wonderful memories of her. We traveled together to Paris, London and Milan to hunt for new fabrics. We were like two sisters - laughing and seeing the bright side of life. 

My father was a savvy businessman. He was a bit egocentric, but had a fun-loving personality and a strong magnetic quality. People liked him. 

My brother was five and a half years my elder and had inherited the good looks of my father. He was tall, blond and smart. His character, however, differed from my father’s. Business was not his strong suit. He was more philosophical and chose to become a medical doctor. 

We were a happy family for quite some time and then that came to an abrupt halt. When I was 17, my father told me that my mom had blood cancer and that she wouldn’t live for long. He also said I was not allowed to tell her. He didn’t want her to know that she was going to die. That made it impossible for me to say goodbye. She passed away at the age of 46 from this extremely painful illness. Those were such difficult years. I will never forget them.

Her passing left an enormous void and the house felt cold and strange. I would touch her clothes and reminisce about happier days. I could hear her laughter and imagine her inventing new names and expressions that we’d add to our vocabulary. She had occupied a great amount of space in my life, and now that was vacant. I had no idea how to fill it.

But life went on. Dad sold the large house we lived in and I left for Leuven, an international student town with 60,000 students near Brussels, Belgium to study art history. At the tender age of 18, I was not at all sure of myself, but did everything to look the part. That wasn’t easy because I was still shaken up by my mother’s passing. It certainly didn’t help that my father told me before I left for university that his sisters had gotten ugly at a young age. He suggested that it would be good to marry while still pretty. He let me use my mom’s white Mercedes 190 SL convertible, which made me look “more attractive,” he said. My father never asked for my address and never came to see me there. He was busy with his women and making money, though he didn’t spend much on me. He gave me just enough for food and housing, not even enough to rent a heated room.

I made many friends and found new happiness in this renowned university town, dating from 1495. A lot of those friends lived in Brussels and I would visit often during my school years. I loved that city and had sweet memories of the small bars with live Gypsy music. Here, we came together while sitting on old sofas with our feet on tables, drinking wine. The music filled our hearts. Those were the easy times. I liked that this beautiful place had a mixture of many races and languages; it was a social hub. 

I was rather disappointed in the quality of my art classes. Since it was a Catholic university, everything we learned was influenced by religion. I didn’t see myself working in a museum or doing archeological digs in hot countries, so I became less dedicated to my studies and started thinking about making my own way. The relationship with my father was deteriorating, so I decided not to accept any more money. It was time to support myself. 

Always dreaming of traveling, I chose to become a flight attendant. At the time, we were called “stewardesses.” The free tickets seemed like gold. After six weeks of training, I proudly donned the SABENA uniform. SABENA was the national airline of Belgium, and I quickly learned to repeat the difficult question, “Would you like chicken or beef?”

I was scheduled for long distance routes and found it normal to buy beef in South Africa, lobsters in Montreal and the finest caviar in Tehran. My colleagues and I frequented a bar there where we’d order vodka and a big can of caviar with four spoons. Life was good.

Tehran’s grand bazaars/souks were so colorful. I spent time admiring the intricately-woven carpets, which one couldn’t find in Europe. The ones that were sold in the west were mostly new and had received the “antique” treatment where they’d be laid out in the streets so trucks and cars could run over them to make them look old.

I had my clothes made in Bangkok and enjoyed going to its floating market. We flew to many African countries where I’d walk for hours on the long, white beaches. We went into the jungles and visited villages where people still lived in huts. 

In Saudi Arabia, the Sheiks invited the crew to lavish parties. We ate with golden forks and knives. There was no evidence of the Muslim alcohol prohibition as the Johnny Walker Black flowed generously. We’d stay several days and the crew would dive in the red sea, filled with the most beautiful coral and fish. 

I visited the museums and monuments on my route and I began to study the different cultures and their beliefs. The world became small and I realized how fortunate I was to see so much in two years’ time.

While still working for SABENA, I met Jean-Claude. I was 23. He was good looking and smart with blond hair and soft, blue eyes. His kind smile expressed some shyness. He had several rolled-up diplomas laying under his bed, and was in pursuit of a Ph.D. We lived together for a year, and married and moved to the U.S. because he wanted to do his doctorate in economics at Northwestern University. 

I found a job as a hostess translator and one of my jobs was to work for the nuclear power plant of Chicago before it opened for the public. My work took me to Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. After several months, I realized that we’d gotten married for the wrong reasons. I was afraid of losing my allure and he didn’t want to be alone in the U.S. We divorced and I returned to the Netherlands where I stayed with my father for a short while. 

Next, I met an Italian friend of the family who suggested I go to Italy where he would help me. I ended up staying for two years and learned to speak Italian fluently - enough to do translations of Italian court cases into Dutch. Eventually, I was fluent in five languages. 

Little did I know my life was about to change again. This time, it would be drastic. I would soon yearn for my past and fear for my future. I recalled how Matheu and I had met several years before. It was so different then, in a very good way.  

And, so it begins – my story – one of spiritual awakening that was partly guided by my visionary grandfather’s spirit and the question – Why do certain things always happen to us? I now share with you my lessons learned and understand the most important lesson of all - everything happens for a reason. So, here’s how it all began.