Authors: Jonathan Reeder
Tags: #BIO026000, #FAM014000
âWe read your kind letter,' I said. âCould you tell us more about your friendship with Tonio?'
âWe only saw each other a couple of times,' she began, âand Dennis was always there, too. We hit it off, the three of us. It really clicked â¦ like we'd known each other for a long time. I met them at the beginning of April. At Trouw. We danced all night, then went back to Dennis's place. I was surprised we had so much in common â¦ cats, photography â¦ the same festivals. On Queen's Day, I bumped into them at Trouw again. It was terrific â¦ everybody letting their hair down â¦ Afterwards we were still revved up, of course, so we partied some more at someone's house. Well, “partied” â¦ it ended pretty low-key. All of us tucked under a blanket, cups of tea, talking about cats. I lived a few blocks from Tonio, so I asked if he would ride home with me. Dennis was totally crashed under his blanket, no way was he going to wake up. That's when I saw what kind of a friend Tonio was. You don't just leave your pal in the lurch at some stranger's house. You wait until he wakes up, and see that he gets home safely. Tonio was watching over him. Whenever Dennis's blanket slid off, Tonio would tuck it back in. So sweet â¦ so â¦ steadfast. Meanwhile he worried whether I'd get home okay. I said I'd be fine. Dennis was the defenceless one. I left, and couldn't get that scene out of my head: Tonio carefully draping the blanket over Dennis. Really cute. He was such a sweet, caring guy.'
Goscha went on to tell us about Tonio's last evening and night â a more detailed version of what she had written. Her story more or less tallied with Dennis's , except that now she played a more central role. The three of them had made another date. It was Whitsun weekend. Now they were really going to paint the town red.
When Dennis and Tonio rang her doorbell, they had just come from a party in the Vondelpark, at CafÃ© Vertigo in the Filmmuseum. âThey were earlier than we'd planned. That was because â¦ well, they thought it was a bit of a flop, that party. They were glad to finally meet my cats, Sieb and Mulan. It was great. We made plans to go to Berlin in the summer. Those guys were just really fun to be with. So about midnight we went to Trouw. The next night, I saw all the empty beer cans in my garbage bin â¦ so unreal to think that by then Tonio was already dead.'
She fell silent, as though staring, dismayed, into that bin. (Cans upright on the bottom of the wastebasket, so the last splashes of beer wouldn't leak out all over the scraps of paper, it makes such a sticky mess.)
âWe were all really up for it. Pity the music was kind of lame. The upside was that it gave us the chance to talk a lot. I finally dared to tell them about stuff I really want to do, but never get around to. Like photography. Being out of it for a while makes it even harder to pick up again. Tonio talked me back into it. And what do you know: after that weekend, I started taking pictures again. Tonio was really a super-nice guy. Thoughtful. He was a fantastic listener.'
âHe got that from me,' I said. âWhen I was his age, people always said I was such a good listener. But some people didn't trust it. They thought I was hiding something behind my attentiveness. That I was planning some evil deed. My willing ear made them nervous.' (Right away, I felt like a bald-faced liar. Summer of '93: I saw myself walking with the five-year-old Tonio through Pernes-les-Fontaines â the same route every day, to the restaurant in the courtyard of an old hotel. He chattered to me in melodious, complete sentences. Until he realised I wasn't always paying full attention. âAdri, you're not
.' His voice cracking: âYou have to
to me, Adri. Otherwise â¦ otherwise â¦' Can't make it up to him now.)
âWell, in Tonio's case it was sincere,' Goscha said. âI can vouch for it.'
âBack to Trouw,' said Miriam. âDid you all drink a lot?'
âAll those rounds,' Goscha answered. âIt went so fast, you could hardly keep up. And I felt guilty, 'cause Tonio paid the most.'
âDidn't you dance that night?' I asked.
âHardly at all. The music was awful. Yeah, I do remember the three of us standing out on the dance floor. Dennis gave Tonio a dip. The music was so bad we left earlier than usual.'
âWhat time?' I asked. (I was tinkering with time again.)
âAbout four. We sat outside Trouw on a bench for a while. Just to cool off. I think I was pretty tipsy.'
âIf you left the place at four,' I said, âthen you mustn't have sat on that bench for very long. Tonio's accident was, let's say, imminent.'
âWe biked to Sarphatipark. Via Ceintuurbaan. At the corner of the park, we stopped to chat for a minute. Dennis wanted us to go to his place. Tonio said no. He needed to be getting home. Go to bed â¦ or no, his friend Jim was waiting up for him, I think. Did they do that much, those guys, watch a film so late? Like I said, Tonio never left anyone in the lurch, so â¦ Normally I'd have biked back to De Baarsjes with him. But I was so tired and â¦ well, I guess I was pretty drunk. But Dennis and Tonio weren't, really â¦'
âWe girls just have a smaller liver, that's all,' Miriam said.
âI was of two minds,' Goscha said. âI didn't really feel like biking all that way by myself later. It would have been more fun for Tonio, too, if I'd â¦'
She shook her head with a sad smile. âJust listen to me:
. Maybe that whole awful thing wouldn't have even happened. Such a different ending. Small decisions, big consequences â¦'
I asked her a few more things I'd also asked Dennis. Whether Tonio weaved about when he cycled off.
âNo, I'd have noticed. Sure, we'd been drinking, kind of a lot. But he rode away completely normally.' Goscha shut her eyes tight. âI can just see him â¦ riding off. My last glimpse of him. He biked over the pavement and onto Ceintuurbaan.'
gone with him, Goscha,' I asked, âwhat route would you have taken?'
âOh, the usual.' She opened her eyes. âCeintuur. Van Baerle. Left on Overtoom and then on to De Baarsjes. Same as always.'
âSo how did Tonio end up,' Miriam asked, âat the corner of the Hobbemastraat and the Stadhouderskade?'
I had the impression that the question took Goscha by surprise: that she hadn't yet asked it herself. She glanced a bit nervously from Miriam to me, and from me back to Miriam. âI couldn't say.'
Goscha had said she didn't fancy the long bike ride home on her own after that one last drink at Dennis's place. If she was telling the truth, then she had not intended to spend the night with Dennis.
âDid you and Dennis â¦ enjoy yourselves?' I hoped the question did not sound all too bitter.
âI still have a weird feeling about it,' she answered. âI fell asleep pretty much right away.'
âYou said you chatted more than you danced at Trouw,' I continued. âDid Tonio mention anyone named Jenny?'
Goscha thought for a moment, and shook her head. âNot that I can remember.'
âNor about a girl he had done a photo shoot with a few days earlier?'
âHmm, now that you mention it â¦ I picked up something about a girl from an exchange between Tonio and Dennis. A photo shoot, that might've been it. But I didn't catch a name. Jenny â¦ no.'
âDennis told us,' Miriam said, âthat Tonio came to him for girl advice lately. You know, how to go about certain things. He'd told both Dennis and Jim more than once recently that he felt
âYes,' Goscha said, her eyes downcast, âhe told me that, too, a couple of times. He obviously had to get it off his chest. He couldn't hold it in. It was as though he couldn't believe what had hit him â¦ so intensely happy.'
I thought back on a few periods of my own irrational happiness between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five. Once again, I had stumbled upon an intimate parallel between his life and mine. And then again, not quite, because my unruly bliss had had the opportunity to run its course.
âTonio was wearing this neat T-shirt that night,' Goscha said, the smile returning to her face. âA really special one. I'm glad I told him so. He obviously appreciated a compliment. He'd grin a little, shy and proud at the same time. Yeah, it feels good that I was able to tell him that, just before â¦'
I recalled Tonio's bare shoulders that stuck out from the sheets in the
. That neat T-shirt was blood-soaked from his skid on the Stadhouderskade asphalt. Goscha's compliment could not prevent them having to cut it off him in the ambulance.
Must ask Miriam if they gave it back, together with the rest of his things.
âWhen did you hear â¦?' Miriam wasn't able to finish the question. She bent over Tygo, who sat at her feet, and gave him a soft rap on his nose.
âMonday,' Goscha replied. âThe next day.'
I took over from Miriam. âWho from, if I may ask?'
âYeah, it's a dumb story,' she said, blushing. âI heard it from my ex. He's a bicycle repairman. I didn't know he was a friend of Dennis, but that's who he heard it from. I'd gone round to his place â¦ to the bike-repair guy, I mean, my ex â¦ and when I was back outside I felt myself go all queasy. My knees were like jelly. I had to hold on to something for support.'
Goscha rambled a bit, half to herself, timid and blushing. A comment by the bike repairman (or some other sign, it wasn't really clear) had given her the impression that Dennis was angry with her. âMaybe because I'd fallen asleep in his room â¦ while he'd just crashed that time, with Tonio and the blanket â¦ well, anyway, I didn't hear anything from him for days. That says enough.'
She looked at the floor.
âNo, wait, Dennis
tell me, the day after the accident, what had happened to Tonio. I got a text message from him â¦ or maybe it was Facebook. I don't know anymore.'
I got the impression that the dozy âafterparty' with Dennis had given her a turn. Maybe she was wondering if it was worth it, ditching Tonio for that, and letting him ride all that way home alone â¦ lost in thought, a target for unexpected traffic â¦
Since we weren't sure if we would have the stamina for much longer (those were shaky days), Miriam had emailed Goscha that an hour would be enough. When the girl got up promptly and properly after an hour, I regretted the prescribed time limit. But Goscha, thinking perhaps that we'd invited her to stay longer just out of politeness, was unrelenting â for us, for herself.
As she saw her out, Miriam showed Goscha the small photo gallery of Tonio on the landing. I heard the two talking animatedly, but couldn't catch what they said. I pondered a ruse to get her to stay longer. Aside from four fleeting onlookers (the driver of the car that hit him, his passenger, and two eyewitnesses), Goscha and Dennis were the last ones to see Tonio alive, for hours on end, half a day at least. Of the two, Goscha had spoken about him in the most detail. She had managed to present us with a warm-blooded Tonio. We hadn't heard her out sufficiently. We should have had her keep talking, until we, through her, had soaked up our boy's last bit of warmth.
Goscha came back to shake my hand. Her emotions made her jittery and timid. From where I sat, it was only a couple of short steps to the living-room door. Still, she turned around three times, her eyes wet, to say goodbye.
âNice girl, didn't you think?' Miriam said when she got back upstairs. âAnd that she kept to the one-hour agreement. When you meet kids like these, you almost feel like there's hope for the world.'
She went to fill our glasses. I suspect her of having sneaked double shots of gin and vodka in the tonic and orange juice tonight. Once she sat down next to me, she let herself go. âThe pain â¦ the pain.'
And later, settled back down somewhat: âIf you want to reminisce about Tonio â¦ go ahead, no matter how painful â¦ you don't have to spare my feelings.'
We drag ourselves, sluggish and lethargic, through the summer, as though since Whitsun we are surrounded by another atmosphere that slows down our natural pace of movement. At the same time, there is that constant agitation, pregnant with dark thoughts:
though the worst is yet to come
. It has already started to become this requiem's refrain.
These aren't just empty expectations, because the worst, the very worst,
still yet to come. Not an event worse than Tonio's dying, but this: that the reality of his death will hit us head-on.
It is the fear of the pain of an eventual solution that occupies Miriam, night after night. The fear of a future that does not offer peace, nor acceptance, nor resignation, nor an answer to the pain. A future that will only knead and whittle the loss into a greater, more merciless clarity.
I tried to explain to a friend the cyclone of emotions we had experienced through Tonio's death.
âI'll just name a few. They rear their heads in random order, overlapping unpredictably. Either all at once or in rapid-fire succession. For Miriam, of course, it's slightly different.'