A decade ago, on Valentine’s Day 2003, a girl met a boy. OK, so some things have changed since then, but not as much as you might think. Here’s our “how we met” story, as it’s written (for now) in my book-in-progress. Happy Valentine’s Day to my sweetheart of 10 years! xo
Lucky me. I’d queued up behind an attractive, sharply dressed man on the flight to Boston from Tampa. I squinted to read the open passport he held out for the agent at the gate. Frans Van something from the Netherlands. Great country for bicycling, I thought. As we baby-stepped through the chute, I asked Frans why he was headed north.
“I was in Florida for a meeting, and now my friend is taking me ice skating on Lake George,” Frans said. “Do you know it?”
“Of course. It’s huge. But it’s in New York. You’re driving five hours to ice skate? Interesting,” I said, thinking they were nuts.
A few hours later, I stood at attention in front of the Delta baggage carousel at Logan Airport. I’d have to call my ride, Kristin. Usually I took the subway or splurged on a taxi, but on this Friday-night-Valentine’s-Day double whammy, I’d wanted someone to pick me up, to show they cared, romantic or not. Kristin and I had counseled each other through a roster of men, wondering if we’d ever find that elusive perfect partner. Over glasses of Merlot, we summed up most of our dates as: “Nice guy, no spark.” I yearned for an easy relationship with a man who amused, enlightened, and energized me, but in the meantime I lived my single life vigorously. I bought and furnished a house, traveled solo and, for my 40th birthday, requested that my mom, a long-time quilter, go ahead and make my “wedding quilt,” just in case I never married, because I didn’t want to miss out on that traditional keepsake.
Still waiting for my suitcase to pop out of the chute, I noticed Frans on the other side of the conveyor belt deep in conversation with another man. Both were tall and lean, I guessed in their mid-40s, like me. The man’s scruffiness contrasted with Frans’s polish. Under his unzipped faded athletic jacket hung a long, gray fleece pullover over old khakis and banged up white sneakers. His short hair needed a trim, and his round silver eyeglasses dated to the 1980s. He looked like the absent-minded professor type, so busy taking advanced physics he’d forgotten to attend Fashion 101. Geek, I thought. I had a soft spot for nerdy guys.
I shook my head and smiled. Who skated on faraway giant lakes? The people I knew went to the Frog Pond on Boston Common or local ponds in the suburbs. It hit me that their little trip could be perfect for my travel column in the Boston Globe, where I worked as a freelance writer. I walked over.
“Is this your friend who’s taking you skating?” I asked Frans, turning to his shaggy-haired companion.
“I’m Wessel,” he said, offering his hand for a firm-enough shake.
“I’ve never heard that name before. How do you spell it?” I said. I fixed my attention on his blue eyes.
He mouthed each letter, his Dutch accent and soft voice translating the foreign name into a melody. While I fished for a card from my shoulder bag, I told him about my column. Would he be interested?
“Sure,” he answered, with a quick smile and a lift of his eyebrows.
“You’d have to take photos, too. Would you be able to do that?”
Every time I think back to that question, I laugh. I soon learned that Wessel never left home without his camera.
“Will this work?” he asked, pulling a small Canon out of his coat pocket. He chuckled, his glasses going a little crooked before he righted them. His nose sat just wide enough to be called large, with a few tiny red veins spread over its tip like electrical currents.
He told me he’d moved to the US five months earlier from a small city near Belgium to work at his company’s Boston branch, where they developed medical diagnostic equipment. While he spoke, I noted the absence of a ring on his long, slender fingers. With our time together winding down, I related my three-day blitz through Amsterdam twenty years earlier, hitting all the cliched stops: the Heineken brewery, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Milky Way bar, where a fog of pot smoke hung overhead like a San Francisco morning. Wessel had no doubt heard this story from many Americans before me, but he chuckled at my rendition. With each laugh, his nostrils flared slightly. I asked him if he cycled everywhere, like most of the Dutch do. He said he did.
“It’s my favorite thing in the world to do,” I eagerly told him. His eyes opened wider and he nodded his approval.
Wessel mentioned he’d left his car at a subway stop instead of parking at Logan.
“Which stop?” I asked.
“That’s five minutes from my house!”
I offered them a ride, hoping Kristin would be game.
“Kristin!” I bellowed into the phone over the roar of bus engines. “I know this will sound strange, but I met these two Dutchmen here, and do you mind giving them a ride to the T stop near my house?”
“What?” she shouted. “Rich men?”
“No, Dutch men!”
Heading south on the Boston Expressway, Wessel, Frans, Kristin and I swapped tales about bicycling and travel. Fifteen minutes later, we unloaded the guys and their bags and said so long.
“If you lose my card, just call the Globe!” I yelled out as we drove off.
“There goes my new boyfriend,” I joked to Kristin, using one of our silly sayings after meeting interesting men. I could have added, “Nice guy, spark.”