A wise friend once told me – there are seasons in life. There’s of course, the big ones like school, college, marriage, motherhood, etc. But then I like to think of the subsets – the everyday life. With each transition, there’s a learning curve and then there’s the stuff that goes a long with it.
I remember my first time out of the house with two children. My daughter was 18 months old and my son was a newborn. I was on my way to introduce our baby to my husband’s co-workers at his office in Dallas. I’m on the phone telling him I’m headed out of the house, while grabbing two diaper bags, cups of juice, bottles of milk, changes of clothes, snacks, my own water, keys, a purse, a stroller, the baby carrier, burp cloths, etc. etc. etc. I get in the car, trying to get down to downtown and back before the afternoon rush hour and there’s no gas in the car. My husband’s car because he had taken mine to work. I’m boiling with frustration and I pull into the nearest gas station, whip out my debit card, punch the button on the car door, and slam it shut. Only to discover that I had locked my two babies in the car with the keys inside. (As I retell this story six years later to my kids, they ask – how is that possible? Yeah, yeah – it was a 2000 Ford Explorer, it was possible to lock your car with the keys inside and they just have to imagine). I died a little that day by that Texaco gas pump. My heart plummets to the ground and I race into the convenience store. The man behind the counter struggles to interpret the total panic meltdown words that are spewing from this crazy woman’s mouth.
“My. . . my. . .kids. . . in. . . the. . . car. . .locked,” I gasp, my hands alternating between flapping wildly and banging the counter. “I locked my kids. In. The. Car!” I pound my fist on the counter with emphasis.
He nods his turban with great patience. “Okay. Yes. I call the Fire Department. It is okay ma’am.” He grabs a cordless phone. Punches buttons. His eyes close with wisdom as he speaks.
“They’re just babies!!” I scream, tears streaming down my face. I run back out to the car and cup my hands around my eyes.
My son, the three-month-old is asleep in his carrier. My daughter is just staring out the window. Unconcerned.
I’m waving and blowing kisses and reassuring her everything will be okay. She just sits there. Sucking on her binky. Unconcerned.
A bright red fire truck – my new symbol of hope and all that is good in the world – pulls into the station. No siren, but lights flashing. The fire station was only half a block away. A man in a blue jumpsuit hops out of the cab with a Slim Jim. With ease, he inserts the thin sliver of metal between the window and the door, jiggles once, and the door pops open. (Again, my kids ask – how is that possible? Yeah, yeah. . . ) I give that big strong firefighter a massive hug and an inappropriate kiss on the cheek before embracing my kids and showering them with affection. I grab my phone and call my husband. The office visit was rescheduled.
Years later, with the newness of having a third child, I again, lock myself out of the house in the Netherlands. Grabbing diaper bags, pushing my double stroller with an attached platform, snatching a purse, and cups of juice and milk and whatever else. I put the keys down and shut the door. European doors are funny that way. They automatically lock. I call a friend and walk to her house. We drink tea and watch the kids play until my husband returns home from his office in Rotterdam.
Time progresses. Kids grow, and it brings us to today. Today, with my three kids in school for a morning and after cleaning and organizing most of the week, I decide to indulge myself. I decide I’m going to go to a coffee shop and write for a few hours. I stuff my computer, notebooks, a bottle of water, and my favorite book into one bag. Grab my gloves, hat, phone, headphones, and my purse. I climb on the tram, smiling in the sunshine, reveling in my freedom. No kids. No stroller. I feel so naked, exposed, and weightless.
It’s a new tram and I sit right behind the driver. There’s a little shelf in between my seat and the window and I smile and think Ah! Perfect for my purse! I’m listening to my headphones – enjoying the sun – that yellow golden glow I’ve missed for months – with its energy streaming through the windows. The tram stops. I jump up, juggling my phone, hat, and gloves, grabbing my things and I step off the tram. I walk the few steps to the coffee shop and find the perfect spot.
I order a latte, open my book, text my husband, and invite him for lunch. He says he’s on his way. I run my fingers over the silk ribbon in my Simple Abundance book. Today’s passage is about excavating your past to find your authentic self. The long-stemmed candle on my table is lit, with it’s flame extending high towards the tall ceilings. Women around me lean close to each other, whispering, and smiling. The linens on the table are blue and white with mismatched silverware tucked into a glass. I breathe deep and my latte arrives, topped with the tiniest of rose petals and curls of honey. It’s the perfect setting for indulgence, peace, and self-reflection. The inspiration of the moment is palpable – and it tastes like rose water bathed in sunlight. I want to capture this moment and I unearth my new notebook out of my bag – on the front is written in gold letters, “I write, therefore I am.” I’ve been waiting years for this moment – a quiet moment of self-reflection and solitude. This is it. I have arrived. I lean down to pull a pen out of my purse.
The space under my chair is empty. I check the four chairs surrounding the table. Surely. I check again. No. No. The space is empty. The dread. The horror. It comes quickly and swiftly. Like a flash flood. Oh. My. God. Really? Did I really? But I know. I know. I sweep past the denial phase in an instant. Because I know. I left my purse on the tram.
The punch hits me hits me hard. I gaze at my sweet “Alice Latte” with the rosewater and rose petals and swirls of honey and I squeeze my eyes shut. Breathe deep. I have my phone – it was in my hand. I lift myself up from the table and punch buttons. I walk to the nearest window. Gaze out into the sunshine.
My husband answers the phone. “Yes, honey?” he says. I squint into the sun, peering out the window. I see him walking towards the coffee shop. He has his phone in his hand, up to his ear. He looks so happy.
“I think I left my purse on the tram,” I cringe, the tears from my eyes overflowing and cascading down my cheeks.
“You what?” his jaw drops. He stops dead in his tracks. He looks to his right, then stares at the ground. Eyes wide. I push end call.
He marches into the café. “What did you say you did?”
I’m choking on my own breath. “I’m so sorry – it was an accident. It’s not the time to panic, it’s the time to think of the solution.” I say, between gasps.
“We have to go,” he says with a calm voice.
“I know. But you have to pay for my latte. I have no money,” and I start bawling again. He puts his hands up to calm me.
“It’s okay. It’s okay,” he reassures. “I’ll go pay. We’ll figure this out,” he breathes.
“I have to call De Lijn,” I say. But that’s a problem in and of itself. It’s one thing to resolve issues in our own country and language. It’s a whole other ballgame when there’s a language barrier.
We walk to the Berchem train station. “What was in it?” my husband asks.
“Everything. My bank card, my Texas driver’s license, my Belgian driver’s license, our son’s passport – God, why was I carrying that around? Our residents permit for me and our three kids. . .” I wail. I have a river of tears on my face.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. Everything can be replaced,” he says. He checks our bank account. No additional transactions have taken place. Yet? We walk to Berchem train station and the attendant tells us she can’t help us. But she looks sympathetic. She gives us a number to call and directs us to the De Lijn offices in Zurenborg. I know exactly where she’s talking about. Phone calls in English are pointless – too much is lost in translation over the phone. We walk to the building. We stand in line. The man in front of us explains his position. A bag is handed over. He waves his thanks and my spirits lift a bit. Lost and found.
“Ah ja. Spreek je Engels?” my husband asks.
“Klein beetje” (a little bit) he says. Which means, yes. My English is just fine. Awesome, really.
“My wife thinks she left her purse on the tram,” and the aging man’s eyes widen.
“Yesterday?” he asks, hopeful.
“Uh, no.” my husband’s eyebrows wrinkle. “Like, an hour ago.” And his lips twist too.
“Ah, oke’,” he says. “So. Tonight. All the lost and found items on the tram come here,” and we nod once. “You can call this number at one o’ clock tomorrow. The lady. Ja, the lady that works here? You can ask her if she has what you are looking for. She will tell you yes or no,” and my heart drops another mile below the ground.
“Tomorrow?” my husband tastes the word.
“Ja, tomorrow. So ja, hopefully. . .” and the man shrugs. “A purse? Hum,” and he shakes his head.
“Ja. Niet so goed,” I spit and wrinkle my nose. Not so good, man. Yeah. I know.
We exit the building and the tears start again. 24 hours? There’s no way. Call someone! I want to scream. But I don’t. There’s no point. They have their system. But I can hear my husband thinking the same thing. But his mantra is a bit more. . . Ah, hell no.
“What time did you board the tram?” my husband asks me. His phone is in his hand.
“Look, I texted De Lijn at 10:43 to get my ticket, right as I was boarding the tram.” I’m shaking. I’m so upset. He keeps looking at his phone. I try to breathe. I put my hands on the bricks of the building. I just want to feel something strong. Something other than defeat. He keeps scrolling and scrolling. I breathe. I let him do whatever he’s doing. I want to walk, to head towards anywhere. Somewhere. I want to, need to move. His heels are bolted to the sidewalk. He scrolls. I breathe. Waiting.
“Okay. I think the tram you were on will be back at Berchem station in twenty minutes,” and my eyes alight.
“I know which tram it was. . . it was a new one. I was right behind the driver. I know I put it on that ledge. It would have been so easy for someone to see my purse and hand it to the driver. They would have been right there. . .” I ramble.
We walk down Cogels Osylei in silence. Not admiring the beauty around us. My eyes are focused on the ground. Please. Please. Please. People are good. Aren’t they? They are. I know they are. Aren’t they?
We stand at the station. Bathed in sunlight. “Surely someone turned it in.” I say. My husband’s jaw is tight.
“Let’s wait for three trams,” he nods. And I bite my lip.
“Belgians are nice – they’re decent people,” I trail off. They are. They are.
We see a tram approach. I know it’s not it. “It’s too old,” I frown. But V asks anyway. The curly haired tram driver looks like the lead singer of Journey. Complete with funky sunglasses. He flashes a De Lijn license. I’m still not sure what that means, but he didn’t have my purse.
We see another one approach. I look for the ledge behind the driver. It isn’t there.
“No, no – this isn’t it.” I frown.
The third one approaches. I frown again. I know it’s not the one. It pulls away from the station.
My husband and I look at each other. “Just one more?” he asks.
“Of course,” I nod.
And we stand. In the cold. Hoping upon hope that we’re getting closer.
A tram approaches the station. It looks new. The front door opens unlike many of them, and I gain hope. I see the shield around the driver. It looks familiar. And then I see a backpack, resting on the ledge behind the driver.
“Honey! Honey! There’s the ledge – see! She put her backpack on it, too!” and he steps into the tram.
“Do jij have a groen portemonnee?” Vinny says, in his questionable Dutch-English. The woman tram driver cocks her head. “A green purse??” my husband repeats in his best Louisiana accent. And her face brightens.
“Like dit?” she says – and she grabs my little hand bag and displays it for me to see. Her face is gleaming. I. Love. Women. Tram. Drivers.
“Oh my God! Yes! Yes! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU,” I shout, tears streaming down my face. Again. She smiles and hands it over to me. If she hadn’t been behind that partition. I totally would have given her a hug. (She had curly blonde hair. If you see this lady driving the number 9 tram in Antwerp, tell her she’s awesome.)
I hug my purse and the tram doors slide shut. My husband puts his arm around me and I pull a tissue out of my purse. “Thank you,” I say to him. “You’re really my Superhero today,” and he kisses me in front of the café.
We enjoy our lunch, but I’m still reeling from the episode. I checked my purse. Not even the cash was taken.
“Do you want to stay and write here?” he asks, eyeing the cascading sunlight.
I bite my lip. “Um, no. No thanks. I think I’m ready to go home. Will you drive me?” and he laughs.
“Of course,” and we pay for our bill and exit.
“Well. . . one thing is for sure,” I grin. “This will never, never happen again,” and he smiles.
“I’m going to be like that old lady on the tram. . . clutching my handbag on my lap,” and we both laugh.
“You know. . .” I say. “If I had the stroller. . . my purse would have been wrapped around the handlebars” I tell him. And he just nods.
The seasons of life. Total panic meltdowns. With kids. Without them. But at the end of the day, I have faith in humanity – whether it be a fire department in Texas or a Good Samaritan in Belgium. People are good. And I’m one lucky girl to meet them, or not meet them all.