Sunday, October 2, 2011
life as I know it
When I was a little girl, Snow White, Cinderella, Thumbelina and many more fairy tales were the stories that formulated my childhood and were the keys to open up my imagination as well formulate dreams. I saw Good vs bad, beauty vs jealousy, loyalty vs unfaithfulness, friendship vs selfishness, and it always ending happily ever after...
When I was older I was introduced to Greek mythology, tragedy and other classic historical stories, beautiful tales but not always with the happy endings...
In the meantime, you grow up, live your life and experience the world with it's rough edges, deciphering the good from the bad, deal with the ups and downs and choose to be happy or not.
I was one who somehow ALWAYS chose to be happy. Sure I had my share of knock downs: I am a product of divorce, lost many friends to drugs, cancer and other illnesses, My own failed marriage and divorce, bad relationships, my father's death, My mother's health decline and her eventual death, blah blah blah.... but SOMEHOW always made it through, always looked ahead, always new there will be better times.
June 2009, my life was rocked. I had a new outlook on life, I made a mental note to myself to weed out the bad, surround myself with the good love of my bike friends, other friends, students, family and whomever came into my world that was on the same page.. Have gratitude for what I had and try to enjoy the ride. As a goal setter, I decided to combine a holiday with bike event so with the insistence of my Italian friend Davide, I committed to competing in the Marco Pantani granfondo...The course was intimidating. I was scared by the Mortirolo! That fear took me on all the steepest climbs I could find in San Francisco and parts of California. I enjoyed the training. Weekends were spent with other like minded pals riding "meat grinders" and afterward laughing and eating. fun stuff. Although I thoughtfully trained, I did not put pressure in myself to have to do it super fast. I just wanted to participate and do the best I could with what I have...No more racing mentality..
I planned to go up to the mountains 5 days beforehand to get de-jetlagged as well as do some recon on the climbs. Good plan. after the event, I was to train to Florence and meet some dear friends for the remainder of my holiday visiting and doing the cultural thing. I was a happy camper.
Little did I know that the beginning of my fairy tale would materialize in the Italian Alps. Being a somewhat "social" type, I usually have no problem striking up conversations with strangers etc. I enjoy talking with people, learning new things, and sharing information. This little mountain town of Aprica was a virtual ghost town when I arrived. I saw few cyclists and absolutely NO women cyclists. Every day I was watched curiously by the women of my pensione as I had breakfast alone, then donned my cycling gear and left for a day of training on the various climbs. They always asked where I was going that day and when I told them they looked at me with a combination of awe and craziness.. hahaha, "those crazy American girls."
After my rides I found the local library with free internet where I would write to my pals and share my excitement for the mountains and the upcoming event. The town was still so sleepy. The only person who would talk to me was the librarian. He had come 5 years beforehand from Milano and told me he still wasn't accepted by the locals! Wow, small town life.
Two days before the race, the town started getting activity. Cyclists starting arriving, the event sponsors began setting up stalls to sell their wares. Registration was open to collect our numbers, timing chips and other vital information that I didn't bother to read. Now it was getting exciting!! People watching at it's finest as droves of beautiful cycling legs were filling the town. I had new entertainment. I'm not much of a shopper but when it comes to bike stuff, well that's another story. I was in heaven, clothing, helmets, bike gear...TIME TO SHOP!
So "window" shopping I go,perusing all the stalls. Looking through baskets of stuff for souvenirs, gifts etc. Oh what fun. I find myself looking through a basket of Retro bike clothing and I pull out a wool Molteni jersey. As I am holding it up, a man rides up and says "do you know who wore that?"...I glance over to him and say "of course, Eddy Merckx"...Apparently it was love at first sight. I had no clue. We started talking and the conversation flowed smoothly. He and his friend were from Belgium and came to race the Marco Pantani as well. when I told him I came from America to do it, he seemed amazed. Hahaha,here is that crazy American girl. I thought nothing much more of the interaction except that I enjoyed the conversation and was elated to meet such nice men. Little did I know, I had found my fairy tale.
2 days later, the race began. Everyone was at the start line in pre organized groups according to race results, gender and other registration information. The women were staged right after the elite group and there were not very many of us. I remember looking at the women and spotting some rainbow stripes..Ouch probably won't see her again..
Then came the "official" gunshot and off we went. the mass of cyclists started. It was an absolute bottleneck of cyclists crammed on this mountain rode. Thankfully I knew the road well with its curves and just prayed that no "wobbly" wheel would crash me out. I maneuvered my way down the hill and as we started to climb a bit toward the Gavia Pass, the crowd thinned. All I could see was a steady stream of cycling jerseys, colorful bikes and beautiful legs riding in succession..As I was riding I recall the Belgians passing me and one of them shouted out "hello". I waved and said Enjoy and then settled into what was going to be a long day in the saddle. The ride was everything I expected it to be. The Gavia was beautiful, the descent to Bormio was fast, and then found a group to ride with in the valley to Mazzo. Here it came, the Mortirolo. I had done it in recon so I knew I could do it it was just a matter of dealing with some suffering. I passed many a man who cramped, walking with their bikes to the side. I just kept going up. Finally the top!! A bit of refueling and then a long descent toward the start line before you bypass to the final climb. It was hot, the sun was bright. the crowds had dwindled . I found myself riding alone. Thoughts crossed my mind that I was the LAST person, the "lantern rouge"...oh my "How am I going to explain this to my friends" I thought as I trudged up the last long climb. Occasionally I would see another rider as we played the Cat and Mouse chase game up the hill. I knew I was almost there..
then the final desent into Aprica! I was cautious. My tire had developed a bulge (it was a defect) and I had to be careful not to blow it out. I focused on the road and carefully made it to the finish line. I was elated! I did it! Just at that moment, I heard my name being called.."who knows me here?" I'm thinking..why there is that nice Belgian man. Sure enough, standing on the side of the road by the finish line all cleaned up is Yves. We immediately began to talk. In my post race euphoria, I ask him about his race etc. After about 15 minutes or so I need to get out of my bike clothes and shower. He asks me if I am going to the post race dinner. I totally forgot there was one, so I gladly agree to meet them there. Once again the conversations flowed freely, the energy was good and we are all happy to have finished the race.
It was a good day indeed. We spent most of that evening talking, and eventually shared emails/contact information. I thought nothing strange as I have met so many great people traveling and who knows, I might someday go to Belgium! why not?
Little did I know, Mr Knuts had gone to the race registration shortly after out first meeting to find out my race number and any other information they would give him. He went to the finish line and waited PURPOSELY for me (2 hours after he finished the race). I had NO CLUE. He confessed this all to me much later....
Long story short, we began communicating via phone and email for the remainder of time I stayed in Italy. I was clueless that he was romantically interested in me until he told me he could drive to Frankfort from Belgium to meet me for coffee before my flight back to America..the light bulb went off in my head. "how long is that drive?" I asked.."3 hours" he said...I just about dropped the phone. No man in San Francisco will drive 30 minutes for a mere coffee date! I was honored. Unfortunately it didn't materialize due to a late plane and his work schedule, but what it did do was strengthen our interest for each other. We started Skyping daily. there was something about it that was really old fashioned. We got to really know each other in our everyday lives. There was never any of the "dating games". We soon knew we wanted to be together. We shared the same beliefs, desires, passions and were ready to try. 2 Belgian visits and 2 America visits later, we decided that I should move to Belgium and start a new life together with him and his 3 children. It all seemed so right. I made all the preparations of closing down my old life: work, home family etc. It was not easy. I had been overseeing my Mother's health and had to make sure she would be well taken care of. When I moved to Belgium, I called her everyday and made sure she was OK.
Meanwhile, Yves was working full time as he was also self building a new house for the children, he and I. It was crazy busy. We had a lot on our plates. All the while dealing with the government paperwork for my legalization was another story. I moved to Belgium June 14, 2010. A new life had begun.. We spent 2 weeks cycling in the French alpes in late July for his summer holiday. Life was grand!
Then it was overdrive to get the house finished. We moved into the house November 1, 2010, we married in the courthouse November 5, 2010. then there were childrens birthdays, my mother's death, Christmas, team training in Spain, Easter, and planning for our Trouwfeest (wedding party) and his youngest son's first communion. It was a busy busy time. Somehow we got it all done. Next on the agenda was the summer holiday which we planned as a "honeymoon" as well.We spent 10 days in Livigno Italy and revisited Aprica by bike, rode some of the famous passes of the Pantani granfndo and reminisced of our chance meeting. Life was good. I had everything I had always dreamed of. The built in family. Yves was an incredibly good man who put his children first. A man who worked hard at everything he did and always made people laugh. He was so conscientious and super responsible. I shorty learned if he promised you something, he always followed through. He was the love of my life, He was my "it". I finally felt safe. I knew he would always be here for me... Life was so good..I was living those fairy tales. It really was true. we expected to live a long life together. we planned our future. We were going to retire to Provence. We had it all mapped out or so we thought..
Turns out it was not a fairy tale but more of a Greek tragedy..yep, just like the stories, I got THAT phone call. Oh you know the one, the one you dread about. The one that instantly makes a knot in your stomach. The ONE that tells you little but your guts tell you more. You get in your car, you drive to that hospital and you are greeted and taken to a room. Yes, that room has NO hospital bed, but a conference table and two serious looking police men. Your heart sinks. You begin to feel numb, but you stand there and listen. You try to keep composed as they are trying to comfort you, advise you and tell you what to do next. Before you know it you are being driven to a funeral home and you are staring at the love of your life dead in a casket and thinking this is all so surreal. Can I just wake up now?
And so it goes, I am 7 weeks a widow, less than a year married. In the past two years My life has changed in oh-so may ways. I learned a great deal, I am still learning. I often wonder why some of us are chosen to deal with such great losses and others get of live it all so smoothly. I will never know that answer but instead, just pick myself back up and let myself process all of this and know that time will lesson the pain.
Perhaps I should start reading fairly tales again.