Thursday, August 12, 2010


Let’s call her Mary

You know, that girl who sat in the back of the class. When she was in school at all. Mary had a sad kind of face, with dull-ish brown eyes. Her home-haircut held in place with a brown hairclip. I haven’t seen her in thirty-six years. Yet she is often on my mind.

When we were about ten years old I went to visit my classmate, as she was sick at home. I brought my dolls so we could play together. A woman answered the door. ‘Mary is not here’ was all I got. Not being the bravest to ask any more questions, I left.

Mary didn’t come back to school for a long time. As it turned out, she was send to a children’s home.

The group photograph taken before we left primary school, shows Mary more mature than many of us. Certainly me, I was only a little ‘thing’. Mary had breast. Her posture was like one of the tough guys. She had a smile on her face. But then we all had. We seemed a happy bunch.

The truth was different.

We had a few ‘Mary’s’ among us. I joined that outsider group for a while too. I remember our school holiday to a village about two-hour cycle away. Actually what I remember is the weeks before our departure. We were sewing hats in craft class, the girls that is… A hat design that our ancient teacher had probably used for her school holiday decades ago. I hated that blue-and-white-chequered cap. The teacher thought it would just be wonderful that more than a dozen girls would cycle with the same type of hat… I blanked out ever having worn it. I blanked out a lot of that time. It was my turn to being bullied. Or to be more precise, being ignored.

Memory can be a good thing.

What we, or at any rate what I, refer to confidently as memory-- meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion-- is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end. In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw. (William Maxwell, So Long, see you tomorrow)

The other Mary’s might agree.

I have never been very good in asking questions at the appropriate time. I observe, and hope that one day the answer will come.

Having starting the write a story about Mary, I came up with all sorts of scenarios of what might have happened to her. As I had no facts, I gave her the main role in a fictional story. An unassuming woman, who didn’t get carried away with the hype of the Celtic Tiger era. In the story the reader would get to know about Mary through an obituary in the Irish Times. To help me piece together my fictional Mary, I read newspaper articles I had saved over the past few years. The character was taking shape in my head. Then I thought, ‘maybe my classmate Mary has a presence on the Internet’. After finding a birthday book we had made in that last year in primary school, I found Mary’s surname and date of birth. I Googled her.

The first entry that came up was of the cemetery in the town we grew up in.

Mary died in 2005.

The postmaster of the website kindly forwarded the death notice which had appeared in the local paper. The notice started with a poem. I would like to think it was written by Mary herself.

(Translated from Dutch by me)

I always thought ‘later’.

Later I’ll do this or that.

Later I will make long journeys

Write a book, something like that.

Later my dreams will come true,

one by one.

Later ‘will make everything ok’.

But I have realized in life

that this is not the way one should think.

I can’t make it happen anymore

But I would like you to promise

that your will complete this for me together.

The piece continues with the statement that she loved her family dearly; she lived for her family and forgot herself.

In memory of Mary Boontjes- Aardenburg

30-1-1962 - 12-4-2005