After Schipol, Nigel and I are intermittently in touch. By December we’ve started emailing about my returning to Amsterdam in March. Inspired, Nigel builds me a bike for the occasion. It’s based on the frame of a 1948 women’s racing bike and super sleek (dig that saddle).
One hundred percent.
Because there’s something I’ve forgotten: for most of his working life, Nigel was a librarian. For anyone too young to know, librarians are what we had before we had Google; they are human search engines. Before I can say Ultegra Compact Crankset, Nigel has found this blog and, in its flattering description of him, the answer he has been waiting for.
By April, the phone lines are buzzing between us. The first time we talk, we’re on for an hour (Nigel gets free calling after 6pm). It’s like those get-to-know-you conversations we might have had in person if I’d only stayed a few days longer (dammit). I tell him about my larger-than-life father, killed at a race track in Britain when I was seven. Nigel, ever the librarian, sends me this:
As the world goes deep into lockdown, we begin to create a world outside of it. A world of personal histories and humor, music. We seldom talk for less than an hour; we never mention the pandemic. Nigel sends me cards he’s made (or humorously doctored). We are definitely on the same beam:
Of the 7pm Thank Yous for our healthcare workers, going on throughout New York
NY’s COVID numbers soar. I begin to study Dutch. Nigel overcomes a fierce dislike of digital, to FaceTime with me once a week.
I can’t give an Xmas party this year, but with the election around the corner I decide to have an Xmas tree I’ll keep up until the election is over. And I decorate it with cards Nigel has sent me (we're the only ones who are going to see it anyway).
funny and creative and witty (and yes, devilishly handsome). Yes he understands bikes, he’s generous and really seems to dig me. I want to say I’m not so easily swept off my feet, but after two years of attention like this, who am I kidding? I break down and sign up with Sprint for unlimited calling at $15 a month. They have no idea what they're in for.
The week of the election feels like a year. I develop a crick in my neck that forces my head sideways on FaceTime (Nigel doesn’t seem to mind). When Biden is finally declared the winner, I explain to Nigel (who doesn’t need it; he’s a librarian after all) that the fate of the Senate - and thus the country - rests on two Senatorial elections in Georgia. Returns are due the night of January 5.
That night, I stay up until midnight (he’s 6 hours ahead of me) because Nigel has asked me to wake him at 6am with the returns; but they’re not all in, so I’m up early the following day to watch for results. Georgia has given us the Senate! I call Nigel to celebrate - but while we’re on the phone, the insurrection explodes onto the screen.
As I write, we are still learning the backstory of the insurrection, still hoping our democracy will survive. But the first thing that changes in January, is that Anthony Fauci is unmuzzled and Andy Slavitt (former head of Medicare) takes over the vaccine roll out. Nigel and I get vaxed and begin to plan a trip. But it’s no longer just a visit for me – it’s become a trip for the two of us, traveling together. Whatever this is, we want to pursue it.
And then one day in August, a day not unlike the one two years ago when I stepped off my first flight into Schipol airport, I arrive in Amsterdam. And there he is, dashing as ever, waiting for me, with Belgian chocolate in hand.
And so begins a chapter neither of us ever expected and neither of us will ever forget.