Sometimes you just gotta shut up

Floor Bakhuys Roozeboom (38) is a writer and journalist. She lives in Haarlem with her boyfriend and two small children. Here she shares her wonders about the important (and less important) things in life.

We met when he was 19 and I 22. We commuted madly between the cities where we studied. We slept, we drank, we partied. We got jobs. We moved. Moved in together. Traveled the world together. Had a son and then a daughter. Almost sixteen years now. When I hear that, I never know whether I think it sounds long or short. It feels like a lifetime, although we may have just started.

He sometimes tells me that he actually knows my face better than his, because he sees it more often than his. My glances, my frowns, the puffs around my mouth. He knows me as an endlessly rereading book, which he only has to scan to know what it says, because he knows by heart the wordless sentences I speak to my body after all these years. I know he’s right; I got the same. After sixteen years I understand the language he speaks with only a way of sighing, eyes that are on ‘open’ or ‘closed’, the position of his shoulders, the energy with which he carries his body through a space.

But recently someone asked me if my friend is left or right handed and I couldn’t give him an answer. I tried to tell myself that I just couldn’t remember for a while, but I didn’t. The truth was inexorable: someone simply asked me with which hand the man I’ve been with for so long does all his day-to-day activities right under my nose. And I had no idea.

“ I’m sure I would fail miserably on such a test

It fascinated me. What do you actually know about the people you know best? What do you remember about the images you see every day, the sounds you hear every day, the smells you smell? What imprints in your brain as something worth remembering and what isn’t? Can you describe the eye color of your loved ones from a distance? Do you know what they dream of when they wake up sweaty? Do you know their blood type? Do you draw the outline of their figure with your eyes closed? 

In movies and TV shows you sometimes see partners having to answer questions separately to prove how well they really know each other. Prove your love for a Triviant. Come on then, just say it. Favorite color. Favorite movie. Holiday destination. Most beautiful book. Tastiest drink. Last Supper. What music at the funeral.

I’m sure I would fail miserably on such a test. And my friend especially. Best drink: I know a lot. Favorite movie: no idea. Holiday destination: please say. Favorite color: act normal.

“ It was like meeting each other for the first time

But let me hear him sigh and I’ll tell you what he thinks. Give me the position of his shoulders and I’ll give you a cross section of his mood. I don’t know which book he liked best, but I do know which word combinations make him a little nauseous. I don’t know what his favorite color is, but I do know what sweater he was wearing on our first date (still has it). I couldn’t tell you what “his drink” is, but I can tell you exactly at what point in a conversation he’s going to throw a quote from Jungle Book at it.

We had a fight recently. In the car, on vacation, children in the back, of course, we know our classics. It was about nothing and about everything, just as it should be. We paused for the first time in two years after life pulled us relentlessly forward in a speeding caravan of growing children, a move and renovation, a pandemic, work and more work. We’d needed all our energy to keep our eyes on the road at that roaring speed, to keep from falling for God’s sake, and now that the cart had finally stopped for a while and the sand clouds had lifted, it was as if we were meeting each other again for the first encountered and we had to figure out again which language the other spoke.

Things were said, not understood, said again, not understood again, or understood, but interpreted differently. There was a sigh (by him). There was crying (by me). The children were asleep. The rain drummed on the car roof. As the road raged beneath us, incomprehension hung like a thick smoke between us. Until he suddenly held his hand open between us, I put mine in it and we drove on in silence. The children still asleep, the rain still beating. Two hands clasped in a cloud of smoke that slowly lifted.

No, we don’t know what the other would want for the last supper. But we do know that sometimes it’s best to just shut up to understand each other.

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