When I was 26, I flew across the ocean to visit the young man I had started dating just six weeks before he moved to Europe to work in a small theater as a barkeep and fill-in performer. He was dreamy and living in a garret apartment in Amsterdam, so OF COURSE I FLEW ACROSS THE OCEAN TO VISIT HIM. My spontaneous acceptance of his spontaneous offer to come visit was, to this day, one of the best decisions I have ever made.
So for ten days in August of 1996 I lived the life of a young woman in love hanging out in Europe with my handsome young man. Those are some of my sweetest memories. We rented a car and drove across the Netherlands and into Belgium. I knew he was a keeper when I failed miserably at learning how to drive stick in the pouring rain and he had to push the car I had stalled out in a busy intersection and he still thought I was adorable and forgave me instantly.
One of the things we did on that trip was visit the Rene Magritte wing at the Modern Art Museum in Brussels. I have always loved Magritte. His art is clever and smart and precise and winsome. He had such a clear aesthetic and I find his particular take on surrealism so much more accessible than Dali or some of his other contemporaries. You know when you read a book or see a film or painting that just speaks to you? Magritte speaks to me.
Yesterday, almost 18 years later, my now husband and I went to see the Magritte exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. We are no longer young. We are, though, still in love.
As we walked through the galleries, sometimes together, sometimes apart, and looked at Magritte’s art — still as clever and potent to me as ever — I was reminded of our Brussel museum visit so many years earlier. It is really something to spend your years together with the same person. It is a gift of life that not everyone gets.
We talked about our son who we both thought would enjoy the paintings. He will start French lessons in school this fall and would get a kick out of Magritte’s simple declarations, Ceci n’est pas une pipe.
Eighteen years ago, walking through a different museum in Brussels, there is no way I could have imagined the life we are now living together. In that time we’ve cared for and lost a child to cancer, are somehow surviving our grief, created three homes together in our beloved Chicago, are raising two boys together. I’ve left my career in social work behind, and now write words that people actually read.
In so many ways, life is like those galleries you walk through in museums. Some of the rooms are bright and full of light and interesting, rich, joyful art that you could linger in for ages. Other galleries are dark and poorly lit and depressing as hell. You want to leave and leave now, but it’s not always so easy to move from one room to another. Some galleries are just meh, humdrum, boring.
I feel so lucky to have been walking through museum galleries with my husband for eighteen years now. We’ve seen much together, appreciated some of it, feared some of it, trudged through some of it, but always together. Best of all, I still feel excited to see the galleries yet to come, the hidden treasures we have yet to find.
Ceci n’est pas une billet doux.