“Writing is a deeper sleep than death.
Just as one wouldn’t pull a corpse from its grave,
I can’t be dragged from my desk at night.”
By Kafka, but nothing to do with his actual grave. It does have the word “grave” in it, and I’m frankly too lazy to find a more apt description. I shouldn’t be so lazy though, since Liz and I never made it to his grave and I can only assume he’s in a Mao-like mausoleum, all waxy and severe looking under a glass case. Mix cat milk, wasps, and the realization that Czech honey wine isn’t allowed on an airplane and you get the hilarious hi-jinx keeping us away from Kafka. That story coming soon, start bating your breath now. Okay, stop bating. It might be a while on account of me sucking.
After dropping off our luggage at Jason and Annie’s apartment (fellow expat friends), I skedaddled off to look sternly at Silvia and find Julia. It turns out men who use the word “skedaddle” have a hard time looking stern. Good for those 6 other guys to know. Be nice, save face. Liz was already walking around Julia’s new digs, which turns out to be a garden in the middle of Amsterdam roughly half the size of a football field. Proper football or American football, you ask? No one cares, jerk. The point is it’s a big garden. Luckily the garden had no open access to the street, so our genius cat was trapped, in a good way. Unluckily, the garden is less Versailles and more Mirkwood. With fences, trees, and sheds, there are more nooks and crannies for Julia to hide in than those things English people eat … fish and chips.
I gave Silvia a piece of my mind too. Mostly about how we enjoyed Prague and the surprising size of the garden. She looked with us for a whopping hour before giving up completely. Seems like appropriate penance for losing a cat, Silvia. Thanks. Liz and I searched until 11 pm with nothing to show; sure we’d find her the next day. Huzzah for blind optimism!
We didn’t find her the next day. Or the day after, etc. Liz and I kept up spirits by treating the first few days like picnics. We took breaks from the one-sided game of hide-and-seek to eat and enjoy the garden. With work getting in the way of her garden adventures, I became a regular Karin TarQwyn. Don’t be coy; Ms. TarQwyn’s website says she’s America’s Most Recognized Missing Pet Detective, so it has to be true. She also holds little regard for the pesky “qu” rule in English grammar.
My first week of hunting Julia led to a few tangible results. I met many of the lovely first floor residents surrounding the garden. They were all cat lovers, and that made me feel a lot better. I met many of the garden’s cats. They were also very nice, except for one, which was a mean asshole. I also made a snazzy flyer.
My second week also had its lessons. Some of the cat-lovers were neither flyer-lovers nor people-lovers. I got an email telling me I was intrusive for handing out the flyer and an absolute joy of a woman telling me never to go near her garden again. Others at the garden really were great. One old lady called me several times to check on my progress and warn me about the mean cat starting fights. Another woman joined me several times as I walked around the garden for hours. She sheepishly approached me one afternoon. Very sincerely and with a twinkle in her eye, she asked if she could do something very important for me. Oh no. Was I going to have to tell her that sex with an considerably older woman, while flattering, would really hinder my ability to find Julia, and my ability to live a normal live thereafter?
The imagined sex offer may have been easier to handle gracefully than the reality. She told me about her spiritual beliefs and how she followed the teachings and practices of the Native Americans. Marc, don’t sneer. She pulled out a braided collection of “sweet grass” and herbs, a lighter, a dream-catcher, and some red string with beads on it. Marc, don’t laugh. She walked to place we suspected Julia might be, lit the sweet grass, chanted a prayer, tied the string to a tree, and blessed the ground for Julia’s safe return. I’m a very cynical person. I look for all the easiest jokes, on account of not being clever. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to attack this low-hanging fruit. The sweetness and genuine concern this lovely woman was showing to me, a nearly complete stranger, and Julia, a cat she had never met, was staggering. For a moment, all the snarky comments swirling in my head, and the other voices, were quieted by gratitude. Thanks Dutch Native American lady.
My third week taught me that even the really great people in the garden had their limits. Without access to the garden, I had to blindly ring doorbells and annoy strangers every day. People eating or relaxing at home love to be disturbed by dumb Americans who speak terrible Dutch and want access into their private gardens. Keep that in mind travelers.
More importantly, I stumbled upon what it means to be a man. It has little to do with having a good job, being a loving partner, or a caring father. It doesn’t boil down to how masculine you are, how well you fight, or your sexual prowess. Being a man is most accurately judged by how well you react to walking into spider webs. My friends, I am not a man. I lose my mind every time I see a spider, much less walk into their accursed, silky traps. When in Amsterdam, think twice about entering a garden, my arachnophobic brethren. It is not pleasant. Over three weeks of searching for Julia, I may have become less manly. Each day was a new nightmare, with spiders’ booby traps in every imaginable place, some with spiders, others without. The depression of not finding Julia after so long was nicely accented by terror from arachnids. If Julia was hiding from them, I completely understand why she was keeping quiet.
Week four started with less enjoyable lessons. Pet detectives in the Netherlands pretty much don’t exist. The literature on how to find cats in the wild continued to suck. The police told me to stop looking for a cat I’d likely never find. I kept walking around the garden, mouth agape, eating more spider webs than any one human should. And, an overwhelming sadness about losing Julia was staring to creep into my thoughts. I didn’t want to accept that possibility, but it was becoming hard to ignore. Then Liz’s mom told me about St. Anthony. Aren’t weird cliffhangers the worst? Keep your ear to the internet’s proverbial grindstone to see if Marc becomes a man, and if we find Julia.