It's a color photograph of a young man in someone's living room. Behind him, a broad expanse of plate glass window looks out into a green blur. There are flowers in the room, and some ribbons dangling from the ceiling,
and greeting cards strung across the window, all of which contribute to a tastefully subdued festive atmosphere.
Our hero (the young man in the foreground of the picture) is wearing a gaudy Hawaiian shirt. He's smiling broadly, but looks more than a bit dazed, and there's a tiny glint of fear in his eyes if you look closely.
He's my boyfriend, just arrived at my grandparents' house in the Netherlands for the first time. (The occasion? Their fiftieth wedding anniversary, not to be missed.) He's just spent over ten hours in a plane from San Francisco to Amsterdam, and before that an hour from Orange County to SFO, with a bit of hassle at the airport in between (my fault—you might say I was a little stressed out about this expedition). Now he's in a strange house, surrounded by people speaking a language he doesn't know, and everyone's a stranger except me, my parents, and my little brother, all of whom are rapidly code-switching amongst themselves and the others.
All the Dutch he knows are the following words and phrases, which he will recite frequently in the days to come, to the amusement of many:
ja, nee, bedankt, waar is de WC? (yes, no, thanks, where's the bathroom?)
He's told me he wore the Hawaiian shirt specifically to look like "a big dumb American who lives at the beach", on the premise that he could only go up in people's esteem once that first impression was out of the way.
When we finally escape to bed a few hours later, we hold each other close and he quietly says, in a small, stunned voice, "I'm in Holland". He will repeat this often in the week to come, and in response I will hug him, or squeeze his hand affectionately, and reply in the affirmative, not knowing what else to do. I am very happy he came to Holland with me, more so than hugs and hand squeezes can express.
I was happy he came then; I am still happy he came now, looking at this picture, which I keep taped to the wall above my bed, where it's in my peripheral vision whenever I'm sitting at my desk, a reminder of that fact.
Every time I look at this picture I feel a little more in love.