It hurts when you don’t know when they set sail, you only know you missed the chance for a last goodbye. I’d been a long time feeling guilty about sending an email, and when I sent it, it bounced. I had a bad feeling, and asked a mutual friend. She didn’t know but asked another friend. No. Theo is no longer with us. Oh.
Our last visit with Theo, the last time we got to Amsterdam, was in 2016. In years before that, I often made the trip to Italy to visit our daughter Johanna solo. It’s only in the more recent years that CB has felt comfortable with time and money and we’ve traveled as a duo. When it was just me, I slept on Theo’s cot or in his back room, but this time we got a room in a student hostel and met Theo for dinner in a place he knew across the street.
That visit was both sweet and painful, because it was clear that Theo’s mind was beginning to slip, and he was aware of it, and it was hard for him. Nevertheless, we had wonderful reminiscences and laughs, and I didn’t know it would be the last time.
I have never known a more loving and generous soul on this planet, with the exception of Conrad’s mom. Here’s the history. We were part of Theatre X in Milwaukee from 1969 to 1974, then hived off to become The Independent Eye. In the years after our departure, Theatre X came to the attention of a major gallery in Amsterdam, The Mickery, which also produced theatre events. For years and years Theatre X would go to Amsterdam, mount a radical new production, get paid what they deserved, get critical acclaim, then come back to Milwaukee. During that time, Theo entered their world.
Our own company, The Independent Eye, mounted a production of John Schneider’s Acts of Kindness in 1982. Some elements were autobiographical, and I played a character whose inspiration was Theo. Back in 1979, we’d been invited to perform in Jerusalem, took the kids with us, and figured that as long as we were across the pond, let’s take another couple of weeks in Europe. While there, we camped in what had been the old Olympic Stadium, and we got in touch with Theo, all four of us. He never forgot the 4-year-old Johanna’s joyous story about the frogs in the campground.
Once Jo relocated to Italy, I took to making an annual solo visit, always via Amsterdam. Between 1998 and 2015 I visited Theo fifteen times. So much to remember, even though the visits were usually for only a day and a half. Once we took his folding bikes and cycled together west to the ocean beach, stopping at a park for a picnic. Once we went to the magical island of Marken. Once I went with him to his church service. Once we went to a fish shop that had three little tables in a back room, where we sat and ate the fish Theo had picked out at the front counter. Many times we would take a leisurely afternoon car trip around the polders, stopping for ice cream or tea. And then there was the year when I lost all my money and ID and credit cards and passport the afternoon before my return flight, and Theo was with me all the way as I negotiated at the consulate and finally got a temporary passport so I could fly home.
In the early years of this odd friendship, I know Theo was a bit puzzled how it had come about, but within a few years I knew, from his emails, that it pleased him. It more than pleased me. We relied on being able to have those brief and colorful visits every year. I know so many odd bits and pieces of the Netherlands, beautiful little Vermeer portraits given to me by my friend Theo. He was a soul like no other. Hail the goer.