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In loving memory of our dear friend Mieke

Below, you will find both a poem, The Ice Skater, written by Mieke, and the diary entry I wrote, concerning Mieke, when I was in the US, april/may 2002. At the time, Mieke was seriously ill and had not much longer to live.
We, that is my wife Marion and I, share many great memories of Mieke. She was one of the witnesses to our marriage. When the official asked her, for which side (of the two of us) she acted as witness, she answered: 'For the female side'. Everybody laughed. She had said this as if in front of the official, there was this traditional marrying couple; man and wife. But there we were, two women. And while we all were laughing, she gave us the 'What's so funny?' - look. That was typical of Mieke.

The last years of her life, she was developing her photography skills. She made the most amazing pictures! I particularly remember one close up of a spiderweb, taken early in the morning. Dew still on it, sweating and dripping. Or a series taken of high heeled roses, growing up against the front of the nineteenth century building where she rented the ground floor appartment, clinging on to what's left of the earth in this part of Amsterdam, cared for by the gardener that Mieke also was.

Mieke. She was also a poet and a writer, that's how I came to know her in the first place, back in 1992. Not many people know about this part of her. As much confidence she had in my writing, as little she had in her own. It's always hard to value one's own work, but I think The Ice Skater was a very good poem and very much Mieke.

The Ice Skater

Dashing and brilliantly
she rushes through life
Glossing its surface
like skating on thin ice

Sharp blades hack and cut
a treacherous path
that only her speed
can maintain

For one snag
One small unbalance
And her weight
will crack upon
that thin layer
of surface tension

and cause her demise
in the deep
waters of life
that she chose to ignore

by Mieke Strooband

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From the diary

20. For Mieke, with love

The sun sets in the Pacific. Like a piece of coal. I watch it’s glow extinguish and finally disappear. A plane flies by, off to some far away coast. I have been in the US almost four weeks now. Holland, Amsterdam, seems like an eternity and a galaxy away from here.

The day before I left Holland, I had gone to see Mieke. Some days ago, I wrote she was ill. Arthur pointed out to me I hadn’t mentioned her name and that she’s not just ill, she is very ill. She is.
She’s got cancer bad. It’s aggressive. It stunts even the specialists. The short mention I did, was out of some sort of misplaced sense of being afraid to invade her privacy, thinking she might not want it because she does not want people to look upon her as a sick person. But it was me, having trouble facing it. She is very ill. But most of all; she is Mieke. Funny, stubborn, supportive Mieke.

She was one of the witnesses to our marriage, bridesmaid, best man, whatever they call it here in the US... She’s been on my mind all this time, as I wonder if I will ever see her again, and ask myself this question that nobody can answer; ‘Why? Why now?’ I have been thinking. Should I have stayed in Amsterdam after all? I feel selfish being here, so far away from her. She’d tell me ‘Nonsense!’ right now, if she was sitting next to me.

Marion told me, it’s getting worse, yet somehow, Mieke manages to be cheery over the phone: ‘I am sick and I’m in pain, but otherwise I’m fine. Are you still in California? In the Red Woods? How’s the weather over there? Oh, sorry, I gotta go. Dinner is ready!’
I told her I felt bad about me not being there for her now. She said ‘Oh, don’t worry, I’ve got lots of people looking after me. There is really nothing you can do,’ Last time I called her, I asked her if she’d ever been in the Red Woods. Yeah. Years ago, she said. She grew up and went to college in the US.

We said goodbye that day I was with her. Goodbye as in, see you in two months. She seemed to be sure of that. I didn’t know what to think, was worried and didn’t want to tell her. We hugged. I held back my tears. She sent me on my way saying: ‘Go and do it. I’ll see you when you get back. Don’t you dare stay here on my behalf. You have wanted to do this for so long,’ and then, just as always encouraging me saying things like ‘You’re gonna make it someday. I am sure you will,’ placing more trust in me than I might at all deserve, because I haven’t been all that consistent lately, then she said:
‘And write about it! I want to read all about your adventures!’

She’s been my friend since 1992, when I met her at a women’s writers group. It was the year I first came out. I was living at Arthur's place , after he and his wife Lizzy had pulled me out of a shitty situation.
It was December. She wrote stories and poetry. She wrote a poem called The Ice Skater, which I particularly liked, and she was working on a piece of prose at the time as well. We copied and shared our work and criticism. We wrote on subjects such as (lesbian) sex, or coming out. The group somehow didn’t work out but Mieke became and remained a close friend after it split up.
I’m not sure I ever told her this, probably not, I can be such a chicken sometimes, but for a short while, I had a crush on her. I don’t think she noticed. Or maybe she was aware. I don’t know. We were discussing writing. And even though I had just started cruising the lesbian scene in Amsterdam, I was still too shy to approach her or any other woman.

Some months ago, Marion and Mieke and I were joking around, over a bottle of red wine, about (watching) other women and about our phantasies and it was such great fun, the way she talked about it. We were being so naughty, the three of us, as we lesbians can only be when we are amongst ourselves. Giggling about breasts (sizes), what we like about them, or legs, things like that.
She’s got a great sense of humor. Of all these years, I remember a lot of fun. She’s always full of stories as well, once she get’s started, she’s hard to stop, like a runaway truck, full of colorful details, slapping her thighs if she’s amazed by something; yelling out: ‘Now, listen to this! Here’s what happened...’ Even now, she keeps kidding around, about her illness. About dying young. She says things like; ‘Well, I don’t have to worry about old age now. That’s a relief,’ and then she grins. Later on, serious, she says; ‘I find it sad for the children that have it. I’ve had a life already,’

She only found out she’s got cancer a few months ago after she returned from her brother and her parents in Florida (she goes there every year, always fearing that it might be the last time she sees them because they are old and very ill themselves now) and it has developed so fast, it scares the hell out of me. I will miss her so much!
She only recently turned 54 and gave the first birthday party I have ever seen her give. She never cared about it before. It was in coffee shop YoYo’s, where she’d also taken care of our wedding reception. She’d just offered it, when we were discussing a place to have it. She went ahead of us to be there in time, right after the ceremony, which took place at the early time of 9 am. It was a lovely reception!

This time, at her birthday party, we all, all her close friends, were sitting around that large table trying to avoid ‘the subject’. Mieke wanted it to be a celebration, no sadness, no tears, enjoy the food and the company! As if she wanted to say ‘You can mourn later, when I’m gone. I am still around so let’s just have a good time,’
Marion and I got to meet friends of hers we had never seen before. Like this guy Toon, who is one of the editors of a magazine called Deviant. Never met him. Just spoke to him over the phone one or two times, after Mieke had set me up with him to publish poems in Deviant. So sweet of her! They even paid.
She knew that. She knew I was trying to get published all the time. She knew I could use the money. She’s always there for anybody who needs help. She’s helped a lot of people through the treadmills of bureaucracy. She helped us with tax problems and all kinds of other paperwork, and for three summers in a row, she has stayed in our apartment, taking care of our twenty year old cat and it’s twice a day insulin shots while we were on our holiday. One time, it had been raining during our vacation almost everyday. When it was time to get back, the sun finally came out. I spoke to her over the phone and she said ‘Stay for a couple of more days. I don’t mind,’

A few days ago, when I spoke to her, I asked her if there was anything I could do for her here, in the US. ‘I am here now, I can drive to your parents in Florida if need be, I can be there in seven days,’ You know what she said? ‘No... but you can stay with my sister in California if you drive south the way back. Just let me know!’

I remember one summer. August. We were biking along the ‘IJsselmeer’ in Holland, a lake, that used to be part of the North Sea, before the dyke/ highway, that connects west-Holland to the north-east, was built. It had been a hot day. Biking cools you down. It’s all grassland and water out there. A lot of birds. She enjoys birdwatching, got me and Marion into birding as well. Always carrying binoculars when she goes out. She’s got all these bird guides and she gave us a tape with US birds sounds one day. Anyway, we’d been watching birds there, as we biked and made a stop every now and then.

- Oh, Mieke, I’ve seen a Crane! We don’t have those in Holland! And Jaybirds! My! Do they make a lot of noise! And some kind of Vultures, small black ones, with bright red beaks!-

So we were biking. I felt warm and sweaty and we stopped at the lake. We climbed down the boulders to sit there for a while. Stare into the water. After a bit, I got undressed to go for a swim. ‘You wanna come and swim?’
‘Oh no, I’m fine, you go,’
I got into the water, topless, swimming and splattering around. She just sat there and chatted. It’s one of those memories that pops up. What a fun day we had!

She’s been doing photography lately. Nature, close-ups of flowers, roses, a spider web with morning dew on it, birds, Florida. Beautiful and bright and joyous. Whenever I asked her if she wanted to come and read poetry somewhere, she said; ‘oh, I’ve got nothing new, I don’t write so much anymore,’ She knows, better than I do, you have to make a choice. Do one thing right that you know you are good at, rather than to try and pursue everything at the same time, unfocussed, scattered, with no result. She’s become very good at photography. She held an exhibition at YoYo’s. We put some of her photographs up that were still there, when she had her birthday party.

Dear Mieke, I wish I could tell you in person, face to face, how much I care about you. But I’m here, far away, and there’s a nine hour time difference and thousands of miles between us. So this is my way of telling you, because I know you are reading my diaries: I care about you and I hope, god or fate willing, to see you again. I know you are strong. Like these trees out here. I wish you courage, and strength, and love, and today, when I walked between those giants here in the Red Woods, climbing over, and crawling underneath fallen down trees, getting all dirty and gasping for breath, I kept thinking of you; how I want to tell everyone about the loving and caring person you are, and not hold back.

I’d like to dedicate this diary to you. You have given us so much, and right now, I feel it’s the only, the best, way that I can tell you: ‘Thank you for coming into our life!’

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