(the following is a ‘life writing’ project recently completed for my Oxford University Creative Writing program)
When transiting Neptune comes calling, we set off in pursuit of the impossible dream. It’s rather like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. We search for something we’ll never find but in the process, we’ll get something that we need. At least that’s what my astrologer, Karen Thorne, says and she’s almost always right. So when Neptune knocked at my door, I shouldn’t have answered. But as luck would have it, that’s exactly what I did.
At the time, I was living in Boston, Massachusetts. My first marriage had just ended in a shambles. I’d been ill for nearly a year. Now, I was out of a job. I needed a change of direction and I needed it as soon as possible.
I would return to London where I’d worked as a tax lawyer for the multinational accounting firm, Ernst & Young. But for hundreds of reasons, that didn’t work out. I was forced to cast my net wider. Only one of many promising leads panned out. It was as if the fickle finger of fate was pointed directly at me when at 7:31 AM on 19 April 1994, I arrived at Schiphol airport to commence my new life.
Boston had been sultry and sunny. Amsterdam is chill and grey. I button my new raincoat with ‘dress for success’ shoulder pads and hop in the nearest taxi. I’ve only one suitcase with me. The rest of my things are on a boat to Rotterdam. I hand the driver two vijftig gulden notes emblazoned with sunflowers and am deposited in front of a white office complex just off the A-10 Ring Road next to the train station, Amsterdam Rai. Moret Ernst & Young – Nederland. Automatic doors swish open. The glass lobby with a turquoise carpet is of Scandinavian design. From behind a basket of lipstick-red tulips, a uniformed receptionist hisses goedemorgen.
In faltering Dutch, I announce myself. Elevator doors part. An owl-eyed belastingadviseur shakes my hand. Sipping aromatic koffie laced heavily with sugar, I’m ushered into my new office – light and spacious with individual climate control. Such luxury I’d never had in either Boston or London. Might this work out well after all?
While being treated by my colleagues to the cafeteria’s ‘luxury lunch’ – raw herring and onions washed down with buttermilk – my new boss, Alieke Bonte, swans in. Although she’s nearly fifty years old, her stocky frame is squeezed into a stylish black leather suit. She fluffs her pink hair (grey hair doesn’t hold red dye) and grabs my hand. The electric current passing between us is palpable. Her watery blue eyes probe my very soul. This had never happened to me before. I blush and turn away.
Over the next few months, she’d stop by my office late in the evening when no one else was around. A United States tax deadline was looming and, for me, long hours were a necessity. But there was no reason for her to stay late. None-the-less, nearly every evening she’d position herself across from me and confide amazingly intimate things; a failed marriage, mixed emotions about the price she’d paid for success, and other things I’d best not repeat. Often she’d invite me for dinner or drinks in the up-market cafes lining the Beethovenstraat around the corner from her house. Sometimes her husband, Bert, joined us. Sometimes he did not. Regardless, she’d make discreet sexual overtures towards me, which were always followed by a hasty retreat.
Over time, her advances become more overt. When we are in a client meeting, her leg presses against mine. The pressure increases until we both look up and smile. Whenever we’re in an elevator together, her fingers stray towards mine. One grand summer morning she takes me to a gay friend’s law offices near the bohemian Vondelpark. I understand we’re there solely to ‘show me off. Always when we touch, the electricity flows between us. Always afterwards, I feel bated and bereft.
“She’s having a Neptune/Mars transit,” says my astrologer one sticky summer evening while we were chatting on the phone. “She’s confused about her sexuality. She hates her husband one moment and loves him the next. Don’t get involved. Remember your own Neptune transit. You’re not in any position to see things clearly now.”
Good advice. I didn’t take it. Instead, I poured more and more energy into reeling Alieke in like a floundering fish. I didn’t know much about astrology then. But my experiences with her prompted me to find out. I bought an astrology program for my computer along with piles of “how-to” books. I spent long Saturday evenings holed up with a bottle of red wine trying to figure out when her husband, who had heart problems, might die. Once he was gone, I reasoned, she and I would surely be ‘together’ (whatever that meant).
Late in November 1994, as the twilight sun sinks behind the grey-green of Dam Square, the chill wind off the North Sea bites harder than usual. An old fashioned organ grinder plays a tinny tune. I look up, confused. I’m no longer in Amsterdam but in Vienna. I’m wearing strappy 1920’s style shoes instead of modern boots. The vision, if that’s what one calls it, lasts only seconds. But it is totally and utterly real. I was badly shaken. Things were getting serious. I needed help.
A friend suggested that I go to a therapist in Noordwijkerhout specialised in past life regression. The result was amazing. It’s back to the 1920’s again. This time my husband, whom I recognise as Alieke, drapes a colourful shawl over my shoulders and escorts me to our awaiting automobile. We are going out for the evening – to a dinner party or perhaps the theatre. My husband’s hand reaches for mine. Our pinkies touch. Sparks fly. I succumb to an intensity of pleasure beyond my wildest imagination before crashing back into hard reality. What I was to make of this ‘revelation’, I had no idea. But when a few weeks later Alieke and I are in the back seat of a colleague’s car and our pinkies touch, it all plays out exactly as it had before – but this time in the here and now.
I needed to know how this would turn out. Curled up in a sunny corner of my flat in Oud-zuid, I devoted Saturday afternoons to books; diaries about Virginia Woolf’s love affairs with Violet Trefusis and Vita Sackville-West, Radcylffe Hall’s novels about lesbian relationships, and the tragic story of playwright Joe Orton who was murdered by his gay lover, Kenneth Halliwell. From these, I concluded that unconventional relationships like that which I wished to have with Alieke always ended in tears. I panicked.
According to Karen, my astrological Sun serves as a lighthouse beacon to steer me along the ‘right’ path. If I ‘do’ my ‘Sun’ then I’ll be doing the ‘right’ thing even if it doesn’t make me happy.
“I assure you that this ‘thing’ with Alieke is what you’re supposed to doing now,” says Karen one snowy night a week before Christmas. “Your Sun is in Libra. Therefore your focus must always be on relating through open and honest two-way exchange.”
“But Alieke and I never talk about anything important,” I complain. “She keeps sweeping this thing under the carpet.”
“Aren’t you doing exactly the same thing?”
Karen was right. It’s easy to blame another without ever looking into the mirror. But knowing this wasn’t enough. This ‘thing’ with Alieke was threatening my sanity as well as my job. To break free of what now felt like a malevolent magical enchantment, I had to intellectually discern why this was happening to me.
I spent entire days on the top floor of the well-stocked American Discount Bookstore in Amsterdam trawling through stacks of astrology books. I discovered that, in what is called synastry (the comparison of one person’s natal chart with another’s), Alieke’s Neptune fell smack dab on top of my Sun.
This was the most powerful of synastry aspects. If exact (as was mine and Alieke’s), the relationship would always feel fated or karmic. Inevitably, there would be disillusionment and anger on both sides. The Sun person (me) would feel manipulated and cheated while the Neptune person (Alieke) would feel abandoned and abused. The books warned that frightened by the power of what might be unleashed if the relationship were consummated, either or both of us might well turn and run.
The key to my survival was that I become conscious of my own power drive. This is something I would have sworn I never had. Her Machiavellian nature was precisely what I’d found so distasteful in Alieke. How was it that I had one too? Yet slowly I began to realise that in subtle ways (like constantly threatening to move to London), I’d been undermining her every bit as much she’d been undermining me. If there could be no workable balance of power between us (and because she was my boss there would never be), then like it or not, I’d have to put an end to our ‘relationship’.
“Each of us needs some magic in our lives,” said Karen in yet another marathon telephone call. “But when the magic is over, we need to move on. This is the hardest part.”
This time I followed Karen’s advice. I started looking for distractions. Luckily I found one in my office mate, a young Dutchman named Jan Willem Moolenaar. With his easy manner and breezy good looks, he was a welcome contrast. Knowing that Alieke was wearing me down, he found subtle, yet effective ways, to keep her and I apart. I was appreciative. He took well to his new role. We spent more and more time together. I bought a funky maisonette in leafy Amstelveen. Shortly afterwards, he moved in.
Everyone at work knew about our relationship except Alieke. This was a most amazing thing. Alieke prided herself on knowing about everything even tangentially related to her ‘team’. Yet this was going on right under her nose. When finally she realised Jan Willem and I arrived at the office together each morning, she took me to lunch on the Beethovenstraat. She’d not done that in months.
“Tell me about your new house,” she simpers while picking at her ham and cheese panini. “You have two bedrooms?”
“Yes,” I say. “Natuurlijk.”
She looks relieved.
“But only one bedroom has furniture,” I say with a grin. “Looks like it will stay that way for the foreseeable future.”
She pushes her plate away and stands up to leave.
Finally, I win.
During our next phone call, my astrologer Karen declares that my Neptune transit is officially over. It is indeed time to move on. Over the next six months, I engineered a job transfer to Ernst & Young, London. 3 July 1998, I sold my maisonette, packed up, and moved away. Jan Willem came with me and on an exceptionally warm and sunny Friday in September 2004, we married at the Registry office in Richmond upon Thames.
This doesn’t mean the ‘thing’ with Alieke had ended. Far from it. For years, my heart would pound whenever I saw a woman with pink hair. I still have dreams in which she ‘visits’ me. Yet I now realise that although she was ‘mine’, it was inevitable that I would ‘lose’ her. That’s what those diaries of Virginia Woolf’s had been about. I’d be lying if I said I’ve let go gracefully. I haven’t. It’s Alieke who refuses to speak to me.
A few months ago I was chatting with Karen about a current transit of Jan Willem’s.
“While you were busy chasing illusions of intimacy with Alieke,” she reminds me, “you actually fell in love with someone better suited.”
I glance down at my wedding ring. Nearly seventeen years ago she’d told me that when transiting Neptune comes calling, we set off in pursuit of the impossible dream. It’s rather like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. We search for something we’ll never find but in the process, we’ll get something that we need.
“Karen,” I say. “How is it that you’re always right?”