Ch 2 -: A Tale of Two Men - Tino

Tino and I met in 1992 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where I'd accepted a year's assignment from our company's headquarters in Manhattan.  It was pretty-heady stuff to me, for while I'd already lived in Europe for years as a military wife, I was excited to be going back thanks to my own talents and hard work. I'd moved up from an assistant for three salesmen (their "Girl") to a project manager in the production department of a point-of-purchase merchandising firm which went global. In Holland, Tino was in charge of the design department and we worked together on Fortune 500 projects.  Prior to my transfer I'd ended a too-long relationship going nowhere and I wasn't particularly interested in another, but sparks flew almost immediately.

"What kind of a name is Tino?  Are you Dutch or Italian?"

Dutch.  His mother named him after an opera singer popular at the time.  He liked my spunk, and brunettes have a certain appeal in predominantly blond cultures, thank goodness.  Tino captured my heart while showing me the sights:  impromptu trips; tilting at windmills; and he spoke four languages.

"How would you like to go to Paris after work?  Didier (from the Paris office) is having a party tonight."

Seriously? Somebody pinch me! I felt like Audrey Hepburn.  Paris was only a 4-hour drive; far less with Tino at the wheel of his Renault. The spontaneity was wonderful, until he popped the trunk outside of Didier's.

"What's that?"  I was horrified.  "You brought an overnight bag?"

"Of course.  Didn't you?"

No, not so much as a toothbrush in my over-sized purse.  I didn't realize we were spending the night rather than driving home drunk; which I'd done more than once, I'm ashamed to admit. I suddenly felt 10-years old; nothing at all like the sophisticated world-traveler I'd hoped.


Didier's tiny apartment was crammed with interesting-looking people, none of whom spoke English.  My high school French improved the more I drank and Tino, the adult, remained sober to drive home at 3am.  I suffered a terrible hangover but a good time was had by all; and I was better prepared the next time.

Unfailingly patient, Tino never goaded me; and quickly learned to diffuse Amy, my dark side, by gently speaking my pet name.  I was amazed it was that simple.  He must be a terrific Dad.  Whenever asked I've always explained, "I drowned mine at birth"; therefore I wasn't overly interested in Tino's girls.
Not everyone's cut out to be a Mother, and thankfully they lived with theirs.

I turned down a position in the Paris office towards the end of my year, can you imagine?  But I didn't like the company's shady business practices in Europe (unrelated to this story), so Tino requested a transfer to New York.

We returned together and  moved into the apartment I'd kept in New Jersey near my sister and widowed mother.  I was ecstatic with my partner, but the stressful working conditions in Holland continued in Manhattan and I wanted out. I finally had something more important than work in my life, which I wanted to relax and enjoy.  I couldn't believe I finally got it right.

Tino earned a good salary, so with his encouragement I quit my job and focused on learning to paint, something I'd halfheartedly tried once or twice.  Tino, an artist favoring oils, was able to answer questions and offer tips; but for the most part he let me learn from my mistakes. I love European folk art and experimented with a variety of styles before concentrating on Norwegian Rosemaling. Tino painted on canvases like most artists, but because I've got a lazy eye and no depth perception I need to touch my surfaces.  I practiced on furniture and plates using faster-drying acrylics, since I don't have the patience for smelly oils which take weeks to cure.

One day Tino arrived home ashen faced: sacked, effective immediately. Unfortunately, I knew the company pulled shenanigans with foreign workers' Visas and work permits in the past: basically ignoring the law because of the paperwork involved. Tino became an illegal alien and subject to deportation. They don't treat people that way in Holland, he insisted, nor do people lose their homes or go without medical attention.  I didn't know what to say.  As Americans we 're used to such callous treatment, but Tino was visibly crushed.

Always up for a road-trip, I suggested we take off in search of a fresh start.  For years my vacations had been out west, where I'd rent a car at the airport and start driving.  Tino wanted to see if Hollywood's westerns were accurate, so within a week we were on the road in Trigger, my trusty Honda hatchback.

For nearly a month (with glorious weather) we tried to visit every sight we passed, including: Mr. Rushmore, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, the Oregon coast, California's Redwoods, the Grand Canyon from a small plane; plus the oddball Corn Palace, Jolly Green Giant and Wall Drug in South Dakota, whose Free Water billboards dotted the landscape for a thousand miles in both directions. I collected newspapers for future reference. Tino was fascinated by all-things American and it was fun to see our country through his eyes.

Phoenix, Arizona was a contender but it's too damn hot, so we decided to move to Portland, Oregon.  It was clearly growing; just a couple of hours from the coast; plus the climate reminded Tino of Holland.  We waited until spring before moving lock, stock and barrel.

During our Grand Tour we'd really only driven through Portland without stopping, so we didn't know exactly where we wanted to live. I've always been a leap before looking kind of person, probably because I remained childless, but I land pretty much on my feet.  Tino was completely open to possibilities, but also relied on my guidance as I did with him in Holland.

I reached out to a Realtor specializing in apartments, found through the Yellow Pages I'd ordered in advance.  We raced the Mayflower van towards Oregon until it was held up by snow in Nebraska; which we took as a good sign, for we were able to locate and sign a lease for a two bedroom by the time the driver arrived.

Life was good. I picked up temp jobs and Tino learned the new computer-aided design (CAD) system at a community college while we planned our design business.  We married in City Hall in July, and three months later the immigration attorney was finalizing Tino’s paperwork. Things couldn't be better.  We were in-like and in-love, and optimistic about our future together.

On October 12th, 1994 Tino wasn't at the bus terminal to pick me up as usual.  I found a phone booth but there was no answer at home. My heart was pounding as I located the bus to take me the rest of the way, and concentrated on possible explanations during the endless ride home.  Walking through the complex I saw Trigger in the parking area and prayed, God, please don't let him be snatched by Immigration.  I didn't have my keys and we lived on the second floor, but the balcony door was open so a neighbor jumped from his over to ours and unlocked the front door.  I ran to our bedroom at the end of the hallway, and only on the way back did I notice him lying on the floor in the spare room. No; No; this can’t be…

“Call 911,” I screamed over my shoulder to my neighbors. I knelt and put my hand on Tino's back, speaking his name, but he didn't move.  I didn't try to turn him over but simply sat staring at his full head of blond-grey hair until someone led me away.  Much of what followed remains a blur but for bits and pieces; in particular, the anguished look in the paramedic’s eyes while I pleaded,

“He’s gonna be fine, right?  Tell me he’s going to be okay”; after which I heard a soul-wrenching howl which could only be coming from me. Tino suffered a fatal heart attack; his heart exploded, which the Sheriff said would have been painful but over in an instant.

"As if an elephant was stepping on his chest."  I'd rather have remained ignorant than live with that particular description for the rest of my life. The last time I saw Tino was that morning when, for a delightful change, he drove me all the way in to the office.  A quick kiss goodbye along with our final, I love you's. THAT's something for which I'll be forever grateful to remember.

In a second I transformed from happy and confident to despondent and incapable of rational thinking. I’d already botched two marriages; but in my defense, 18 was too young to get married in the first place. I finally learned for myself that Third Time's the Charm, only to have my aspirations dashed so cruelly.  I lost all faith in God.

Tino's life insurance policy through work ended once he was let go, and he'd cancelled a supplemental policy before leaving the Netherlands; intending on purchasing another once we married and settled.  He surely expected to have more time.

In the American way, I'd encouraged Tino to file a lawsuit before we left New Jersey, but it only produced stress; for the company had deep pockets, and lawyers can delay matters until the Second Coming.  In hindsight...well, spilled milk.  I didn't mind for myself because I've always worked and have no children; but Tino unintentionally left his cherished tween-age daughters with much less than he'd planned.

I tried to participate in life outside of my apartment but my psyche was shattered and I suffered tremendous guilt.  It was my fault this-and-that. Half the time I felt I was suffocating, and panic attacks were a daily occurrence.

I went from working full- to part-time and eventually not at all.  I lived on savings. Nothing interested me except the crazy quilt I'd begun depicting our brief life together: my own pictorial buffalo hide. I'd  wake up and begin to work on individual vignettes, meticulously hand-stitched and embellished with embroidery, coins, pins, charms and other mementos. Happy Hour and the O.J. Simpson trial began around 10am, and I'd sew and drink until I passed out. I was marking time, hoping to die like those couples who pass shortly within one another from broken hearts, I'd always fantasized.

I remained alone except on rare occasions when shanghaied by well-meaning acquaintances. We’d moved so far from everyone we knew, and despite wise advice from one widowed Aunt to, “Get out more,” I retreated until I landed in a hospital, stuck full of tubes following a failed suicide attempt, which I won't describe here.

My sister saved my life by reacting promptly to the phone message I'd left at her office (a subconscious last-ditch cry for help).  I expected to be dead by then, but I botched that, too.  Hillary notified the local police and immediately flew out with Mom; but fearing my work-in-progress contributed to my depression, shipped it back east before I returned from the hospital.

It wasn't until 2014 that I unpacked and finished Memories of Tino to enter it in a quilt festival in Portland, which seemed poetic justice.  I left the quilt top as uneven as when Hillary mailed it to Mom's; and simply mounted it to a heavier fabric.  The quilt weighs 13 pounds.  As I embroidered the edge with arthritic hands I was amazed and grateful I'd created such an outstanding tribute when I was younger, for I certainly couldn't have accomplished it now.

Next up:  A Tale of Two Men - the Captain

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