Ch 2 -- Tino

Tino Jansen was my third husband. We met in 1992 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands; where I'd accepted a one-year assignment from my company's headquarters in Manhattan. It was pretty-heady stuff to me, for while I'd lived in Europe for years during my Army wife days, I was excited to be going back thanks to my own talents and hard work. I'd worked my way up up from an assistant for three salesmen to a project manager and buyer in a 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 out of the country; fascinating glimpses into European history; plus 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 his pet name for me.  I was amazed it was that simple.  He must be a terrific Dad.  I never wanted my own children, and I wasn't particularly interested in Tino's two daughters.  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 term because I didn't like the way the company conducted business, so Tino requested a transfer to New York.  We returned together and  moved into the apartment I'd retained 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 attempted once or twice in my adult life.  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 picked up in second hand shops.

One day Tino arrived home ashen faced: sacked, effective immediately. Unfortunately, I knew the company pulled shenanigans with foreign worker's Visas and work permits in the past: basically ignoring the law because of the paperwork involved. Tino suddenly became an illegal alien and subject to deportation. 

We don't treat people that way in Holland, he sounded so forlorn; 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 I took my unscripted vacations 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 along the way 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 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 on I-5 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 in 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 second floor, two bedroom in Clackamas by the time the driver arrived.

Life was good and we loved Portland. I picked up temp jobs and Tino was learning 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 I concentrated on possible explanations during the interminable ride home.

Walking through the apartment complex I saw Trigger in the parking lot and prayed, God, please don't let him be snatched by Immigration.  I didn't have my house keys, but the balcony door was open so a neighbor jumped from his over to ours and unlocked the front door.  I ran to our empty bedroom at the end of the hallway, and only on the way back did I notice Tino lying on the floor in the spare bedroom. 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 stared at his full head of blond-grey hair until someone led me away.  Much of what followed remains a blur except for 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.  The Sheriff said his heart exploded, painful but over in an instant...As if an elephant was stepping on his chest. Thanks, but I would have preferred remaining ignorant than live with that particular depiction 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 is something I'll be forever grateful to remember.

In a mere moment 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 dreams dashed so cruelly.  I lost all faith in God.

Tino's life insurance policy through work ended once he was fired, and he'd cancelled a supplemental policy before leaving the Netherlands. He intended buying a policy once we married and settled, for like most of us he assumed there'd be plenty of time.

In the American way, I'd encouraged Tino to file a lawsuit against our former company before we left New Jersey, but it only produced stress; for they had deep pockets and lawyers can delay matters until the Second Coming.  In hindsight...well, spilled milk.  I didn't care about the insurance 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 off my savings. Nothing interested me except the crazy quilt I'd begun portraying our brief life together: my own 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, drink and listen until I passed out. I was marking time, hoping to die like those couples who die 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 I won't describe here.

My sister saved my life by reacting promptly to the good-bye phone message I'd left at her office (a subconscious last-ditch cry for help). I'd expected to be dead by the time she heard it, but I botched that, too.  Hillary notified the local police who found me just in time, and she and Mom immediately flew out; but fearing my unfinished quilt 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:  Ch 3 - The Captain

Note: This chapter was originally written as Chapter 2, but to improve the continuity of the storyline I have kept it apart to be more of an Epilogue, sorry for any confusion.

Return to the story:  A Rough Start or choose a chapter from the list on the right.

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