Extraordinary Friends

For years Dien La Croix (95) lived as a recluse, hidden away from the world. She rarely went outside and found the loneliness crushing. That all changed when her new neighbor came along. “These are now the happiest days of my life,” she is wont to tell anyone that cares to listen. “And all because of him. I love that kid, and I feel no shame in saying so.”

 

Photography Pier van den Elsen Words Marie Nanette Schaepman

His photo is prominently on display on her cabinet, carefully positioned so she can see him whenever she looks up from reading in her chair. This way he’s always close, even when he’s abroad. The man in the photo is Eric, Dien’s neighbor and now best friend. They met eight years ago.
Back then Dien was a recluse. She lived hidden away from the world, behind the gables of the oldest part of Amsterdam. She suffers from severe arthritis and can only move around her small house– where she’s been living for fifty-six years – by slowly moving from the doorpost, to the bed, to her cabinet, to the next doorpost. She cannot walk without assistance. She is in constant pain. The only friends she had left both passed away within the year. Before, she rarely went outside and found the loneliness crushing. A single day felt like an eternity.

“Life is too much fun. I want to enjoy my time with Eric for as long as I can.”

Hers could not have been more different to the life of Eric. Eric lives his life to the fullest, combining his two passions of music and photography. His hair might be grey but he’s young at heart. His cheerfulness is magnetic. His work as a photographer takes him across the world and when at home, he likes to perform with his Cuban band. He has a girlfriend and is the father of a nine-year-old boy who lives part-time with Eric’s ex, with whom he, Eric, is very close. His studio is a happy place. If his band isn’t practicing, his son may have friends over, his ex-girlfriend cooking for everyone.
When Eric moved from his studio to his new house in the Jordaan he threw a big party. Not just for friends and family, but also to meet the neighbors. This is the first time he rang the doorbell of the small house next to his. ‘Patience, please’, read a note on the door. Through the glass he could see a grey shadow shuffling towards him. That night is the first time they sit with each other.

“She lived hidden away from the world, behind the gables of the oldest part of Amsterdam.”

Dien isn’t one for small talk. She prefers to be direct and seems to see straight through people. The two of them get along very well and have much in common. Eric makes a habit of starting his day with a coffee with Dien.
In the beginning, their outings were a bit daunting for Dien. Eric makes a point of taking Dien out – he feels that he should help to bring her back to the world that she had lost for so long. When she admitted that she hadn’t seen the beach in years, he brought her there, pushing her wheelchair through the loose sand. It had been twenty-five years since she saw the sea.
By now Dien is used to going to parties and concerts. She waits for Eric in a nice red blouse; they’re going to see his band. Last night she ate at his house and while Eric and his girlfriend were dancing through the room, she swayed in her wheelchair. “Till way past twelve. To Michael Jackson!” she says with glee.
“Hurry up”, says Eric while Dien is struggling painfully, slowly, to move from her chair into her wheelchair, “Slowcoach.” Dien loves his sense of humor.
When Eric broke up with his girlfriend two years ago, he sought solace in Dien. She was there for him every moment of the day and let him speak uninterruptedly of his pain. Dien also gave him advice straight from the heart. She says that she used to lie awake in her bed at night, fists clenched, awake. How on earth could anyone break the heart of the sweetest guy in the world?

“Last night Dien ate at his house. While Eric and his girlfriend were dancing through the room, she swayed in her wheelchair.”

One morning Eric visits Dien for coffee to find things are not well. Dien is trying to say something, but the words won’t come. Sirens blare as they rip to the hospital. Many fearful hours later she cracks her first joke. Eric is beside himself of joy.
He climbs into the hospital bed with her. He dons an extra medical mask and snaps a reassuring selfie for all their friends at home. Because Dien hasn’t just won the heart of Eric, by now, many of his friends count themselves as Dien’s too. They call her house Salon la Croix in honor of how busy it can get around drinks time.

“It could happen anytime,” Dien says returning home from the hospital, “let’s face it, I’m not the youngest one around anymore. But I don’t want it to. Life is too much fun. I want to enjoy my time with Eric for as long as I can.”

Photography Pier van den Elsen
Words Marie Nanette Schaepman

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