Opening Lines

I put the woman I am talking to on hold to take another call.

"Theo is dead."

It is my friend and neighbor Fré who lives just two floors down.


"Theo is dead. Vermoord." Theo is dead. Murdered.

"Van Gogh," she adds, to make sure I understand. "Someone just now killed Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam."

I tell her I will be right there and end my other call.

Downstairs, we watch the news reports come in over her TV, describing an incident that has taken place just moments past, and just a few short streets from where we live, where we are standing now. Her eyes fill.

"In Nederland," she says, her voice husky in its disbelief. In the Netherlands. I put my arm around her, knowing. "You wonder where your country is now," I tell her, and she nods in recognition.

"This is your 9/11."

I know. I live in Amsterdam, but I am a born and bred New Yorker and I was there, in uptown Manhattan, on that clear, earthshaking September day. Upstairs, my own TV is turned to CNN, where I expect to hear the ongoing coverage of the U.S. presidential vote: It is November 2, 2004, and my country's future, too, lies in the balance.