I always refer to De Clercq as my first employer. But that is not true. In psychology, this is called denial, which in this case is not so strange. The reason behind that is that I was really eager to do my first job right. But what kind of job was this? It turned out to be hell. For six months, day in and day out. I never did it right. Never a compliment or a sign of appreciation. You do need that when you are twenty-three. You actually always do. At least, I do. I was begging for it, which, in the end, only made the rejection hurt even more. Of course, I was insecure, but what I did, I did well. That did not make the slightest difference however.
Elly Plooij was even more insecure than I was, but she was the boss. She could take it out on me, turning me into an object of her own self-doubt. I could not do anything, I was stuck. Because, at all cost, I was going to succeed in Parliament. Quitting would not only be a step back, it would mean starting at square one again. In other words, it was not an option. I let myself be beaten mentally for six months. After that period, I was done, a hopeless wreck.
I was so proud, twenty-three years old and right where I wanted to be. I had made it; the party could start. She felt that and could not handle it. I was not allowed to climb the ladder. As soon as I floated upward, she brought me down again, mercilessly. At a certain moment, I sincerely started doubting my own abilities.
It got to me, bit by bit. When I was still only her driver, things were sort of ok. We even laughed together. But as soon as she got elected, the laughing was over. Do not forget, I was a part-time assistant in Brussels and still needed to graduate. Every week I drove up and down in my first car, a Volvo, running on cheap LPG gas, from Groningen to Brussels. I did not feel at home at either one of those locations. Work did not work out and neither did my studies. It had to go wrong and it did. That was on her birthday, when it really went too far.
I spent a lot of money that time, wanting to buy her approval. A nice birthday present seemed like the best way to do this. An expensive lobby, but worth the investment. Or so I thought. It was a design candleholder made from glass. Personally I thought it was beautiful. Bought in a craftwork Frisian shop. It costed me a fortune, but this candleholder had to please her for sure and was going to buy me some peace. I left Groningen early in the morning. I wanted to arrive at the office before she did. I even bought balloons and other decorations. When I arrived, she was not there yet. Together with a VVD colleague we decorated the office and her chair.
Everyone would fall for something like this. Everyone with a bit of emotions that is. Now she could come to the office, this would change everything. Without a shadow of a doubt, this would make her love me.
“Happy Birthday, Elly!” In a clumsy way I kissed her three times on the cheeks. Doing that was sort of how far I could go. Inquisitively she was observing her chair and the room full of decorations. All this in a stoic way, not a single smile. But that would quickly change. “I brought you something” I said and handed her my present. I was beaming with pride when she unwrapped it. This was the moment I had been waiting for.
In her hands she was holding a pure crystal design. I quickly observed her face; nothing. This was not supposed to happen. She should be laughing with joy and happiness. Instead she looked at me stone cold. “What is this?” she asked and she looked at me as if she had just unwrapped a pile of dog shit. “A candleholder,” I said, still hopeful. “Is it second hand?” she snapped. “Of course not” I answered, “I bought it especially for you”. “Oh” she said. “I think you’ve been scammed,” she said, “It has a scratch, this thing has obviously been used”. Just before she left the office, she pulled down two balloons and pierced them with her high heels. A big bang. My self-respect was out the window. “By the way, I don’t like orange” she said with an angry voice and went to the members’ restaurant. I quickly inspected the candleholder, looking for the scratch, but the only thing I could see was a hair. I wiped it off. The only thing that had been scratched was my pride.
The lunch had done her good. She returned re-born. Smiling even. The sun broke through after all. She asked me whether I wanted to come to her place that evening. She had invited some influential friends in her pied à terre. I would be very welcome. I was flabbergasted. Plooij had invited me, Wytze, her slave, at her place? So she did appreciate my efforts after all. This was simply her way of saying thank you. I was beaming. She told me to be there at seven o’clock and gave me a note with her address. “I will be there Elly!” It was all going to be all right after all. At the stroke of seven I rang the doorbell. I had brought flowers, white ones. Aftershave, my best tie, everything was polished. “Thank you” she said. Did I hear that correctly? Did she thank me? I felt like being in heaven, but there was no one else there yet, I was the first one. She gave me a tour of her place. “Nice apartment!”
She smiled again. This was unique. The doorbell rang. It was the Secretary General of the European Commission. Now Elly was beaming. Again the doorbell rang. She almost pulled me into the kitchen and gave me an apron. “There’s the red wine and there’s the cheese. Do you know where it is now? Quickly, get going, Carlo doesn’t have a drink!” I was stunned and she saw it. “Well,” my boss said, “you don’t think I invited you to have a drink with my friends and do nothing, do you? Come on, get that bottle, the guests are waiting!”
I did finish my “job” that evening. From the outside you could not see anything. While I was serving snacks, wearing my apron, I had made up my mind. Deep inside, my proud Frisian blood was boiling. These were my last activities as her assistant. I topped up everyone’s drinks. There was a lot of laughter. In my mind it was buzzing with plans. Sweet revenge it would be.
And that it indeed would. When the party was over, I took off my apron. “Can you do the dishes as well?” she asked. I did not say anything, picked up my jacket and walked towards the door. “Hey, where do you think you are going?” I was going out, into the cold air of Brussels and slammed the door in her face. Without looking at her. I took a deep breath. Refreshing. I have never been back to that office. I walked, hopped almost. Unemployed, but liberated, I started to laugh, real loud.