Eric Korn and I met in our prams, so we were told, and we have remained the closest of friends for almost eighty years. We often traveled together, and in 1979 we took a boat to Holland and rented bicycles to cycle around the country, circling back to our favorite city, Amsterdam. I had not been to Holland for some years—though Eric, living in England, had gone frequently—so I was very surprised when, completely openly, we were offered cannabis in a café. We were sitting at a table when a young man came to us and with a practiced gesture flicked open a sort of folding wallet containing a dozen or more sorts of marijuana and hash; its possession and use in modest quantities were perfectly legal in Holland by the 1970s.
Eric and I bought a packet but then forgot to smoke it. Indeed, we forgot we had it, until we got to The Hague for our ship back to England and presented ourselves at customs. We were asked the usual questions.
Had we bought anything in Holland? they asked. Liquor, perhaps?
“Yes, Genever,” we replied.
Cigarettes? No, we didn’t smoke.
Marijuana? Oh, yes, we had forgotten all about it. “Well, throw it away before you reach England,” said the customs officer. “It’s not legal there.” We took it with us, thinking we might enjoy a little smoke on board.
We did have a little smoke and then threw the rest of the packet overboard. Perhaps it was more than a little smoke; neither of us had smoked for years, and the marijuana was much stronger than we expected.
I wandered off after a few minutes and found myself near the captain’s wheelhouse. Illuminated in the gathering dusk, it looked enchanting, like something out of a fairy tale. The captain was navigating, his hands on the wheel, and a little boy of about ten was standing at his side, fascinated by the captain’s uniform, the brass and glass dials, and the sea parting before the ship’s prow. Finding the door unlocked, I entered the cabin too. Neither the captain nor the little boy by his side was disturbed by my entry, and I stationed myself quietly on the captain’s other side. The captain showed us how he steered the ship, showed us all the dials; the little boy and I asked him lots of questions. We were so absorbed that we had no sense of time and were startled when the captain said that Harwich, on the English coast, was approaching. The two of us left, the little boy to find his parents, and I to find Eric.
When I found Eric, he looked haggard with anxiety, and he almost sobbed with relief as soon as he saw me. “Where were you?” he said. “I looked everywhere for you; I thought you’d jumped overboard. Thank God you’re alive!” I told Eric that I had been in the captain’s forecastle and enjoying myself. Then, taken aback by the intensity of his words and his expression, I said, “You care, you really care for me!”
“Of course,” Eric said. “How could you doubt it?”
But it was not easy to believe that anyone cared for me; I sometimes failed to realize, I think, how much my parents cared for me. It is only now, reading the letters they wrote to me when I came to America fifty years ago, that I see how deeply they did care.
And perhaps how deeply many others have cared for me—was the imagined lack of caring by others a projection of something deficient or inhibited in myself? I once heard a radio program devoted to the memories and thoughts of those who, like me, had been evacuated during the Second World War, separated from their families during their earliest years. The interviewer commented on how well these people had adjusted to the painful, traumatic years of their childhood. “Yes,” said one man. “But I still have trouble with the three Bs: bonding, belonging, and believing.” I think this is also true, to some extent, for me.
Extracted from On The Move, A Life, O. Sacks. Emphasis added