Three years ago I kept my promise to Eleni and went back to Greece for the third time. Gene anxiously awaited his visit to Santorini, one of Greece’s volcanic islands in the Mediterranean and a geologic wonder. We landed in Athens at the end of September.
My friend had read in letters about the love of my life for more than two decades, and I daresay her mouth was watering; she was just dying to meet him. Eleni’s memories of me, still buxom and lineless in early middle age, didn’t match the reality when we saw each other. And her fantasies of Gene from many years before were better than the man who stood in front of her. Gravity does the worst damage to women, but it affects men as well, lining the pockets of plastic surgeons all over the world.
Eleni herself, her face deeply lined from years of sun damage and smoking, is a beautiful example of European women and their unapologetic attitude about age. Good for you Eleni, you can celebrate all that you are without the artifice of makeup or plastic surgery. I wish I had your self-confidence!
Nineteen years is a long time. But feeling the warmth of her embrace and seeing her affirmation as our eyes locked onto each other, I felt as if no time had passed.
Together we stood in front of my old house in Politia, where I’d lived with my family thirty years before. And together we cried, the memories suddenly flooding and overwhelming us.
That house at 17 Pallados is dwarfed now by tall cypress trees along the sides. I had to peer through them at the whitewashed stucco balcony where my girls used to play and remembered Annie practicing gymnastics there with her best friend. The two-car driveway was still enclosed by locked gates, the first-story windows still barred.
The number 17 was hidden behind the overhanging branch of an orange tree, and buildings surrounded and overshadowed the house.
That evening after Gene had gone to bed, Eleni and I strolled into the plaza for a treat and sat down in an outdoor café.
“Two ice creams,” my friend ordered. Then she turned to me. “Ti thelis, mana mou?”
“Vanilla, thanks,” I said, then added, “with chocolate syrup.”
“I’ll have strawberry,” she told the server as he scribbled our orders, “but mine with whipped cream.”
I had waited to tell her in person about Annie, and when I did, my eyes tearing up, she shed no tears but said matter-of-factly as though she’d been in the recovery rooms for years, “Marilea, you cannot help her if she doesn’t want help. Let her go. Concentrate on your other children and grandchildren.”
“Yes, you’re right, Eleni. I’ve spent fifteen years learning what you just told me in one minute.”
“Bravo, Marilea,” she concluded, taking my hand.
And timing is everything in life.
It wasn’t until that moment that I could accept what she told me—without resistance.
We never spoke of Annie again.
The next day before we drove up to her beach house in Volos, I lit a candle for my daughter in the Greek Orthodox church nearby and prayed that she’d find peace—in this life or the next.
And I let her go.
During those three weeks that Gene and I spent in Greece—that redemptive journey—it all came back to me in waves: the pounding surf of grief in my heart, not just for Annie but for all the ignorance that had held me down and kept me from the light.
But I’m still here. I can laugh till my belly aches.
I’ve stopped chasing the butterfly.