Not cool. I came about and swam for shore.
* * * * *
It was summer 1983, around the first anniversary of a breakup that had left me desolate. I had just finished my freshman year of college in Chicago, and I was back in Greece visiting my dad for the summer. I had longed to see my dear friend Mariani, but she had left for England or somewhere, just before I had arrived, and I was glum. Another good friend, David Meale (pronounced like the worm), had invited me along on a weekend excursion to the Islands with those of our set who happened to be in town.
So now I was on the party island of Mykonos. We met an old lady on the quay who rented us a couple of rooms (boys here, girls there) in the beautiful whitewashed village, just a block or two up from the sea. We explored, shopped, snacked, napped, and then, late in the evening, looked for a place for dinner.
We chose a beautiful outdoor taverna (every taverna in Greece is beautiful and outdoors). It was situated in a narrow street that was paved with ancient flagstones, lined with whitewashed buildings, and crowded with international tourists. The scene was brightly lit with strings of bare light bulbs. Our table was flanked with laurel trees and grape vines. There were about a dozen in our party, and soon the table was cluttered: glasses of water; bottles of Fanta, beer, and local wine; little dishes of tzatziki, humos and eggplant dip; baskets of fresh bread and pita; plates mounded with shrimp, squid, and octopus. The talk was breezy and animated. I sulked.
I was sitting next to David. His younger sister Beth was down at the end of the table.
“Is your sister drinking? You let her do that?”
“Excuse me? Let her? I think that’s rather up to her.”
“Is she even eighteen?”
“Glen, so what? Nobody cares!”
“And she SMOKES?! Hey, Beth, do you have any idea how stupid that thing makes you look? Know what smoking did for my father? His hearing! It ruined his hearing of all things!”
David turned on me. “What has gotten into you? Back off, all right?”
I pushed away from the table. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what my problem is…” I muttered. “I just — I’m sorry, I’ve ruined dinner, I’m going –” And I headed down the bright, crowded street toward the dark and lonely sea.
At the bottom of the hill, I crossed the main waterfront road, leaving the tourists and party lights behind. I stepped over a curb and down onto the dark beach. I sat on the curb and stared into darkness. I could hear and sense the quiet sea, and the crowd of boats anchored before me. I hung my head.
It was true: I did not know what my problem was. Losing Lori a year earlier had unglued me; I wasn’t speaking to my mother; and missing Mariani was yet another shade of sorrow. My miseries were jumbled like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle portraying a turbulent sea: it was too much — too subtle — for a guy like me to sort out.
The murky outlines of the boats slowly materialized before me, catching the glow of the lights behind me. Something seemed familiar. I realized I had seen this place before, on a jigsaw puzzle captioned “Greek Fishing Village”. You have probably seen it too. On the box, of course, the scene is always bathed in clear blue light.
Suddenly David was sitting to my right, and Nick to my left. David got right to the point.
“Talk to me.”
I did not talk. Instead, I removed my wallet and my passport from my pocket and placed them on the curb beside me. I rose and walked straight into the sea. I was close to the nearest boat when the water reached my chin and my feet lost contact with the sea bed. I swiveled around and looked back.There my friends were, still seated on the curb, silhouetted against the bright party scene behind them. And here I was, distraught and moody and swimming out to sea. It suddenly struck me how this must look to them, when in fact I was only aiming at melodrama. I came about and took a few breast strokes toward them, and then slogged my way back to shore.
I crossed the beach, sat down between them, hung my head and broke into wrenching sobs.
“It’s been a whole year,” I choked out. “A whole year… I thought the pain would at least be less… I thought something would’ve changed by now, but it hasn’t… It has to get better eventually, doesn’t it? What if it doesn’t?… what…” I gasped, and wept bitter tears.
David seemed taken aback — or baffled — when he said “This girl must have meant an incredible lot to you!” It was possibly the best thing anyone could have said at the moment: a simple acknowledgement.
On my other side, Nick murmured something that I had trouble following, but I understood he was expressing compassion and encouragement. I remember that as I clutched my head, I was surprised to hear him talking to me that way; I didn’t think we were that close. It was a comforting mystery.
David interrupted to shout “Glen! I need you to breathe for me,” and he hit my back a few times. I tried to comply, and together we brought the sobbing under control. We sat in silence.
My clothes dried quickly in the warm night breeze. David handed me back my wallet and passport.
“So, you gonna be all right? You ready to come back?”
“I’m all right, but I’m not going back… I’ll just –”
“Of course you’re coming back. I’m not leaving you to wander around alone all night. C’mon.”
We rose, crossed the road and together headed back up the bright, narrow street.