Aegina

10 years ago I came to Greece alone to find my aunt. She had become a nun some years before and being the self-centered twenty something I was, I was appalled she did not confer with me on her decision. She was my godmother and more significantly to me at the time — one of the only three extended family members I knew and who were still alive. I was 23 and left California to hunted her down. The plan was to go to her monastery in Thiva and spend a month living with her to best understand her new life and try and grasp why she made the decision to leave. I grossly underestimated what a month in Greece living with nuns meant and what this plan was in reality. And to make it interesting, when I landed, a stranger at the airport handed me a cell phone and there was a nun on the other line trying to explain to me my aunt would not be picking me up. She never made it off the island.

What island?

Which brings up to today (…kinda). 10 years later and a lifetime that’s come and gone, I find myself at a small wooden patio table that’s fighting off sun rot on the coast of Aegina, Greece. A tiny bowl of pistachios from a few trees in the yard and a cold cup of coffee next to me, I’m staring at an unobstructed view of some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen. You can see a shadow of the Athens coast line in the distance, and if the night is clear — the Parthenon lights illuminate the top of the horizon. I drank enough white wine yesterday to kill a younger me and shockingly have no hangover, which is a little alarming. I have dry heaved a few times, but hand to God I think it’s cause I haven’t eaten yet. It’s 2:19PM and my dear friend, Eleni, the woman who brought me here and who’s patio table I’m currently sitting at is sound asleep.

Or gone. I woke up at dawn today and then again at noon. Haven’t done a thorough investigation of if she’s actually here, but my uneasy gut says she is. We landed yesterday and before we went to bed, she told me the rule for tomorrow is we get up whenever, no apologies of how late, and we just have to be to Ammos at 3PM — which I took as code for you won’t see me til 3. As she should! Between the jet lag and the fact that neither of us our spring chicks anymore, I’m a little confused to what I’m even doing awake.

Eleni has been a godsent to me. I’ll explain more of her later because she is not just a quick summary, but I might not have to. She’s a woman who, for lack of a better word, kidnapped my nun aunt 10 years ago and brought her to her beautiful home in Aegina, which is where we met.

After a long 14 hour flight from California, alone, at 23 years old with a giant bag (I was a young traveler and since have learned how to pack), little money and ZERO backup plan, that phone call in the airport letting me know my aunt didn’t make it off the island was not a welcomed one. I had to get into a stranger’s (Vangelis) Mercedes smart car, drive in the middle of the night to a friend of my aunt (Sofia) who I didn’t know, sleep on her young teenage son’s top bunk somewhere in Athens until the morning when I was to take a boat to a place to where my aunt was. On top of everything, Sofia had informed me that the bag I had overpacked because I was planning on staying in one monestary for the month maybe longer, was too big. I had to unpack it and take only what I needed — which meant leaving a good portion of my things in her son’s room somewhere in Athens. A note with a number was left on her table wishing me luck and gave me a number to call when I was ready to go. After an hour boat to a place I had never heard of with a duffle bag of half my things, I pulled up to the Aegina port in the Saronic Gulf. And there she was. Eleni, open arms and a big smile, came running down the port my way.

“My child, I love you! Welcome to Aegina. We’re going to have the best time. We have a DD!”

My aunt, the DD, head to toe covered in her traditional orthodox schema sheepishly stood there knowing I was less than happy about all of this. I was so tired, but a drink sounded like the best thing in all of life at that moment. So I patted Eleni — this beautiful, tiny, woman in her thriving 60s — on the back the way a coach would to his star player and said, “let’s get drinking.” I too was kidnapped by Eleni at that point. I stayed on that island with her for 4 or 5 more days and drank, talked, listened and was marveled by her every word and action. Eventually the monks came for us and we had to leave (they caught on to what we had been up to), and I wasn’t sure if that was the last time I’d see her. But life happens, a lot of it, and we stayed close. When I moved to NYC at 26, Eleni was there. She lived on the island every summer and in New York the rest of the year. I spent most of my holidays with her in NY and countless other weekends. I got to know her family, which is to love her family. They encouraged me to to keep going and made me believe one thing I had spent a good amount of my life in denial of. They made me believe I deserved the things I didn’t think I’d ever get to know. Countless evenings at Cipriani’s in Grand Central Station, Eleni and I always schemed to get me back to Aegina, but I never was able to. I either didn’t have money, or I didn’t have timetime, or more honestly, both.

Fast forward to September 2018. I’m 33 with more time than money, relatively directionless, but finally back in Aegina. I hit a wall last year. I had to confront a growing truth which was there had been a growing darkness inside me for years. I was angry at what happened to me and frustrated with where I was. I felt lost and alone all of the time. And then crushingly guilty for feeling that way while being surrounded by some of the best friends I could ever ask for. I was hurt and chasing this ideal of what I thought my life was going to be and then constantly mad at what it currently looked like. I was disappointed in myself and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit also swallowed by depression and denial of what I actually felt like. I felt like giving up on all of it. Things didn’t mean what they used to, and I felt like even when I won — I was still losing. I needed things to mean something again. The shine was wearing off and a dullness set into my spirit. That’s a toxic, malignant thing to a person. Who is this woman I’ve become who sees herself in such a negative, hateful light? There are times I see my reflection and the only word to describe what I see is ugly. Who is this woman who no longer believes she deserves it?

I don’t know how this all works out, but I took a year or so to try and figure it out. Slow down, get off the path, and look at which road I was running down.

And I’m going to try and document it the best I can, so when I’m sitting at a desk and not a patio table sometime in the future, I don’t ever forget the absolute beauty of faith. Forgive the typos, grammar mistakes, and rambling.

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