There are memories that terrify us and we prefer to bury them deep in corners of our minds that we hope we never have to revisit. My first time driving to Greece for a vacation was one of those times.
My son was four and I had been married for 11 years. The vacation to Greece was going to be amazing, it was the first time we were able to do something like that as a family. It was expensive and a long way away by car so the expectations were built for me, I was to enjoy every single moment, the way you sip slowly, every bit of a drink that you know is an elixir. Except that my demons, who had taken over for a few years now, were packing too. They were really going to enjoy this vacation, tormenting me with dark visions, obsessions, deep valleys of depression and peaks of panic that I found hard to manage stuck in the over ten hours drive with a small child who needed entertainment and a husband who kept asking me “what’s with the face, be joyful, we’re going on vacation.”
I remember the feeling of inadequacy, the berating of myself for feeling this way, the fear that I was going to ruin yet another vacation for him. For him! I spent the many hours of the horrendous car ride texting the priest I was now talking to, going to confession often and convinced that I was so, so sinful and bad and this was why I can’t get away from all these demons. He served me platitudes like god is great, like enjoy your vacation, like all will be well. How the hell did he know? He had never met my demons, he hadn’t even spotted them from afar …Anyway …
I remember being on autopilot for most of the trip and fearing, as it was my turn to drive, that I might just slam the car into something on the side of the road. Was I fearing it or … ?
On the outside I was smiling, on the inside the fight was so intense it was hard to even hear what was happening around me. “I must be happy, this is a vacation and I am with my family and they are healthy, I should be grateful,” my conscious mind kept repeating. Something at my core felt rotten, radiating the stench of misery to my entire body. I still don’t know how I kept from throwing up. And because the demons felt summoned by the statement offered by my conscious mind, they started to do what they do best: pose killer questions. “How are you a good mother with such stench in you?”; “So many people will never have a vacation like this, a family like yours, beautiful and healthy! And you squander everything with your longings! What, what is it that you need,do you even know??” And when the questioning demons got tired, the solution oriented ones started: “Maybe it is better if you pray. Pray this certain prayer three times. Ok, four, just in case.”; “Fake it til you make it, pretend you are happy and happiness will eventually come. Or not but at least the others will not be bothered.”. And in all of the noise, every now and again, a soft whisper I didn’t dare to recognize, reached me from the middle of my stenchy core, “It would be easier if I just disappear …”
Greece is a beautiful country, the sea, the mountains, the amazing greenery and the bloomed oleanders, the most helpful and gracious hosts and the gorgeous sunsets. I attribute my survival over the week to two things: the few drops of hope that the immense beauty of this land and my son’s joy poured on my wounded spirit and the calls I placed to my then best friend, now my partner.
I continued to cook and clean and do all the things a woman must do to make her family comfortable on vacation, so I went shopping every day. I remember I went but don’t remember what I got, what I cooked, how the store looked. What I remember was that I did not even feel the over 40 degrees (Greece is July, at two in the afternoon) as I sat on the pavement in front of the store and called Laura. She sounded and felt different, I was desperate for some genuine care, for love (the true kind) for someone to say I see you. YOU! Not what you do, what you should do or what you can do. You! She always, always saw me, saw through all the crap and all the fake and all the desperation, she saw right into my core and I let her because she has always felt like home to me. Later she would speak to me about that vacation as if she was there with me, like I had told her everything (which I didn’t). I figured out later that she heard that in my voice… distance never severed our connection.
Sometimes we are fortunate enough to be able to overwrite memories. A week ago, my beautiful family of today, Laura and I, our fourteen year old son and our two life saving dogs Jazz and Ginger, embarked upon a trip that we had been planning and saving for, for the longest time. In the middle of the pandemic, we dreamt of beaches, of sunshine and dogs in the water. And I secretly worried – what if I can’t escape my past? What if seeing the roads and the places will make me relive it all? I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the demons who packed up and hopped in the car with us. They never leave me, i have accepted that. But their voices are dim and they seem so much less credible. The stench in my core is gone and that has enabled my actual voice to be louder.
I am happy I did not give up. It was not easy and there is almost daily struggle but if I had quit then, I would have never been able to enjoy this overwriting, basking in Greece’s beauty alongside the loves of my life and feeling my heart bursting. Let’s not kid ourselves, joy is not a constant. Joy is glimpses, like Christmas lights. And happiness is ultimately allowing the darkness so that the blinks of joyful lights will feel even more amazing,