I sit at the gate in Athens airport, Gate A5, waiting for my flight to London, and make the drawing above.
The plane is delayed, and it occurs to me that as soon as I left Sifnos, everything that has started to go wrong started to go wrong.
I shouldn’t have left, I tell myself.
Right before leaving, I get a smile and a nod from the most handsome waiter on the island, Nicky Fortis, who says, Hi Alex.
Hi Nicky, I say.
I don’t know how to tell Nicky I’m leaving. If I tell him, then I really am leaving. So I act as if I’m not leaving. As if the boat will just not come. I can’t leave, now that he knows my name—this is the thing I won’t say to myself.
The only ticket I could get for my departure time is one in “exclusive” class, almost twice as expensive as my ticket out, and I have to sit with boring people. Once I’m on the ferry, the surf is rough and people run to the bathroom to throw up. I am somehow literally unmoved. I eventually go and sit on the deck and make a drawing of a father and son at the rail as Athens comes into view. I take the subway to the Athens airport from Piraeus, and there find a meal of chicken and peas that only manages to remind me I’m leaving Sifnos.
My sense of foreboding continues, and sure enough, once I board the plane, the airconditioning on the plane isn’t working while the engines are off, and then once the engines come on and we’re finally cool and waiting to take off, a woman in the back decides she can’t fly, and we do have to let her off. As we power the engines down and she walks to the front, she tells the captain she’s changing her mind, and he kicks her off. I don’t believe you, he says. We’re now almost 3 hours late. We have to unload the plane of passengers and our carryons and get on a bus while the plane is searched in case she left something on it, and then we get back on, and as we taxi down again, some Greek man in the back begins to demand the pilot take off immediately, like it’s a car he can just drive off, or he wants to get off also, and I feel a rage that makes me both weak and incredibly strong.
I talk to the woman next to me instead. She’s older, in her 50s, tanned and very kind, a handsome silver-haired woman on vacation with her handsome silver-haired husband, who also looks tanned and kind. They’ve been going around Greece swimming, and they have fit bodies and the relaxed air of swimmers. It makes me understand that I need to keep swimming, talking to her.
We’re trying to get me to my hotel, Hotel 55, in North Ealing. By the time we land the Tube is closed. Which is to say, it’s 1:30AM. I was due in at 10:30PM. After a taxi and a bus, I get to my hotel at 4AM.
The rest is a long road, that begins with the Hotel 55 in the dark and me calling inside for the night doorman to come and open it up and check me in, the room a good bargain at 80 pounds, me placated by degrees. By the quiet dark air-conditioned lobby, the room, beautiful and simple, contemporary design, the shower, clean and with powerful water pressure. I sleep deeply, for six hours, have breakfast in their beautiful contemporary garden with my friend David, and then we go around London for a little sightseeing. I get on the plane back, and once back, decide to drive home to Amherst, instead of staying over at my friend Jorge’s place in Queens, in order to begin moving the next morning. I get back, finally, at 2AM and am up the next morning at 8AM, when it is plain to me I should have stayed over in Queens.
I move for five days in the heat and rain, swimming every day in the afternoon, because it’s the only way to feel connected, somehow, to me. With my ears stopped up by water, I can only hear me. And as the happy couple showed me, in the plain way they were together, and happy, and relaxed somehow while the flight was delayed in the heat and anger, swimming makes everything okay.
The new apartment is beautiful and empty. After the first two days I don’t want to bring anything else into the apartment but there’s still more stuff to come. I hire a boy who actually knows how to drive a fixed gear bike and a circus performer girl who is basically there because she’s lusting after the boy. The three of us make for a sort of moving circus, or a circus of moving, and I imagine her making flips as she carries my boxes. I pay them and also give them food I never used but that is still good, rice vermicelli I will never make, beans I can’t care about. My old apartment, as I empty it, seems, on the third and fourth days, like a museum of my ambivalence, and I call it that, and on the fifth day, the day the housing office tells me I must have it empty, I push hard, and manage, eventually, to get it empty.
I vow to never move this way again, ever.
Which is to say, this is the end of that particular road.
After two weeks of, as my friend Meredith puts it, touching everything I own, it’s time for me to leave again. I drive to Maine to take care of my mom, who’s having a knee replacement, in a car still littered with things from the move I don’t have the heart to bring inside. Two Le Creuset pans, for example, scorched and in need of resurfacing, rattle in the backseat. They seem too valuable to throw away and yet I don’t know how to fix them. Perhaps, if I’m attacked, I can pull them from under the seat and deflect a bullet, or stun an assailant.
Are you excited, I ask her on the phone.
What? No, she says. As if this is the worst question.
I think you should be excited, I say. And she laughs, which is good. For how she’s my mother, she both understands me best and doesn’t understand me at all. And I think the same is also true.
I have been watching Grey’s Anatomy episodes in what will eventually be my formal dining room, but for now is a provisional bedroom, where I set up my bed with the help of the fixed gear cyclist and the circus performer, and left it. On that night, I briefly imagined living there as I did in a New York apartment, but the empty rooms of the house call me into them, and we have conversations that end with me deciding my bedroom is upstairs. But also, and not deliberately, Grey’s has me thinking of my mother’s surgery. Every mom on the show is my mom, every problem my mom’s problem. This isn’t, of course, going to help her in the slightest. One show features a patient who doesn’t believe in God, or medicine, and his doctor insists he has to want his new heart or it will be rejected. I of course am trying to get my mom to want her new knee. And when I tell my therapist about this, he approves.
In the hospital, the helping of her is multifarious. I imagine helping her everywhere. Once I bring her home, the reality is, she’s doing quite well. She is released early, which is good, because, as if all of the people in the hospital have been watching Grey’s also, they are all back from vacation and spending too much time talking to each other. At one point, I summon something that I think of as the “I’m kind of bald, I have big muscular arms and am not at all happy right now” face, and go to the nurse’s station to find out where her pain meds and bed pan are, and when they ask me, defensively, if she’s rung for them, I hold up two fingers and walk away, saying, Please bring them right now.
They rush to get the items to her.
My mother is impatient with me a little, and I tell her she’s ornery, even though I’m secretly glad. She hasn’t been ornery like this in a long time. My belief is that the knee will restore her to herself in a way she doesn’t expect, and because I want this to happen, and because she’s negatively suggestible, like me, I don’t tell her. I stop trying to get her excited about her knee, because it will mess up her getting excited about her knee. Yes, I say, instead. I’ll go to the drug store right now. I say, I need to get some pens, to make more drawings. Or I say, I’m heading out now, to go swimming.
“(S)he’s my mother, she both understands me best and doesn’t understand me at all.”
I don’t know if it’s universal with gay men and their mothers, but this rings so true to me, I want to pull out my phone and call Mum right now. I think I will.
Have you seen the movie Blue? It is part of a trilogy of movies that came out in the 90s – Blue, White, and Red.
Blue is the first and there is something in it about the desire (right word?) to be in water, to be swimming. I’ve felt this myself.
If you’ve not seen the movie, do so. I think you’ll enjoy it.
I haven’t seen Blue. I have seen Red and White. I don’t know why I didn’t complete the group. But thanks for the advice.
And Jeffrey, you’re a good son.