By Sharon Rosner

My friend Angelika thinks I’m holding it together rather well. She is delusional. It’s now been more than six weeks since I’ve seen my photojournalist boyfriend, Marios.

When he returned from Skopje, our relationship changed. He was only able to spend the rare evening with me. After seven days went by without him ringing my cell phone, I broke down and called him in the newspaper office, at a time I knew he’d be preparing to leave work.

“I didn’t travel ten thousand fucking miles to see you for an hour once a week!”

“Relax, relax. My father, he go to hospital for the stones, you know, in nefra, kidney. And my daughter, she have many problems with the boys, she is of this age,” he anxiously excused himself. “After the Skopje I feel so tired. I don’t want to think or to talk what happen there. I have so much stress. I don’t want to give you my stress. This is my style – I must to fight it alone. You and me, we lose the connection for one week, but I come to the apartment now.”

Marios arrived, knowing our mutual passion would smooth over any behavioral deviation on his part. Each time I tried to initiate a dialogue, he cleverly changed the subject to something he was assured would appeal to my sympathy. Ever apologetic, I was convinced my own behavior after the condom fiasco sealed his image of me as a psychotic, crazy foreigner-American. Carefully attempting to change that image, I reluctantly saw him to the door, as he left for his own home, with the embrace of a loving, understanding mistress.

Angelika suggested I go away for Easter and my birthday. A close confidant, she was privy to all the sordid details of my relationship saga and worried I’d descend even further if I spent the holidays in Athens. I made plans to take a bus to Corfu, where the single women throw ceramic pots from balconies on Easter Saturday; from there I would fly to Rome.

The week before Easter, my emotions were escaping faster than the contents of Pandora’s box. I wasn’t able to comprehend why Marios, who spent ten days with me in Los Angeles having “every little thing I want, you make happen,” then begged me every day to return to Athens because he couldn’t live without me (“I love you so much, my beautiful woman”), would disappear from my life. The breakdown I convinced myself I had when I found condoms in my apartment after returning from the States was the only excuse I imagined for his behavior toward me. After exhausting all my girlfriends, I called his mobile in desperation.

“Prepei na milhsoume, we need to talk.”

“I will meet you at the apartment at nine o’clock,” Marios agreed, but only after I told him I was leaving for Corfu and Rome the next morning.

That’s the last time I’ve seen him.

When I returned from my trip, no less neurotic than when I’d left, Angelika embarked on a mission to provide distractions for me. One morning, she dragged me with her to Lake Vouliagmeni, a private lake with a pricey entrance fee, where she regularly swims with elderly Greek women, their massive breasts and white bathing caps bobbing in the algae green water. She also feeds the stray cats roaming the grounds with the cat food she always keeps in her car. As I sunbathed in my bikini, watching Angelika practice her backstroke, Vassilis, the handsome young man who works there, settled himself on the lounge chair beside mine. Our conversation began casually, but quickly escalated to blatant flirtation.

I was relieved to engage in superficial banter for a change and surprised at the ease of my laughter. When she emerged from the water an hour later, Angelika wore a triumphant smile at the sight of me charming Vassilis, vindicated for proposing I come to the lake. After obtaining a promise from Angelika to bring me back soon, Vassilis stood up and returned her lounge chair.

We packed up to leave and I waited in the car while Angelika prowled the grounds with her sack of cat food, searching for strays. Alone with the windows rolled up, I spontaneously began heaving with deep, uncontrollable sobs. I couldn’t stop. Angelika was justifiably alarmed when she returned; her comfort level is ministering to animals, not people.

“I thought you were fine. You were flirting and laughing with Vassilis,” she said, awkwardly putting an arm around my shoulder.

I gasped, gulping mouthfuls of air between heaves.

Angelika pulled a bag from the back seat. She unfolded a paper towel, revealing a Cretan rusk cracker liberally spread with tahini and the Marmite she’d brought back from Melbourne. When my outburst had sufficiently waned, she held it for me to take small bites. With great concern, Angelika stated, “I think it’s time for you to call my friend Christina. She’s a psychologist and professor at Athens University. You’ll like her; she did her graduate work in New York and speaks fluent English.”

A week later, I take a stroll to Dr. Christina Antonopoulou’s Kolonaki apartment, which also houses her office. Angelika gossiped about Christina’s embarrassment at having grown up in Peristeri, the same lower class neighborhood where Marios lives, and how proud she is to have risen to Kolonaki. I ring the bell and am buzzed up to the first floor of an old, ornate six-story building that feels very residential on this busy commercial street. The door is slightly ajar, and I hear the caustic words of a woman on the telephone. Uncomfortably entering the apartment, I seat myself on an upholstered bench in the foyer. I don’t know the protocol for Greek psychological offices; Greeks don’t believe in mental illness. Since I’ve never actually met Christina, I decide to wait until she realizes I’m here.

“Eisai trellh: Are you crazy?” the woman on the telephone screams; then there is silence.

An imposingly tall woman in her fifties, dyed blonde bobbed hair framing a pair of seventies-style glasses, sweeps through the door in a camel colored caftan, the jangle of jewelry preceding her.

“Melina?” she asks, bending to extend her hand. She is wearing an enormous gold ring that encircles three fingers.

“Christina. Thank you for seeing me.” I rise and follow her into the office, where she seats herself behind a massive carved desk. She indicates the leather chair facing it. This feels oddly like a meeting with a lawyer, not a mental health professional. I look around the room for the couch which is noticeably absent. There are, however, an inordinate number of African sculptures grouped about.

“I am sorry to make you wait,” she apologizes. “This woman on the telephone, she is crazy. Her wedding is in two days and she wants to stop it. I told her she is just afraid and mustn’t call me again.”

I smile agreeably, pretending to commiserate.

“So, Melina, you told me on the telephone about your relationship, this Marios. Angelika also told me how upset you are. Why, Melina?”

I start to sob as I try to explain his six week disappearance and find myself defending my feelings.

“Melina, the men, they are always changing. For example, he says he loves you and then he goes out to the kiosk to buy cigarettes. He sees another woman and he says he loves her. Maybe this is what happened with Marios.”

“No, I know he really loves me! I can’t understand why he just disappeared!” Tears stream down my cheeks.

“Melina, koritsi mou, my girl, I will tell you a story,” she begins calmly. “When I was young, I went to New York to go to graduate school. I met a man when I came home to Athens for vacation, a Greek man. We fell madly in love, and he visited me often in New York and gave me many gifts. During my last year in school, I became pregnant. When I told him, he sent me money and said he would marry me when I returned to Athens to have the baby. Melina, I loved living in New York and wanted to remain in the States, but I gave all this up for his promise. When I saw him in Athens, he confessed that he had a wife and four children. Melina, I felt so much rage; I had to fight so hard to force him to admit that this baby is his.

“In the hospital in Greece, they didn’t give a birth certificate until the father claimed his child. Also, they didn’t let the mother take the baby home without the father. This was more than twenty years ago. Melina, I called his house and threatened his wife, then I called his job to tell his boss. I told my man I would put an advertisement in the newspaper. Finally,” she spits out bitterly, “he came to the hospital and admitted she was his baby.”

This story is so spellbinding that I’ve almost forgotten why I came here.

“Do you know what I named my daughter?” Christina asks childishly, a rare smile playing on her face. “You will never guess. I called her Xanadu. What do you think? No one else in the world has this name. Anyway, Melina, after I was able to leave the hospital, one day I took my car and drove to Athens University; this is where he worked, Xanadu’s father. I waited in the car until I saw him leaving the building after work. When he stepped off the curb, I drove my car very fast and tried to hit him. He jumped out of the way just before I was able to.”

I sit absolutely still, wondering what implications this has for me. I’ve had my share of

American psychotherapy, but either Christina practices a completely different approach or she is completely crazy.

Christina picks up a hand painted rock that traps a stack of papers on her desk. She tosses it pensively between her hands for a moment, then looks up at me, the rock held tight in her grasp.

“Koritsi mou, my girl, there are some things I think you must do. First, I would like to call Marios, you can give me his mobile. I want to speak with him in the office and know what he feels for you. I will also ask him about the condoms in your apartment. He cannot just disappear from your life like this.”

I’m horrified by this suggestion; it will paint me for posterity as the psychotic foreigner who is sick enough to have a shrink speak for her.

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, Christina,” I volunteer sheepishly. This woman intimidates me; she’s begun to resemble Medea.

“Why, Melina? If he refuses to meet with me, then we must get serious. I want you to order flowers to be sent to his wife. I know you don’t have the address, but the flower shop can call her to find out where to send them. She will think they are from Marios but the card will say something different and he will be suspicious. Maybe he will think she has a lover. Now, Angelika has a car. When you have the address, you must ask her to drive you to his home early in the morning and follow him when he takes his daughter to school. After he leaves her at the school, you must get out of the car and confront him in front of everyone, even the girl.”

This is more than I can absorb in an hour during a warm June afternoon. I begin to feel light headed; Christina offers me a small piece of chocolate, assuring me all I need is some sugar to feel better. I self-consciously leave the fifteen thousand drachma fee on her desk, promising to think about giving her Marios’ mobile to follow through with the plan. She asks me to call her later in the week.

I walk up Akademias Avenue, feeling no more relief than before the session, and replay the previous hour. I thought I was seeking advice for my emotional trauma, but psychology here seems to be about eliminating the problem, not nurturing the patient’s psyche. Since I did come to Christina for help, maybe I should just go along with the Greek program. Marios certainly isn’t responding to my calls. I immediately dismiss the idea of revenge, though. A simple phone call and the chance to find out what Marios is really thinking couldn’t hurt. Yet, what makes me think Marios would actually tell this stranger, a psychologist no less, anything other than what he wants her to know?

When I open the door to my apartment, the telephone is ringing. It’s Angelika, who insists on hearing every detail, vehemently agreeing with Christina’s advice.

“Wow, she really gets right down to business,” Angelika declares. “You should do what she says.” I have nothing more to lose.

I make another appointment to see Christina, during which I will be subjected to listening to her phone conversation with Marios. In the interim, craving distraction, I arrange a trip to Samos for a few days to visit my Austrian friend Maria. She’s married to a Greek man but secretly wishes she wasn’t. Her prepubescent daughter, Cassandra, is as beautiful as her namesake but, unfortunately for me, doesn’t have the gift of prophesy. Maria’s advice regarding Marios is, “Nothing good can come from this. Melina, forget this story.” But I can’t. Unable to relax on this beautiful island, I take the ferry to Athens, where fear completely numbs my mind while I pass the days, waiting for the appointed hour of my next session with Christina.

“Are you ready, koritsi mou, my girl?” Christina asks, as I settle into the leather chair.

I will never be ready. Christina dials Marios’ mobile phone. I leave my body, hovering somewhere above, detached, watching this surreal scenario unfold.

“KurioV LwloV; Mr.Lolos?” Christina asks when Marios answers. “Egw eimai Kaqhghtria Antwnopoulou, yucologoV sto Panepisthmio Aqhnwn, I am Professor Antonopoulou, psychologist at Athens University.” She pauses. “SaV pairnw gia thn Melina, I am calling you about Melina.”

The blood is pulsating in my ears. I can’t imagine Marios’ response to this news, but I can imagine that it doesn’t evoke a positive image of me.

“Perna duskolo, she’s passing difficultly,” I hear Christina sigh. This is the equivalent of saying, “She’s not doing well.” I effectively begin to tune out, incapable of hearing the rest of her conversation.

Christina hangs up the telephone and turns to me with a smile. “Melina? Melina!” I look at her with a start. “Do not worry - it is all good. He is so very concerned for you. When I told him you are not well, he asked, ‘What’s happened to Melina? Is she all right?’ He was in a car with his journalist, on their way to some mission for the newspaper. I think he is going to Kythera. He promised me when he returns next week he will call me and come into the office to talk. I will call you after I see him.”

Christina averts her eyes as I discretely place another fifteen thousand drachmes on her desk before leaving.

My obsessions consume the following week. I alternately regret setting this process into motion and fantasize Marios, wracked with guilt, leaving his family when he realizes what he’s done to me. I try psychically connecting with him; I get the message that I am mia trellh, a crazy woman who must be treated delicately. Ultimately, I’m angry. If he’s so concerned, why hasn’t he called me since speaking to Christina on the phone?

The day Marios returns to Athens finally arrives. Unfortunately it’s a Friday, so he won’t be calling Christina until after the weekend. Serendipitously, I start teaching a ten day workshop for young actors and directors on Monday. This is a six-hour daily gift; a reprieve from my self-torture.

I’m passionately involved in working with my students for the first two days, although constantly checking my mobile for missed calls. By Wednesday afternoon, having heard nothing, I call Christina.

“Melina, koritsi mou, how are you?” she greets me animatedly. “Is everything all right now? I told you I would fix it for you and bring him back.”

“Christina, what are you talking about? You didn’t call me. Did you see Marios?”

“What?! He hasn’t called you yet? I saw him in my office yesterday. We spoke for almost an hour and he told me he will call you.”

“You saw him? What did you tell him? What did he say? I need to know everything he told you!”

“Melina, Melina,” she reprimands, “you must let Marios tell you himself. This is not for me to say; I spoke to him in privacy.”

“Christina, what are you talking about? You have to tell me – I paid you to do this for me!”

“Ela, koritsi mou, come on, my girl, you must calm yourself down. Come into the office at five o’clock.”

At five fifteen I’m sitting in the leather chair, fuming, while Christina concludes a telephone call. She drops the receiver in its cradle, rhythmically shaking her head. “These Greeks are so stupid,” she laments, clucking her tongue.

Christina folds her hands on the desk and looks at me slyly. “Well, Melina…. he loves you.” She smiles with satisfaction. “Before, I thought, maybe this poor Melina is wrong, maybe Marios is like all the other men. But, koritsi mou, Marios really loves you. I can tell, not just with his words.”

I knew he loved me. Rivulets of mascara course down my cheeks.

“No, Melina, no! You must never cry in front of Marios! This is the problem! If you want to keep him, you must never cry! Promise me when you see him you will not cry.”

I jab at my eyes, incredulous at the thought that this could be the reason he disappeared. “Christina, what did he tell you?”

“He spoke about the time he was with you in Los Angeles, all the things you did for him; that it was like a dream for him, he was so happy.”

“That’s all? Did you ask him about the condoms?”

“Melina, he told you the truth. His friend was fighting with his girlfriend and they needed a place to talk. Marios had the keys to your apartment so he brought his friends there and left them alone for a few hours. Melina, any Greek woman would be angry to find condoms in her house. You did not react only as an American would. But please, Melina, you must not talk of this again.”

“Did he tell you why he disappeared? Did he say anything about his family?”

“Melina, I think it is better if Marios talks to you in his own way. Let him tell you everything. He will call you.”

There is still so much I want to know, but Christina rises and walks to the door, fifteen thousand drachmes richer, and I am effectively dismissed.