The Eftilou guesthouse where we’re staying is surrounded by hordes of semi-feral cats, needy and squalling, their ears shredded, their tails bobbed, some of their eyes missing. Battle cats: they fight and fuck late into the night in the jasmine-scented darkness. It seems like it’s always quiet in Greece until the cats or the church bells raise a sudden commotion, or some men from the local village start shooting shotguns at an effigy of Judas Iscariot tied to a pine tree. It’s Greek Orthodox Easter, and my friend and I are looked after by an old Greek woman whom I want to jam into my suitcase so she will come back to New York with me and be my new grandmother. She bakes me cookies. She picks me some strawberries. She enthusiastically wishes me good morning in her thick accent. I love her.
But mostly the first thing I want to do when I get back to the guesthouse is get on the wifi so that I can text Connecticut. It’s a jones, low-level but persistent and distracting, like wanting a cigarette or something with sugar in it. Back in New York it is lunchtime; he’ll be sitting out in Union Square Park, and I can usually talk him into taking a selfie to show me what color tie he is wearing. I don’t particularly care what tie he is wearing, but I love that there is a person who will photograph themselves at my demand, for my personal pleasure.
But the wifi is out in Eftilou; there was a storm earlier this week that chucked rocks up onto the esplanade and swallowed deck chairs whole. It was a day to be relieved that the Coast Guard is turning back the Syrian refugees that are trying to cross the Mediterranean out of nearby Turkey; they wouldn’t have survived the five-mile crossing today. I, meanwhile, am a person whose worst problem is that she does not have wifi, and I am losing my shit. Because I can not text Connecticut, and if I can not text him, I worry that maybe his attention will shift to something or someone else. After all, that is my modus operandi: code name Out Of Sight, Out of Mind.
And now I care, and it is hard, caring. I still remember the way he side-eyed me back in December when I told him, I find you riveting. I’m pretty sure the only way I was able to get this close to him was by being all casual and ambiguous, still ducking out to go crawl under my ex. I got close to him the way you get close to a shy cat: a careful display of disinterest. I think of the battle cats outside, who wind around your ankles, hoping for scraps; the second you make eye contact and extend your arms, they bolt.
And now I catch myself pursuing Connecticut with my arms outstretched, texting him that I want one of his old t-shirts to sleep in because I miss his smell, my stomach lurching when I see his name, wildly swinging my phone around in circles trying to catch a bar. A throbbing cliché. Next I will start drawing hearts in a notebook and checking out his horoscope in the newspaper. It’s terrible. He has a hundred and ten percent of my attention and I’m worried I’m going to freak him out, because my full attention is scary, and what if he only likes me elusive and disinterested?
So maybe it’s good that there’s no wifi. It might save me from myself. For all he knows, I’m down on the beach with some Greek fishermen, running my fingers through their beards. This is a country where, to appropriate a line from Bill Bryson, the hottest man you’ve ever seen is blocked from your view by the next hottest man you’ve ever seen. I walk around smiling at people I could easily fall in love with for a week or two, fists balled under my chin. I flirt, but halfheartedly.
All my attention is directed on Connecticut, sunlight intensified through the magnifying glass that is my addict brain. I wonder if he’s puzzled by the change. I’ve been gently nudging him away for weeks, only making plans with him at the last minute, trying to schedule him around Sketch, replying to his lengthy texts with a single, distracted emoji, getting naked with him in the afternoon on days when I know I have something to do in the evening. And then one day I just wake up in Greece and find myself wanting to be this man’s girl, and it’s fucked up. I’ve already told him that I don’t want to be his girlfriend, that I think monogamy is for suckers, that I am not a relationship person. And this is why you should never make sweeping pronouncements about yourself; you will only need to walk them back later.
How do people handle it? All the feelings? It’s like some rock over my soul just got kicked over, and this is what is underneath. It’s gross, and scary.
There is a smoking hot yoga teacher I know who invited me to go to some sort of girl-on-girl party in Brooklyn. That is what I am supposed to be doing with my life, not this thing where I feel so needy, where I want constant reassurance, where I need to see what color tie the man is wearing just to breathe normally again.
But alas, my phone has no wifi. Also, a few days ago, my phone’s iMessage shit the bed, and now I can’t hear from anybody unless they get me through Facebook or What’sApp (the worst application name ever, by the way. I can’t say it without wanting to punch my own self in the face). So also Sketch doesn’t know what happened to me. For all he knows, the cats got me.
I can’t even begin to think about having the conversation with him about Connecticut, and how this changes things. Every time I try to bring up the subject with my brain, all my thoughts dart away into some bushes, startled and wild. I can’t shake the conviction that this is really it, this time. I’m not going to frame this departure as a date-stamped break, or claim I’m just going to see what it’s like to date other people. I love someone else, and I need to put him first now.
It is a phyllo dough comprised of flaky layers of guilt, oozing with grief and dried lust-fruits. That is exactly the Greek pastry that my relationship to my ex now is. Something you would feed to the stray cats to get them to leave you alone.
I’ve reached my last day in Greece; I’m typing this from the tiny balcony of a cut-rate hotel. Greek Orthodox church bells woke me up at seven, and I came out here to write for a bit, looking up at the Acropolis. You can see it from everywhere around here, it seems like.
Ten days without sex and I feel a little more leveled out. I dreamed about bondage last night and woke up unsure of who had me tied up, Connecticut or Sketch. Maybe neither. Maybe it’s a symbol or something.
I didn’t do much here. My friend and I came to volunteer with the refugee crisis, but we spent most of our days aimlessly looking for people to tell us what to do in various overstaffed storage warehouses. We folded and labeled clothing donations from boxes where it had already been folded and labeled. We went to the beach up by the lighthouse and climbed down with the environmental crew to help cut apart rubber dinghies caught on the rocks, allowing me to live out my lifelong fantasy of wearing a knife and work-gloves with a bikini, but the work could have been done in minutes with proper equipment. Everyone here is just kind of waiting for the borders to reopen, and I feel embarrassed when my friend posts humble-brag photos on Facebook. We are tourists here, trying to blend in with the real humanitarians that have been in the camps for months.
We loiter around the gates at Kera Tepe, the refugee camp outside of Mitilini, still hoping to Do Something Good. There’s a power strip at our picnic table, so when a couple of Yazidi men come out to charge their phones and electric shavers, they have no choice but to talk to us. That’s how we end up having English class with their children and their wives, twenty-five Yazidi in the adjacent olive grove. What words do you teach someone who has no English? (They do know the ABCs, however, everyone including the men singing the song right up to the next time won’t you sing with me part in a heavily Kurdish-accented English) Cherry-picking vocabulary to pass along, I go with members of the family, things that you wear, the names of the things on your face. They take careful notes, double-checking the letters, and teach me Kurdish for the same, but I forget it immediately. I would make a terrible refugee. I am a bad swimmer and my brain is like a fossil in a can.
What these people have been through, are going through, will go through as they petition for asylum in one of the few countries willing to take them, is a bigger and more important topic than I am willing to ham-fistedly tackle in my silly sex blog. But I can tell you that the only time I stopped thinking about Sketch and Connecticut and the whole mess was when a five-year-old refugee girl slipped up next to me as we walked back to camp, and put her tiny hand in my hand. She didn’t ask. She just trusted that I would take care of her. And the only time I stopped thinking about whether I really love Connecticut, and whether I should tell him, and whether I am capable of actually loving anyone because I only think about myself all of the fucking time, is when a Yazidi boy the age of my students at home, gorgeous with his hazel eyes and thick eyelashes, stopped me by our rental car to practice his new vocabulary: I love you. I lost it for a moment, my throat almost too tight to return the English. I love you too. I mean it. In the moment I mean it. For now, it’s the best I can do.