Lambros was 7 years old. Like most children his age in the 1970s, he was expected to help in the family businesses whatever those might be: sheep, orchards, and in Lambros’ case, the family tavern.
Lambros was living on the island of Andros. There wasn’t much to do on that small Greek island of the Cyclades in the 1970s. Though famous for its rich ship owners, tourists had just begun discovering it. Grandfather was visiting every year for the famous source of water that was good for his kidneys. My mother and I followed him.
Taverns in Greece are family-run businesses. They are usually sitting on a beach. The gentle waves wash your feet and their murmur is a lullaby for the senses, making you forget your worries like the Sirens did to Ulysses’ mates. There is nowhere else to be but here, at this moment.
Lambros was serving, masterfully carrying the dishes to the assigned tables with a smile on his face. I cannot recall his face, but I remember that he had short brown hair, regular features, nothing exceptional, no blue eyes and angel golden hair like my friends later in school would rave over Swedish boys met on summer vacations in Rhodes. I remember though that I liked that he was svelte, tireless, hardworking, kind to me and smiling, attributes I have always been looking for in men. I was three and a city child finding the carefree freedom of the beachside a revelation. I was curious and a born explorer. Watching Lambros made me think, “so one could be a child and be treated as a capable person, and earn money, and be happy, and important”.
I do not recall much of what I am about to tell you, myself. It comes mainly from my mother’s narrations. According to the family myth, I began following Lambros as he made his way from table to table, marvelling adoringly and calling his name with my childish tongue: “Ambo! Ambo!”. As mother’s story went, he was turning around and was smiling at me, answering patiently my questions about what the dishes were and how he remembered who got what and if he’d go swimming afterwards. I do recall his wide smile and how he made me feel important and his equal. He never told me to sit and wait, he never said I bothered him or that I was a silly little girl. He was serious and kind and I liked being near him.
After that summer, we never went to Andros again. Mother often narrated that I was nearly snatched from her hands in a near shipwreck on the way back, as we were turning the infamous Cavo d’ Oro cape. I am not sure this was the reason. Holding on to me, yes, but not to save me from the sea.
She often told the story to family gatherings, acquaintances and friends to describe what a rebellious girl I was and what she had to put up with. After which the epilogue would invariably be: “You are a sinner. From such a young age you were a sinner. God’s invisible eye is watching everything you do, know that!” That last part was what her own mother was telling her to keep her chaste till a proper marriage could take place. She died at my age before my mother would marry the man her mother fantasized about. She married the wrong man, instead. I run away with a man and got away from her.
The reason I’m telling you this story is because I feel that the circle of unhappiness must be broken for me and for every woman who was made to feel guilt and shame, and a sinner.
God’s ever watching eye is still painted in churches over the main entrance to the holy of holies, huge like Cyclop’s eye, chasing sinners away from Paradise and instilling fear to the rest. I do not believe that this God is the God who created the world so lovingly and abundantly and went as far as sacrificing himself for us.
Four decades later, I know where my Paradise was first lost. So today I am writing to that 3-year-old girl and this is what I have to tell her:
“Dear 2-year-old Me,
You are so right to want to play with another child. You grow up as an only child, after all. You are so right to want other children to play with you and smile at you and treat you as an important partner. There is nothing wrong with the play. There is nothing wrong with liking a boy who values you and smiles back at you. You are certainly not a sinner and for every time you were made to believe that you were one, you are hereby absolved. You are free to run in summer dresses and smile at the right men and have conversations with interesting people who treat you with respect and appreciation. There is no one to judge you and if they do, it is their problem and their issue to solve. You cannot solve everyone’s problems or past issues. Whoever artist and scientist and being of pure love created this beautiful planet, the only commandment they gave us was for us to enjoy it and each other, and be happy.
Go out there, be curious, be playful, claim what is yours, and be loved”.