I didn’t care how badly he spoke Greek. John was strikingly handsome. Beautiful dark brown eyes, a well-proportionated body, and dashing allure. I was 27 years old when for the first time, I had just presented a scientific paper at an international conference in Belgrade. Feeling happy with my achievement, I kept dancing with different colleagues. After a while, the conference president praised me for my lively dancing and introduced me to this Greek American who left me speechless. It was a scary experience, and I tried to stay away from him. But he would not let me escape.
The next day, at the end of the meeting, he asked me to have dinner with him. I accepted because, although still scared, my wanting to be with him was stronger. Later, as he was walking me back to my hotel, I saw him sweating and feeling uncomfortable. He took a piece of chocolate from his pocket and started looking better after eating it. He explained he had diabetes, and it seemed that his excitement from being with me was getting him in trouble.
As he could not stay away from me, the next day, he came to pick me up at my hotel. He wanted to show me the river Sava, the tributary of the Danube. The river view was spectacular beautiful but being together seemed disturbing to us. I could not forget that I was married, and he was also married and 40 years old. I knew all this, but it was wonderful just being with him.
Suddenly he kissed me, and the whole world disappeared. I did not know if I was standing on earth or flying like a bird.
The conference could not last forever, as both of us secretly wished. At the last conference night, he walked me back to my hotel and went as far as ringing the bell for the elevator. He wanted to come up to my room, but he lost his courage. Somebody sitting in the hotel lobby saw us coming together, so he kissed me goodbye and left.
After a couple of months, he wrote me a few words asking if I would be in Athens in mid-February. He could stop for a day on his way to a mission in Africa. Luckily, I would be in Athens for a couple of weeks supervising my research and sent him my mother’s telephone number, as I was staying with her.
The day John arrived, we both wanted to spend a few hours alone, but it was not easy to arrange since we did not feel comfortable going to a hotel. The only solution was to convince my mother to give me the keys to her small apartment.
When I managed to get the precious keys, we made love and got lost in happiness. Since we still had a few hours before taking his plane, I suggested going to a tavern to get a feeling of the Greek carnival with street parties, parades, and masquerades. But once there, we were so happy just being together, that we could not care about anything else.
After two weeks, I was back in Detroit, living with my husband, teaching and managing a large group of assistants working on my research. I did not forget him, but I had no time to daydream. John did not forget me either and would occasionally send me a beautiful postcard from Zurich with a few badly spelled Greek words: mou lipis (I miss you).
Several months later, in December of 1965, I visited my mother for the holidays, and John also came for a few more days this time. Wanting to be together, we went to my house on the island of Serifos. Being in the heart of winter, there were only sparse permanent inhabitants.
We were lucky to have warm sunshine during the day, but when the sun abandoned us, the cold penetrated our clothes. There was no central heating available. We sneaked early into bed, made love, and slept snuggling together under a couple of warm blankets.
The next day again, the sun warmed us up, and we became ambitious to tide up the place. John, with a primitive broom, cleaned the apartment and the terrace and suddenly realized he was doing something extraordinary for him. He said: “If my wife saw me now, she would faint. I have never touched the broom or ever done any work in our house.”
When an old woman walked past the house, he smiled at her and gave her a chocolate. He was happy and wanted to be nice to everyone.
We were both living in a dream and looked strikingly happy. We walked through narrow streets, holding hands like little kids.
The house, being high up on the hill overseeing the sea, offered wonderful views and spectacular sunsets
Waiting for the boat to leave the island, he told me I must stand upright to show off my tits. He did not want me to lose out in comparison with a Greek woman with big tits standing near us. I did not like this remark because it showed his unappealing primitive masculine self.
After these few idyllic days, we both went back to our spouses and tried to behave normally. Our lovely experience slowly evaporated as we lived apart for many months.
As much as John would like to control himself and behave like a loving husband, he could not succeed. His wife sensed that something had happened that changed him. He was not eager to make love with her and used overwork and other preoccupations as excuses. Being unhappy, she used the oldest feminine prescription to bring him back. She avoided using contraceptives and even with the much-diminished frequency of sexual contact, she got pregnant. And her pregnancy succeeded in bringing John again closer to her.
I did not know then that John’s wife was pregnant, and because of this, he was trying to be a loving husband. This explains my unpleasant experience when I saw him some months later while attending a scientific meeting. As I was strolling one afternoon, I saw him lovingly holding his wife, and they both greeted me politely but impersonally.
His wife was very attractive and left me stunned. His indifference underlined the importance of his marriage and the minor role I played in his life.
Feeling that I was not important to him, I reacted by enthusiastically making love that night with a handsome Dutch colleague, who was after me during the entire conference.
John came back to Athens almost a year later in July of 1967, when I was busy with my research project. He said he was visiting friends, and we did not spend intimate time. It seemed like a wall had been built between us. However, almost every day, we either had dinner or a drink together.
One evening, while we were eating in a fashionable restaurant, an elegant woman walked by, and he got up, greeted her effusively, and continued talking to her, totally ignoring me. I did not say anything, but I was pissed off.
Besides, he did not tell me another important factor: his wife had another child, a boy.
A couple of days later, I received a frantic call from him asking me to pack my things urgently and meet him at the airport. He could not say much except that he had learned that something dangerous was about to happen in Athens.
I found his phone call strange and did not follow his advice. That evening, my mother and I were invited to an upper-class dinner party, and I was looking forward to it. However, before going, we heard the television continuously playing the national anthem instead of the regular program. Clearly, something strange was going on. At the party, we learned that a military coup had taken place, but nobody knew the details.
The next day, it became known that a military junta had taken over the government. A month before scheduled elections, a group of right-wing officers led by a brigadier and two colonels, during the night of 26 April 1967, seized power in a coup d’état.
When I was leaving Greece a few days later, I was stopped at the airport because I was a professor and was taken to an interrogation room. Many university professors were leaving Greece to escape an oppressive government. I was able to catch my flight only after I convinced them that I was a professor in the U.S. by showing my American university card.
John completely disappeared for more than two years. Meanwhile, my husband had accepted a year and a half appointment at a French university, and I was living in a beautiful apartment in Detroit, giving frequent parties and having different lovers.
Finally, John reappeared and started sending me short notes whenever he was going to a European city for a conference or a meeting. Often our professional commitments coincided, and we would stay an additional day or two enjoying each other’s company. In this way, we arranged to meet in Strasbourg, Brussels, and Amsterdam.
These brief meetings were pleasant, but the intensity of enjoyment had diminished. It no longer had a deep meaning. I did not know what it meant to him, and he did not know what it meant to me. We usually had our drinks and dinner in a nice restaurant, and later, we made love. That was our short life together for more than four years.
He never asked about my relationship with my husband, and he never spoke about his wife. He was immensely proud and would never admit that his marriage was on the rocks. He always presented his life as perfect.
We carefully avoided discussing real issues in our lives. I was uncomfortable asking him: “if you have a happy life with your wife, what are you doing with me?” But he certainly did not have a happy life with his wife, as he told me much later. He didn’t even have any sex with her. The problems with her became very serious when she was unable to withstand not being loved by him and started drinking heavily. Switzerland didn’t tolerate drunkards, so she always would be brought home drunk by a policeman. Then, they started fighting physically, and he had to protect his son by sending him to a boarding school in England. Gradually the situation with his wife became unbearable, and she finally left their house.
During the years that I did not see John and did not know about the turbulence in his life, I finally ended my once-in-a-while marriage. After my divorce, I accepted a professorship at the University of California in Santa Barbara and moved to the sun.
When after those tumultuous years for both of us, I visited Geneva, John invited me to his beautiful house, and tired after a long trip, we took a long leisurely bath as I were in my own house. We had gone through difficult decisions, but now we were free, and I felt closer to him than ever before.
When sometime after he came to New York, he took me to his mother’s house, showing me the objects that she had liked. He was unusually sweet with me. Finally, we were both free of our spouses and the time was critical. During that time, we traveled together to Boston where he introduced me to his best friends. A picture taken at that visit, shows how happy we both were. Would we finally be able to normalize our relationship?
But an unhappy and unimportant encounter destroyed our good relationship. In a scientific meeting, that I did not know he was attending, he saw me with a one-night boyfriend that meant nothing to me. Reacting immediately, he slept with an ugly Swedish woman demographer. He had to demonstrate to me that I was no longer important to him.
After this, he closed himself tight in his shell and became distant and cool. Meanwhile his son, now a young man, lived in New York and visited him but did not want him to know about his relationship with me. On one of his trips to New York that we stayed in different rooms, when he returned from visiting his son, closed himself in his room and did not respond to my knocking at his door. He left very early the next morning without seeing me or talking with me.
He found out that his son had become a drug addict, and being always very proud, he took me a long time to tell me. He soon came back to New York to spend time with his son to help him free himself from this addiction.
About that time, after having bought a lovely apartment in New York, I had to go to Greece because I was worried about my mother’s health. I gave him the keys to my apartment, so he and his son could stay in it whenever they wanted. Indeed, they stayed in it for some time and left me a nice picture of them sailing in a boat.
After my mother died, I came back to New York after two years of absence. Then I was told by a mutual friend that John told him: “Now, I am going to be well accommodated by a divorcee in New York City”. I felt hurt and angry. I also learned about his different women lovers in Switzerland. I did not feel like seeing him again. I knew it would be ugly.
When he came, we went to a Greek restaurant for dinner. I felt ambivalent toward him, my uneasiness increasing when he insisted to read my life in my coffee cup. “ I see two boyfriends in your life.” He described them quite accurately. It was scary. I told him all this was nonsense, but I was shaken.
Then he got up and went to another table and started reading the coffee cup of a lady sitting with a man. When his strange behavior continued for some time, I got annoyed and asked a waiter to tell him that I was ready to leave. He came back and we immediately left. I did not say a word but took the first empty taxi and returned home without him.
Our relationship had soured. When I was twice in Geneva for business, I did not call him. Another time, I called him, and he came to see me off at the airport. I was friendly but cool. Then after a couple of months, he called me in New York but I said, “I’m on my way to the airport. I’m leaving for Amsterdam. The movers have already taken my things.” It was not true. I could have taken fifteen minutes to see him before going to the airport but I didn’t want to. That was the last time I saw him or talked to him.
Constantina Safiliou Rothschild, a former professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and consultant to the UN and other international organizations. She has written three books on Sex Roles and Sex Discrimination used American and European universities and they were translated into Swedish and Japanese. Her literary work is available in the 34thParalell Magazine and the Anthology of Quillkeepers Press.