There was a time that’s hard for me to talk about when I could have prevented a tragedy. More than one, actually. Tragedies seem to be a specialty of mine. In fact, I was just told there’s one coming up for me that’s predictable but not preventable. What’s with that? What am I supposed to do about it? I feel like I’m flying blind through enemy radar.
So here I am. By “here” I don’t mean the little flat on a side street off a side street off Dimokratias Boulevard in the Keratsini Municipality of Piraeus that centers me. Nor is it in the pages of this book I got roped into headlining. What I mean is the whole messy scene I’ve been part of since touching down in Athens seven—or is it eight—years ago. I was fresh off the boat from Senegal, so to speak, feeling more disillusioned and disgruntled than fresh.
My diploma in Foreign Relations from U. Geneva was fresh when I signed up with an NGO as a medical aid and got posted to Dakar. I thought I could change the world, or at least a bit of it. Instead, it changed me, and not for the better. Let’s just say I picked the wrong aid organization to work for. Like me, they were Swiss and so I figured they were open-hearted, sincere, and competent. I had a lot to learn. Apparently still do. Anyway, I’m still kicking around Athens seven years on, with a kid, a place to live, and not much that’s happening. But that’s about to change, I’m told.
If you read my diaries from back then you would know what I mean about being a relief worker, but that’s ancient history now. Past few years, I haven’t kept them up. Being a working mother mostly accounts for not recording the days of my life like I used to. Even though they’re pretty routine now, I should, if only to capture how my beautiful boy is growing and changing.
Then one day this writer dude showed up telling me to expect some tragedy. Asked if he could shadow me for a while and write it up. Said it might make me famous and it wouldn’t cost me anything. Forget it, I said. Notoriety is the last thing I want. Told him I don’t want no freaking tell-all, even if I get paid for it. He said no problem, but wouldn’t I like an unobtrusive, non-judgmental diarist to chronicle my life and times to help me learn from my mistakes and pass on those life lessons?
Well, when he put it that way I told him I guess it would be all right as long as I had editorial control. Sorry, he said, it doesn’t work that way. You’re my character, see, and you don’t get to edit my write-up, but you can use it to edit your life. Then he handed me a book, saying I was in it. Told me to read it and if I felt mistreated we can forget the project, but that would be a shame because I am an inspiring woman with greatness in me.
Imagine my surprise that anyone could think that of me. All my adult life I’ve been throwing myself into situations without thinking twice—even once sometimes—and coming out tearful, bitter, and bruised from kicking myself. He said I’ll learn. Either that or die young, so why don’t I let him help me find out who I am and maybe even whom I’m meant to be.
He was so into it that I didn’t even mind being a figment of his imagination. So I took him on board as a traveling muse who might keep me on the rails, validate my ticket, announce the next stop, and take notes, leaving me to figure out what my destination is. Even though I still don’t know where the end of the line is, what he offered seemed worth the ride. Not everyone gets to have a private tour guide to conduct them through life.
So I read his book and came away thinking he’d sized me up pretty well—introverted but pushy, flexible but obstinate, collaborative but prideful, and a decent cook among other things. The tragic ending drove home that nine-tenths of my misery is due to a man, but not in the way you’re probably thinking. It isn’t what he did to me, it’s what I did to him that eats at me.
Even five years on, he still haunts my thoughts. That brave, kind, and handsome father of my child who loved and protected me, the man who would be raising him with me were it not for me. He would graciously call what befell him kismet. I call it criminal negligence. Whatever, it keeps me under his spell.
My writer guy tells me there’s nothing I can do will change the past, so maybe I should try to forgive myself and seize each day to bend the future. That’s fine for writers, I told him, but you said some sort of tragedy is coming that I can’t prevent. So tell me more.
“Look Anna,” he said, “to bend the future you must have a vision, believe in yourself, and inspire others. You know how to mobilize people. I’ve seen you do it, so keep on collecting allies you can count on. But just remember, you never know who your friends really are until you need them, and even then you still might not know.”
Fine, but who are my enemies? Better see what the rest of his book says. I gotta go.
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