The bus arrives. It’s time to go.
It’s early enough to still hear last night’s music. The bouzouki and the guitar and the words sung over both sets of strings about grief and heartbreak and loss. It’s late enough to feel the growing heat. The stifling warmth that welcomes you independently, without humidity at its side, welcoming you to spend a day opening your eyes under the Aegean. Salt sticks to your cheeks, to your eyelids, both later washed by homemade tsipouro.
I clutch my luggage. Others from the writing program do the same. We gather around the slight uphill, now downhill, of Archodissa’s driveway. The bus waits at the bottom, across the winding road, and gets one last glance at the sand that’s as soft as a tissue. At the rocks that are as hard as the hands of a Greek fisherman. At the water stuck somewhere in the middle.
We wait, and wait, unsure of the right time to let go. We’re joined by the restaurant’s staff, owners, cooks, waiters, all of whom we have shared a home with this past month. They wait as well. The beginning of July has ushered more tourists to the northern-most island of Greece; the start, the quiet rev, of the country’s hiccupping financial engine. Olive trees wave their branches at us.
Wheels of luggage roll against concrete, picking up speed down the steepest part of the driveway. The road, dangerous and ignorant, is monitored, and our belongings are loaded onto the bus. Our hands are now free. It’s time to say goodbye.
I walk back up the driveway. Black Ray Ban sunglasses rest on the outside of my gray sleeveless shirt. I slide them off the shirt’s material and slip them onto my face, covering the brown of my eyes. The first goodbye, an Albanian woman that cleans the rooms and helps in the kitchen. We hug, and the tears don’t wait for my permission.
Real men don’t cry, right? Bullshit.
According to Statistic Brain, men cry 1.3 times a month on average (woman cry 5.3 times a month on average). I sit here, rereading that stat, and attempt to reminisce, month by month if that’s accurate for me. I dig deep and try to pinpoint when I have cried recently, and in general. When I was younger, in my late teens and early 20’s, I refused to admit, like most men, that I shed any tears.
My eyes are as dry as the desert.
What am I, a girl?
Me? Cry? Are you nuts?
Among many other naive, puerile responses I spewed when asked, all of which proved to be more bullshit later in life. I’m not quite sure why I felt the need to hide it. My father, a man of epic stubbornness, of tough skin and silent emotion, someone I tried to be like, openly admitted that he cries.
If a movie is sad,” he said. “I cry.
I’ve also seen him lose it at JFK, saying goodbye to his mother and watching her walk through security as she headed to the airplane taking her back to Greece.
I was private about it, though. Whether I showed emotion or not, no one knew. I walked outside of Winthrop hospital after visiting a friend who was dying from cancer, not inside his room in the ICU. I allowed myself to cry during The Notebook (yes, The Notebook), or during that final scene in Armageddon, or during The Patriot where Mel Gibson’s daughter implores him not to go back to war. But I watched all three movies alone. After I, unfortunately, broke someone’s heart, as she cried in front of me standing in the street under the swaying evergreens in front of my house, I waited until my bedroom door was closed. I even stayed far away from the kitchen when my mother crafted a Greek salad. One slice, one dice, of an onion, forget it; as if I was back in front of the television watching Gosling reunite with McAdams.
Crying was something I never wanted anyone to see me do.
The sunglasses continue to cover my eyes. I continue to sob. My tears are trapped, unable to escape from below each lens pushed tightly against my cheekbones. But the tears are there, drowning the small space in between. I hear sniffling and panting, coughs and heavy sighs. I’m silently listening. One by one, the staff tiptoes up towards the restaurant. One by one, the bus is filled. I find a seat on the right side, facing the Aegean, but turn to the waving hands beside the olive trees. The bus punches into first gear and lunges forward. Ten seconds later, Archodissa is out of sight. I lose it completely, lift my glasses temporarily to make more room, and quickly conceal my eyes again. We ride along the coast of the island, passing more small inlets of water, and watch tiny waves curl up onto the sand. The inside of the bus again fades, but my emotional state remains evident.
It was about a forty-minute ride to the ferry that took us to Keramoti and then eventually to Thessaloniki before our final farewell two days later. I was crying for half the bus ride. My monthly quota, shit, my yearly quota, was satisfied in about 20 minutes. Lives are filled with “firsts.” Well, with the exception of the younger version of myself balling out in Toys “R” Us, this was the first time I cried publicly. Even privately, my outbursts of tears were usually short; a single, or double, strand of brief sadness wiped away so easily. I fled the scene of the crime every time, sometimes before the crime was committed. Although this occurrence, with its reason now irrelevant, I cried like I never had before.
I still don’t want people to see me like that. I fight it as often as I possibly can. But I now find myself letting the tears win a couple rounds. I randomly getting emotional around my younger cousins, watching them play soccer or from a simple hug. I bury my head and look away. Crying is often portrayed as a sign of vulnerability, as weakness. And that should be understood. The world, fitting into it, understanding it, is scary enough. But tell that to Barack Obama who openly cried when the nation revisited and memorialized the attacks at Sandy Hook. Tell that to football players, athletes who are so passionate about their occupation, win or loss. I see it as a sign of confidence.
The ferry moves quietly away from Thassos. seagulls grab potato chips off of outstretched hands. The island begins to fold, to shorten in height. The mountains that conceal Archodissa and where we came from seemingly sink into the water. The same happens to the tops of each tree. I turn and look towards the Keramoti port. I feel the need to cry more, and I try to but struggle. One last tear escapes, likely a residual from the hour prior, and melts into my skin. The sun is strong and beams down onto the deck of the ferry. I remove my sunglasses and slip them back over the collar of my shirt.