Greece features, Grief and Loss, Grief features
comments 64

Accompaniment

My best friend Tais and I, roasting lamb on a spit in my front yard during Greek Easter. The pink era. Early 2000s.

My father could never sleep before my exams. It did not matter if they were the qualifying exams at the end of 6th grade or my English proficiency test. For weeks before the test, he would sit across me at the dining table that saw three marriages and an equivalent number of children in his life. There would be flashcards and endless repetitions. “Πάλι, κόρη μου! Πάλι!” Again, my daughter. At some point, my mother would intervene. “Χρήστο, άσε το παιδί να ξεκουραστεί λιγάκι! Τα ξέρει!” Let the child rest.

Greek is a language of exclamations.

I wish I had learned incompletion younger. I wish I had learned to leave flashcards unturned and words unmemorized.

By the time the exam came around, my father would encourage me to put the books away. You know what you know. Trust your knowledge. Trust the process. I would sit on the balcony and feel the late spring sun on my skin. He would be up all night, pacing. When I emerged in the morning, he’d be at the bottom of the stairs, bellowing “κόρη μου! πουλάκι μου! ” My daughter! My little bird! Trust what you know.

***

It is the night before my PhD comprehensive exams. Because my universe has yet to meet symbolism it hasn’t loved, it is also Greek Easter. At the age of 8, with the grandiosity that befits involved fathers, he declared with certainty that he “just knew Roxani is going to be an academic.” I didn’t know what that meant then, and I’m not sure I fully do now.

I know migratory hearts, and the whiff of lamb and tsipouro. I know the misogynist jokes my father would make around the fire with the rest of the family–those same jokes that the feminist I have become would resent, but the daughter I always am can recall with fondness. I know I carry them with me: I know I am my mother, wiping down every surface with chlorine the night before the exam, as though this is a test in home economics. You cannot take a test with a dirty home, and the very act of wiping everything clean calms you.

I know all the balconies at which I have studied: IB biology, ancient Greek, the SATs, my first thesis, back when it felt impossible to fill the pages. I know how to glue my head against the window here in Boston so I can feel some light on my face, as though this Greek can only learn by photosynthesis.

I know that Easter and fathers and pre-exam jitters and saudade layer atop each other. I know that grief sneaks up on you when you are trying to pack ‘the canon’ into your head (and I know enough about feminist inquiry to question what counts as the canon, to know it has earned the quotes around it). I know how to tell grief apart by its taste. This is not the cutting, surprise grief, the kind that has made you nauseous before. It is the sweet, quiet accompaniment.

The sense that even though there will be nobody at the bottom of the stairs tomorrow morning to exclaim “πουλάκι μου!,” there has never been a test I have taken alone.

64 Comments

  1. Magdalena says

    Beautiful post. As time passes, I am learning that I too have different types of grief that live within me, and come out louder at different stages. My father’s death means that the way he is here is different, but he is still here…

    big hug to you

  2. Beautiful. Christos Anesti! Happy Pascha to you! I’m so happy to be a new part of this huge family of which there are so many thoughtful and inspiring people. My family and I were joined to the Orthodox Church this past weekend.

  3. Loved this! Such a visually evocative story & interesting reflection. Love love love

  4. Noor says

    Ahh, this was brilliant. We never appreciate the support we until it is there no more. Thank you very much. xx

  5. Beautiful writing. I’m a new blogger on WordPress. And a high school graduate waiting for my medical entrace exam results to come out. I would not have survived the harshness without my parents.

    • Roxanne says

      Welcome to blogging, Malavika – it can be a beautiful community. Good luck on the exam results, and I hope that your path of learning continues to be exciting and fulfilling!

  6. The Wounded Healer says

    Loved your post! Such honesty in those words! I’m a new blogger at WordPress. Hoping to have an amazing experience 🙂

    • Roxanne says

      Welcome to blogging and thank you for stopping by! Enjoy writing!

  7. I really like what you said in your post if you could respond I think it could benefit us both. Thanks for your time.

  8. I have never read a nuancedly piece in a while and this one took my fancy. Words can be very powerful and here you are, refining words into an invincible army of letters.

    This is damn awesome!

  9. You are indeed very blessed to have your father’s company in such stressful times. This is something I have not experienced throughout my education pursuit. Although your dad is no longer around, he will always live in your heart. All the best in your education pursuit. And I love the way you expressed your memorable experiences with your dad.

    • Roxanne says

      Indeed, I’ve been keenly aware of how lucky I was to have his attention while he was around. Thank you for commenting, for your wishes, and for the lovely words.

  10. Helen Koliais says

    I sent you energy and love for the exams…..I’m sure it reached you!

    • Roxanne says

      It did! Thank you, Helen. Sending love right back to Greece.

  11. Oluseyi says

    Beautiful and so deep. Thanks for sharing! oluseyiemdin.WordPress. com

    • Roxanne says

      Michael, thank you for the lovely words. Indeed, hindsight is a wise companion. I love the title of your site — I’m off to check it out. Thanks for stopping by.

  12. I believe the idea that grief has flavors is distinctly apt, I love your way of expressing the inexpressible.

    • Roxanne says

      Thank you so much for stopping by, Kirizar. Certainly — grief has flavors and colors and textures…

      • I wrote exactly these words in my EVERNOTE while writing an exam after my biggest loss. He was the same too. Very anxious for my exams yet giving motivational words the day I had to take it. My exam days were more anxiety for him than me. I am afraid to write about grief on my blog except for a few poems, I write almost everything else in a notebook called “lessons from grief” in my Evernote and share it only to those who understand that language “grief”. I think grief is a journey only few people have walked to understand. No body else has time for negativity, emotional breakdowns or they care but don’t know what to say.
        Great blog. Hugs to you.

        • Roxanne says

          Kay — “lessons from grief”… I love that. And yes, grief is indeed a language and those who speak it seem to invisibly recognize it in each other. Hugs back to you.

    • Roxanne says

      Thank you, Chipo! It was a while ago now, and I remember him fondly. Thank you for stopping by!

  13. Chunhua Zhong says

    Thanks for giving my belief when I have no faith in life. It reminds me of my parents, I think, from now on, I should study hard to live up to their expectations.

    • Roxanne says

      Chunhua, I do hope you can find and keep some faith. There is a lot of brightness in the world, even when things feel dark and bleak.

    • Roxanne says

      Thank you, dear Natalia! One exam down, one to go. It’s eight hours of writing per exam, so it’s quite physically draining, but I’m relieved to have one of them out of the way!

  14. What an excellent post. This is finals week for me for my second year of college and I always feel like my mother is with me while I take an exam. Her words in my head the same as your fathers. You know what you know! Just do the best you can and trust your first answer!

    • Roxanne says

      Emily, congratulations on (almost) wrapping up your second year! And, indeed, trust what you know. Our parents have a way of accompanying us, even when they are no longer physically there. Sending good wishes your way.

    • Roxanne says

      There is definitely such a thing as productive procrastination by cleaning every surface in the house, isn’t there? Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  15. This is beyond beautiful… and a testament to the miracle that is your mind, that this emerged from you in a time when I imagine most students are packing their brains with knowledge and focusing greedily on retention rather than production.

    There are so many people who are so, so proud of you. I may or may not have spent a good portion of yesterday pacing (in my cubicle), praying my own ironic secular prayers. Well done, twinie mou.

    • Roxanne says

      You really know how to make a twinlet tear up on a train. Alliteratively, no less. I adore you.

  16. Marta says

    Good luck with the exam dear Roxani! Loved reading your beautiful words, as always. Warm wishes from Spain,
    Marta

    • Roxanne says

      Thank you for the lovely words! Off to the exam I go… Thanks for thinking of me!

      • So profoundly beautiful. I miss my mom who always pushed me too. I followed in her footsteps and try to emulate her example with my own children. What a great post to honor your father.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *