Thursday, June 21, 2007


They left in August. We were living in Greece then, in a leafy part of Athens. We’d been there just over two years. Me, Natvar, Mark, Tracy and Ariadne.

We lived in a two-bedroom apartment with a spacious roof-top terra cotta tiled garden, just three floors up in the corner of town – removed from the polluted center – where small lanes twisted and interwove lined by trees and houses with gardens of rich roses and bougainvillea. Natvar was proud of our address. It was an expensive part of the city and he had scored us an apartment there (right on the very edge of it, but still), another of the miracles that only he could pull off.

Natvar had fled Manhattan two and a half years earlier with his little blonde daughter Ariadne. The cops were after him. Ariadne, at a key moment, had said, “I want to stay with Daddy,” and at least in some very important ways she defined the rest of her short life with that choice.

Mark, Tracy and I joined them two months later. We’d all been living together for a few years, ostensibly to run a yoga school, but things had gone wildly off track – an initial spark of affection and enthusiasm that got tangled up in Natvar’s cruelty and craziness and our unflagging attempts to appease his demands.

And then they left Athens for London – Natvar, Mark and Ariadne, leaving me and Tracy behind. It was just supposed to be temporary. Natvar had grown tired of Greece. Whereas when we first arrived he proclaimed proudly how Greece – the land of his birth -- was so much better than New York – a place of human warmth and culture and fresh food – now, after more than two years, the bloom was off the rose. “This place is just a third world country,” he’d sneer. “We can do better.” They’d made an exploratory expedition to London the previous Christmas, Natvar making a few quick contacts there that he hoped to parlay into a living.

Within two weeks he had Ariadne somehow enrolled with a scholarship in an exclusive London school that normally had a long waiting list and we knew they weren’t coming back.

It was just me and Tracy and Celia, the new little black puppy that Natvar had let Ariadne bring home from the islands just a few weeks before he decided they were leaving.

Celia slept on my bed and Tracy wasn’t home much. Everything was changing. The first few days after they left Tracy and I got up promptly at the same time as always, made the coffee in the same way and the oatmeal the way Natvar liked it, sat at the marble table in our assigned seats, drank from the official blue and white china. We did all this at first as if these were our own choices. Then little by little we began to change the design.

Tracy had a boyfriend now, a Greek guy and she started spending nights at his place. Phenomenal. Being celibate had been an unspoken rule. Not for Mark and Natvar who shared the double bed in the master bedroom, but for me and Tracy – she sharing Ariadne’s room and me sleeping on a cot in the tiny room we called an office.

By then I had a job. I’d had a job in the city for about six months. That was ground-breaking too. I’d even had my own apartment for a few months when the fights got too awful, but I was back. I was living back in the apartment again, drawn back. It would be different this time. And then they left for London and then they said we should pack up and come too.

It was October and November. I hadn’t had sex for years and I invited Costas out. I wasn’t crazy about him, but I knew he was interested in a sick kind of way that I should have left alone. A friend of my boss, he used to come by the office now and then, older than me. I didn’t pay him much mind until my boss – a small chubby man with a redeeming amount of personality – said that Costas wanted to know if I’d go on vacation with him to look after his kids. No, I had said, disgusted, but six months later I was inviting him to something I had tickets to and I fell for the old get-the-girl-drunk trick, ended up in his single-man’s apartment – a place absolutely bereft of all life – where he insisted on showers and clean sheets after sex.

I went home on the bus alone the next morning, feeling I’d been had, but at least I was back in the game.

“Come to London,” Natvar was crooning on the phone. “You will love it here.”

How to get to London? I had no money. How to pack up the apartment? I tried, but I didn’t know where to begin. Store things in Athens? Ship them to London? Everything cost. And how to get it right because Natvar would be there in London and I could hear his voice, “You paid HOW MUCH to ship this rubbish?” “You left THAT in Athens?” “HOW much money are you wasting to store that crap?” “Ariadne would have made better decisions!” “Why didn’t you just give those away?” “You gave THAT away?” I froze. I couldn’t do anything about the house, but knew I had to.

Tracy was supposed to help, right? But she was absorbed in a fast developing new Athens life her boyfriend was leading her into. She had a book of photos now, all ones of her in sexy model shots, sometimes wearing the elegant dresses Natvar had picked out for her back in New York that we paid for with my mother’s credit card, others in bikinis and high heels. “Vassilis thinks I can get a part in a movie,” she called, running out the door.

At night sometimes I sat in the evening in the living room which we still kept picture perfect as if Natvar might walk in any moment. I sat with Celia, the little dog. I was alone. I hadn’t been alone like this for years, alone to sit and watch the twilight turn into darkness. I felt peace in those moments. It felt sweet and holy. like something remembered.

A man came to see me one night. I’d half fallen in love with Petros a couple of months before when I’d gone to interview him for the magazine I worked for. He was tall and broad with dark hair. My heart had sunk when later, at home, I had read his brochure and saw he was married. But we’d carried on a little anyway and things were heating up.

He came over one evening. Tracy was out. It looked like I lived here more or less alone, in this apartment. Perhaps it looked normal. There was only one double bed to take him to. I pretended it was mine.

I lay down with him in Natvar and Mark’s bed, telling myself just not to think about it. There was no way Natvar would ever find out. But I couldn’t do it. I didn’t explain. I just said I couldn’t, put my clothes back on. And Petros went home, back to his wife.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


My mother called a couple of mornings ago. When I came downstairs I found her message. She’d called before 7, very unusual for her to call so early. I dialed my voice mail right away. Had my father died? I am always waiting for that call. No, she had called to give me his email address. It’s not his address. It’s his secretary’s. My mother said it’s the one my two sisters use now because Dad hasn’t mastered the computer so emails go to his secretary who brings them over once a week.

One thing my father said when I last saw him nine months ago was that the older you get the harder you work. I don’t know what he meant. I mean, I see it for myself, work seems to keep growing and growing, but I don’t know how my father could say it for himself.

I wonder what his secretary does for him these days. When I get a card or a package from him two or three times a year, it is addressed by her. I’m not sure my father writes anymore at all, let alone the writing he used to be so ambitious about – pages of economic theory on how the world should be run.

A few years ago my sisters asked him to write about his childhood and I received a copy – about ten typed pages covering his earliest years. Although my father seemed to spend much of his time telling me stories of his youth when I was little, I heard stories I’d never heard before in this written version. Last September I asked him to write more. “When I have time,” he said wistfully as if he were a busy man.

What I saw was a man partially crippled by Parkinsons, moving slow from room to room. Yes, he still has his big desk placed diagonally across the room that was once my grandparents’ room. And the long heavy desk is covered in books and papers. There’s a fax machine to one side and a small computer off in the corner.

I think his words about “when I have time” were a cover. I imagine it is too difficult for him to write now. Perhaps he cannot hold a pen. He hasn’t typed since I was a very young child. Then he used to type at home. I don’t remember actually seeing him do it, but I have seen the many pages on onion skin that he bound into black-covered volumes, pages that were mostly about things I wasn’t interested in – like international politics – but which once in a while contained a precious description, like the milk curdling in his coffee in a Wall St. diner, or a child waving to him from a window. He doesn’t name the child, but it must be me.

These journals that my mother threw out. Not exactly on purpose, not totally consciously, but which she allowed to vanish when my father moved back – temporarily he thought – to Hungary and she was left to sort out what was left after the house was sold to pay the bills.

He came back on a visit, partially to get his journals and they were gone. He kept going through the little storage shed my mother had rented, going through box after box, over and over, thinking he must have missed them.

I don’t think they had a knock-down drag-out fight over it. I think my father was furious and devastated that his years of journals were gone, journals from maybe as far back as the war and his years afterwards as a young man with a bicycle in Geneva. But I don’t remember him ever yelling at my mother unless she egged him on so hard he lost it. And even then his fury came out not in words but in gestures – stopping the car, getting out and walking home; yanking the tablecloth so all the dishes crashed to the floor. It’s not that he felt so tenderly towards my mother. I just don’t think he knew how to do it, was terrified of the destructive possibilities of fury and afraid to damage the tentative structure that linked him to my mother – the way she always took him in – not because she was in love with him, but because that was what she knew.