I must say, as August 23rd approached, I was not looking forward to leaving Greece.
I’d been hoping to stay for at least six months, and as my 90th day approached, I was afraid to transition back to real life because, as Tassos said, “It’ll be like you dropped down from outer space.” I remember when I returned from my working holiday in New Zealand and how I perceived America: a cold, dark place devoid of patience, happiness, and kindness. I was thrust into interminable lines in the L.A. airport, with TSA personnel cursing and yelling and certainly not smiling–a stark contrast from the airport in Dunedin that had received me months earlier, where the airport man helped me with my bags, asked me about my life, and wished me luck as I departed.
Not so in L.A.
The employees were angry. Everyone in line was angry. I was pushed and shoved and given blank stares when I offered an upbeat, “No worries, mate!” It was a hostile environment.
And then there was last year when I returned from Greece. Apart from being crushed and in despair over leaving Thassos, I missed my train from Boston to Providence and was stuck in the train station for an hour, where there were no outlets to charge my dead devices, and then when I did board the train, I couldn’t find a place to sit with all of my luggage, so I was forced to stand in between cars. I then had to call twelve different people before I was able to find someone who could pick me (I think ultimately it was my landlord who came). It was as if America didn’t want me, and every sign said, “Go back to Greece.”
Therefore, I faced August 23rd with dread.
This year, however, it was as if the Lord knew I’d be suffering and wanted to soften the blow. For the first time in many years, having flown in and out of the USA several times, I was finally met with the kindness of strangers and a warm welcome home.
First things first: the customs line in JFK. Americans re-entering America had to use these automated machines that read our passports and asked us questions, replacing the paper forms we’d filled out on the airplane. At first I was irritated at the redundancy, but then I realized this was so much easier! Do you have animal products, fruits, vegetables or insects? No. Do you have more than $800 worth of goods? No. Print, done. And, unlike L.A., the employees here directing customs traffic smiled (!) and were surprisingly upbeat.
With my kiosk form in hand, I had to wait only briefly before talking to the customs guy, and he let me through without any questions–a relief given all the wine I was carrying. My luggage arrived, intact, and instead of dealing with public transportation, one of my friends picked me up from the airport in her car and let me stay with her overnight. She even bought me ice cream, an effective way to cheer me up. As I spooned Jamoca Almond Fudge into my “I’m not really hungry” mouth, my friend also told me she and her husband are expecting their first baby. And so I had a(nother) very good reason to be happy 🙂
Day Two – to Rhode Island
The next day we journeyed to the train. I was standing at the base of the steps, trying to reposition my luggage and carry it up the stairs, when a guy (my age-ish) actually offered to assist me. This shocked me because when I traveled in Italy and elsewhere in Europe by myself, carrying multiple pieces of luggage, boarding trains and traversing stairs, sweating and struggling, not one person offered to help. Chivalry, please? I thought the birthplace of Casanova would surely provide willing hands, but I was wrong. Meanwhile, in New York City, a city notorious for honking cab drivers and constant rush and “the New York Minute,” the first person to see me helps me. It was such a refreshing change. And then, when I arrived at my train stop and got lost trying to find Port Authority, someone STOPPED WHAT HE WAS DOING and escorted me through the maze of tunnels to get to the entrance. “Helping people is what I do for a living,” he explained. “I’m not technically working now, but you looked like you could use a hand,” and he proceeded to take hold of my giant suitcase and lead me to the busses.
While waiting to board the bus, the two people standing behind me (a mother and her teenage son) complimented me, rather ironically, on my ability to wield so much luggage, and this sparked conversation. We talked about travel–they saw my Germany tags from my transfer flight–and some of our favorite destinations. They were headed to Cape Cod before the school season started, and I encouraged them to give Providence a shot because it’s an awesome city. And then we took our separate seats, I wrote and published a blog*, and woke up in PVD, arriving to the city exactly on time.
*onboard wifi is perhaps one of the greatest highlights of American accomplishment
Once again, a friend picked me up, this time in my car, which she lovingly cared for for 90 days, and I thanked her with one of my bottles of wine from Archodissa. (When I texted her later to suggest she store it in the refrigerator, even though it was red, because it doesn’t keep as long in a plastic water bottle, she replied, “Omg I’m drinking it right now!” This is why we are friends.) Even that night when I bought groceries at Stop and Shop, the checkout girl was so friendly. She complimented the Thassian charm hanging from my purse, and when she feared she’d not rung up one of my items (it belonged to the guy behind me), she said with relief, “Okay, whew, that would have been devastating. Anything but the cheese sticks!'” It was a nice reminder that where I come from is a pretty decent place to return to.
And that was the beginning of resuming life as I’d known it. My apartment, the same one I’d lived in before, was thankfully still available, so I moved right back in. My job was still on hold from a “leave of absence,” so I resumed work last week. Almost immediately, I had the feeling that I never left, that Greece was, in fact, just a dream…a beautiful, ethereal fantasy that couldn’t have possibly been real.
I bought a ring last year, on Thassos, that I wear every day that is engraved with the words, “Σε βλέπω στα ονείρα μου.” And now it has new meaning. Quite simply:
“I see you in my dreams.”