by Elias Tezapsidis
What I had learned about myself after a few times of J promising he would be stable and in my life consistently, is that I had finally come to understand that I wanted, and I needed him unconditionally.
This, of course, was a thoroughly uncomfortable position to be in: it meant that I had relinquished control in this relationship. While I had much success in my multiple attempts to create relationships where I was the person switching the intimacy dimmer higher or lower based on how well my expectations were managed, here was a case in which I surrendered.
With this knowledge, what gave me a tiny sense of control was knowing that no matter if or when something bad happened, I was always a good version of myself, and I was available for J’s return. Sometimes this was hard to sustain, moving around the world as another Penelope in the Odyssey. In my adventures I had always been the Odysseus, so maybe this was an instance in which, as a female writer friend who was famous and smarter than me had advised me on Twitter during one of my meth-bingey freakouts, I was to “Take a seat.”
I was okay, because it is for J, to focus on all other aspects and areas of my life rather than fixate and obsess on the obstacle course that had become our reunion, delayed chronically and without explanations.
I really wanted to see P, but she was being really fickle, which I respected because I liked her unconditionally. Maybe the lesson here is to be more conditional, which seems a healthier approach to all relationships, whether they are romances or friendships. Then again, isn’t it nice to be free of being in control, and letting your heart tell you how to approach each case, friend, love? Maybe my decision on this is pending, as I am hopeful, but tired. About a month before, I had texted her a message that was a bit heavy, after a week of calling without getting a response.
“Hey! I think that I will arrange to be in Athens around mid-July. I want to see you, but if it does not happen, it is alright, obviously. Let me know if you know if you will be back.”
I got a text back that read:
I am sorry I have not called you in so many days.
I am spending time with myself. Time necessary.
I will be out of Athens mid-July, but if things change, I will let you know.
I need more time alone.
I hope you are doing well, soaking up sun and beauty from our father lands and the seas.
We will talk when the time is correct.
I kiss you,
I loved that she had laid it out as a letter and given her sentences space and importance. This was no ordinary SMS, it was an epistolary continuation. However, there was a really annoying stylistic limitation enforced to us by the choice of language: the entire body of the text was in CAPS, making everything seem more urgent, violent, loud. It made me think about why iPhones and Androids for Greeks automatically assume we are always yelling at each other.
I explained the situation to O, but it was hard to describe P in a way that was complete. She possesses an inner strength and beauty that is difficult to describe, because it is not linear. She catches on to thoughts, for example. If my brain is being sweet and kind, she rewards me with a soft touch. When I think something she wants me not to think, she also makes it known. To a large degree this day was an attempt to plan doing something together, but had failed.
A tiny part of me also felt unfair: why does my brain and heart allow for me to be doting and generous and sweet with less control? O was right there, to be celebrated as a friend, and I was doing that, but in my heart I wanted P’s attention and soft touch reward. I know that she knows I have a crush on her, and I am not sure it is reciprocated, but I also know she is hardcore ascetic in this moment, almost in an orthodox yogi way.
“There are certain moments when I feel pure joy during Kundalini yoga. Laughing and dancing, I feel it all throughout my body.”
I hated myself so much, for I was attracted to everything I was not, yet again.
A few months ago, I had a vivid dream about her, in which I cannot trace a clear age in either of us—we can be kids in it or full on adults—and we are on a dark beach together and it is chilly and we are wearing linen and it is more warm because we are there together, but we get hungry so we begin fishing. We catch fish and start a fire, cooking them and looking into each other’s eyes. We make out and have cigarettes, even if she has quit. She still negotiates “Can I have a βιομηχανικό?”, which is what people who roll their cigarettes call industrial ones, the ones that come directly ready to smoke, no work needed. I wrote to her about it—edited, excluding kissing—and sent her a Christmas present, delayed by three months, a good luck charm my sister had designed which was a silver acorn. I really liked it, and when I saw it I thought “I want to give this to P,” so then I carried it around in Berlin and back to Greece until I decided I was not going to write a long letter in which I would remind her all the ways in which she was beautiful. I just sent it like that, with a drawing of fish, sea and a campfire. Perhaps intuitively she got my kiss.
When I got to Athens, I texted her:
“Hi hi. I am in Athens. If you are here and want, tell me. I hope you are calm. I will send you something in snail mail before I head to Master’s. Kisses.”
“My Elias! Yes, let’s see each other. I am in Athens. And calm 🙂 I am thinking of something fun thing to do together. Ideas/ suggestions?”
“You have always been an extraordinary guide. I am very happy that you are well.”
We ultimately decided on going to Plato’s Academy, or actually to begin there. The way it was initially described to me was that it features a digital museum which was open until four and had a cafe with good food. Beyond that, it is a very beautiful park where Plato used to hang.
Then I googled it, and an ugly website that reminded me of when I began using the Internet told me a bit more, including what the name meant. I loved semantics ever since I have known what it means. In a dead Twitter account, the space’s bio states:
Work that attempts to combine today with the spirit and meaning of Plato’s Academy as a space for research and “παιδεία,” which translates to classical education but extends beyond to include values related to ethics.
If I were responsible for the Twitter account I would have it be active, and I would start with an attempt to rephrase the above to state: bringing forward the spirit and meaning of Plato’s Academy as a space for intellectual and emotional betterment. But who knows what their budget was or is and who they hired to do the online side of things?
So, The Academy is Plato’s School of Philosophy (unsure the caps need to be maintained.) It is the most prominent philosophical school of ancient Athens. The area of The Academy used to be a park that was dedicated to the local hero Academos (Ecademos), in which one of three major gymnasiums operated in the Archaic Period, which a quick Google search chronicles between 750-480 BC. So this was the Dalton of its time, probably! Interestingly, the etymological games continue, as in the definition of gymnasium, there is the combination of intellectual and physical exercise modernity has linked but often forgets.
Socrates was often in the area and Plato actually was physically practicing philosophy there until approximately 387BC (I am unsure what this exactly means, this piece of trivia is reinstated as I found it online and was puzzled by it myself). Plato purchased a small property near Ippios Kolonos, marking the beginning of when his teachings were to be tracked as occurring in this region. According to popular myth, “he dedicated a shrine to the Muses in the area of gymnasium, which may have been the focus of his teachings.” The gymnasium went on to operate for three centuries, hosting and teaching many names that dominate today’s ideas of “classic Greek philosophers,” i.e. Aristotle. It was the proto-liberal arts college, focusing on all areas and fields.
So maybe it was less Dalton and more Swarthmore/ Williams. Hilariously, there is a remnant of corporate governance information about how the leadership structure went on: “the succession in leadership resulted from the vote of the key members, the so-called “partners,” so maybe The Academy was also the first capitalist mechanism with an Advisory Board. The Academy operated until it was closed down by Emperor Justinian in 529. I, too, know nothing about Emperor Justinian beyond that I have heard his name many times before and that he was possible the first in a lineage of many. I believe I have heard of sequels, too.
I have to be honest, the worst grade I got in college was in the first semester when I took an Intro to Political Science course. The instructor followed the tradition of a famously difficult teacher who is a brilliant caricature, one I would totally appreciate today but lacked the imagination to value at the time. He joked about being so upset by the very low quality of our papers that he need to constantly chug Häagen Dazs ice-cream, and he constantly bragged about his Aston Martin, which was hilarious because he was a brainy Jewish academic with a big belly and a French wife who taught at the same school in the Midwest. But yes, my first experience with Plato was not needed and I probably spent more of that month making out with new people rather than focusing on the republic and its needs, caves or not. Though, I have to say I do not carry much guilt over being irresponsible during that time, but rather value that I was capable of meeting many, many people, some of whom would shape me and my understanding of who I was and who I could be. Sadly, the Professor did not make the cut, and by extension neither did Plato.
So, I summarized my cheat-sheet as follows prior to meeting P:
Academy of Plato: a spiritual center of Ancient Athens that determined the philosophical thought of our modern civilization. A “school” that carried out research in all sectors. A center of political reflection.
Plato: a personality with an important contribution to philosophical thought, a person of worldwide recognition today. His reflections are associated with reality, with the problems of his time and the city issues.
I showered, put on nice clothes (borrowed from O) and brushed my teeth very extensively, almost as hard as when you go to the dentist to get them cleaned and the gums start bleeding from the thoroughness. I wore my vintage refurbished Persol sunglasses that were very uncomfortable but still looked great on me and a grey shirt that felt luxurious, but was actually from Bershka or some other Zara-esque copier of high fashion. I pushed my hair back and put on 3 spritzes of perfume (Grey Vetiver-Tom Ford, this time mine, not borrowed) and I began walking fast. I was going by foot.
To my grand surprise, I arrived second, a few seven minutes after the agreed upon time. I was expecting P to be late, but she was exactly on time. Her hair was long and skin perfect in the heat of Athenian summer sun. I was already sweating, I think.
We had a really cinematic hug, which was silent and perfect and made me think about what it means to be physically present without words, not in a kumbaya yoga way, but as a being, a friend, an entity. Perhaps this is the kumbaya yoga way, I don’t know. What I do know is that we smiled a lot and stared at each other’s eyes and it was intense but I was more of a student who mimicked the master. As I felt the intensity of intimacy, I felt my eyes get wetter. I probably stopped first; often the case. Even more frequent is the way in which I feel the discomfort of intimacy or non-verbal connection: words.
P informed me that the cafe by Plato’s academy she wanted us to go to was closed for summer, a frequent issue and problem when it is nearing August in Athens, even during a time when people no longer summer in summer homes.
“So what do you want to do?”
I responded that we should grab a coffee at one of the open coffee shops nearby. So we went to one and quickly enjoyed getting dry from our sweat, yet still decided we would rather sit under a larger tree’s shade and we negotiated with the people who worked there.
“Hi. Can we take the glass glasses and just bring them back please?”
We both smiled with both confidence that our somewhat unorthodox request was reasonable and conviction that we would bring everything back. It was this certainty that we imbued on the coffee baristas that enabled us to grab the freddo espressos (one black, mine, one with black sugar and a touch of milk, P’s) and sit under a tree.
We giggled a bit, and found the right combination of sunlight and shade. The tree we sat under looked old but alive, so it was tall, but still had greens on its branches. We began by chatting about our years. I had been in Berlin, P had spent all of fall doing bougey alternative things and very intentional trips on the West Coast and Latin America.
I had decided ahead of meeting, that I would be honest about how I was feeling, when and if asked, but I would not cry nor monopolize our time together by talking about J and W and all that had happened since the last time we were around each other. In true terms, it was a mere two weeks after our last meeting that everything had gone to total shit, and there was a beautiful weed high that the twins had ruined while I was there.
After a true and honest update about what was going on, and all the directions we had taken our bodies to in the physical universe. My brain was mostly still in New York, or San Diego, but I was strictly Europe-bound until I had reason to believe I was not single. I told P about the scholarship I was really pissed about missing and how it was the first time I was totally certain I was going to get something I ultimately did not receive, and how I moved quickly, creating alternatives for myself by using the recommendation letters and motivation letters to create sustainable alternatives to get a Master’s. I had gotten in all programs, and that was something I was proud of, so I bragged humbly, and told her I would reapply to the scholarship scheme again next year, because the safest way to get me to really want something is to not let me have it.
Image: Detail from The School of Athens, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1483-1520
About the Author:
Elias Tezapsidis is a generalist writer (currently) in Berlin. His work can be found in 3:AM Magazine, The Awl, Berfrois, BOMB, Harper’s, HTMLGiant, Salt Artists, Thought Catalog, The Millions, Publishers Weekly, The Toast, Vol1 Brooklyn, V Magazine and others.