Elpida Rouka

Tear spell after tear spell as dry as Gobi dunes. Her eyes having inhaled all the morning mist from the valley grounds to feed the storm stirring up inside her, leaving but for almost painted “teardrops” — her turbulent emotions trapped in their translucent expectant curves — at the edge of O’Keeffe colored tulips and anemones, the delicacy of their petals resisting under their weight. Were it not for the circumstances, it would make for an immaculate still art painting. The skies too were “lock stock and barrel.” But nothing. Her ocean drum had overpowered any other instrument in musicotherapie that morning, unintentionally drawing “won’t you hush” looks, and paradoxically quieted her week’s old irritability with everything sounding like an untuned piano attacked by a 3-year-old palm-slamming the same old keys (who knows if in its world that did not translate into a soothing sound too). Her world was neither a still painting nor a silent movie.

She was suspended midway Winslow Homer’s lifeline, an arm extended ahead, another holding tightly onto survivors she carried along. But no movement. Speaking of Winslow’s last name (forgive her Greekness this once…), she was confronted by two worlds — her Scylla and Charybdis. The one she could no longer tolerate; the other that no longer recognized her (recalling a dream about a well-known to her Foreign Minister, who mistook her for the headwaitress). The former too small, the latter looming fearfully large — and she could rule in neither. She had tampered with the time capsule. She was the one cornering herself in here, keeping the out there at arm’s length. What she wanted was “the hell out of her own self and the overbooked rooms of her own brain.”

“It is time to make the next step,” she could hear her tough love therapist; “Not your instinctive Jump, or plunge, but a next step of sorts…” “No need to rush and change everything altogether,” said another with only but a slight dissonance: “cualcosa sta bollando…” (yes she had reached the quadri-lingual level in talk therapy). And boy if she thought she had had a rough week, she had it coming, her inner bear per NYT weekend reading #2 on the torpor of animals coming out of hibernation) lethargic reaching for flies rather than her gourmet salmon. And it was not just the professionals. Her other grandmother had a stint in back to back dreams, in all kind of high profile roles, very out of character for the unfailingly discreet grandma Helen always standing in the background giving space to others with more constant presence in their childhood lives, only content with the odd vacation trade. Maybe it was an “all crew on deck call” by her grandpa — the surviving of the four — who feared the waning influence of his daily motivational words.

“Yeeeees” (eyes rolling, intellect insulted), she knew she would have to at some point lean into the pain (smiled thinking of the scene in “while you were sleeping” where Bill Pullman explains leaning as a male courting move). But Odysseus had a destination. He was returning home. Where was her Winslow’s leading character staring at beyond the painting’s frame?

For the umptieth time she took the trail east (not “north”) of Eden (water sponsor of the tennis club) through the woods to the town, as if she had missed something. Mini-steps she thought, her tracks shuffling all kind of Mumford and Sons lyrics from Babel to Johanesburg — literally “Giannis’ town,” how apt. When “there was (indeed) time” and where she first discovered his innocent look at the world at the age of 8 pointing out of the skyscraper window to “mom, a black man”.

(“Watch me glide before I tumble homeward homeward” — “a constant reminder by which I can find (him);” “love was kind, for a while;” “look at me now… for the walls of my tower they come crumbling down;” “I travelled into your darkened land all night;” “ you will rise and shine;” “ where are you now? do you ever think of me in the quiet, in the crowd?” “ in the cold that I live to love and adore you; … I’ll hold as long as you like just promise me we’ll be alright;).

She first ran into an elderly couple — looking remarkably like blood relatives to be lovers. Not far behind a little boy stomping uphill chasing away the crows in his way, living behind him, not far off, what was probably his sister (otherwise he would be coyly tracing along her side), entranced on removing petals on a daisy stand-in, asking the binary question about some boy’s love intentions no doubt, the rest of the world shut off. Her first “Lacta” she thought (the most successful chocolate commercial of her youth, “my first love; my first Lacta”) . For a boy’s love she repeated … momentarily entranced herself as she continued into the woods, cobwebs glistening in between pine tree needles.

The next day on a sun-drenched warm March afternoon on a deserted white rock-covered beach gulf of their childhood, their mother would set him free swimming through emerald waters far to the cave where the magnolia blooms would guide him into his aunt’s embrace.

At the same time, she was sitting by lake Leman, the rusty wind compass showing a south east wind, pinwheels put up announcing easter twirling maniacally, releasing the sun on her face, the waves still angry, raging in disagreement. A tiny splash strayed to brush her cheek catching her attention. The boy of yesterday looked back: “Elpidaaaki…?” — a cocked head “Thinker” (his trademark resting position, the original in her alma mater) “Go on, OK?,” his gaze sparkling sea stars. And the golden-haired close in age sister raised her head midway, dropping the last petal no longer interested in what was but a passing fling. It was instead for this boy’s love. “So hard to find my way now that I am alone” my (hazel) brown eyed (boy), playing in her head. “Told ya he will see you through the grief to healing”, she could imagine one of her likesurvivors saying, not in glee, but relief. Yes, he had in fact been the match maker, playing cupid’s arrow, since he had missed the target of his own heart.” And with that she released her “Martis” string protection makeshift bracelet (25 March – independence day), sooner than the end of the month on a nest of purple flowers at her secret seagull spot (12 she counted), entering the lake beyond the protective knee high edge of her wellies and then sent a rounded white stone flipping in his chase — managed only two surface hops before sinking. (He always beat her at that game). Direction: North east (where the waves were to meet the breeze coming from south). And the ocean (Lake) drums shushed for a moment….” A time to sing….a time to love.” A time to heal she added sotto voce…….” ‘Cause supergirls don’t grieve.”

Elpida Rouka is a 2018 Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow and most recently served as Chief of Staff to the UN Special Envoy on Syria.

Elpida Rouka | elpida.rouka@yale.edu .