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As we climb the path to the Acropolis, my mom stops every five minutes to admire something in the distance–the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Theater of Dionysus, the Hill of the Muses. She has the guidebook out and a red leather journal tucked under her arm. A pen is wedged between her teeth, so when she asks, “Is that the Hill of the Nymphs,” it sounds like “Is that the Will of the Wimps?”

“Yep, the Will of the Wimps,” I tell her, and we laugh.

Yesterday when we left the archaeological museum, the heat had been so awful we’d retreated to the hotel and gone to bed. Today is better, but not much. I look toward the crest, trying to judge how long before we get to the top. I’m in no hurry. The thought of being up there again unnerves me. 

Seventeen months ago I came to Greece as a twenty-one-year-old history major participating in a college study tour–an experience that changed me. I realize everybody says that, but I promise, something deeply altering happened to me during that trip. It was supposed to be about earning college credit but instead turned into a kind of unraveling of myself. The culmination had taken place on top of the Acropolis in what I still refer to as my moment because I don’t know what else to call it. I do know that when it happened, it seemed like all the dangling wires of my future came together to throw a spark I thought would last forever. I came down from the Acropolis with a vision for my life, destiny in hand, a big, jubilant fire warming my insides.

Recently, though, all of that had more or less fallen apart. Now, not only have I not explained any of this to my mother, but my feelings around it are so confused and filled with pain, I’ve been unable to face them myself. At the moment they are stuffed in a small, lightbulb-less closet in the back of my chest. Trudging up the hill with Mom, I wonder how I can be up there again without the door bursting open and everything falling out.

Near the peak, the steps leading up to the Propylea become clogged with people, a huge throng of multicolored fanny packs. We shuffle along, forced to take baby steps. Finally, squeezing through the colonnade, I catch a glimpse of the Parthenon glowing fluorescent in the sunlight, throwing long, symmetrical shadows, and I go a little weak in the knees.

“I think I’ll wander around for a while by myself,” I tell Mom, not wanting her to see how sad I feel all of a sudden. She gives me a look, so I add, “You know, like it suggests in the guidebook.” There’s an entire paragraph in it about the “necessity” of a moment alone to let the sight of the Parthenon break of you.

“Sure,” she says. “Good idea.” She starts to walk away, then stops, turns around. “Are you happy to be back?”

“You must be joking!” I smile at her.

All my life I’d been the quiet, happy girl. Now I’m the quiet girl pretending to be happy. Every day is an acting class.

Hurrying toward the Parthenon’s western pediment, I glance once over my shoulder and see Mom headed in the opposite direction. Who am I kidding? She’s on to me.

With surprising ease I locate the same slab of marble I sat on when I was last here. Until recently I’d kept a photograph of it on my desk. The marble is long and narrow and tilts slightly upward, reminding me, as it did then, of a surfboard that has just caught a wave.

I sit on it, feeling the coolness hit my bare legs.

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