Contributed by Megan Kruse
A man named Yiannakis collected me from beneath the windmill three hours late and drove me through sheets of rain to a boarded-up hotel. The bottom two floors were flooded with stagnant, fetid water. With a careful scaling motion you could splash your way up the stairs to a room--my room--on the top floor. I sat down at the little hotel table; from the window I could see the neighboring property, a tiny goat farm. Ten or twelve goats hid from the rain beneath a pile of scrap wood, hooves stuck in the mud, bleating as it grew dark. I stood up and walked from one end of the room to another, then sat back down again.
The year before Greece I was searching for a dream life, pulling potential destinies like so many colored scarves from the grab bag of being nineteen. I took a year of personal leave from college, and spent the first six months on a working visa in Brighton, England, tamping down espresso shots at the Starbucks in the clocktower square. I split the rent on a tiny bedroom with a French Canadian woman; she took the mattress and I slept on the box spring. I had a chronic lung infection, and was deep in a ruinous affair with my married coworker; I was terribly unhappy, but in the way that would one day seem romantic, that one day I might even miss.
I constructed a vague plan to leave England and make my way to Greece, to the island of Paros. I secured a partial “fellowship” to an art school that had no accreditation or information: Show up when you want, Yiannakis said. I was a writer, I thought, and in my youth everything seemed to shine; it didn’t occur to me that no one gives fellowships to nineteen year olds without publications. I never researched Greece. I didn’t check the weather, or investigate the “school.” In my dreams, the Naxos Pride would leave me on a white sand shore in the blazing sun, and within days I’d be draped across a chaise longue, the most popular new member of the island poets’ salon. I’d wear a linen dress and bright red lipstick. I’d break a thousand hearts. I’d probably never come back.
I never saw Yiannakis again. My shoes mildewed, and then my sheets. The boats weren’t running, so there was no fresh food on the island. The newspapers for sale were from weeks ago. I walked back to the port, where I remembered seeing a pay phone, but the cord had been cut. I went into the port office to look at the boat schedules, but I didn’t have enough money to leave, only a return ticket for months later. I picked my way back over the rutted roads to the boarded-up hotel. I could see the island landfill on the hillside from my room. Spindly legs of broken furniture, shattered glass, gray flags of bedsheet whipping in the wind. The flood had turned the dirt roads into waterways. Trash floated in eddies. I felt heartbroken and very still. Nothing was how I expected it to be. My dreams were so far from reality, and I had no one to blame but myself.
In those long flooded months, I read. I smoked painstakingly-rolled cigarettes and wandered the white stone alleys of Paroikia that wound in circles through the heart of town and then snaked up the mountainside, leading to the huts of old men, the houses of the rich expatriates, that landfill. I had nowhere to go and I waited out the season until it slowly segued to spring. More disillusioned “students” arrived, and we banded together, going from cafe to cafe to play chess and drink coffee. None of our dreams looked like what we’d imagined. The sun came out and I threw open the doors to my hotel room, let the floor dry. I let the sun shine on me. Still, I expected nothing then.
On Greek Easter, I was invited to a party deep in the hills of Paros. I put on a dress, hiked halfway, then hitched the rest of the ride. I was exhausted from the winter, from being alone. A group of performers were visiting from Japan, dancing and reading poetry. A young French woman played the ukulele and sang in harmony with her much older lover. A table was laden with spanakopita and olives, fruits and rabbit and eggplant, which I’d learned to call aubergine. I drank my wine and looked down over the town of Paroikia, the stone churches and half-built homes, the bluest water in the port that had brought me there and would one day take me home.
How silly to put the weight on one moment, but it was--a flash of clarity, the kind that usually comes only in retrospect. I was laughing, watching the artists dance, and for a moment I recognized that the scene around me, that beautiful and ephemeral carnival, was aligning completely with my Greece fantasies. My foolish dress and lipstick, the geography and art. I was 6000 miles from the life I’d grown up in. I’d made it through the winter. I’d finally stepped fully into my dream.
It was in that same moment, cognizant of what I finally had, that another thought nudged its way into my mind--a strange nostalgia for what I might be doing, right then, back in the blue collar town I’d grown up in. A pickup truck, I thought. Bad country music. A case of Bud Light. I wanted then all of the things I’d scorned, that I’d deemed less than. I wanted a group of people around me that I’d thought or hoped I could lose, people who knew me, even in ways I didn’t want to be known. That sudden want usurped and asserted itself upon the Greek dream world. I stayed on at the party, and then went back to my hotel. I’d thought that what I’d wanted was to live eternally on a hillside of art and wine. In my still-damp little bed, I thought: Remember, this is beautiful, and you wanted it so badly. Remember, too, that you don’t want to stay.
And what do you do with your wanting, wandering heart? I stayed the rest of the spring in Greece, and then I went back to the States, feverish and full of new dreams. The Other-Me maybe stayed there, in her lipstick and her dresses, talking about art, watching the seasons change from violent rain to beautiful island summer. Maybe Other-Me was better; maybe she wasn’t. It doesn’t matter. In the moment when the dream became mine to hold, it no longer felt precious. What would I wake up for? I thought. To do it all again? Here’s the truth: It was that moment, when my dreams finally felt realized, and then were supplanted with something else, that I understood that our unrealized lives are what keep us alive. We are meant to want. We are meant to keep becoming.
In 2008 I had a scrap of an ancient Greek poem--Sappho, to fully acknowledge my own saccharine bent--tattooed on my forearm. The translation, from Anne Carson’s If Not, Winter, reads, As long as you want. The tattoo lacks context; I took it lazily, wanting only what meaning I made of it. Still, it helps me to remember that I’ve followed all of the things that I wanted, all the things that felt important. And there have been so many important things.
I left Greece a different person for having been alone all that time. I finished college. I moved to four or five different cities to try on different lives. I’m still trying them. I know there are people who have always known their destinations. When it aches at me, when I worry that I’m getting nowhere, I try to remember the power of never attaining. What would it mean to want for nothing? I can only think that to stop wanting would snuff out the candle of the glittering next life. On that hill in Greece, I had the rare and exquisite sensation of having sought something that I thought was everything I wanted. I thought I could hold it, and in the same moment I saw that the rest of my life was still growing. I saw that the wanting would keep driving me. It drives me still.
Megan Kruse is a novelist and creative nonfiction writer from the Pacific Northwest. She studied creative writing at Oberlin College and earned her MFA at the University of Montana. Her work has appeared widely in journals and anthologies, and her debut novel, Call Me Home, was released from Hawthorne Books in March 2015, with an introduction by Elizabeth Gilbert. She currently lives in Seattle.