‘My Teen Years’
My dad was losing control of my ‘feminine protesting’ as I entered my teen years. He sent me to a Jesuit boys’ school for my 9th Grade (1970 – 1971). Whatever his expectations that they would make me a ‘man’, both the school and my father were obviously absolute failures.
My dad fought my inevitability for so many years. There were so many times I gave so many clues and outright told my plan to him. The worst culminated during our infamous blow-up during an extreme episode of my feminine protesting tantrums (February 1971). I spoke many harsh words for a 14-years-old that night, to the least and quite tame, ‘I AM a girl! I wanna be a girl! I WILL be a girl. I’m gonna do it and you can’t stop me.’ My dad countered, ‘You ARE crazy. Why do you want to be a girl? You don’t want to be a girl. Do you want to happen to you what happened to your Uncle Frank?’ My dad’s tone meant to demean me – meant to demean all female-hood as he inflected his male haughty superiority on ‘girl’.
He persisted his blindness to my words and acts.
His reference to Uncle Frank was meant to strike fear into me that I could be murdered as easily as Uncle Frank. My dad had Uncle Frank (his ex-wife’s younger brother) arrested while in transition during a visit. Would my dad have me arrested and put in a psycho ward for wanting to change? That night, my dad beat me, then he grabbed my right arm, and twisted it to my back. He taunted me to scream; he boasted no one could hear me. I did scream as loud as possible – in pain and terror. He was correct, apparently no neighbour heard our shouting nor heard my pleas. Certainly, no neighbour came to my aid – not that night – not ever.
My dad accused my mom of influencing my anti-male behaviour. He decided we would move from that influence. He applied to American schools at foreign locations; Pinewood School of Thessaloniki hired him for a two-years contract (1971 – 1973).
We stayed at Rome for a couple weeks on our way to Thessaloniki, Greece (August 1971). We saw many of the ancient Roman sites and ate plenty of real Italian pizza and spaghetti. I studied Latin for 9th Grade language; it proved usefull and I quickly became conversant in Italian. Paisano!
Unfortuneately, my dad had one of his adult tantrums right there inside the Sistine Chapel – I was too long admiring the artwork and taking pictures and movies. He grabbed my camera and gear bag from me and threw it to the side, yanked me by my arm, dragged me outside, and began to beat me. He must have made himself quite a spectacle! He realised what he did when he restored his composure; too late, my camera bag with most all my cameras, film, accessories, and eyeglasses were not where he threw it.
My dad pulled me to the Vatican security where he filed a fraudulent theft report. My dad, the respected Director of Religious Education at our Catholic parish, sat there at Vatican security, lied like a rug, and gave such a stare to me that dashed any thought of saying a word to the investigator. Yep; my dad had no concern about his behaviour or the loss of my camera gear, only the protection his self-image.
A week or so later, we drove our Fiat 124 four-door sedan to Brindisi, rode the ferry to Corfu, ate ‘noodles’ (my first real Greek food) for lunch at a roadside taverna, then continued the drive to our destination at the Capsis Hotel at Thessaloniki, Greece.
My dad gave a stern lecture to me within days of when we settled at our new home at Harilao. He told me that he would have no reluctance to deal with me harshly if I dared express my feminine protesting. Done with 9th Grade Jesuit school, I had begun growing my hair long as my un-spoken feminine protest. That irked my dad – what else can a teen do, eh. My long hair also became our symbolic understanding between us – his reluctance at what he surely must have known would eventually follow. None of this mattered. I knew that I was there for the next two years; I already decided that it would do me no harm to make the most of those years and take in all these once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I could.
We moved from Harilao to the school campus at Pylaia a couple weeks later. This was the view of Mount Olympos from my bedroom window (Compton Hall at the Anatolia College campus).
These were our travels during our first year:
- Our school conducted a hiking trip to Mount Olympos (October 1971) (that’s the summit, right, and there I am resting at the lodge, Tom sitting next to me).
- Our next school excursion took us to Istanbul; my dad and I made a side trip to an island at the Marmara Sea (November 1971) (this picture is looking at Istanbul from the Black Sea).
- My dad, Slim, and I travelled to Jugoslavia, Austria, and West Germany (Christmas vacation 1971).
- I participated as a delegate of Czechoslovakia to the International Model United Nations held at den Haag, Nederlands (February 1972) (below, this was General Assembly).
- My dad, Slim, and I travelled to Crete, other Greek islands, and throughout the Peloponissos (Easter vacation 1972).
- My dad, Slim, and I made an extended island-hopping adventure to Mykonos, Delos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes, Kos, and Tinos (June 1972).
- My dad, Slim, and I travelled throughout Western Europe – Jugoslavia, Austria, West Germany, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Nederlands (July, August 1972).
The most influential of these travels during that first year was my witness to Maribor and Dachau. I forever have been shaken at the events that transpired there – humbled at the strength of those who endured the Shoah. We toured the Munich Olympic Games site mere weeks before the events that would unfold. I have been a student of the Shoah since then.
School resumed September 1972. Pinewood School promoted my dad to take charge of their detached school whose students were primarily those of employees at the Voice of America transmitter site at Dasahori, Greece. My dad, Slim, and I resided at Maggana, a neighbouring village, during our second year.
Kathy came to visit (November 1972 – February 1973). We all did more travelling:
- My dad, Kathy, Slim, and I made a return trip to Istanbul and Asia Turkey (November 1972).
- My dad, Kathy, Slim, and I made a return trip to Jugoslavia, Austria, and West Germany (Christmas vacation 1972).
- I participated as a delegate of Sri Lanka to the International Model United Nations held at den Haag, Nederlands (February 1972). I prepared, presented, and campaigned for a resolution for General Assembly debate; it failed at the MUN, but the real United Nations implemented a similar idea.
- My dad, Kathy, Slim, and I made a day trip to Thasos (February 1973) (see the picture to the right).
- My dad, Slim, and I travelled through Eastern Europe – Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary; the USSR denied our request for entry visas to Ukrainia SSR (Easter vacation 1973).
- My dad, our landlord, Slim, and I travelled to Drama (May 1973).
My school-mates and my international travels provided the opportunity for me to learn different cultures. I learned to speak several languages at varying levels of proficiency: Italian, Greek, Serbo-Croatian (Jugoslavian), Afrikaans, Turkish, German, French, Romanian, Hungarian, Dutch, Russian, Arabic. Those languages still rattle around my sub-conscious. I experience occasional dreams in Greek or French (my most-fluent foreign languages). My words come out as Greek when I try speaking Spanish with my Mexican grocer.
I read a curious item. The same part of the brain that controls the capacity for language also controls the capacity to do jigsaw puzzles. It must have been a preview of that combination; I frequently did jigsaw puzzles as a child, and continue as an adult.
I would overhear locals talk while riding the city bus when residing at Greece. I played tricks on those who said rude words about me as if I was a tourist who did not understand their language. The fun came when I would say something very Greek in a good Greek accent as I got off the bus (or if they got off first); my words frequently left them speechless. My game wore thin after a while through the course of travelling; I preferred to simply talk to the locals in their local language wherever I went so that they accepted me rather than perceive me as that ‘ugly American tourist’.
Grigori, our landlord at Maggana that second year, spoke Greek and German; he taught Greek and German to me while I taught English to him. We had the most amazing conversations – a polyglot of Greek, German, and English.
I found myself invited inside Maggana’s ‘men only’ taverna one night when a villager played his bagpipes – they did not realise who they invited (there I am on the right side of the picture to the right).
Our school year ended; my dad and I packed our belongings. The Pinewood principal secured a contract for my dad, Slim, and me to move; my dad would teach at the American international school at Liberia for the next two years. Meanwhile, we travelled through Western Europe on our way stateside to await further instructions. Within a week of our return we received bad news: the Principal incurred a sudden heart attack and died. The Liberia school voided all contracts; we would not be travelling to Liberia.