by Melina/Melinda Heywood
before my first trip to Greece, I learned that Turkey was an actual country
and not just a joke my dad and his girlfriend were playing on me. At that
time I was a seven year old Californian, and refused to believe that a place
called Turkey existed until my dad opened up a world map before my eyes. I
marveled at the proof. My very own mother had just visited this crazy-named
the map, expecting the surrounding regions of Turkey to be named for
poultry, but alas there was no Country of Duck, no Chickenland. Instead I
saw the other places my mom had recently gone to: Egypt, Yugoslavia, and
finally Greece, where she had taken up permanent residence. While she
wasnít coming back to America, she did want me to be with her in Greece, so
now I was going on a plane from San Francisco to Athens, accompanied only by
my favorite stuffed animal and pink-furred soul-mate, Frederic B. Bunny.
There was nothing
particularly out of the ordinary about this travel arrangement, as it had
ever been thus. I had been shuttling back and forth between parents who
were themselves nomadic since the age of two. There was a slight
difference, of course: their wanderings had hitherto been restricted to
within California state lines, and now I would not just be traveling by car
over the Bay Bridge to Oakland, but on a plane from San Francisco to an
entirely different country, and the separation from a parent would last for
six months rather than the habitual three weeks.
I had no
idea at the time that I would come to identify with Persephone, the young
goddess who was condemned to spend her life in half-year chunks between two
vastly different worlds. While I wasnít dividing my time between Hades and
Mount Olympus, my existence did come to be ruled by the Law of Six Months:
six months in a place, pack, leave parent, get on plane, exit plane into
arms of other parent. Rinse. Repeat. Youíd think that with its rhythmic
predictability Iíd have gotten used to it and calmly transcended the
transitions. Iíve since learned that being practiced at partings does not
mean you ever master them.
The day before my
first flight my dad and I made identification tags out of shrinky dinks in a
warm, woody Berkeley kitchen. I loved shrinky dinks, loved drawing with
colorful felt tip pens on thin, clear sheets of plastic, then cutting them
into different shapes and baking them on cookie sheets in the oven, watching
them rise, thicken and harden into personalized objets díart. This
time however, dad did most of the shrinky dink wizardry, carefully writing
on plastic in purple, green, orange and blue letters:
Melinda Lou Marsh, age 7
Daughter of Phil Marsh
1805 Rose Street
Berkeley, California, U.S.A.
By the end
of the day, I was a shrine of shrinky dinks.
identity and genealogy were affixed to my person like a shimmering plastic
halo. Shiny translucent tags hung from my neck on ribbons, they were pinned
to my shirt and looped on my belt and fastened to Frederic B. Bunny. Any
stranger looking at me would know that though I was traveling alone, I was
nevertheless the very special daughter of a very caring father. More
importantly, I would not forget my identity as I made my first
Odyssey to my motherís new foreign life in Greece. There was no way that I
could forget I was Melinda Marsh, shrinky-dinked daughter of Phil Marsh of
Berkeley, California, USA.
The morning of my
flight, my father threw up in the shower. Ever the empathizer, I shortly
followed suit. This emotionally induced purging was to become a tradition
with us over the next nine years. In a way it was cathartic; I was emptying
myself before filling so I could fill up with anticipation about the next
universe I was to enter: my motherís smoky world of late nights in Greek
tavernas, blaring bouzoukis, belly dancing, and the beautiful Aegean sea.
It was so far from California, from my dadís laid-back Berkeley musician
buddies, from the gentle strums of his guitar as he sang me folk songs to
sleep every night.
no perfect way to prepare for my displacement: in its wrenching violence,
barfing seemed as fitting a physical event as any to mark the abrupt bodily
transition between one parent and another. It was only until I had arrived
at the other side, had carefully unpacked my suitcase, arranged my things
around me, and soaked in the voice and quotidian rhythms of the new parent
that I gradually allowed myself to unfurl my leaves and grow into the new
reacted differently to my departures. Whenever I left Greece she would
seize up internally, as if a phantom boa constrictor was squeezing her soul
bloodless. Her body would become a taut set of iron cables winding ever
tighter about each other, her knuckles whitening as she gripped my shoulders
and we inched forward to check in at the Athens airport. Her eyes would be
bone dry, mine were a flood. When we parted at passport control, my stomach
would cleave in two: one half yearning to remain here with my mom, who was
now looking white with pain as she waved goodbye, the other half anxious to
return to dad, who would be waiting for me at the other end, ruddy and
smiling and blond. My stomach would violently reunite with itself and let
loose its contents during take-off, and Iíd spend the rest of the flight
gearing myself up for re-entry into my ďotherĒ world yet again.
as a child I knew that my parents were only meant to come together to
produce me in some provident cosmic confluence, then go their separate ways
with me as the human thread knitting together the continents.
Persephone, copyright 2000 by Melinda Heywood.
This piece is part of a series of essays based on Melinda's unconventional