January 1, 2009
Mari Katherine Raftopoulos
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It was yet another trip to the airport. It was starting to seem like the drive to the airport was part of my commute and the economy lot my best friend. The traffic, parking lot, lines, security and, well, the airport bar were consuming most of my weekend routine.
As I grow older, I notice more and more the traits that I carry on from my parents. Aside from the dominant Greek genes, it is the little mannerisms that often make me stop and say, “Wow, I sounded exactly like my mom.” It’s from the way I drive with my head resting on my left hand to the way I plant flowers.
Choices. We have so many in our everyday lives, from the clothes we wear to work every day, to the way we like our coffee in the morning, to how we spend our free time, and let’s not even get started on dissecting the grocery store and the endless amounts of options for your cart. At the end of the day, choices consume nearly our every minute. Looking at it like this is very overwhelming, so much so that it is easy to stick to the norm out of the fear of uncertainty.
Whether the sun is setting behind a set of clouds, a mountainside, the edge of the Pacific Ocean or a very tall building, I have always been one to chase the sunset. I will race anywhere to catch that final drop of sun, even knowing that there will be another one the next day. In fact, it is one of my most favorite and cherished times.
Easter for my family has always been a favorite. Easter means spring is in blossom and summer travel and warm nights are on the horizon. But, most importantly, Easter in the Greek tradition means many nights spent in church, a fasting that teaches discipline, a lamb feast that gives reward and the most cherished and honored time of year.
These are the reminders of why I came here: the painted wine bottles in the window sill; the Christmas lights draped from corner to corner across the red ceiling; my roommate peering over her large foamy latte to hide her people watching; and the couples bundled up for a cozy Sunday stroll. As I look out the coffee shop window, this street holds so many memories of my time in Denver so far. This coffee shop in particular used to be new to me, and so did the restaurant across the street, the flower shop next door, the last stop neighborhood bar at the end of the road and those mysterious neighbor boys.
I always found time to be alone while living in San Diego, whether it was in a coffee shop, in a random beach neighborhood, out for a jog or walk on the beach, or even on one of my aimless drives up the coast. My time spent alone in San Diego was my moment to process my growth. And while my group of friends in college was nearly inseparable, we all found time to process our experience.
Life after college is quite the transition. I remember being in school and imagining what the real world would be like. Is it Sunday morning brunch? Is it more dinner parties? Is it routine over-spontaneity? What’s it all about?
For some reason, 2010 was a hard year to let go of for me. One would think that after this up-and-down year, I would celebrate the new year and the new beginning. Not that I’m not ready to turn the page in my journal, curl up in an oversized sofa of a quaint coffee shop and write down what 2011 will mean for me.
We all huddled around the island counter chopping onions, (three bundles per pan, to be exact), slicing spinach (four big handfuls per pan, to be exact), and crumbling up feta (half of a container, to be exact) in order to make Spanikopita for the infamous Greek New Year’s Party. We started with the plan of making three pans in a couple of hours. Well, three pans turned into five, plus some pita rolls. A couple of hours escalated into an entire afternoon, some holiday drinks, and classic country music 2-steps and sing-a-longs.
Every year, when my mom started on her Christmas kick, it was as if Santa came to town and filled our house with the most vibrant holiday cheer. My mother was so good at Christmas, as both a child and an adult, it was hard for me to believe that there wasn’t a magical element intertwined in all of her holiday décor and spirit. There wasn’t an inch of our house that wasn’t festive, a minute didn’t go by in our day that wasn’t filled with an advent calendar chocolate and there wasn’t a single night in December without every Christmas light lit around the house.
As a child, my mother would have to bribe me to get me on the mountain to ski, but when it came to the ocean, I would jump right in. The idea of flying down a slippery slope at high speeds terrified me, partly because at that age I was attached to my mother, and anything that didn’t include her, like ski lessons, weren’t worth my time. It is amazing that much like our tastes change as a kid, so do our hobbies and passions as we grow up.
Do things really happen for a reason? Did that one call three years ago change your destiny? Was that missed opportunity or tragedy already mapped out in your life plan without you knowing? Did you meet him or her because you will need them in the future for some reason? I think we search all of our lives for these types of answers.
It is in the air, on your coffee cup and on the radio. The holidays have arrived and I’m feeling less festive than usual. I am a very festive person and so was my mother. I learned it from her. She taught me how to set the dining room table, to never go to a party empty-handed, the flavors of the holidays and that the most important people in the world is your family. For a festive person, it is hard for me to smile with Thanksgiving complete and Christmas on the way because every bite of turkey, every hung Christmas light and every holiday song is hard to bear without her.
Recently I have been having flashbacks to my time spent studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. I see myself running through the crooked and cobbled stone streets of a historical plaza, or sitting in local coffee shop midday with a glass of red wine and a Spanish book by my side. I see myself rushing through the subway, dropping everything in my hands and falling in love with the stranger who helped put my life back together, only to miss the train and class.
I remember reaching a point in the relationship with my parents where we started talking about the real moments in life — from our births to their wedding day, from their younger years to our futures. For some, these stories might cause embarrassment. But for me, this turning point was one of my favorite parts of growing up. And now, it is what I miss most about growing up. Every Christmas break that I came home from school and every summer vacation I spent at the ranch, my relationship with my mother grew.
As a child, I loved to paint. Not portraits to hang on the fridge or still life fruit basket paintings made in art class, I loved to paint buildings, fences, walls and just about everything. Although my parents never really let me have a real bucket of paint, I still found ways to paint the town, and at that time my town was the ranch.
After my most recent trip to Chicago for my best friend’s brother’s wedding, I realized that I have yet to spend one full weekend in my new city and in my new home. Between weddings, football games, birthdays and homecoming, my time here is flying by. This Halloween weekend will mark the first weekend that my roommate and I have spent together in our new house.
I am settling in to my new life and routine in Denver. I never realized how amazing it is to be a drive away instead of a phone call away. The difference is significant. Because of my relocation to Colorado, I see my family often and can experience my favorite moments with them, instead of telling them about the experience on the phone.
My favorite part of traveling is the journey to get there. No matter the method of transportation, whether it is a drive, flight, or boat ride, the journey helps me settle into my next location. For me, it is the moment when I don’t have to think about what the next step might be. It is the moment when I no longer have to worry about what to pack or if I tied up every loose end, because once you start the journey, there is only forward movement.
I have never been the new girl in town, in school or on the block. But, there is something refreshing about being new. It gives you a new step in your walk, a new twist in your dance, and a new brightness to your smile. Much like a new car seems faster on the road because it is new, or a new outfit makes you more confident for your day ahead, being the new girl on the block makes me fearless in taking on this new territory.
We have been waiting for this event since we heard the news that he popped the question — a big fat Greek wedding in Craig, where our ancestors first settled from their homeland villages. While most of them were arranged marriages at the time, their love for the culture and the land continues to influence the Yampa Valley. It started with them, but it is the Christmases, the countless New Year’s Eve parties and the weddings that have made our bond timeless. Whether we are all smashed into the basement of the Kourlis house, fighting over who was mouthing the words during Pictionary, or sledding in the crisp snow of the Charchalis sledding hill on New Year’s Day, fourth and fifth cousins have become first cousins and those with no blood ties at all have become family.
This is the first fall since I was 5 that I haven’t had a first day of school. Now, as a recent college graduate, the first of September will mark the first day of the real world. And this first day of reality gives me feelings like the first day of school used to. Something about the crisp fall air, the Friday night lights that illuminate the entire town, and the first day of school make me giddy.
When I know something is right, I get a unique feeling in my stomach. Since my curly, frizzy-haired childhood days, I have been known to follow this feeling, this gut instinct. I describe this feeling as a pinch that awakens you to the reality that stands right before you. So, do you say yes, or no? In my younger years, these decisions existed on a smaller scale. For example, whether to sneak out or not, whether to take the buzzer shot or to pass it on, whether to trust what I felt at that very moment or to deny it all together.
Three months have passed since graduation day, and it seems while some things have changed, some never will. Our jokes from freshman year, stories from our beach graduation party and the landlord nicknamed “The Rat,” — all of this never loses its charm. These stories and these moments have all brought us here, to our first reunion.
Over the past three months, I have taken to many household chores. While the boys try to do their version of cleaning, a woman’s clean and a man’s clean are two very different categories, just like a bachelor pad and a bachelorette’s loft have their numerous contrasts. It is the little things that make a house feel like a home, things that a woman understands and a man doesn’t even consider. It is the vanilla hazelnut candles lit in the evening, the beauty of the light from an antique lamp, or the fresh basil potted plant, for both smell and flavor, that welcome strangers and residents to a home.
Today marks 22 candles on the birthday cake this year. I am anxiously awaiting the moment to blow out the candles on my birthday cake, even though I have never really liked birthday cake. So instead, I will be blowing out 22 candles on my mom’s infamous éclair cake, in honor of her and her love for birthdays, but mostly in honor of a new year. Yes I am the girl who searches for an eyelash on her cheekbone just to blow it away and make a wish. I am the one who will sit for hours on the front porch longing for a shooting star because I believe it might have the power to change my luck. The girl who will never walk under a ladder or open an umbrella indoors.
His fingers gently glide along the thin strings and the melody echoes throughout the valley. The sun is setting while the moon peaks out from behind the mountain range. To the west, the clouds string across the skyline in colors of pink and purple like cotton candy, and to the east the sky is settling into a deep blue tone. In front of me is the most beautiful sight — three cowboys and one guitar making music on the front porch. He may miss a chord or two, but he recovers nicely and it seems like the mishap was planned. If you heard his voice and the chords come together, you would think he had been playing for years.
All the couches were taken and blankets were strewn throughout the house. It reminded me of a middle school slumber party except everyone was much taller this time.
The waves crashed in one by one, and each made a unique noise and had a different presence. As each wave crashed on the shoreline, I found myself taking a step closer for a look at this foreign piece of Mother Nature. This was the first time I had seen the ocean and the first family vacation that I can remember. I was 12, and couldn’t wait to get my feet wet, both literally and figuratively.
Most college students fear the day they graduate because they fear the ambiguity of the next stage. Will they backpack through Europe for the summer? Will they move back home and spend time with their family and save up money? Will they follow their dreams to move to the city and pursue their singing career? Or, will they begin their schedule of nine to five and settle for a more routine lifestyle?
As a little girl, I would sneak into my mother’s room while she was in the shower and rummage through her drawers. I didn’t have to be sneaky around her because she was a generous woman, one who would give the world to her children if she could. Yet, there was something spontaneous about being sneaky and being caught. I wasn’t looking for her square-shaped princess earrings or her rose-colored lipstick. I wasn’t trying to play dress-up, I was looking for one of her simple, baggy and worn T-shirts.
Her lips are freshly stained red from her Dior lipstick, her shirt neatly tucked into her trendy dark washed denim jeans. And her gold jewels adorn the Mediterranean blue sweater wrapped around her neck. And even though she is cleaning the house and cooking for her guests, she looks like an ad torn from the pages of a fashion magazine.