Storytime Wednesday: Saying Yes and No in Athens

My natural state does not have the "say yes to everything" mentality that seems to be so popular these days. Some of my more extreme type-A friends (and my mother) may argue this point - Erin, didn't you go full-time freelance and figure everything would work out? Don't you go on vacations by yourself and figure everything will work out? Didn't you move to another continent assuming everything would work out? 

Well, yes. But there is someone who taught me to be like that: My best friend from college. 

KT is someone for whom it does all work out. Don't get me wrong - she works hard for her success, but she also has this crazy, positive, say-yes-to-adventure attitude that I've always admired. In fact, she moved to another continent first, studying abroad Australia and regularly calling me drunk before my 9am summer school math class in the States. I think her secret is that even if things don't go the way she has planned, she shrugs it off and parties on, and this zeal for life makes her the kind of person everyone wants to be around - leading to even more escapades for KT. She lives her life out loud, and is the embodiment of this idea that saying yes amplifies your life. 

I'm naturally more of a cynic. I'm in my own head a lot (hey, it's an interesting place), and I'm overly responsible. I'm the one who never gets so drunk she loses control, never forgets obligations, never forgets people watch when she dances. I do put myself out there on occasion, especially now that I'm older and give fewer fucks, but when I was younger, letting go required a lot of effort. And I think people could see that, so as much as I wanted to be like KT, I never quite shone light like she does.

***

It was time to leave Italy. My boyfriend had cheated on me, my parents missed me, and I was tired of the constant dreariness in Milan. It was a period of my life where I was forced to say yes out of loneliness and necessity - you can't exactly move to a new place and build a life from hermiting yourself away. But it was wearing on me. I planned one final (solo) exploration of Europe in my last months as a resident, and I wanted the exact opposite of Milan - so I chose Santorini, an island in Greece. The only flights available on my shoestring budget were atrocious - arriving in Athens around 9:30pm and flying to Santorini at 5am. Getting a hotel for those precious few hours seemed silly, and online research promised that lots of people spend the night at the airport. Though this sounded horrid to me, I tried to embrace the KT spirit on this trip. I was still brokenhearted and trying to generate any positivity I could.

As people gradually stopped filing onto the plane from Milan to Athens, I had the blissful optimism that I would have a row to myself. Then, minutes before we pulled away from the gate, two men in disheveled suits came blustering aboard, speaking rapid-fire to each other in a strange language and, of course, squeezing in next to my window seat. The man next to me was the burlier of the two, a bit older than me, with short curls falling around his face. After arranging himself in his seat, he asked me in English about the book I was reading, which I soon put away because this was clearly the kind of seat mate who was going to give me his life story.

He explained that he and his friend, who clearly did not speak English, had just come from doing business in Germany. They were from Athens originally, and he expounded upon all the virtues of his city, like visiting the Acropolis at night, with only stars overhead. When I shared that I was sad to be spending the night in the airport, he seemed actually offended. "No, that will not do," he said, and after a short burst of words with his friend, "You will come with us. We will make it a night to remember!" Thinking of KT, I said yes. I wanted that kind of night.

We continued talking for the rest of the flight, with him excitedly describing the things we could do for my one night in Athens - where we could go drink wine, what streets to explore, and how no one would sleep until he dropped me safely, and punctually, at the airport. I found out he had a daughter with an exgirlfriend, and he told me bits and pieces of their relationship while I conveniently glossed over the transgressions and impending doom of mine, to demonstrate that I was a taken woman. I started becoming a little uneasy at the degree of intimacy this conversation had garnered, and the number of times he called his exgirlfriend crazy. Shortly before the plane landed, he turned to me and said, "You know, with your curly hair, you remind me of my exgirlfriend." And that was what ended the magic for me.

I realized I didn't know this man, and I had just agreed to spend an entire night under the shroud of darkness with him, in a city I did not know and he knew very well. They waited for me as we disembarked, his silent friend who had seemed leering before now felt like more of an ally than this man who thought I looked like his crazy ex. I started to sweat. I was worried about being impolite - He was so nice! He had offered to show me his city! - and missing out on an adventure with locals. I wanted to say yes. I made it out to the parking lot, with the man's constant chatter telling me how his friend would go home, and we would go to his house to shower, and then he would show me the city, but when we arrived at their car and they started loading their suitcases, my sense of self-preservation kicked in. I was not getting in the car with strange men. I was going to say no.

I said it many times, in fact, as I was backing away from them and apologizing. "Erin!" he called after me, "Are you sure?" 

Despite the fact that I did not get one wink of sleep while uncomfortably positioned on a coffee shop booth, one hand locked protectively around my suitcase in case the group of Danish girls that I should have been making friends with were more sinister than they seemed, despite the fact that I am fairly sure KT would have gone with them, and despite the fact that I might have missed out on those rare, magical nights making an innocent connection with someone in a beautiful city, I have zero regrets. I am absolutely sure I made the right decision to stay alive, and sometimes, it's okay to say no to protect that.