It was the summer of 1982 and I'd just graduated college. My best friend and I had planned and saved for years to go wander through Europe and Israel; we'd stay with her relatives in London and my friend in Jerusalem. We left at the end of June and planned to come home in mid-August.
It was the trip of a lifetime for us middle class, public school kids; first time out of the country for me and I was so excited. We were going to London then Paris, take the Eurail to Venice, Florence and Rome, then a ferry from Brindisi, Italy to Athens, Greece then Israel.
I was heading to law school and she to medical school. We knew our paths would be long and difficult and we wanted to have the best summer ever. The trip of a lifetime.
We arrived in Athens, checked into the hostel and immediately set out for the sights. This city was a treasure trove. I couldn't get enough of the Parthenon, the Acroplis...EVERYTHING. It was Greece. I was a huge Mary Stewart fan and read every book she wrote, loving the ones she set in Greece. She wrote about the places I was now in the midst of. I couldn't believe it.
We ended up in a little cafe where I was persuaded to try my first taste of grape leaves, (not a fan) and some ouzo. Later, we went to a club and were surrounded by so many gorgeous Greek men, who were happy to pay attention to "the girls from NY." It turns out, they told us, that young Greek women weren't allowed on the streets without a chaperone and they rarely came to the clubs. Were they telling us the truth? What did we know? This was the days before the internet, cellphones...anything. We had Frommers and that was it. It was pre-9/11. We thought we were safe...invincible.
I still remember the song playing in the club was Sailing by Christopher Cross. A young, good-looking guy named Stelios ( I can't believe I remember his name) asked me to dance and his friend, John, asked my friend. We spent the rest of the evening dancing and drinking with them. At midnight, they asked if we wanted to go on a motorbike ride to the center of the city and look at the stars. We figured it would be an adventure and said sure, although I had never been on a motorbike and was scared to death.
The wind rushed through my hair and scared but laughing, I held onto Stelios's waist. After about fifteen minutes, we arrived at a park and his friend walked off with my girlfriend and Stelios took my hand and we walked into the park and sat down against a tree. He told me how he wanted to come to America and see the sights; The Empire State Building, the Grand Canyon, Disney World. "Everything!" he said his teeth glinting in the moonlight. "And meet beautiful girls, but none as beautiful as you."
I rolled my eyes, but, hey, I was 21 and a gorgeous guy wanted to kiss me in the moonlight; I wasn't about to say no. Trip of a lifetime, after all. The kisses turned a bit more forceful and he told me to enjoy it. I wasn't enjoying it. I asked him to please stop.
He laughed at me. Said I was a tease; that everyone knew New York girls liked sex. "After all, you came here with me. You wanted it."
I pulled away from him but he grabbed me and held me tighter. He was, obviously, much stronger than I was. I tasted fear; my eyes filled with tears and I kept asking him to take me back to the city, but he said, "No. You leave when I say so."
I looked around for my friend but I didn't see her. (Unbeknownst to me, she had left after a little while; the guy she was with took a cab back to town with her and saw her back to the hostel. He assured her Stelios would bring me home safely. She told me when she saw us kiss, she figured I was okay.)
In my life, I'd never felt so alone; I was in a park in Athens at almost 1 in the morning with a strange man. I didn't speak the language and I had no idea how to get back to my friend. He grabbed me and pushed me down and pulled at my shirt. I kicked at him, anywhere I could and tore away from his grip, scrambling to my feet and running to the street. A cab was at the curb, the driver sat smoking a smelly, unfiltered cigarette out of the window. I wrenched open the door and slammed it shut behind me.
"How many drachmas to get back to.." I gave him the name of the hostel. He took off through the street and I thought I was safe, until I looked behind me and saw Stelios on his motor bike, following us. "Please," I asked the cabbie."I need to get rid of him." I jerked my thumb to the back window.
"Okay." With a screech of tires, he took off and with a sigh of relief, I watched the angry face of Stelios recede in the background, as we increased speed. I arrived back at the hostel, where my friend was waiting at the window for me.
That was 34 years ago and I still remember it vividly—the cab ride, Stelios yelling after me in the cab as it pulled away, my pounding heart. I don't think I slept the rest of the two days we spent in Athens; I was afraid Stelios would come after me, find me. I only kept thinking, what if I hadn't gotten away? What if he hit me, knocked me out and raped me? What would I do? It was my fault, I thought. I shouldn't have flirted with him, danced with him, drank with him. I was wrong to take a ride with him, to kiss him. After all, what did I expect?
I've never spoken of this since; because I was ashamed and embarrassed by my own stupidity. In light of the Stanford rape case, though maybe it was time. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. It doesn't discriminate by age, race or religion. When my daughter graduated high school and she and her friends went to Europe, I agonized that everything would be all right. Five young women traipsing through Europe-a recipe for disaster, It all turned out well, and they were able to send us daily photos of all of them, but I think I got grayer until she came home.
When she went to college I taught her to be aware, to walk in groups and never accept a drink from anyone. She thought she knew everything; after all, she was a kid from NYC. She had street smarts. But she saw things that shocked and upset her and she couldn't control. She assured me she was careful. But for four years I worried.
I know this was a long, rambling post, having nothing to do with books and I'm sorry. I thank you for sticking with me. As this past week has taught us, nothing really has changed much since 1982, when I was that frightened 21 year old running from an angry man I said no to. Judges, defense attorneys and rapists tear the victim apart in hopes of "breaking her." Blaming the victim remains the way to defend a rapist. Woman still wonder if they did anything wrong.
And that may be the saddest story of all.