Whatever Happens, We’ll Always Have Greece

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May 10, 2017 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

I have such a hard time reconciling the fact that 2007 was 10 years ago.  Back then I was a 6-foot, 120 lbs., 16-year-old, who listened exclusively to Guns N’ Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and who was still a little timid around girls.  When I turned 16, I was still about six months away from getting drunk for the first time and about nine months away from my first kiss.  2007 was also the year that I went to Greece on a school trip.  It’s for this reason that I consider 2007 the year that I started to come of age.

The year before was the first time that my high school had signed up to do one of those student tours to Italy, which my older sister participated in.  After she got back, word got out that the next year, 2007, the student tour trip would be to Greece.  Now as a good Greek boy, I had a natural yearning to go back to the motherland, and so for an entire year I had to live with the excitement of looking forward to a trip to Greece right in the middle of Easter break.  But that time between 2006 and 2007 felt like an eternity, as every year does when you’re a kid.

Sure enough though, Easter break 2007 finally came around and three days after my 16th birthday we began the long journey to Greece.  Because I didn’t have an iPod, I brought my CDs with me, which consisted of only Guns N’ Roses and Red Hot Chili Peppers albums.[1]  And I didn’t have apple earbuds, but clunky rectangular headphones that had a slightly serrated edge, so if I didn’t put them on carefully enough I would’ve slice my earlobes right off.  And as I’d find out a few years later, my earlobes are extremely sensitive…so I’m glad I still have both of them.

There were about 45 students who went on the trip and seven chaperones, most of whom were teachers, I had no idea who a third of the other kids were.  I didn’t go to a big high school; at most there were 1,000 students, and any gossip or rumors got around at light speed, so I have no idea how I didn’t know everyone on the trip.  Among the teachers, there was great trepidation about my presence on the trip because they all saw me as this hyperactive maniac with a serious impulse control problem.  What really upset me about that the most was that while I was energetic and a class clown, I was never a troublemaker in school.  For those teachers to think that about me, teachers that never had me as a student, especially when there were a few actual troublemakers going on the trip, always rubbed me the wrong way.  Truth be told, I’m much less capricious than people think I am.  I knew I had a reputation of being a joker, but I never wanted to be a bad kid.  In high school though, outside of your group of friends, you’re really only known by reputation, and even then you’re put into pre-established categories like “popular”, “artsy”, or “clown”.

There was a rumor about me that I once gave a teacher the finger and told them to fuck off before storming out of class.  There was also a rumor that I had the same first and last name…like Sirhan Sirhan, the man who assassinated RFK.  So there were kids who I had never met, who knew me as the kid with the same first and last name.  Anytime a guy broke his arm, the same rumor would fly that he broke it because he tried to slam the door on his mom before she could walk in on him jerking off.  Luckily, I never broke my arm.

Despite the number of students going, none of my close friends went, which meant that I was travelling with acquaintances and strangers…and a bunch of girls that I had crushes on but was way to scared to even talk to.  What stuck out to me the most was that it seemed like everyone else was travelling with their best friend or with their entire clique, whereas I felt like, besides one or two people, I was on my own.

After a few days in Greece, bouncing around from social group to social group, I found out that kids who I thought were lifelong friends had actually started talking to each other for the first time a day or two before.  Seeing the kids in my grade hang out with seniors, or seeing juniors from completely different social circles spend 10 days becoming close friends was something that could only happen outside of the social setting of high school, away from everyone’s comfort zone and all those perceptions of who we thought everyone else was.  We got to know each other away from those preconceived notions that we all had for one another.  By the end of the trip I was spending entire days with kids I never knew even went to the same school as I did.  Besides my one friend, I spent the last half of the trip hanging out with kids a year or two older than me, instead of the kids in my grade who I was kinda friendly with.

Those juniors and seniors accepted me, I mean really accepted me as though we had been friends for years.  They thought I was a joker, but they never mad me feel as though I was a character, which is how I felt some of the kids my own age saw me as, this jester who’s only good for a cheap joke.  The very last night of the trip, all of us in my new motley group of friends decided to have a toga party, and to this day it’s the only sober toga party that I’ve ever been a part of, and it was definitely the best one.  That night it must have been about 15 of us hanging out in the halls of the hotel partying and laughing without any alcohol or drama or anything else that you’d think a bunch of 16 and 17 year olds would need to have a good time.  What that night really symbolized was the sendoff to this super inclusive group of disparate high school students who put away the immature preconceived notions and haughty adherences to a made up social structure that plagued kids our age.

One of the last nights in particular, this hodge-podge assemblage of new friends went out to a café for a late snack and we all exchanged numbers with the expressed intent to all continue to hang out once we got back home.  One girl in particular even said “I hope we all stay friends and hang out like this once we go back to school”, as if she was trying to muster up a sense of optimism despite foreseeing the inevitable eventually that we all implicitly understood would occur—Once we got back to school we’d never hangout again.

There was no way a group like that would last once we got back to school because of its very makeup.  Once we got back to school, we all reverted to type; everyone had fallen back to the same social circles and the same roles that they had operated in before we left for Greece.  For the first few weeks, if I saw one of those kids in the hall we would have a full conversation.  A few weeks later it became awkward greetings, while a few weeks after that we would just mutually pretend that we didn’t see each other until eventually we would pass each other without even saying a word, as if we had never met at all.  I don’t know if some people actually stayed friends, but as far as I know, no one really spoke after that.  I never got any texts and neither did the people that I stayed in contact with for the longest period of time.  Maybe we all were waiting for someone else to take initiative, or maybe we all just instinctually knew that once we got back to school we were never going to be friends again.  Or maybe we were all just afraid that we would be seen as only a “Greece friend”, someone to be forgotten about come the first day back and nothing more.

A few months ago, I saw one of the kids in that group of people I hung out with on that trip for the first time since high school.  I was riding the train and they sat right in front of me.

Neither of us said a word to one another.

It’s amazing how you can grow close to someone in a short period of time and then have the relationship end as quickly as it was forged.  For the most part that’s how high school friendships work.  You’re friends with the kids you have classes with, and once you stop sharing classes, you stop speaking.  I was in marching band, and there were kids that would only talk or eat together during training camp or competitions, but outside of marching band, they never spoke to each other.  It’s sort of like being friends of circumstance, and that’s what that group was—Kids from separate grades and social circles becoming friends because we all travelled, ate, and shopped together for a week and a half.  Friendships were created in a day on that trip, and most of those friendships ended in a day as well.  I hate to quantify it in those terms because I met some fantastic people that I never would have met otherwise, but that’s high school, and as scary as it may sound, it’s also life—We make friends where we can find them.

There was one such girl in particular who I never spoke to before the trip nor after.  She was older than me but I always thought she was one of the prettiest girls in school.  The very first day of the trip she just started talking to me and we would sporadically hangout over the course of the next 10 days.  I knew that she was one of the popular girls, but she was one of the nicest, most real people I had met on the trip.  She had no reason to talk to me and within a few days I wound up opening up to her in a way that I never really did with anyone at that point.

During the trip, there was one time in particular that really encapsulates our short term friendship and the lasting effects that someone can have on you despite only being in your life for a few days.  We were in a hotel lobby with all the other students and chaperones, but for some reason it was just the two of us sitting at a table, and I remember we were talking about love, sex, and relationships.  Despite knowing nothing of those three topics at that point in my life, like any teenager I always liked to ponder them since those were the deepest and heaviest concepts my 16-year-old mind could conjure up.  During the course of the conversation I had mentioned that I had no sexual experience at all, while also expressing my own insecurities about how I didn’t think girls found me good looking and how if I wasn’t making a joke I had no idea how to even talk to girls.  While I don’t remember the exact words she used, her response to went something like:

 

Girl: I know that there’s at least one girl on this trip you have a crush on; I can tell.  So why don’t you just talk to her?  What’s the worst thing that’ll happen?  Either she talks to you and you two hit it off, which is great, or, she’ll turn you down or she’ll make you feel like shit, in which case she’s a bitch and not worth your time anyway.  This probably isn’t going to do you any good now, but you’re a nice guy and any girl that isn’t interested in you because of that, you’ll be much better off without.  And I don’t know why you’re so insecure because I can guarantee you that there are more than a few girls right here who think you’re really hot.

 

Now even if that last part was a lie, which it most likely was, God bless her for saying it.  Seeing all the other guys in my grade flirt, dance and hook up with girls made me feel like I wasn’t doing something right, or that there was something wrong with me.  Like any teenager, I was preoccupied with the opposite sex, but totally insecure about even talking to girls.  Hearing a beautiful girl talk to me like that was really the first time in my life that a girl had filled me with a sense of self-confidence.  Those words were exactly what I needed to hear at that time, even if I don’t remember her exact words.  They really resonated with me and instilled within me a sense of self-assurance that I was missing, for that I will always be grateful to her.

 

About three years ago I saw her at a deli and she literally had no idea who I was.  She thought I was either Dave or Doug.

 

It’s amazing the impact that someone can have on your life without even realizing it.  After 10 years I can still remember that conversation, the design of the hotel lobby, the fact that there was a downpour that day.  For someone I knew for 10 days, the impact she had on me was so profound that it still sits in my memory banks, while to her, I was nothing more than a passing shadow.

One of the nights, we all went out to a nightclub called “Gorilla”.  The drinking age in Greece was 18, but the teachers made it explicitly clear that even if a student was 18 they couldn’t order a drink…that didn’t stop any of the 18 year olds, or the 17 year olds, or the 16 year olds from drinking.  While some kids were hooking up with Europeans, Canadians, or even other kids on the trip, I had a shirtless man named Nikos follow me for a half an hour trying to dance with me.  I kept telling him to back off, but he wouldn’t leave me alone until I punch him square in the chest.  While other kids hooked up with each other, I spent my night avoiding a shirtless Greek man.

To recapture the trip, once we got back home one of the teachers made a video of our journey and gave a copy to all the kids.  When I first watched the video, it was like I was reliving the trip.  I was able to recollect actually doing all those things and seeing all those sights in the video.  But now when I watch it, I’m reminded of everything that happened on the trip and of everyone who went.  I re-watched the video before writing this piece and there were some things that I totally forgot.  I completely forgot that some kid spent an entire day eating a head of lettuce; on one of the cruises, we met an Asian guy who just tagged along with us as we spent the entire day travelling from island to island.  Being the nonsensical joker that I am, I decided it would be funny if I took photos with random people that we encountered on the trip.[2]

As someone who gets nostalgic over things very easily, I’ve always wondered how some of the other people who went on the trip look back on Greece, if they even do at all.  For some, I’m sure it was nothing but another trip outside the country, while for others it was probably just another chapter of high school that they’ve since closed the book on.

Beyond that, I’ve always wondered what happened to everyone, particularly the kids that included me in their mixed-matched group of friends.  Yes, there’s Facebook, but besides photos and complimentary birthday statuses I have no idea how most of them are doing.  Everyone who went on that trip has a shared experience and even though it could never happen, I’d be very curious to see what would happen if, like tomorrow or something, all the people who went on that trip were somehow put in a room together.  Would we act like the people that we’ve become in the 10 years since that trip, or would we revert to the roles that we fulfilled in school and live in the same niches that we occupied back then?  Would those brief friendships spark back to life, or have we all drifted so far apart that there’s no longer any common ground?  There are times where I honestly believe that I’ve changed so much since 2007, but then there are times I’m convinced I’m still the same 16-year-old goofball who just wanted people to like him.

In 2017, I’m two inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than I was in 10 years ago.  In the decade since that trip to Greece, I’ve bought almost 200 albums[3], developed and overcame an anxiety disorder, had my heart broken a few times, broken a few hears, and met the woman of my dreams.  Yet I can still identify with that kid who went to Greece a few days after his 16th birthday.  That trip was my coming of age, it was the start of me embracing my teenage years for what they were supposed to be—excitement and uncertainty mixed with the occasional sense of drama and inflated existential turmoil.

It’s been 10 years since I went to Greece.  10 years ago I hadn’t kissed a girl, I didn’t have a learners permit, I had no idea who Arcade Fire were, and I didn’t know that the love of my life was only around the corner from me.  Despite it all, these past 10 years seemed to have gone much faster than the two years between the Greece trip and my high school graduation.  As strange as it may sound, I feel like 16 to 26 was a bigger transition than 6 to 16.

That Greece video serves as the perfect reminder of the passing of time.  10 years seems like such a long time, but it goes by in the blink of an eye.  I remember watching that video during Christmas break of my freshmen year of college and musing that in seven years, that trip would’ve been 10 years ago.  At times 2010 seems further away than 2007.

Greece will always hold a special place in my heart because of what it meant to me.  Paramount of which is that I can specifically point to that trip as my coming of age, when I stopped being a child and started to grow up.  The experience itself was so fascinating too, especially because of the people I travelled with.  It was about 45 teenagers, most of whom under normal circumstances, wouldn’t have spoken to one another, getting to know each other over the course of 10 days, only to revert to type once we went back to school.  It was almost surreal in a way, how in a foreign land people who seemingly had nothing in common could become friends, or in some cases more, but once we got back home all those embers of friendship were snuffed out.

It’s been years since I spoke to anyone who went on that trip, and I really don’t know if I ever will again.  It’s such a strange feeling to remember people that you knew so well for 10 days, only to never speak to them in the 10 years since.  On that trip, we were all passing ships in the night.  We all came into each other’s lives for a brief period before forever going our separate ways.  We’re all just ships sitting in the ocean of time, and in that ocean, 10 years really is just another droplet.


[1] I think I might have listened to Use Your Illusion I at least twice on the plane ride to Germany.

[2] Some of the people I took pictures with were the bus driver, two old German couples, a Korean man, and an Indian couple.

[3] Because I still buy physical CDs.

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