Adrianne Kalfopoulou is a poet and essayist who lives in Athens, Greece. She teaches at the American College of Greece, and is a faculty mentor in Regis University’s MFA program. She is the author of three poetry collections, most recently A History of Too Much (2018), and two books of prose, including Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living. She has collaborated on translations of her work with the Greek poet Katerina Illiopoulou, published by Melani Press. Essays and poems have appeared in venues such as Poetry Daily, Hotel Amerika, the Harvard Review online, The Common, Superstition Review, Inverted Syntax, and Dancing Girl Press.
“The systems I believed would end my loneliness amplified it…”
Anne Boyer, Garments Against Women
There’s the young migrant woman, a mother, with her baby & husband, staring at the tarmac on arrival in Zurich.
There’s a Viber note mistakenly sent to me by an ex-lover that reads:
How’s my baby today? Good morning love.
There’s a policeman pulling me over.
There’s my friend in Philadelphia with her things packed in boxes for the past 2 years, her husband in an affair he’s left and returned to for the past 3 years.
Hannah Arendt said In order to rebuild one’s life one has to be strong and an optimist (“We Refugees”).
Being back in touch with my ex didn’t make me an optimist but I started to feel all was not lost.
I am on my way to my friend in Philly unsure of what I will find. My friend is probably the person I’ve spoken to the most since we met in the mid 1990s.
At the Athens El. Venizelos airport the woman in jeans and a hijab bounced her baby in her arms as police checked papers and flashed a light into the baby’s eyes.
My friend in Philly is hoping that my visit will help heal something of her troubled marriage.
As the Greek cop pulled me over on that night road, bewildered then terrified I later thought of my friend, how she felt when she found the phone messages.
Love includes a measure of danger, dangers & risks that are also a part of the love of freedom.
I was relieved when I saw the migrant woman in Zurich; she had made it through, crossed the border into northern Europe with her husband & baby.
When I visit my friend we watch murder movies. Killing Eve is a favorite of hers. I rarely watch T.V. but I saw The Killing on a visit during its first season.
I tell her “he’s the enemy” surprising myself at the vehemence of my words. She is hoping her husband & I will talk, that it will be an opportunity for a bridge.
There were 44 episodes of The Killing. She had downloaded all of them for me to see.
My ex & I were sometimes in touch. In the two years since we had split up when I was in the U.S., I thought of him, so I was thinking of him.
An approximation = a rough measurement of, for example, hope or the unexpected, as in Julia Kristeva’s idea of jouissance (bliss).
The policeman waved me over. I was shaking. He wanted to see my papers. I had no idea I had crossed the double lines, it was dark & the lines faded.
The number of dead bodies is part of what the cops were trying to figure out in The Killing, a series about murdered teenaged girls in Seattle.
My friend would ask her husband where he’d been when he was away for a while. She found two phones, one behind an amplifier discovered by their dog, Bud Bud.
I was in a hurry; too often I’m in a hurry. The road was dark. The policeman came out of the dark. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “What’s wrong?” he repeated. “You’ll see.”
I was in a hurry as I punched in a note to my ex.
In Philly my friend was eager that I see the whole series. “Who is it?” I wanted to know, but she wouldn’t tell me, the killer is never anyone you suspect.
At some point she told me her husband wore a wig.
In the 3 years my friend’s husband was having his affair he left and returned 11 times. One of the times he was back in the marriage his lover sent a postcard.
“Don’t you see those double lines in the middle of the road?” the Greek cop said.
“No I don’t,” the white double lines were as grey as the asphalt.
A truth is approximate to how much we are convinced of it. My friend’s husband had no idea why there was a second phone behind an amplifier.
A halved blue Viagra tablet was on the carpet. He said, “It probably fell out of the pocket of one of my music students.”
The Greek cop is blunt, taking my license. He tells me in Greek, “The double lines are like a wall!” He is irritated & vaguely sadistic.
The migrant woman at the airport was trying to cross a visible & invisible line to what she imagined to be freedom.
Tonight the wind is bending the trees like rubber bands, the violence of such images often suggestive of the effort of freedom, also of jouissance.
“Don’t give it away,” I’m saying to my friend between one of The Killing episodes, “that small ledge of yourself you’ve built back.”
Do boundaries provoke or inhibit desire? Any Freudian will say both of course.
The instinct to protect our selves begins with the body’s bone & flesh vulnerabilities as much as its heart.
Jouissance might be a pleasurable transgression (as in orgasm), but what a transgression is (those double lines), isn’t always clear.
My friend said her husband was very careful when he removed his wig at night, he put it in a bathroom closet on top of a toilet paper roll to keep its shape.
When Arendt speaks of the optimism necessary to rebuild a life she is suggesting the necessity of hope, that there are pragmatic consequences.
What happens if your hope lies on the other side of a wall? Maybe the answer is just as pragmatic—find a way to get there.
My friend’s husband’s lover was hoping the marriage would fail, which it did, but on the other side of that wall was a man who needed to hide.
The 17 young girls in The Killing whose dead bodies float in garbage bags in a pond were hoping for a different life (not to sound ironic).
11 times he left & returned, & this is #11 in my sequence. I watched all 44 episodes of The Killing on a couch. During one episode my friend’s husband stood next to me.
“You see!” I looked up, “What?” He nodded to the stairs where my friend had disappeared. “Do you want to sit down?” He shook his head.
The poet Airea D. Mathews whose collection Simulacra won a Yale, tweets: Speak out for truth even if it jeopardizes you in some way.
I was watching what was jeopardizing those in The Killing so I called out my friend’s name.
“It was Bud Bud who led me to the phone behind the amplifier,” my friend says, of her now dying much beloved dog.
She remembers me calling her from downstairs, her husband next to me saying, “See, this is what she does…” meaning to disappear.
Ironic verb; in those 10 of 11 times he left, my friend was visiting her daughter in California, she’d return to find her husband, & his things, disappeared.
“Are you moving?” A neighbor had seen a white SUV in the driveway, a blond woman & my friend’s husband putting things including amplifiers into it.
Viber & Skype bleeps made me think of my ex because he lived on another continent. There was an eros to the sound, a jouissance.
My friend did a Google map search of the lover’s address & saw a white SUV in her driveway, behind it was my friend’s husband’s Mini Cooper.
Her husband often asked, “When are you going to be home?” And she would answer, “I’m not sure.”
There is a poverty to desire that insists on its object & only that.
In The Killing, most of the teenaged girls who are lured and finally killed have run away from broken homes.
My friend finally left the house she had lived in with her husband, the garden in full green. It was June.
She was crying putting in mulch with the marigolds, saying “It’s for someone else which is fine, it just makes me sad.”
The house was left with holes & cuts through its ceiling to remove “the knob & tube” electrical installation there since 1914 when the house was built.
We had started to call her husband, “the wig.” My friend felt some clips at his nape when they first began to date.
“The Scream,” is what we called his lover because an unsigned postcard was sent to their home with Edward Munch’s “The Scream” on it.
“I tore it up,” my friend says, “There was nothing on it, just his name & our address.” Did the girls in The Killing get a chance to scream?
“He can’t walk the dog and talk on the phone at the same time,” my friend tells me. Rather that’s what he tells her. The neighbor says, “He was always on the phone.”
There were, in the end, 4 phones with different passwords. He would walk Bud Bud & call The Scream.
What are we hiding from if not our most salient desires when they are least salubrious? Everyone in The Killing is a suspect except for the true killer.
I managed to see all 44 episodes in 2 sittings. My friend drove me to the airport, when she returned her husband had left again.
“I called him a wuss,” my friend says. “We went into old patterns. When you get to know each other well you know where it hurts.”
Maybe the mistaken Viber message from my ex had to do with the fact that he knew where it hurt.
To rebuild a relationship (situation, country, etc.), requires a cool look at what’s broken for that strength & optimism Arendt speaks of.
The poet Maggie Smith tweets: Stop expecting the worst: at least as many things could go right… This assumes a basis for what could go right.
I had hoped being back in touch with my ex would create a bridge. We used to laugh a lot & be exclusive until he wanted to be less exclusive.
“I want my marriage back,” my friend says when I ask what she wants from a man who has been serially unfaithful.
A forensics takes account of all the evidence. Clues build a case, making visible what has remained in the dark.
My friend’s husband removed his wig in the dark, “very carefully,” my friend says. “What about during sex?” I ask.
It is so often dark in a murder scene, & women so often cornered in that darkness.
My friend had questions throughout the 3+ years her 15-year marriage was in crisis. Her husband would say things like, “Nothing is permanent.”
I asked, “Did he say including his hair?” She says, “Plastic is eternal.”
Speak out for truth even if it jeopardizes you in some way becomes more loaded when your truth crosses another’s. The Scream had her truth, too.
The law is there to protect something as close as possible to an objective truth, to “right a wrong.”
I wondered if The Scream knew about the wig.
“It was probably part of a ‘let’s share our vulnerability moment,’” my friend says, “he’s going to tell her, ‘well I don’t have all my real hair.’”
I am laughing to the point where I have tears in my eyes.
Apparently my friend’s husband’s mother tied plastic bags over her head when she was depressed. She says, “He probably thinks I’ll be doing the same.”
They had a “5-year plan” for aging. My friend’s husband’s brother who was also in their band stopped going on stage because of his balding head.
It was my friend’s husband’s ex-wife who had suggested a wig. She had also had breast implants, as did another ex, because he liked to fondle full[er] breasts.
I tell my friend it’s important “to come clean,” in any relationship. A phrase my ex had used. There is eros in coming clean.
The law requires obedience for the promise that it is there in good faith, to protect our flesh & bone vulnerabilities.
My friend’s husband had repeated Till death do us part 4 times in the 4 marriages he has had to date.
What happens when a law becomes outdated or a marriage can’t live up to its promise or one person’s desire becomes another’s murder?
In The Killing those representing the law are among the guilty.
Sometimes a truth is beyond the law the way a reality is beyond the available information.
If evidence is hidden there’s little hope for understanding more than the obvious, i.e. what looks like hair but isn’t.
The Greek cop saw double lines I didn’t see because it was already a fact to him, a fact I had to look for in the dark.
When my friend & her husband were trying to save their marriage they played a card game. She says, “He picked the Divine Child as his archetype.”
Perhaps the migrant woman I saw staring at the tarmac at the Zurich airport was trying to see into her future.
There were other choices in the cards, “The Wounded Child” and “The Abandoned Child,” but my friend’s husband saw himself as, “The Divine Child.”
My ex saw himself as being slighted when I disagreed with him in front of a group of people, & then accused him of “pontificating.”
“You don’t have to get personal,” he said. He was right. Though I felt slighted too.
As my friend emptied the house, she found photographs of her husband in his band, Jagger, when he & his brother still had hair. She threw them all out.
“I imagine he’s telling The Scream how I was always complaining,” she says, “that I wouldn’t trust anything he said anymore.”
I try to help her see him for what he is but she also sees the good times they shared.
“He’s a geezer with a wig,” I say, “who thinks he’s a rock star at 68 starting over with a 53-year old groupie, who tells you, who weighs 107 lbs, to do more sit-ups.”
The girls in The Killing are runaways & one of the most heartbreaking is Kallie. She wants to stay with her mom on an evening her mother’s boyfriend is over.
Her mother’s boyfriend also comes on to Kallie—who are we hiding from if not our most salient desires when they are least salubrious.
My friend’s husband’s ex-wife had breast implants that went bad. I said something about their causing her cancer. He tells me what a good relationship they still have.
How our desires can triangulate, how patterns will pattern themselves.
“You can’t go to couples therapy and lie,” I tell my friend in another effort to convince her that the marriage is over.
She tells me he’s done what he’s always done, started a relationship while the marriage he’s in is floundering.
“Such an old, boring story,” I say, “Men and their penises.”
“Old men who wear wigs and use Viagra for their penises,” she says.
To rebuild a life one needs some optimism (Arendt). Every time my friend’s husband returned to the house she hoped for a better tomorrow.
Every time she began to trust him he would do or say something like, “Don’t put the couch too close to the wall it will mark it.”
I am laughing again. My friend is laughing too, “I was like who is telling him not to mark the wall with the back of a couch!”
Intimacy will reveal the less salubrious aspects of our needs, but when bald facts are camouflaged it’s hard to know whom you’re dealing with.
I had not seen my ex in over a year. He could make me laugh unexpectedly, as light as I could feel I was also weighed with questions.
Why, I wondered, did he come so fully into my life to leave it so suddenly?
The Killing, as with all thrillers, build their thrill around the unexpected—another kind of jouissance, or its perversion?
“You’ll see,” the Greek cop said, and I felt a cold fear; I’d expected him to understand that I had not seen the double lines.
My friend had expected her husband would want to save the marriage, but that had more to do with her projection.
The law is one of those things, like the future, that we assume will give us a chance. Hope dies last is a favorite Greek adage.
Kallie in The Killing was hoping her mother would be there for her.
Her mother keeps disappointing her—but Kallie still hopes—her mother is her mother after all, as my friend would say, “He’s my husband after all.”
We were involved, and quite intensely, my ex and I, though that doesn’t guarantee anything, least of all a future.
Perhaps the depth of an involvement is as much about what’s at stake in a projection, i.e. the migrant woman’s hope of crossing into a more democratic Europe.
Facts can unveil realities that prove themselves very different from what we expect.
My friend’s husband might have been seeing other women all along.
James Skinner, the police chief in The Killing, used to be Sarah Linden’s lover. Linden, the detective, is hot on the trail of the murders.
Stephen Holder, her partner on the case, suspects the murderer might be a cop.
When the person closest to you could be the one most dangerous to your wellbeing, you are in the midst of a thriller.
Like a cop doing a job, policing a border means an increased proximity to possible danger.
Being in communication with my ex felt natural, as if no time had passed. Yet time had passed.
I was careful in my messages but present. I got a love song over Viber & was tempted to send a smile.
It was meant for his teenaged son who wanted suggestions to send to a new girlfriend. That was the story anyway.
Policing myself did not come naturally. That’s the point the Greek cop was making: the double lines are like a wall!
Sarah Linden was about to move on to Sonoma, CA & life away from detective work, when she was drawn into the case.
Patterns are often mysterious even when they are obvious.
Forensics: related to scientific methods of solving crimes, involving examining the objects or substances that are involved in the crime. (Cambridge Dictionary)
Some objects: a wig, an unsigned postcard of Munch’s “The Scream,” Viber messages, packed boxes, Viagra tablets, cell phones.
When you’re too close to a situation it’s hard to see the pattern, to make out facts like double lines on a night road.
Sometimes it takes multiple killings before a pattern emerges. Seasons 3 & 4 were added to the crime series.
My ex liked to send me songs when we were involved.
When I saw the YouTube link on Viber I smiled, if not exactly with jouissance.
It turns out there were a lot of wrong turns, assumptions, in the search for the killer. There isn’t just one killer, though there is a main suspect.
Our assumptions can cost lives, as in The Killing, as in the rejection of those seeking refuge.
So many refugees assume the free world will welcome them, & so many have found death.
Maybe The Scream sent “The Scream” because she found herself in a place where she felt a danger.
For the Ancients catharsis, a “coming clean,” required an ability to see a situation for what it is.
Oedipus gouges his eyes out because what he sees is overwhelming, & in blindness earns in-sight.
“I imagine the wig is telling The Scream that I was ‘always demanding something,’” my friend says.
“So she’ll try not to ask him for anything,” I say, “Then he’ll tell her how calm she makes him feel, & there’ll be more postcards of screams.”
Besides the 17 murdered teenaged girls, there’s Ray Seward who is also a victim, wrongly convicted, put on death row & hanged.
After I’d said my ex was “pontificating” I tried to patch things up but he was angry. He texted: “Oh, everyone noted it—‘she really went after you.’”
Investigations need a cool head. Proximities to vulnerability increase the stakes of what can be found out.
Think of ICE turning up in the middle of the night, separating families to deport the undocumented.
Law & Order is another of my friend’s favorite series. She left the house with its holes & cuts & blooming marigolds in the garden.
Oedipus banishes himself in an acknowledgment that order must be restored, & he the source of ill.
It was at the airport that my ex & I were texting, “You wanted to lash out at me for whatever reason—you were angry!” he wrote.
We argued different takes on the exchange, “Who cares that you like it,” he said of the writer’s work we disagreed on, “… you couldn’t just argue the merits.”
It was the murdered Kallie’s ring on Skinner’s finger that allows Linden to recognize him as the killer he is, rather than the lover he was.
A break in a pattern will invite a remapping.
If patterns are entrenched, systematized, i.e. ICE, i.e. starting affairs in the midst of a relationship crisis, a challenge = a violence.
I was losing the ability to distance myself. My messages on Viber were hurried, full of misspellings. I would soon be a continent away.
To seek a truth, to rebuild a life, to find the strength = to put yourself in jeopardy, i.e. you don’t get to hide.
I crossed the Atlantic. In Germany waiting for the connection to Athens, I hear the Viber bleep, feel jouissance (my ex?)
My friend left the boxes she’d kept packed for 3 years, & her wedding dress in one of them.
She moved to another city with her beloved dog Bud Bud, who was full of tumors.
The proximity to change = vulnerability = a break in a pattern = a chance to come clean.
Sometimes timing is everything. I kept urging my friend to leave, saying it was dangerous to stay.
My misspellings suggested a danger. “When are you going to start calling me a silly…floppy [I meant sloppy] thinker,” I wrote my ex.
He repeated, “You couldn’t just argue the merits.” He was sticking to his side of the double lines.
Stephen Holder tries to reach Linden. He realizes she’s onto Skinner. It’s not clear if he’s afraid she’ll be killed or that she’ll kill Skinner.
Everything is familiar, & isn’t. A year after my friend had moved away she got an email from her husband saying it was their wedding anniversary.
Sarah Linden shoots Skinner who seems to think she’ll still see him as the lover he was, rather than the killer he is.
Everything is familiar, & isn’t. The Viber message from my ex read: How’s my baby today? Good morning love. A second later: sorry.
The dark is also where dreams are seeded, where I saw an empty stretch of road & a Greek cop saw the law, where my friend saw the chance of a new beginning.
Was the sorry a bridge, or were my ex’s words meant for someone else. Some days later I texted back, “This wasn’t meant for me was it?”
In our day, in America, a land meant to represent so much freedom, children are put in cages when they cross a border.
My ex replied, “No.” I’m still not sure if the Viber message was deliberate, a way to mark a boundary, a killing.