Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on February 10, 2010.
My journal entries from that lonesome week in Cyprus are full of embarrassingly adolescent ramblings about a boy I had a crush on at the time. (Embarrassing because he turned out to have the intellectual capacity of a cave troll, while I assumed, for entire days at a time, that we didn’t talk about anything interesting because my German was still too elementary.)
For those around us Cyprus was the escape, the fantasy. I fled the beach for the page, dreaming up dates, jobs I would be hired for, books I would write, countries I would live in, languages I would learn—anything that would transport me for even a few minutes from my daemonic charges. The resort walls were not there to keep others out, no!, they were there to keep me in, and I was trapped there until an angelic voice would speak to me mercifully from above: “Now boarding flight 386 to Frankfurt International.” Oh hark how the herald angels sing!
While Franci became more and more aloof, Joseph became more and more doting. “Somebody has a cru-ush,” Janet sang at me across the dinner table, nodding toward Jo with her head. He looked up from the plastic car he’d been racing down the white table cloth and up at me. “Nikki, I have to poop.” I contemplated strangling her, smashing my wine glass on the table and leaping across the table, but the alcohol had already stunned me into placidity, an escape just as effective as my journaled daydreams. Instead I stood up and led Jo off to the bathroom.
My other escape was the small fitness studio where I ran on my plastic hamster wheel until blood had pounded every last thought out of my head. It was the one and, I am certain, only time in my life in which I will ever have washboard abs. So this is why people in prison end up with enormous muscles, I thought.
In two hastily taken pictures—”I guess I just want some sort of proof that I was really here,” I shrugged as I forced the camera into Janet’s hand—and the only two pictures of me from those ten days, my smile is a grimace.
The three of us slept in the same room, in the same bed; they were both afraid to take a turn on the small cot symbolically placed there upon our arrival and I refused to accept discomfort during sleep on top of the insults and the spit. They spread out, snored, kicked—there was no physical escape. Sleep, my most holy of rituals, was disturbed and cut off each morning too short. All that was missing was the yellow wallpaper, and I would have been ripe for a straight jacket and pills served regularly in little paper cups.
Halfway through the trip and with the theatrical grace that was quickly becoming her trademark, Janet told me to take a day off and go on one of the day trips the resort organized for the guests. As if giving me one day off in ten was a special gift she didn’t have to give me, but would, because she was just that nice. Technically it was illegal for me to work for eight days straight without a day or night off.
Technically. Some of my au pair friends were required to work hours like this all the time, and I was only being asked to do so because we were on a Greek Island. Maybe I never would have seen Cyprus otherwise, maybe I was the ungrateful little snot in this equation. Drink yourself numb! Cry yourself to sleep! Aldiana Cyrpus is perfect for everyone! The words took on a gruesome, futuristic tone, the way the would sound if I’d read them in Brave New World or 1984. And we would be leaving in two days. It was a tome I chanted until it became a prayer. “Two more days, two more days, two more days.”
My mother had wired me some money so that I could take a few interesting trips, and I signed up for Nicosia. Nicosia, I read, was the capital of Cyprus and a violent, tumultuous city since the 60s when it was first divided into Turkish and Greek sections. I could, an Aldiana barbie told me, pay someone to let me climb a ladder and peer over the wall at the Turkish side. (In 2008 a dividing wall was torn down in an attempt to symbolically create unity. Of course symbol and reality don’t tend to drink at the same bars, and the city remains “the world’s last divided capital.”)
But none of the other resort guests wanted to deal with tumult on their vacation, the trip was canceled, and I ended up on a bus to Larnaka instead.
How refreshing it was, to be out of the resort and away from my keepers! How refreshing to see a city whose architecture was influenced by eastern winds. My escape from Aldiana lent an exotic air to everything I saw. The man with skin like bark hunched over and between mountains of fabric in a tiny stone garage, the sandstone church and fort, the ragged tops of buildings that stretched out beneath the fort terrace and away from the graying sea, the Greek-lettered signs.
I wandered aimlessly through town, snapping pictures, inhaling my temporary independence like a fix-starved junkie. Little junk stores seemed as if brimming with treasure, alleys careened with sensual vines, and the old man sitting on the corner was most certainly a seer.
The town was everything that Aldiana was not: crumbling in places, pulsing, a little chaotic, alive. There was dirt and there was magic, there were real people filled with joy and sorrow and ambition. There were no hoses snaking the streets, and so there was little to green the landscape. There were most certainly poisonous spiders lurking in the cracks, and no one said hello to me pleasantly as I wandered down narrow streets.