|The god Poseidon’s penis|
My father was born into poverty, having to sometimes go without shoes to school, and steal money for books. He crossed the Atlantic from Greece as an immigrant in 1952 and worked his way to owning a series of award-winning restaurants. The small fortune he amassed was spent on two things: statues from the Classical and Renaissance era and yearly trips to Greece, both of which served to confuse me. When it came to nudity, I was constantly bombarded by mixed messages. While my mother obsessed over making her family look like the Brady Bunch, Poseidon’s bronze penis stared at me from the living room, as did Achilles’ penis and the goddess Artemis’ one breast. Visiting the homeland for a Bible-thumped boy like me was equally bewildering. Boobs were everywhere you looked. Boobs on postcards, boobs on billboards, boobs in magazines; you couldn’t get away from boobs if you tried. Magazines advertised skin on every street corner and it wasn’t even porn, just your typical Greek version of Cosmo. While in America, I Dream of Jeannie’s genie could never dream of showing her bellybutton, in Greece, girls too hot for bras sold ice cream on TV. But it was on the beaches of the Cyclades where you simply could not escape the assault of boobs. I was nine years old and hated it.
It was during one of these island trips that my life took a dark turn. A close male relative had a habit of grabbing my crotch, and not just in private. He did it all the damn time, but nobody seemed to notice or care. Everyone knew he was a little crazy; I guess they saw him as a harmless, albeit perverted prankster, but it never felt right to me. Once, after a great day of playing in the sand while trying to avoid boobs, we went back to our hotel for a shower. I went about my usual routine, double checking that the door was locked and covering myself, but somehow he got in. He knew of my extreme shyness and used it as a weapon. I could have escaped him by running out into the lobby; I was quick and slippery, but the towels were out of reach. Paralyzed by shame, he groped and fondled me, but what hurt the most was feeling vulnerable and powerless, like a plaything. He forced me to say that I loved him, more than God, more than my parents, more than my sister for whom I had a special connection. And I hated him. To this day, I won’t let my kids near him.
Being molested only worsened my sense of shame. In the shower I was more paranoid than ever, always listening for intruders, determined to never feel violated again. But fate had other plans.
At about ten or eleven, I was taken to a special doctor. My parents talked about me for a long time, but it made little sense, and nobody would tell me what was going on. My only concern, however, was needles, so I was completely unprepared for when the doctor, with my parents looking on, told me to sit on the mat and remove my drawers. I was shocked but couldn’t say no. She started poking and prodding me “down there” and it was like being in that hotel shower all over again. Telling my mother, a week later, that I’d felt abused was no help. She didn’t take me seriously because she never took me seriously. Things only went downhill after that. Unbeknownst to me, I was being readied for surgery, and what had once been my “privates” became public domain for the entire hospital. I was like a frog being dissected in a science lab. For the most part, I was angry, but understood the necessity of it, that sometimes doctors needed to check you “down there.” What if, later on in life, I developed some cancerous tumor? Eventually, my anger turned from my parents to society. Nakedness, I had been taught, is offensive and immoral. Genitals are private, disgusting things, despite somehow being created by a loving God, except when showering after P.E. or doctor visits. It made no sense. How could something so shocking in one instance become acceptable, even necessary, in another? Unless society had been lying to me. Lying to me since birth.
I never fully realized my disillusionment, how different two societies can perceive the same thing, until my twelfth summer. That was when I first saw a unicorn. O.K., it wasn’t exactly a unicorn, but the experience was just as magical. We were making our way to the beach when we saw this girl, who seemed to have misplaced her bikini, taking a shower. Not a “beach” shower, but a regular one, with shampoo and soap running down her entire exposed body. Everyone could see her. Me. My family. People sunning down below. Boobs were such a common sight that they didn’t faze me, but this was top and bottom. While I knew these kinds of people existed, for me they were creatures of myth, who always kept out of sight at the far reaches of the beach. For boys my age, this would have been very arousing, and there was that, but what I also felt was ten times more powerful.
She couldn’t have cared less who was watching or what anyone was thinking. For all I knew, she’d never heard of clothes. What’s more, this was Greece, so nobody seemed to care.
This strange tourist girl played in my mind for months (she’s still there, actually) but it wasn’t her appearance that mattered, only her attitude, her confidence. Nobody could violate her by forcing her to remove her clothes. It was the most beautiful, powerful thing I’d ever seen, and I was jealous.
I wanted to be just like her.
Back home in the U.S. of A, I started neglecting my ritual, no longer warning my family when taking showers, or jamming a chair under the doorknob. And having one hand free for the soap was incredibly liberating.
This concludes Part 2. Go back to Part 1 or continue on to Part 4 by searching “Least Likely to Become a Nudist”