By Evannia Pekarek

Life can feel like an out of control car with no breaks. These past few weeks have been crazy and emotional for me, starting even before our trip to Greece. On May 9th, 2019, I got a call from my stepdad at 8:14 a.m. He told me to stop everything I was doing and drive to my grandma’s house. He told me to drive slow and asked me not to worry. I do not remember getting in my car. Once I arrived, I saw many of my family members sitting in her home, except for my mom and stepdad who were in Tennessee at the time. It did not take long for me to see everyone’s eyes were overflowing and I realized that my great-grandma had passed on.

A photo of my beautiful great-grandmother.

I have not really thought about my sadness, nor have I mourned to the extreme during our trip to Greece, because I have made friends who feel like family. I have never in my life made so many good friends in such a short period of time.

The days following her passing were the days that drew closer to our departure for Greece. I had decided at some point that I did not want to go to Greece. I did not want to be alone without my family in their/my time of need. It was my nana (my great-grandma’s daughter) who pushed me to come, saying, “you know she would come down from heaven to make you go.” So here I am, doing everything with her in my heart and mind. I am happy to say that I have never felt alone on this trip. The friends I made on this trip have truly made me feel at home. We are our own support network. We laugh, fight, cry, and talk about everything. As soon as I found my family abroad, I found that anywhere you are loved is home.

Just some of my new family members and I in front of Athens’ National Garden.

Athens’ National Garden has also become my home away from home. It all started during a writing excursion for class. I had entered the gardens looking for a place to reflect and write when I found a walkway. This was not just any walkway, but a path into my new state of mind. It was surrounded by tall green trees so dense that they stopped the light from seeping through the clear and super hot day. They provided shade and a break from the relentless sun.

Photo of me in the National Garden, taken by Valerie (after she hyped me up).

My labored breathing stopped and a small push of wind cooled the sweat from the gruesome journey walking there off my face. I took a deep breath and the air felt like a glass of ice water, just the one I needed in the midday heat. Feeling a sense of relief, I shuffled my feet forward creating small clouds on the dirt/pebble walkway. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by bushes and trees. The greens around me varied in thickness, and the light they allowed in was on a spectrum from light and airy to almost dark and shadowed, but I had no fear. The trees overhead gave me a sense of shelter while the bushes to my calves gave a sense of security. These are the same feelings I get at home in San Diego, and when I spent time with my great-grandma who loved flowers and gardens. I could not help but think: I found my home here. A small patch of light almost too small to notice welcomed me saying you’re not alone. It felt like she was with me as I walked, telling me I can move on. As I stood in her light, I closed my eyes and turned on my ears. I could hear the wrestling of leaves as the wind blew. A little louder than the leaves were three different bird calls. The first sounded as if my nana was whistling a small tune like she does whenever she cleans. The other sounded like an abrupt alarm that goes off in the morning in spats. The final but most important to me was a call that sounded like an air kiss because it made me recall how my great-grandma would always send me off with a kiss.