Diatribe: the things we don’t talk about
“When Tasia came to Australia in the mid-1960s, it was at the invitation of her newly married sister. The plan was for Tasia to help her sister with her baby who was on the way, settle in, and then, the moment came and that the politics of the village are negotiated appropriately, invites a certain gentleman with whom she had an understanding, to join her in Australia and start a new life together.
However, this is not what happened. Tasia was raped by her brother-in-law. Her sister knew or suspected but did nothing until it became clear that Tasia was pregnant. Then she took Tasia to someone who performed illegal abortions and forced her to “throw the child away” as the Greek expression goes.
Once that was done, she kicked her out of the house. Some people said she ended up in South Melbourne, living alone. Others, less friendly, said they had seen her on street corners in St Kilda. Nobody really knows. She disappeared. What else could she do. It was like that at the time. No one sympathized with her in public. They all said she must have brought it on herself, provoked it…. ”
The elderly lady, a member of my local community who revealed this story to me before her death over ten years ago, sighed as she took another sip from her cup of tea. The side wall of his living room was adorned with silver icons that gleamed burnished copper through the reflected light of the kandili, the only source of light in the room. Beside her, a small table was filled with faded photographs of her long-adult grandchildren.
“There are many more stories like this. Housing down the street from our house there was a girl, recently arrived. About a month after arriving, she started acting strange, couldn’t hold her food. She told everyone she couldn’t get used to the food in Australia, but I started thinking differently. It turns out that she had met a young man on the boat, coming to Australia and had fallen in love with him. He spun the usual tale; he loved her, his intentions were honourable, he was going to marry her as soon as he wrote to his father. All waste. When the ship docked at Fremantle it disembarked and left her with no forwarding address or anything.
“When her landlady realized she was pregnant she kicked her out. circumstances. My mother had told me, before I left my native country: “You have only two things: my blessing and your honor. The saddest thing is how she left. The landlady threw her suitcase on the street and all the housewives came out and banged pots and pans and made fun of her. The village people were tough back then, you know.
“Eventually she was taken in by a Greek couple who agreed that she could rent a room but the woman insisted she couldn’t have the baby and stay with them. Instead, they arranged for her to have an abortion. After that they managed to find someone to marry her in Sydney so she left. Apparently there were complications with the abortion process and she was unable to have children after that.Her husband left her after five years.
The large frame of the old lady was draped in a shawl which, in the darkness of her living room, made her look like a mountain range, immense and imposing and yet soft and malleable. She dipped a teddy bear cookie in her tea and nibbled it greedily.
“I came here in the 1950s. There was no Greek coffee then, so I got used to drinking tea. Tea with biscuits, preferably Monte Carlos, but I also like Teddy Bear biscuits. It was Ourania who introduced them to me. She lived a few streets away. I was visiting and we were having our tea and Teddy Bear cookies together.
“She was a very good cook, an incredible and very irresponsible housewife. Never cared about her daughter. According to the story, she got mixed up with a young man, not a Greek, and had some people say he was native but i don’t know what i know is the girl’s father beat her black and white so she could reveal who the father was , so he could go and kill him and wash away the shame, but she didn’t say a word. Anyway, the family couldn’t accept that their daughter had a child out of wedlock and they wouldn’t let her not marry someone who was not Greek because of shame, so Ourania arranged for the girl to have an abortion.
“The morning she was supposed to have had the procedure, she disappeared. They didn’t look for her and no one knew where she was going. I saw her, years later, at the Victoria Market. I recognized her instantly and I’m sure she recognized me. She was holding a little blonde girl with blue eyes who must have been a granddaughter, as it was about 20 years later. Wherever she is, I hope she is well. These were difficult times.
The old lady’s hand was shaking and she slowly put her tea down as it spilled over the edge of the cup into the saucer.
“The world has always been mean to women,” she hissed. “Always. No mercy. And sometimes it’s the women themselves who are mean. There was a woman a few streets away who, just before she arrived in Australia, fell in love with one of the boys in her village He didn’t seem interested in her though, he had eyes for another. As the girl was a friend of her sister, she asked him what she could do to please her brother.” Well, if you lay on his bed and take your clothes off, he’s not going to say no, is he?” she told him. And the silly girl that she was, that’s exactly what she did. She left for Australia and expected him to follow her and he never did. Luckily for her, even though she got pregnant, she never isn’t shown. She arranged for an abortion and ended up marrying someone else. Of course people knew that, but she got married and washed away the shame, so they got nothing. said. me that what people thought at the time.
I started a discussion on the abortion debate, mentioning how positions are polarized between pro-life and pro-choice and the old lady waved at me dismissively, “What pro-choice? ” she exclaimed indignantly. “Go tell your husband back then, who uses your body for his pleasure at the behest of choice. Do you know how many women were forced to have abortions back then because they already had a handful of children and that their husbands did not adopt other methods to prevent conception? There are even cases where women are forced to write to their mothers back home in Greece asking for money to pay for the abortion. Think about it. We came to this country to feed our families and instead our husbands were making our families pay for their lack of restraint.
“Those are the things we don’t talk about,” observed the old lady, an angry tone rising in her voice. “We all like to assume an air of respectability, but there is so much that is hidden. And it’s better that way. Better to be silent than to stir up the past. Nothing good comes of it. And don’t think these things happened when we were new and vulnerable. Do you know how many girls still get in trouble and are forced to have abortions because their boyfriends won’t take responsibility for their actions and pressure the girls to do so? Especially in conservative families. They fear their parents and peers. Even today, where you can supposedly do whatever you want. Consider that,” she thundered. “Consider that! Choice? When have any of us ever had a choice about what to do with our lives? »
I sat down on the couch, stunned. Never had I thought of the circumstances I had just heard described so vehemently, and never had an elderly lady in my community spoken to me of largely unacknowledged things for young men, with so much candor and openness. For a long time, I said nothing, turning her words around in my head as she scooped the cookie crumbs into her cup with a spoon. Eventually, I summed up the courage to ask, “Auntie, these are sensitive topics and I can understand why they aren’t talked about and talked about. But if they’re so secret, how come they seem to be common knowledge?
“Nothing is hidden under the sun,” she replied, confusing Ecclesiastes and Luke.
“Very well,” I continued, “but you don’t just know the general scheme of the stories, you know the intimate details. How far have these stories travelled? How come you know so much?
The old lady’s lower lip quivered as she took short, raspy breaths. Her eyes filled with tears and ran down her wrinkled cheeks. Amid increasingly violent sobs, she raises her eyes to the icons and then to the photographs of her grandchildren.
“Because they came to me,” she sobbed. “They came to me.”
(The names of the quoted protagonists have been changed.)