June 10, 2015

It was Wednesday, which meant I called my parents as part of the usual routine to see how things were over in Greece.  While they were personally glad to be able to return home once again for a relaxing summer vacation, the situation in the country at large was worrisome, with new problems popping up by the day.  After getting the rundown on their week so far, I mentioned to my mom that it had been one year since her surgery.  She had no idea that it was the date of that particular anniversary, which was a blessing, since her recovery meant that there was no need to remember all the details of such a morbid event.

After the grueling ordeal of chemotherapy, our lives slowly got back to normal, and Mom gradually regained her strength once again.  By the time Christmas rolled around and my friends came to visit, nobody had suspected what she had been through; the only possible sign was the fact that her elaborate Christmas Village decorations were absent that winter, but a quick “she was tired” prompted no further inquiry.  My guess is that the wigs were taken to be bold choices made at the salon that apparently had paid off.

* * * * * * *

June 10 also meant that it was the anniversary of the shooting at Reynolds High.  Most people seem to have forgotten about the tragedy, or were unwilling to reflect on it.

It was Wednesday, June 10, and to mark the occasion I posted a picture of a single white rose from our garden.  For the past couple of summers, I would post a different flower from the garden each Wednesday and provide a humorous “Gardening Tip” caption.  It was silly, but a lot of my friends seem to enjoy the effort, and at the very least, coming up with material each week allowed me to focus on something else for a change.  But I decided that for this summer I did not need to post a constant reminder that I was still living at home, even if many of my classmates had failed to make the connection.

There was no “Gardening Tip” that Wednesday; instead, I quoted the final lines to Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Holland, 1945”, a song that has provided comfort to many in their attempts to cope with tragedy.  It was my personal tribute to Uncle Antonis, though it is unlikely that most of my friends would have picked up on the connection.  However, I hoped that the sentiment of “and it’s so sad to see the world agree that they’d rather see their faces filled with flies, all when I’d want to keep white roses in their eyes” provided some inspiration, if only for a moment.

The first few lines make it an even more tragic connection.

A white rose for Uncle Antonis

* * * * * *

“Got a foot in the door—God knows, what for?”

Most days that summer, my mind was elsewhere.  After coming up empty on the job search for over two years, I thought I had experienced every kind of rejection imaginable, from the discriminatory to the just plain disrespectful.  However, this latest response could only be described with one word: cruel.

Back in mid-April, I received an e-mail from the Office of Public Defense Services, alerting me to a Deputy Public Defender opening.   I had interviews with the Office twice before (including once as a gesture of goodwill since the job had already been filled before interviews had begun), and considering that I had helped craft their most important legal victory in a decade with the Lawson opinion, there had long been a mutual interest between us.  However, this e-mail was the first time that an employer had reached out to contact me about a possible position, so it was beginning to look like the third time was the charm.

I checked the details, and found that the deadline was three weeks away.  I decided to take some time and spend some of my weekend re-writing yet another cover letter and making a few minor adjustments to my resume, and planned to submit my application closer to the deadline.  One week after the initial e-mail, I received a second e-mail that once again asked me to apply for the position.  After this additional push, I made a few final adjustments, went through a couple of rounds of proofreading, and submitted my application materials the next morning.

It was two long weeks before the deadline had passed, but I was able to keep my mind elsewhere waiting for it to arrive.  As the days kept ticking by, my anxiety grew.  When I did not receive a response a week later, as had been the procedure before, I began to worry.  More days passed.

Almost two weeks after the deadline had passed, I headed next door for a party celebrating our neighbor’s graduation from the local law school.  The entire family has been among our closest friends ever since we moved to Oregon, and we were all glad to see how the youngest son had overcome so much in reaching this achievement.  At one point during the celebration, the father asked me if I had heard back from OPDS.  As a former ODOJ attorney who helped me get my first internship with the Department way back in college, he had been one of my primary references for a number of years, and I thought this meant for the first time in history an employer actually followed through and talked with a reference.  I informed him that I had not yet heard a response, but hopefully that would change in the next few days.

After the party, I found out from my dad the real impetus for the inquiry.  My neighbor had a fellow graduate at the party, and it turned out he was interviewed by OPDS a few days before.  He had informed my neighbor that he felt good about his chances.

I waited until Tuesday to e-mail OPDS and ask for an update on the hiring process, and to confirm what I already knew.  The agency had decided to interview a SingleWhiteMale graduate of a third-tier law school who had yet to even take the Bar exam over someone who had a much better resume.  I have long defended the quality of the local law school; I have had intimate knowledge of the institution since my dad has worked there ever since we moved to Oregon, and I know that it has long been underrated in the eyes of many.  However, there is no comparison to the law schools that rank among the nation’s elite.  Not only that, but somehow a semester working as an intern outweighed two years working on an appellate court, where the agency’s battles are fought.

Weeks went by, and I did not receive a response from OPDS until after Memorial Day.  They informed me that I had not made the cut, and that they had a large field of applicants—61 other people had applied!  I am sure that those 61 other applicants all had much better qualifications than I did.  A few hours later, I got an auto-generated reply informing once again that I did not get the job.

It took a long time for me to feel anything but absolute anger about my treatment by this agency.  I talked to my old boss at the Court about it, and he recommended against my plan to walk in and just yell at everybody, or to write an angry e-mail blasting them for this treatment, which was probably a wise move on his part.  After a few weeks, anger gradually gave way to despair.  I just did not have the energy to be livid.

I was broken.

It was not the simple fact of missing out on the job.  It was the way that these people rejected me that stung the most.  What was the point of going out of their way to inform me about the position, if they were not going to take me seriously?  And not only once, but twice?!  Did they expect my situation to have changed in the few months since the last interview?  If so, what would that have proven?  If I had a shitty temporary job, how would that have improved my position?  If I had a better job, then why would I take a step down to work for them?  If they thought so highly of my abilities that they remembered me after all these months, then why would you so easily destroy that connection by failing to even grant an interview?  Because after all this, why would I (or anyone that reads this) EVER want a job with this agency?  Or was this their actual intention; did they want to burn this bridge so thoroughly as to make me never consider applying for a job ever again?  If that is the case, there are less sociopathic ways to accomplish this task.

So in the end, I sat in silence.  I did not e-mail OPDS, I did not storm their office, I did not do anything.

With the retirement of my old boss, the Oregon Supreme Court lost its strongest voice in favor of the rights of defendants.  Since his departure, OPDS has won only about 5% of its cases before the Court, a fact that was told to me by the old Chief.  So one would think that it might be a good idea to hire someone who has experience with the rest of the judges on the Court, and someone who also has a direct line with one of the best defense lawyers that the state of Oregon has ever had.

Maybe OPDS should have taken a look at their big victory in Lawson.  It would have provided clues as to the cracks in their foundation.  The new evidence standard that was established with the opinion was based largely off of the work of the amicus briefs, with little consideration taken to the arguments advanced by OPDS.  Also, considering that despite the support for the new standard, the Court decided to split the verdict with the two combined cases and affirm the conviction of one of the defendants, which should raise a few red flags.  When it came time to look at the specific facts, the Court did not care for the arguments made by OPDS.  Most importantly, the case came about at the exact right moment, with the makeup of the Court entirely in their favor.  It was not a Pyrrhic victory, but it did foreshadow the trouble that OPDS would have in the next few years.

But I was too tired to point this out to them.  And who would think that they would even listen to me at this point?

For a long time, I had excused the rejections made by the various PD offices to which I applied, justifying their decisions by noting that they often had less of a budget to deal with and fewer openings, so they had to make their picks count and go with lawyers with greater experience.  This incident proved that was not the case.  I was done making excuses for anyone.

* * *

A few months earlier, I finally heard from the one lead given to me by NYU.  Though the application deadline was before Thanksgiving, the City of Portland had scheduled an announcement of interviews for their Honors Attorney position at the end of January.  However, those two months proved to be too little time for them to make their decision, so they sent applicants a letter on the original date of the announcement that they would wait another week before sending notices.  A week went by, and I received nothing.  A few days later, I received word that I had not made the cut.

About a month after that, I met with one of my former supervising attorneys (and an NYU Law alum) from ODOJ who happened to now be working for the City of Portland in that same office.  When I told him my experience with his office, all he could say was, “It’s competitive.”  That was pretty much the entirety of our interaction; no follow-up whatsoever.

* * *

I remember meeting up with a couple of friends right after I got that second e-mail from OPDS.  It was one of the few times that I gave people any updates into the job search, because what is the point of constantly telling people of your various disappointments?  Maybe it was because for once I let myself feel a bit of conscious optimism.

They were more enthusiastic in their response.  One of them remarked, “Well, they would have to be real fuckheads to deny you a job at this point.”

I had nothing else to add.  In the back of my head, I probably knew exactly which way this statement would prove to be correct.

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Fall 2014

Soon after the surgery, my parents went on their annual trip to their place in Greece, aiming to spend a few weeks enjoying the beautiful scenery of Halkidki.  It was initially smooth sailing with my mother’s recovery, with all signs pointing to the probability that all traces of cancer were eliminated.  However, the outlook suddenly changed a few weeks later when one doctor expressed concern, and my mom’s initial treatment plan was scrapped.  Instead of a few weeks of radiation therapy, we were now discussing chemotherapy.  My parents cut short their trip to their place in Greece, and returned home.

Overlooking the nearby beach

Halkidiki, Greece

* * * * * *

Before my parents’ unexpected return home, I called my Dad after his visit to Cyprus, and we talked for a long time about all the details he learned and about the funeral that they were finally able to have.  He had learned that Antonis was initially captured by Turkish Cypriot militiamen, but based on the location of his body along with a few other facts, it was clear that he was eventually transferred to the custody of the Turkish Cypriot police.  He was then held under their guard for months, where he was tortured.

In examining the body, they found injuries stemming from incidents from different times.  First, the nose had been broken in and crushed.  A couple of months later, there was a separate injury where the cheekbone was fractured.  This was not severe enough to be fatal.  The body was found with the hands tied behind the back.  The conclusion was that based on these details, Antonis was most likely buried alive.

Antonis was one of 16 people found in this mass grave.

It was by luck that they were even able to find the site, the result of some previously unplanned excavation as they work on improving conditions in the occupied territory.  This was my Dad’s first visit to the occupied territory since his injury in 1974; it was only recently that travel restrictions for Greeks had been eased.  He still decided that it was better to use his American passport; a Turkish Cypriot guide drove him and his brother around, since Greek Cypriots cannot drive without special insurance; he had to return by the end of the day, because that is the extent that Greek Cypriots are allowed to remain.  Not only was he able to see the site where they found Antonis, but his guide took him to a couple of hills where he believed that he sustained his injury during the war; my Dad is unsure they found the correct spot, and is looking forward to another trip to make certain.

Questions still remain.  And while the government is quick to mention the tragedy of ’74 (and rightfully so), their unwillingness to confront the awful acts that the Greek Cypriots committed during the 60’s has led to terrible delays with cases like that of Antonis.  And the entire nature of his kidnapping and detention still makes us wonder who knew of his situation, when did they know, and why were our family was never informed.

I was told that the funeral was a wonderful experience, and there were many great eulogies for Antonis.  While the facts that we learned were horrible, at least we now knew them.  In the days since we talked, I have often thought of my uncle.  I try to think hard about that one photograph, so that could be my memory.  But I end up instead with an image of bound hands, and mounds of dirt.  And I immediately choke up, and feel an intense pain for a man I will never be able to meet.

My uncle

The funeral

* * * * * * *

Once I learned more details about the potential new course of treatment for my mother, I expressed a significant amount of skepticism.  The consensus was that there was ~80% chance that the cancer would never return if my mother went with the treatment plan that was initially set.  Chemotherapy would add between 5-10% to that calculation.

I was apoplectic at this proposal for such a radical treatment when there was so little benefit to this course of action, and showed a complete misunderstanding to how statistics work.  We would go from “cancer is very unlikely to ever return” to “cancer is very, very unlikely to ever return”; even after the chemotherapy, there was only a 50/50 shot (at best) that the chemo would have had any benefit.  In my eyes, this was a ludicrous proposition by her doctor, one that was determined more by emotion than a rational assessment of the situation.  The patient is understandably anxious about his/her fate, and therefore thinks that any course of action may be necessary; the doctor should be providing the most objective analysis possible, and not pushing the patient to accept the most drastic possible treatment.

I was even more livid when two days before my mother was set to begin her chemotherapy treatment, she received a phone call informing her they had to go with a different set of drugs, since there was a 5-10% chance of heart failure with this particular set that had been chosen.  “HOLY SHIT, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” was my reaction, as I had to restrain myself from throwing a plate across the room.  Not only was there so little to gain from this treatment, but they were still gung-ho about this course of action despite the fact it carried such a great risk of terrible, terrible failure.  And my mother, who was previously the victim of overzealous treatment that resulted in an extended stay in the hospital (and nearly killed her), was still willing to go through with all this.

It is likely that a lot of my anger was due to the fact that I felt that no one was listening to me, despite my attempts at explaining all the problems in-depth.  After all, I did spend all those years going to those fancy schools that they paid a lot of money for me to attend, and I thought I should be able to pass along some of my knowledge when appropriate.  But no, whatever the doctor says goes, and that’s the end of that.  At least it allowed me to target my anger at something besides just general fate.

Chemotherapy is awful.  This should not surprise anyone, but I don’t think it is possible to truly know this without confronting it directly—in the abstract, everyone knows the toll that chemotherapy takes on a person, but seeing it up close affects you in a way that you could not otherwise anticipate.  My mother is one strong-as-hell woman, and it was devastating to see her look like fresh death during the second and third rounds.  I remember feeling absolutely helpless as she would rest on the family room couch, and that with each visit into the room I was afraid of the possibility that she had died, since she appeared so lifeless.  I could only stand there and watch her suffer; despite my pleas to help, there was nothing I could do to relieve her of her misery.

I thought that the fact that I was still at home for all of this would provide some small comfort, since I could provide any aid as necessary.  However, I proved to be completely useless.  I was not even able to make use of my modest cooking skills, since my parents’ friends would come by and provide meals for my mother.  The extent of my contributions was one dinner that I cooked for my dad and myself; my mother was too sick to eat anything that night.

I would not wish this experience on anyone.

* * * * * * *

Don’t you dare disturb me while I’m balancing my past; cause you can’t help or hurt me like it already has.

I have to admit, as much as I would like for it to have been the case, my attention was not solely on my mother’s condition during those months.  It was getting closer to two years since my clerkship ended and I was still looking for a job, and my lack of employment was weighing upon my psyche for just about every minute of the day.  My job search was at the front of my mind, no matter what I did.  It may have looked like I was working out, or watching the game, or eating dinner with my family, but my thoughts were almost solely focused on all my previous failures, and if there was any window of opportunity that existed, it was closing fast.

I found myself spending each day trying to figure out what is the most awful way to be rejected for a job.  It seemed like the stars were finally aligning that fall, and I could finally find employment once again, ending this nightmare.  However, each week I found new and awful ways to be denied an opportunity.  Vote on which of these ways you think is the worst:

  1. Simple rejection. Sure, this is destined to occur at some point during the job hunting process, but depending on the circumstances, it can still hurt.  There were several jobs that were longshots, and while it sucks not to be considered, at least those rejections are understandable.  Less understandable are the situations where the explanations for the rejection make no sense, like the time I was rejected from a position for drafting orders for the Land Use Board of Appeals, because I lacked experience in “land use”.  This was a position that, despite involving primarily legal work, required no law degree (“Board of Appeals” should be a dead giveaway to any observer), and instead created a complex formula where such a degree was supposed to account for the required experience (7 years of college + law  = 5 years of experience).   The fact that I had studied Environmental Law and had won several awards in science in high school was not to be considered when judging my competence in handling the scientific aspects of the job.

No, the most hurtful rejections come from the positions for which you are overqualified.  I applied for a job with the Legal Aid Center in Coos Bay, and was rejected straight-up for the position; I sent in the application on Friday, and by Tuesday I was rejected.  Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the geography of Oregon, rest assured, Coos Bay is the very definition of Bumblefuck, Nowhere.  It has less than 20,000 people, and is hours away from Eugene, and even farther away from Salem and Portland.  You can imagine that the Legal Aid Center in Coos Bay receives a staggering number of applicants with a B.A. from an Ivy League school and a J.D. from NYU, and that anyone with that kind of credentials would love to spend some time working in the middle of nowhere for pay that amounts to less than shit.

Rolling through town

Coos Bay, Oregon

  1. No response. For the record, I am only referring to those jobs that had posted openings, and not shots in the dark, meaning that these employers wanted people to apply for a very specific position, and then decided not to follow up at all with the majority of applicants.  While form letters are their own kind of bullshit, they at the very least fulfill the basic function of “notice”, i.e. you have been rejected from this job.  There is disappointment in the rejection, but at least this prevents the applicant from spending weeks wondering just what the hell is his/her fate.

This is a surprisingly common occurrence for legal positions across the state of Oregon, which should be unsettling to any member of the bar.  I would estimate that at least 20% of my applications go completely unanswered, which is appalling.  These are colleagues that are being mistreated, fellow lawyers who presumably could sit across from you as equals in court.  These are people who are supposed to be treated with professional respect, and these asshole employers cannot bother to treat them with basic common courtesy.  We are also talking about organizations which have their own Human Resource departments, with people whose very job requires them to fulfill this very basic duty of simply notifying applicants about the hiring process.  If your employees cannot do this part of their job, then that failure is on the employer as well.  All it takes is a few minutes on a Friday afternoon to load some names into a form letter, and bam, you’re set.

For some reason, the particular employer that angers me the most that uses this tactic is the District Attorney’s office in Linn County.  Linn County is the Grass Seed Capital of the World, so you know people really want to live there and their DA receives a ton of great applicants.  Twice I’ve applied to their office, and considering that I lived in the neighboring county for 15 years now, there is a good chance I would accept such a position, but no, they have yet to send me any response for at least two years now.  Contrast this with the behavior of their neighbors, the lawyers who work for Linn County itself—they sent me a letter early on in the process to excuse any delay, and then a couple of weeks later gave a polite letter of rejection.  That is much nicer.

Then I remember how the Linn County DA requires an application that mainly requires people to repeat what is already listed in a resume.  Not only that, but one must either fill out this application by hand or type it out in one shot because the PDF file they use cannot save any alterations.  Even when opting for the digital approach, one must then print out the completed application, and then sign it by hand.  Then if you want to avoid using regular mail, you then need to scan everything again so you can apply via e-mail.  All this extra work that requires all this extra effort, and I can’t get a response that requires all of two seconds of their attention.

(The target that is a close second for my ire is the Department of Consumer and Business Services, who had no problem with accepting credit for my work, but could not bother to answer me after multiple applications to their posted job openings.)

  1. Blatant discrimination. It is difficult to know for certain in most cases whether or not a job applicant has encountered discrimination, but for one particular opening I received information that indicated that I was a victim of such behavior.  Unfortunately, this kind of discrimination is not what you might expect, and any fight against this specific type would get ugly really quick.

That is because for this particular position I was denied on the basis of my gender, and it was very blatant behavior on the part of the employer.  There were three positions available, and the agency interviewed twelve people.  Eleven of the interviewees were women.  There were a total of 90 applicants, so that would mean for this to be close to a representative sample, there would have to have been somewhere around 83 female applicants.  Considering that law school graduation rates still tilt strongly towards men, this is even more highly unlikely than you may have believed.

The problem in this particular case is not just with the blatant discrimination, but the nature of the position itself.  This was for a few low-level positions with the Office of the Legislative Counsel, which offers opinions on the constitutionality of proposed legislation, among other things.  This is an office that is built on neutrality, and by stacking the deck in such a way, it throws their credibility into the trash.

The best part is that I was even more qualified for this position than would normally be the case, because of my background in politics.  So not only did one have my degree from an elite law school, my clerkship with the state Supreme Court, my time with the DOJ, as well as my summer as one of the few Americans working in The Hague to consider, there was also my degree in Government from Dartmouth, my volunteer work on numerous political campaigns, and my summer working for the Embassy of Cyprus to examine as well.  So, I definitely had all aspects of the job covered.

To add insult to injury, one of the positions was for an Employment Attorney.  As someone who actually took Employment Law, I could have told the LC that even if you don’t have discriminatory intent, that disparate impact is still a concern, and this was a clear example of the latter.  The fact that nobody after all the levels of review in the hiring process sought to fix the situation where 83% of interviewees are women shows a level of total professional incompetence.

This situation has lead to further contemplation on my part.  I wonder whether it is worse to have been barred from consideration due to discrimination or to be interviewed merely as a token candidate, and if the latter, whether it is worse to know that you are a token candidate or to be ignorant of the situation.  I am not sure of the answer.

  1. Rejection from previous employment. As I mentioned before, despite my excellent work with the ODOJ, I have been turned down for every single position for which I have applied.  Instead of rehashing all of my accomplishments from my time there, I want to tell about my work on a particular case.

Near the end of my summer at ODOJ, I picked up a complaint that had been buried for six months in the inbox of one of my supervising attorneys, and called the private attorney that referred the matter to the Department.  After confirming that we were dealing with mortgage rescue fraud, I tracked down the complainant, an immigrant from SE Asia who spoke no English.  Despite the language barrier, I was able to figure out the basic components of his complaint, and more importantly, learned the name of the person who suggested the fraudulent company, which allowed us to find other victims.

It remained a difficult investigation, since the company that created the scheme went under multiple aliases and had been defunct for a long time.  Nevertheless, I was able to find hidden within Google’s cache a dead webpage which listed the Board of Directors for one of the aliases.  Tracking down the President was another issue, as he had an unlisted number.  However, I was able to locate a doctor that had a similar name in the region; after calling the number of his practice, we were able to determine that he was also the President of the mortgage relief company.  At that point, I helped another supervising attorney with the deposition, and the doctor admitted his involvement with the scheme.  I then returned for my final year at NYU before the case was settled, but in all likelihood the Department used one of the other settlements that I helped draft for similar cases that summer as the template.

In addition to the restitution provided for the victims, the Oregon Department of Justice itself received $65,000 in compensation, which is more than the salary of a first-year Honors Attorney.  I, of course, received no compensation.  Despite being an “internship”, I did not even receive course credit.  The addition to my resume was supposed to be enough of a reward, as well as the possibility of recommendations from my superiors.  I did receive those recommendations, but apparently that was not enough for the DOJ, and apparently there is not a single other legal office in the state that gives a good god damn about my three months working for them.

Depending on the day, I alternate in my assessment of which is the worst result.  Despite the anger that I feel with each show of incompetence, somehow it is the Coos Bay rejection that hurt me the most.  I think it is because at that point I knew that it was all over: the game was rigged.  I wasn’t good enough for the bottom of the barrel.

* * *

During these few months, I received three phone calls from NYU asking for a donation.  Each time, I had to explain that I still did not have a job.  The third call was the best: “We don’t have anything for your current employment; would you like to update that information for us?” “Yes, I would like to update that information, but unfortunately there is nothing to update.”  Finally, in September, I received an email from the Public Interest Law Center, in which they forwarded an opening with the City of Portland.  I informed them that while I had previously applied for a job with the City and was rejected (despite being more than qualified), I would give this a shot.  The position did not start until September of the next year, but at least if it worked out, I would at least have an end date for my “vacation.”

I never got a response.

 

June 10, 2014

On Tuesday, I woke up at 10:30 to the sound of the phone ringing in the other room.  I had conditioned myself over the past few months of living in my parents’ house to ignore the phone and let the machine pick up, but something in the back of my mind made me realize that I should probably pick it up this time.  Especially once it hit that third ring and nobody had answered it yet.

“Hey, Mom just got into surgery.  Everything looks good for now.  She wants you there when it’s over.  It should be around 12:30.”

“OK.  I’ll head over soon.”

* * *

            I swiped open my laptop to check email, Facebook, etc.  I take a look at Twitter, and see news of another shooting, this time at a school.  I do some searching, and find out that two students were dead at Reynolds High School, about an hour away from my home.

* * *

            I walked into the kitchen and see Dad sitting next to the table, looking to the ground.  He informed me that he just got an email from Cyprus, and that his family finally received the news that they had waited fifty years to hear: his brother had been found.

* * * * * * *

            We received the diagnosis only a week before, on the 2nd.  Mom had been going back and forth to different doctors and specialists and testing facilities for months now, to check in on a variety of ailments that you assume are the usual accompaniment of old age, but needed further inquiry to make sure there wasn’t a more serious problem lurking underneath the various aches and pains.  We were prepared for something, just not this particular news.

She had breast cancer.  They found a lump, and further testing had shown that it was malignant.  They scheduled the surgery for its removal immediately, with talk of further treatment delayed for now.  Due to its relatively early detection and its location, there was confidence that we shouldn’t worry too much about it, but that kind of goes out the window once you mention the c-word.  You can comfort yourself with facts, figures, and expert opinions, but deep down there is still a visceral reaction to hearing a cancer diagnosis.

In many ways, life would remain normal for the next week, as everyone went about their daily routines.  We didn’t make a conscious decision to do so; we simply didn’t discuss the diagnosis any further beyond determining the logistics for various hospital trips.  We refrained from informing my sister until the weekend, so as not to upset her; besides, at this point there was little that she could do, and it would be better than going through days of unnecessary worrying.

However, after Mom called her up, my sister immediately decided to come back home as quickly possible and made the necessary travel and work arrangements.  She said that she wanted to be there to take care of Mom and do any of the needed cooking or household tasks, as if I or Dad couldn’t be trusted with either of those tasks.  I brought this up to Mom, saying that this wasn’t a good idea and that the result would be too much chaos around the house.  She understood my concerns, but responded that it was my sister’s decision to make and that she couldn’t blame her for rushing back.

I remembered that we had gone through a similar situation years ago with Mom, when she had an operation on her lung while I was away at college.  I had wanted to take at least a couple of days off to be there for this serious procedure, but my parents insisted otherwise.  Besides, what parent wouldn’t want their child to spend their winter in a frozen New Hampshire winter instead of resting back home?  I recalled my frustration from that time (a feeling that was reinforced later when I found out that the operation initially did not go smoothly), and reconsidered my position, deciding that I was fine with my sister’s choice.

So my sister came home, and life appeared from the outside to be the same as if it were the holiday season when the entire family is back together.  I excused myself from a couple of outings with friends that week, giving the minimum information required to explain the situation, and spent as much time with the family as possible as we awaited the surgery.

Considering how little there was for most of us to do, I stayed at home while my parents went through the necessary pre-op procedures early in the morning at the hospital.  The initial plan was for my sister to stay home as well, but she was understandably antsy and instead joined Mom and Dad.  And that’s how we got to the phone call on Tuesday morning, June 10.

I made it to the hospital a little before noon, and after some confusion about where I needed to be, I touched base with Dad and my sister.  Within minutes, the surgeon came out and informed us that the operation had gone as well as they could have planned: the tumor was removed, and the early indication was that the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes.  The tumor was slightly larger than they expected, but nothing that necessitated concern.  Everything was looking good for now, and we would just have to wait for a few hours as Mom recovered from the anesthesia.

The next couple of hours dragged on, as we leafed through the handful of reading materials cover-to-cover, including a “Travel Salem” guide and a “March Madness” edition of Sports Illustrated; at this point, the tournament was so long ago that I had trouble filling in for my dad which teams ended up in the Final Four.  I burned through most of the battery on my cell phone scrounging through Twitter and trying to do some mobile web browsing from my outdated device, but the tedium became overwhelming after a certain point.  It then became time to explore the various nearby waiting areas, if only for the sole purpose of moving around.

It took about three hours, but we were finally allowed to come into Mom’s hospital room and provide her with flowers and comfort.  She looked a little frail and rather fatigued, but she was still smiling.  We passed on the good preliminary news and talked a bit as we discussed the protocol for her departure.  Once everything was cleared up, I headed home as Dad and my sister waited for Mom to be discharged.  I could at least get in a solid run on the treadmill before all was said and done and Mom was back home.

* * *

A couple of nights before the surgery, I excused myself to go for a drive.  One of the nice things about living in Salem is that you have all the convenience of a city, but it is only a few minutes drive from the country.  I had taken up the habit of picking out a CD and hopping into my car, setting out a course to take me around the city while an album blasted through the stereo system.  Not only could I get a different perspective of the music, since the equalizer/speaker setup focused on different parts of the sound, but at least for an hour I could focus my attention on something else besides myself.  And sometimes, the view was pretty great.

SAMSUNG

Sunset in Independence

On this particular night, I was debating between two Elliott Smith albums, XO and Figure 8.  Though I love both, I tend to forget which songs are on which album, and ended up selecting the latter by chance.  I was enjoying the music, until my ears perked up at a familiar intro:

The question is: ‘Wouldn’t Mama be proud?'”

I pulled the car over to the side of the road, and cried.

* * *

The shooting at Reynolds High School was seemingly just the latest in a flurry of similar crimes around the country that week, from Georgia to Seattle.  But the school shouldn’t be remembered just for this tragedy, no matter how much the loss of young Emilio hurts (when the Portland Timbers and their fans announced several tributes for the aspiring soccer player, I was particularly moved).  The first things that will instead come to mind when I think of Reynolds High will be from an event from two years ago.

One of the admirable things that the Oregon Supreme Court does is travel around the state so that students and other members of the public can see firsthand how the court system works.  The Court travels to the three law schools in the state, as well as different high schools each year.  In the fall of 2011, back when I was a clerk for one of the Justices, the Court made the trek up from Salem to Troutdale and Reynolds High School, who would host oral arguments for two cases, State of Oregon v. Lawson and State of Oregon v. Mills.

These were particularly important cases, as the two combined would possibly determine a new standard for Oregon in admitting eyewitness testimony.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the issue, there have been advances in science over the years that have proven in several circumstances the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, and as a result numerous defendants convicted on the basis of dubious evidence.  The problem is that intuitively we sense that “seeing is believing”, and that memories pretty much work like videotapes, in that we can easily go back and forth and pick out details from what we remember.  In reality, memory is a much more complicated process, and the legal system has wrestled with various approaches to admitting such evidence and presenting the proper context for a jury.  To understand just how big a problem this can be, the Innocence Project has helped overturn hundreds of convictions based on faulty eyewitness testimony after DNA evidence exonerated the defendant, including several prisoners who were serving on death row.  It is in our collective interest that we come up with the proper procedures so that any potential terrible injustice would be prevented.

The oral arguments were held in the school auditorium, and the students got to witness some of the finest prosecutors and defense attorneys in the state make their case, as the judges peppered each side with questions.  Afterwards, the judges opened up the floor to a Q & A, explaining to the audience how the appellate case that they had just witnessed differed from the usual trial experience that they were familiar with from the media.  We then broke for lunch, as judges, lawyers, and clerks ate with the students and got to talk with them on a more individual level.  The students whom I talked to all had great questions, and I remember walking away impressed with their insights (though I remember cracking up when one of them asked if I had kids—kind of need several steps to fall in place before that ever happens).  At the very least, they didn’t sleep through the arguments, unlike some lawyers I’ve seen in other cases.

My judge ended up getting the case, and I along with another clerk would work on researching and drafting the opinion over the next year.  We pored over the extensive trial records, studied advances in psychology and neuroscience from the past four decades, and analyzed previous cases that attempted to tackle this problem.  In the end, we came up with a procedure that relied on the state evidence code to help shift the burden of admissibility to the prosecution, as it is with the introduction of most other evidence.  In addition, we provided an extensive record of several problems that have occurred over the years with improper eyewitness identification that judges should look out for, as well as an explanation of the science so that lawyers understood why the court was concerned with the proliferation of faulty admissions.

It was a very thorough opinion, and it was praised as a landmark decision in publications like the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and Slate.  Within my first two years out of law school, I had played an important role in crafting a significant opinion, one that would be a model that other states could follow and would make a real positive impact in helping overturn false convictions and ensure fair trials in the future.  Most lawyers don’t accomplish something like that in their entire careers.

The Innocence Project wrote a press release expressing their adulation for the decision, and back in April of this year, I got to speak with the Director and Co-founder, Barry Scheck, a hero of mine.  When my boss introduced me to Barry as the clerk who helped write the opinion, Barry shook my hand and offered his praise: “So THIS is our savior.”  He then gave a speech to introduce the new Oregon chapter of the Innocence Project, and took time out to specifically praise Lawson as “the most brilliant decision I’ve ever read”, noting that he liked to read over favorite sections from the opinion on many nights before he goes to bed.  Sure, some of this was hyperbole and flattery for the person who invited him out to Oregon, but for once, it was nice to feel acknowledged and appreciated.

Of course, the reason why I was able to listen to this speech and hear this praise at 9 am on a Wednesday morning was because I don’t have a job.  Ever since my clerkship ended, I’ve been unemployed.  That’s 18 months and counting.

I have always wanted to become a lawyer because of Atticus Finch.  I can sense the eyerolls already, but it’s the absolute truth; I’d like to see you try to come up with a decent law school admissions essay when the facts sound like a ridiculous cliché.  I first picked up To Kill A Mockingbird before a summer vacation trip to Greece back in elementary school, and was thoroughly engrossed by both the story and the lessons of fairness and equal justice.  Atticus’s final arguments before the jury were some of the most powerful words I had ever read, especially the notion that though we may not be physically and mentally created equal, under the eyes of the law we were.  I would reread the novel the next two summers, and to this day my parents periodically give me new editions for Christmas presents.  It’s true, I also read Jurassic Park multiple times over those years, but the passion to become a paleontologist never struck me as much as being a lawyer did (though for years I would read articles on genetic engineering with interest).  The novel was a true inspiration for me.

For years, the lessons of To Kill A Mockingbird and others like it pushed me in a more general sense of to “try to do good for others less fortunate”, but when I graduated college, I was still searching for a purpose.  That was when I decided to commit to law school in earnest, and after a few months of applications, waitlists, and acceptances, was excited to enroll at NYU.  I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of my classes and loved the friendships that I built with my classmates, but it wasn’t until my 2L summer that I felt could accomplish what I long had sought, and that was to help others.  I was a law clerk at the Oregon Department of Justice, working in the Consumer Protection/Financial Fraud section, where I had volunteered before as an intern back during a couple of off-terms in college.  I had enjoyed my time at the DOJ in those previous stints, but my work was limited to getting consumers in touch with people better prepared to handle their complaints and other behind-the-scenes work.  This time, however, I was handling claims and doing all sorts of real legal work, and I spent the majority of my summer helping victims of mortgage rescue fraud.  Yes, you read that correctly—people who desperately were trying to hold on to their homes were being cheated out of what limited resources they had left.  During my first week, I helped finish a settlement where one Oregonian got the entirety of her money back, and had the honor of presenting her with a check that Friday.  She expressed shock that 1) she was able to receive any money whatsoever and 2) she did not have to pay us for our work, and she thanked us profusely.  I responded by informing her “hey, that’s what taxes are supposed to pay for,” but of course, as an intern I was working that summer for free.

That summer I helped settle numerous cases for the DOJ, to which the Department itself earned close to six figures.  Regular Oregon citizens received even more.  I spent the summer working for three supervising attorneys; two of these attorneys thought that they were my sole boss, while the third saw that I handled the workload with ease and kept silent.  In addition, I did work for the nascent Civil Rights Division, as well as whatever side project any other attorney would toss my way.  Despite this stellar record, once I got my clerkship, I would only be granted one interview with the DOJ, despite applying to dozens of openings.

And nobody else gave a shit either.

Later on that Tuesday afternoon, I received a phone call once again from my alma mater, begging me once again to send some money their way, as if the fortune that I paid was not enough.  I reminded them once again that same as before, I still did not have a job, and expressed shock that nobody in their staff could write (or would even think to write) a note about my situation.  Mainly, I was upset that of all the days they chose to call, it was the day of my mother’s surgery, but there was no need to explain this to complete strangers.  Still angry, I went to the kitchen to talk to my dad about the phone call.

* * *

Growing up, whenever I was asked about my ethnicity, I always stressed the fact that not only was I Greek on my mother’s side, but that I was Greek-Cypriot on my father’s.  To some, this may seem like an arbitrary distinction, and in some ways they are more correct than they may realize; if an American was speaking to someone from Brazil, what would be the point of mentioning that one part of the family was from Missouri while the other hailed from New Hampshire?  From an outsider’s perspective, what’s the difference?  Greece and Cyprus share a common history and lineage, as the island has been populated by Greeks for thousands of years.  How could the birthplace of Aphrodite not be Greek?

[Long history lesson forthcoming; you may skim or skip ahead]

The initial creation of the independent Republic of Cyprus was an accident of history, but its current status is the result of both inaction and malevolence.  If you’re unfamiliar with its history, I’ll offer up a quick and general history.  After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Greece was occupied by the Ottomans for centuries.  In 1821, the famous Greek revolution for independence began, a cause that was celebrated by many luminaries across Europe (perhaps notably by Lord Byron, who took up arms himself and whose efforts are still appreciated in Greece today).  It was a struggle that lasted for years, but eventually the Greeks were successful.  However, the boundaries of Greece as we know it today were not established for years after this initial triumph, and only a small section of it received independence initially; it took years of other actions for the rest of Greece to be liberated.  Territory was gained gradually over the years, but Cyprus, way over in the East, was unable to join up with its Greek brethren.

Instead, Cyprus was purchased by the British from the Ottomans after the end of the Russo-Turkish War.  For years, it would remain a British colony; my Dad, born a few years after the end of World War II, was born a British subject.  It didn’t matter that Britain and other nations had given up colonies around the world in the wake of the war as the principle of self-determination was being instituted; hell, there were important military bases on the island to consider, and the close proximity to the Middle East was a consideration that you can’t just give up that easily.  Cypriots eventually decided that this situation could no longer stand, and so began to push against their colonialist overlords, and began fighting for a union with Greece (a movement known as “enosis”).  The British did not appreciate this, and the Cypriots began to openly rebel; in response, one of the maneuvers that the British pulled was invoking the support of the Turkish Cypriot minority to fight against the Greeks, stoking fears that they would be persecuted if the island joined with Greece.   This gambit would have lasting consequences.

After years of struggle, a compromise short of enosis was reached, and the independent nation of Cyprus was created in 1960.  However, a faulty system of power-sharing between the Greek majority (80% of the population) and the Turkish minority (less than 20%) would effectively prevent any hopes of effective governance on the island.  This resulted in various uprisings over the years, but had generally settled by the early 70’s.  However, this all changed in July of 1974, when an ill-advised coup backed by the ruling military junta in Greece temporarily ousted Archbishop Markarios, the President, throwing the country into chaos.  It was clear though that this coup had no support, as the Greek junta fell immediately after the coup.  However, this was enough for Turkey to launch the long-planned Operation Attila, and Cyprus was invaded on July 20, 1974.  As Turkish troops pushed their way through the island, political negotiations restored constitutional order within a couple of weeks.  But since they were already on the island, the Turks thought why not grab more of this for ourselves, and launched a second invasion on August 14.

The invasion resulted in the killing of thousands, the rape of thousands more, and thousands missing to this day.  Ethnic cleansing resulted in the displacement of a third of the Greek population from their homes, which to this day they have been unable to return.  As it stands, Turkey occupies the northern 37% of the island, with a heavily patrolled green line separating the two parts, and running through the only divided capital in the world, Nicosia.

[Long history lesson complete]

A lot of my friends know that my Dad was back home in Cyprus for summer break from law school here in the States during the Turkish Invasion.  He was called up to the front lines and helped try to fight off the invaders, but they were woefully outnumbered and undersupplied.  Over the years, we’ve heard small details of the experience that help paint a picture of what occurred, like the fact that my Dad was grateful to have purchased a pair of Keds back in the US before returning, that almost none of the soldiers actually had a weapon, and that the thing that he thought Saving Private Ryan got absolutely right about war was how LOUD it was.  Many have also heard the story of how he was hit by a mortar during the war and was injured, that it was by a miracle that his helmet protected him from further damage.  They also know that to this day he still has this helmet.

It’s amazing to think how close I was to never existing, if not for that helmet.

Fewer friends know the story of my grandfather.  During law school, we were all required to write a thesis-like paper as a requirement for graduation; from the beginning, I was dead-set on writing about the topic of torture, something that was unfortunately a current issue due to American policies stemming from the War on Terror.  When pressed why this issue was so important to me, even though it would have little importance to my post-law school career, I would eventually mention my grandfather.  During the time of the rebellion against the British, my grandfather, who was an important village leader at the time, was imprisoned by the British and held without trial for two years, and was routinely tortured during this time.  I think of this, then I think of my sweet old grandfather; though we were separated by a language barrier, I often felt a deep connection with the man after whom I was named, perhaps no more strongly than when we would play quiet games of backgammon together.  Though we were both known to be quite the talkers among our friends, it was in these games that we revealed the other side of our personality.  I never went into this much detail in my explanation; just a simple reference to my grandfather’s experience was enough.

I never mention that my Dad still suffers to this day from nightmares caused by the night he was awakened by a rifle pointed to his head by a British soldier, who demanded to know from this eight year old the location of his father.

Even fewer know the story of Antonis, my Dad’s brother.  In all my life, I may have told it only once or twice; it’s not exactly something that can come up in casual conversation.  I have only heard stories about him a handful of times myself, for similar reasons.  In the few conversations that we’ve had, I learned that Antonis was the pride of the family, the one that was the nicest and smartest and handsomest of all the children, the one that was absolutely beloved by everyone and destined for greatness.  I never was able to meet him; beyond these stories, the only thing I can remember is a black-and-white photograph from a visit to the old family home in Lythrodontas.

One day in 1964, Antonis was in Nicosia looking for replacement parts for his bike for work.  He was then kidnapped.  For years, his family never heard a word about his whereabouts; for decades, the only concrete thing that they knew was that he was “missing”.  My grandfather would go on daily visits to the President and Greek congressional leader, pleading for any information whatsoever.  However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that we would learn anything, when a chance encounter with a Turkish Cypriot policeman from that area finally gave us some news; he told my other uncle that “Antonis had been very brave”.  My grandparents never lived to hear this news.

My other uncle has been working tirelessly for years to champion the cause of the missing, from both 1974 and the inter-communal violence of the 60’s, working with people on both sides of the ethnic divide to try and find bodies and identify their remains.  Over the years, they have had many successes, and both sides have helped with the effort.  But it wasn’t until last month that he finally learned what he had waited decades to hear.

My Dad told me that his brother emailed him that afternoon that the body of Antonis had been found.  He told me that his body had been found among several others in a…and as my Dad searched for the term, I said “mass grave,” and yes, that was the term he was thinking of.  They sent the bones to Bosnia for testing, because they had they unfortunately had the equipment and expertise in handling these situations.  They confirmed that it was indeed Antonis.  An upcoming trip to Greece now was updated to include a trip to Cyprus, as plans were arranged and flights were booked.  Finally, we could see an end to this.

* * *

That night, I spent the hour or so before going to bed reading reviews of one of my favorite new albums, the solo debut of Hamilton Leithuaser, Black Hours.  As I was processing the events of the day, I thought back to a moment from my law school years.  I was in the middle of my nightly walk around the nearby neighborhoods, with Hamilton’s previous band (The Walkmen) providing the soundtrack on that particular evening.  For a few minutes, everything lined up with perfect synchronicity, as everything I saw came together perfectly with the rhythms and swells of the music.  As “Little House of Savages” blasted through my iPod, I remember seeing a child’s balloon float away at one point, and a patron vomiting on the sidewalk at another.

I was living in a perfect one-shot video in my head.

 

For Antonis

Back in June, in  the middle of what had already been a tumultuous day for our family, I walked into the kitchen to see my Dad sitting next to the table, staring at the ground with a grim look on his face.  We exchanged a couple of quick bits of small talk, but there was clearly something else on his mind.  He then informed me that he just received an email from Cyprus, and that his family had received the news they had been waiting fifty years to hear: his brother had finally been found.

* * *

Growing up, whenever I was asked about my ethnicity, I always stressed the fact that not only was I Greek on my mother’s side, but that I was Greek-Cypriot on my father’s.  To some, this may seem like an arbitrary distinction, and in some ways they are more correct than they may realize; if an American was speaking to someone from Brazil, what would be the point of mentioning that one part of the family was from Missouri while the other hailed from New Hampshire?  From an outsider’s perspective, what’s the difference?  Greece and Cyprus share a common history and lineage, as the island has been populated by Greeks for thousands of years.  How could the birthplace of Aphrodite not be Greek?

[Long history lesson forthcoming; you may skim or skip ahead]

The initial creation of the independent Republic of Cyprus was an accident of history, but its current status is the result of both inaction and malevolence.  If you’re unfamiliar with its history, I’ll offer up a quick and general history.  After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Greece was occupied by the Ottomans for centuries.  In 1821, the famous Greek revolution for independence began, a cause that was celebrated by many luminaries across Europe (perhaps notably by Lord Byron, who took up arms himself and whose efforts are still appreciated in Greece today).  It was a struggle that lasted for years, but eventually the Greeks were successful.  However, the boundaries of Greece as we know it today were not established for years after this initial triumph, and only a small section of it received independence initially; it took years of other actions for the rest of Greece to be liberated.  Territory was gained gradually over the years, but Cyprus, way over in the East, was unable to join up with its Greek brethren.

Instead, Cyprus was purchased by the British from the Ottomans after the end of the Russo-Turkish War.  For years, it would remain a British colony; my Dad, born a few years after the end of World War II, was born a British subject.  It didn’t matter that Britain and other nations had given up colonies around the world in the wake of the War, as the principle of self-determination was being developed and upheld; hell, there were important military bases on the island to consider, and the close proximity to the Middle East was a consideration that if you’re Britain you just can’t give up that easily.  Cypriots eventually decided that this situation could no longer stand, and so began to push against their colonialist overlords, and began fighting for a union with Greece (a movement known as “enosis”).  The British did not appreciate this, and the Cypriots began to openly rebel; in response, one of the maneuvers that the British pulled was invoking the support of the Turkish Cypriot minority to fight against the Greeks, stoking fears that they would be persecuted if the island joined with Greece.   This gambit would have lasting consequences.

After years of struggle, a compromise short of enosis was reached, and the independent nation of Cyprus was created in 1960.  (For the record, Britain kept two military bases on the island, which remain to this day, and exist outside the purview of Cypriot law.)  However, a faulty system of power-sharing was imposed as one of the conditions of independence, with equal representation instituted between the Greek majority (80% of the population) and a Turkish minority (less than 20%), who were given veto power in most legislative decisions.  This setup would effectively prevent any hopes of effective governance on the island.  Added to this were the bitter unresolved feelings from two ethnic groups who took opposite sides during the fight to overthrow British rule, which resulted in various uprisings and clashes over the next decade, but had generally settled by the early 70’s.  However, this all changed in July of 1974, when an ill-advised coup backed by the ruling military junta in Greece temporarily ousted Archbishop Markarios, the President, throwing the country into chaos.  It was clear though that this coup had no support to sustain itself, as the Greek junta fell immediately after the coup.  However, this was enough for Turkey to launch the long-planned Operation Attila, and Cyprus was invaded on July 20, 1974.  As Turkish troops pushed their way through the island, political negotiations restored constitutional order within a couple of weeks.  But since they were already on the island, the Turks thought why not grab more of this for ourselves, and launched a second invasion on August 14.

The invasion resulted in the killing of thousands, the rape of thousands more, and thousands missing to this day.  Ethnic cleansing resulted in the displacement of a third of the Greek population from their homes, which to this day they have been unable to return.  As it stands, Turkey occupies the northern 37% of the island, with a heavily patrolled green line separating the two parts, including a section running through the only divided capital in the world, Nicosia.  The occupied territory considers itself an independent nation, though it is only recognized internationally by Turkey, and several measures have been made to condemn the continued state of affairs.  Officially, the Republic of Cyprus governs the entirety of the island, though the division means that a puppet state is the de facto ruler of the northern third.

[Long history lesson complete]

A lot of my friends know that my Dad was back home in Cyprus for summer break from law school here in the States during the Turkish Invasion.  He was called up to the front lines and helped try to fight off the invaders, but they were woefully outnumbered and undersupplied.  Over the years, we’ve heard small details of the experience that help paint a picture of what occurred, like the fact that my Dad was grateful to have purchased a pair of cheap Keds sneakers back in the US before returning, that almost none of the soldiers actually had a weapon, and that the thing that he thought Saving Private Ryan got absolutely right about war was how LOUD it was.  Many have also heard the story of how he was hit by a mortar during the war and subsequently sustained a head injury, and that it was only the result of a miracle that his helmet protected him from further damage.  They also know that to this day he still has this helmet.

It’s amazing to think how close I was to never existing, if not for that helmet.

Fewer friends know the story of my grandfather.  During law school, we were all required to write a thesis-like paper as a requirement for graduation; from the beginning, I was dead-set on writing about the topic of torture, something that was unfortunately a current issue due to American policies stemming from the War on Terror.  When pressed why this issue was so important to me by my colleagues, even though it would have little importance to my post-law school career, I would eventually mention my grandfather.  During the time of the rebellion against the British, my grandfather, a poor farmer who was also an important village leader at the time, was imprisoned by the colonial forces and held without trial for two years, and was routinely tortured during this time.  I think of this, then I think of my sweet old grandfather; though we were separated by a language barrier, I often felt a deep connection with the man after whom I was named, perhaps no more strongly than when we would play quiet games of backgammon together.  We were both known to be quite the talkers among our friends, but it was in these games that we revealed the other side of our personality.  I never went into this much detail in my explanation; just a simple reference to my grandfather’s experience was usually enough to suffice.

I never mentioned that my Dad still suffers to this day from nightmares caused by the night he was awakened by a rifle pointed to his head by a British soldier, who demanded to know from this eight year old the location of his father.

Even fewer know the story of Antonis, my Dad’s brother.  In all my life, I may have told it only once or twice; it’s not exactly something that can come up in casual conversation.  I have only heard stories about him a handful of times myself, for similar reasons.  In the few conversations that we’ve had, I learned that Antonis was the pride of the family, the one who was the nicest and smartest and handsomest of all the children, the one that was absolutely beloved by everyone and destined for greatness.  I never was able to meet him; beyond these stories, the only thing I can remember is a black-and-white photograph from a visit to the old family home in Lythrodontas.

One day in 1964, Antonis was in Nicosia looking for replacement parts for his bike for work.  He was then kidnapped.  His family never heard a word about his whereabouts; for decades, the only concrete thing that they knew was that he was “missing”.  My grandfather would go on daily visits to the President and Greek congressional leader, pleading for any information whatsoever.  However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that our family would learn anything, when a chance encounter with a Turkish Cypriot policeman from that area finally gave us some news: he told my other uncle that “Antonis had been very brave”.  My grandparents never lived to hear this.

My other uncle, Haris, has worked tirelessly for years to champion the cause of the missing, from both the 1974 invasion and the inter-communal violence of the 60’s, working with people on both sides of the ethnic divide to try and find bodies and identify their remains.  Over the years, they have had many successes, and both sides have helped with the effort.  But it wasn’t until last month that he finally learned what he had waited decades to hear.

My Dad told me that his brother emailed him that afternoon that the body of Antonis had been found.  He told me that his body had been found among several others in a…and as my Dad searched for the term, I said “mass grave,” and yes, that was the term he was thinking of.  They sent the bones to Bosnia for testing, because they unfortunately had the equipment and expertise in handling these situations.  They confirmed that one of the bodies was indeed Antonis.  An upcoming trip to Greece now was updated to include a visit to Cyprus, as plans were arranged and flights were booked.  Finally, our family could see an end.

* * *

Last week, I had my first phone call with my Dad since his visit to Cyprus.  We then talked for a long time about all the details he learned and about the funeral that they were finally able to have.

We learned a few more bits of information, helping to reveal more of what happened to Antonis.  He was initially captured by Turkish Cypriot militiamen, but based on the location of his body and other facts we would uncover, he was eventually transferred to the custody of the Turkish Cypriot police.  He was then held under their custody for months, where he was tortured.

In examining the body, they found injuries stemming from incidents from different times.  First, the nose had been broken in and crushed.  A couple of months later, there was a separate injury where the cheekbone was fractured.  This injury was not severe enough to be fatal.  The body was found with the hands tied behind the back.  The conclusion was that based on these details, Antonis was most likely buried alive.

Antonis was one of 16 people found in this mass grave.

It was by luck that they were even able to find the site, the result of some previously unplanned excavation as they work on improving conditions in the occupied territory.  This was my Dad’s first visit to the occupied territory since his injury in 1974: it was only in recent years that travel restrictions for Greeks had been eased, when previously they were completely barred from entering.  He still decided that it was better to use his American passport; he had a Turkish Cypriot guide drive him and his brother around, since Greek Cypriots cannot drive without special insurance; he had to return by the end of the day, because that is the extent of time that they are allowed to remain.  Not only was he able to see the site where they found Antonis, but his guide took him to a couple of hills where he believed that he sustained his injury during the war; my Dad is unsure whether or not they found the correct spot, and is looking forward to another trip some time in the future to make certain.

Questions still remain.  While the government is quick to mention the tragedy of ’74 (and rightfully so), their unwillingness to confront the awful acts that the Greek Cypriots committed during the 60’s has led to terrible delays with cases like that of Antonis.  And the entire nature of his kidnapping and detention still makes us wonder who knew of his situation, when did they know, and why were we never informed.

Then there is of course the simple question: why?  Antonis was an innocent, a man who had in the most unfortunate way found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  In some ways, it can be answered in an almost matter-of-fact manner: he was a victim of these awful crimes simply because of his ethnicity.  But to go beyond this superficial explanation and down to the root cause, to determine the philosophical reasons of why humanity can be this cruel to one another for no reason, no one really knows.  Antonis was but one case in which history has shown us countless of other examples.

I was told that the funeral was a wonderful experience, and there were many great eulogies for Antonis.  In the week leading up to the funeral, Haris had been conducting interviews with local news media to push the cause of the missing and to celebrate the life of Antonis.  While the facts that we learned were horrible, at least now we knew them.  We could begin the process of moving forward.

In the days since we talked, I have often thought of Antonis.  I try to think hard about that one photograph, so that could be my lasting memory of him.  But I end up instead with an image of bound hands, and mounds of dirt.  And I immediately choke up, and feel an intense pain for a man I will never be able to meet.

Before, we never talked too much about Antonis, as the pain of the events and the uncertainty of his fate were too much to bear.  But now, when my Dad returns from Greece, I’m looking forward to finally learning more about his brother.

* * *

Sunday will mark the 40th anniversary of the Turkish Invasion; it will be an event that most of the world will not acknowledge.  After all, five years earlier on that same day we were able to put a man on the moon; that seems much more worthy of celebration.  Then again, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  We just witnessed in the past few months Russia operating from the same playbook as Turkey to invade and annex Crimea.  Today, we are all glued to the news of a conflict a few hundred miles to the east in occupied territories.

Some though have taken the opportunity to look back on the events.  I have seen multiple photo essays of how the abandoned occupied territories exist today.  These once bustling and thriving communities are now ghost towns.  But then I do something stupid and read the comments like “this again?” and “I wish everyone would just shut up and get on”–not from Cypriots, mind you, but from Brits who are disappointed at the inconvenience at looking at the devastation, ignorant of their complicity in the events.  Clearly, there are many people who are unaware of how fresh these scars can be; that same day, this article was published about how a missing Greek Cypriot soldier from the ’74 invasion was finally found and put to rest.  I invite the commenter above to tell the grieving family to just “get on”.

I’ll do my little part by continuing to share stories with my friends of the progress towards peace, which I understand will generally be ignored.  But I hope that maybe they will understand why I get so upset when a media company prints a map of Europe declaring the last year each country was occupied by a foreign power, but failing to note that Cyprus is presently occupied.  Or how I could be so incensed that a journalist could propose a solution to solve the Cypriot fiscal crisis (a situation that was largely the fault of larger European powers forcing bad Greek debt on Cyprus, and using Cyprus as a pawn in an alternative scheme to punish Russia (because of the amount of banking that Russians do on the island)), with the brilliant idea of renouncing its claim on the occupied territory; I can see how no Greek Cypriot would possibly have a problem with this.

Even so, these are larger issues that will take time to work through and solve.  We can still use Antonis as an example of what we need to do in the short term.  I remember reading a few years ago a complaint in the Turkish press of how the Greek Cypriots continue to use the claim of 1619 missing persons to try to keep the issue alive instead of moving on and admitting that they had died.  But as our family as learned, even if we are near absolute certainty as to their final fate, it is still vitally important that we learn as much as we can about what happened, and that finding their remains will allow us to finally grieve and begin the healing process.

Fitness Goal: Achieved

            Back in about October of my senior year in college, I had decided I had enough.  I believe I was studying late at night, when I said to myself “Fuck this.”  I then went outside and began walking around the beautiful campus, coming back to my dorm about an hour later.  It had a great calming effect on me, so I decided to do it the next night, and the night after that.  From that moment, I had a new routine—to simply walk around campus, and get at least some exercise in my daily schedule.

            It was at this point that I decided to head to the gym and weigh myself, to see what I had let myself get up to. The scale read 330 pounds.  I decided I had some work to do.  I would begin slowly, but I decided at the very least to have a long-term plan for myself.  I checked my driver’s license, and saw the weight I had listed at age 16.  My long-term goal was to someday reach that weight of 225 pounds (a number which was lower than my actual weight, for the record—I hadn’t weighed myself for a long time before getting my license, so I picked a number out of the air that seemed reasonable; it turned out that I was actually 250 pounds).

            So from that day forward, I slowly changed my diet and made exercise a part of my routine.  Nothing drastic, and all changes were gradual.  First it was to get rid of all sugary drinks and any fried food—no longer would French fries be a part of any meal.  If I wanted meat, I had chicken or turkey, and ate more salads and fruit.  I limited any snacks.  By the end of my senior year, with just these few changes, I had dropped below 300 and was around 290.  My graduation photos looked a lot better than my senior photo, and not just because I shaved off that ridiculous beard.

            Since then, nothing matched the speed of those first few months, but I continued to gradually attempt to lose weight in a reasonable fashion.  I had read that often people could lose huge amounts of weight, but they would always pack the pounds back on.  I had to commit—this was a different lifestyle.  So I approached everything with this mindset: I wasn’t on a “diet”, this was just how I would eat from now on.  I would slowly phase out certain items, and pay close attention to calories and fat content, making substitutions as necessary.  Gradually, my tastes change, and frankly I prefer a lot of these “healthy” options taste-wise.

            And I slowly started adding things to my exercise routine.  I live in a hilly neighborhood back home, so it made it difficult to jog.  To accommodate for this, I set up a system where I would run up hills and half the straight-aways while walking down the hills.  Not only did it work different muscles, but frankly it was safer and would put less stress on my knees.  I started weight training again, because I figured that if I would at least look the part of a “big guy”, I better have some strength to back it up.  (Here’s a great Onion article which explains how this can be a problem: http://www.theonion.com/articles/fat-guy-mistakenly-thought-of-as-strong,5635/)  And when I went to law school, I tried to be as physically active as possible with my classmates, joining as many pickup basketball games as I could and scheduling racquetball games as often as possible (and consistently participating in our flag football league, though I probably undid a lot of those gains with our after-game trips for beer and free wings).

            I also had to work on gradually changing my exercise routine as well, and here’s where I think I can give the best advice.  When I started, I could not do a single pushup.  But I kept at it, and now I can do a set of 50 relatively easily.  I had never been able to do a single pullup all my life, until in law school, where I had my friends Sean and Graham actually physically help me with them.  I then realized how close I was to actually to reaching the necessary strength to achieve it on my own, but I wouldn’t have been able to realize it without their help.  I can now do 10 on my first set on a good day.  I also was unable to benchpress the bar when I first started—now I can do a couple of sets of 190.  But it took a long time, and it meant never getting frustrated with early failures.  Because when you keep working at it, you are guaranteed to improve.

            And I kept up with the walking.  My best summers for losing weight were when I was living in D.C. and Holland and had to walk/bike everywhere.  It really does help a lot.  Just throw an album on your iPod and head out there, and take advantage of the beautiful scenery.  For those of you who wonder how I can constantly find new bands, well an album a day is a great way to do that.

            A few weeks ago, after several years of effort, I finally reached my long-term goal of meeting my driver’s license weight of 225 pounds.  I think this is all the more impressive since I grew five inches taller since that license was issued.  Unfortunately, I reached this goal after I got my license renewed, so I’ll just have to be content to have people say, “You don’t look like you weigh 250.”  But it’s been three weeks since I first hit that mark, and I’ve consistently been below it since then, so I can confidently say that I’ve accomplished my primary long-term goal.

            But I’m not done yet.  225 was a lofty goal when I first set it, but it’s clear I still have work to do.  But I’m glad that I’m a lot healthier now, and that I have a lot more energy to do all sorts of physical activity.  And I want to thank all of my friends that stopped to offer me words of encouragement along the way; though I try to brush it off, it really means a lot to me.*  But to those who say that I’m looking “good” now, I will still correct them—I’m looking “better”.  Because I still have more work to do.

 

*I live in a neighborhood with a lot of old people, and it’s surprising how many of them that I’ve never met who will stop me to offer their congratulations because they’ve seen firsthand the progress I’ve made over the years.  I know they’ll never read this, but I really appreciate them nonetheless.