I’ll never know what drove Anthoula to take her own life.
A young woman, she’s rumored to have stood on the balcony of her family home facing the Aegean Sea, and, gazing into the water, she poured flammable liquid on her self. Some say she waited until the man she loved appeared in a boat making its way into the harbor of the Village of Pali, on the Island of Nysiros, Greece, before she struck the match.
And then, she lit up. Became one with fire, suffering excruciating pain until shock or some other part of the immune system “took pity on her” and removed all consciousness. She died. No letter found. No reason given; no legacy to pass on to generations like mine that want to know more of its heritage. The good . . . and the bad.
My Cousin, George, recently told me our Aunt Anthoula ended her life out of “Love.” That she wanted to make her boyfriend “jealous.”
I didn’t buy it. Her’s was an act of desperation, a reaching out when all reason for living proved futile. Perhaps even painful. But I said nothing to the senior member of the Contoveros clan. That’s the tradition among Greeks. Defer to your elders.
Anthoula was in her mid-20s, the youngest of eight children my Greek grandparents had raised. George Contoveros was my grandfather. His father was Achilles. I know this, only because Greeks “from the Old Country” named the first-born male after the grandfather. My oldest brother was named George, my father, Achilles. The older Achilles, my great-grandfather and his brother, Paul, had 26 children between the two of them, according to Cousin George Contoveros, who was born on the island before his immediate family immigrated to America, settling in Queens, New York.
The tragedy took place after my father had left the island at age 15, never having known his younger sister, Anthoula. He returned only once, some 5o years later. His mother and father had passed on, and the property left to him ended up in someone else’s hands.
Nisyros was formed from an eruption of the earth some 160,000 years ago, according to scientists studying the Greek island. It is within what is called the Dodecanese archipelago, situated south of Kos. Today, no more than 1,000 souls occupy the island.
“Nisyros island is a remnant of a prehistoric volcanic field from which the largest eruption in the eastern Mediterranean (Kos plateau tuff) devastated the entire Dodecanese islands,” according to Wikipedia. “Although the last magmatic volcanic activity on Nisyros dates back at least 25,000 years, the present . . . activity encompasses high seismic unrest . . . Violent earthquakes and steam blasts accompanied the most recent eruptions in 1871-1873 and 1887 and left large crater holes behind. In 1996 and 1997 seismic activity started with earthquakes of magnitudes up to 5.5.”
An “earthquake” on a different scale shook my ancestors when they discovered what Anthoula had done. I can only imagine the crying and wailing of the old Greek women, the stoic painful looks the men shared — all wondering if there was anything anyone could have done to prevent such a travesty.
And then, the cover-up. How it was hushed up. Never spoken of in the New World. Unless . . . or until . . . someone poked a skeleton in the closet, wanting to shed light on the darkness.
Anthoula. May you rest in Peace. And may your soul find the loving and compassionate connection you felt was missing years ago.
Your fond nephew, michael j