The Tower Above Loutro
In April the nights are cold in Loutro. As you slip between damp sheets there are no thoughts of warm cozy bedrooms. You welcome communion with the elements. All the artificial comforts back home become exposed for what they are, illusions. Your body warms itself, reminding you there is very little you need to survive in the world. Within the intimate embrace of nature your soul is able to fly. You no longer attach yourself to delusions of superiority. You have become one of the beasts who will follow their intuitive nature into the exhilarating danger of the unknown.
Loutro is a very different place before the Easter holidays. It’s the only time villagers actually outnumber tourists during the season. It’s a special breed of traveler who comes to the south coast of Crete at this time of the year. One must be willing to trek along the mountain path for two hours from Sfakia when the sea is too rough for boats or ferries.
When it rains there is no chance to get warm unless you hang out in Stavro’s taverna, the only restaurant open and the only public stove in the village. The lack of choices makes one remember what it means to be humble. A good book and a hot cup of coffee or tea become intimate companions.
Two hundred meters above Loutro a gentle slope unveils the offerings of the Cretan spring. The cool damp air is heavy with the intoxicating fragrance of wild herbs. The silence is broken only by the distant sound of hammers and electric drills as villagers race against time, preparing for the Easter holiday. That is where I met Chris the first time, at the crossroads where the path to Anopoli intersects the path to Phoenix. Our simple handshake and a physical description were recorded in my diary that April 3, 1992. But in the place where time is an illusion there was a recognition of reunion. While my dense physical body, my rational brain, registered fear and confusion, something at the cellular level celebrated a reawakening of spirit.
I had noticed Chris on the balcony of room number three a few days before. His crisp white linen shirt was luminous against the backdrop of the dusty whitewashed Greek structures, still dulled from spring rains laden with Sahara sand. His dark hair, his slender lithe body made him seem like an apparition visiting on holiday from another plane. I had simply taken note of his presence. There was no urgent desire to meet him. But now, with a touch of his hand, a sense of resolve was awakened deep within me and an acceptance of the inevitable. I had fallen through the looking glass. I was on the other side where there is no choice but to accept what comes without judgment.
Two – The Ruins
Was there ever a time when the knowledge of the castle was not within me? My memory of Loutro is as old as the oldest ruin. In that first journey from Sfakia the previous September, we rented a fishing boat with four other tourists to bring us to Loutro.
I was startled to see the Venetian castle ruins ahead as we approached the village on our fifteen minute ride from Sfakia. As Loutro's buildings finally came into view on that warm evening in 1991, I instantly felt that my wandering soul had found a sanctuary in this tiny village clinging to the rocky coast of southern Crete.
The silhouetted ruins of the castle on the hill were like a constant beacon, pulling us ever closer. Soon we made our first pilgrimage. The grounds were cloaked in an utter and age-old silence. All around us were silvery olive groves clinging to the rugged mountain terrain. Not a single person, neither sight nor sound of modern civilization, marred this unchanged landscape. It was a typically hot September day, so Rob and I decided to lie down and rest in the shadow of an olive tree.
As my back came into contact with the earth I was plunged into a timeless place where the separation between dreams and reality united under the incandescent Cretan sun. I was awakened by the gentle sound of goat bells from the distant hillside. The sun was now repositioned behind the western mountains. A gentle breeze encouraged us to rise and continue on our journey with a newfound sense of strength and perception as we, like so many other wayfarers before us, traced the ancient mountain path back to Loutro.
That night I was visited in my dreams by five men in black robes. They possessed an odd one dimensional quality. As they turned sideways they disappeared into a thin line, then reappeared facing the opposite direction. I knew that this was no ordinary dream. My body, sensing that something mystical and spiritual was at hand, gave way to what was being offered. One man stood at my head, two at my feet, and the two others on either side. As they levitated my torso from the bed I awoke screaming.
|Three days later, under the night of the full moon Rob and I decided once again to visit the thirteenth century Venetian castle ruins. The moonlight accentuated the fine powder that covered everything after the dry hot summer. As I climbed through a hole in the north end of the castle ruins I sensed the tower in the distance pulling me toward it as if I were tied to a thread. I left Rob behind and wended my way through a maze of huge boulders that seemed to have been strewn between the castle and the tower by some ancient Greek god.
I faced the entrance to the tower listening to the rapid beat of my heart. A huge lump in my throat made breathing difficult. I swallowed nervously as I contemplated my next move. The bottom of the tower was dark, but to the left I could see a winding staircase that spun up into the moonlight. The stairway ended abruptly at the top of the tower with a drop straight back to the floor in front of me. I stood in the entrance, frozen, wondering why I was there and why I shouldn't just turn and run. A soft voice immediately responded to my dread, whispering in my left ear, “You haven’t come halfway
around the world to give into old fears and behavior!” Stepping across the threshold, I walked into the tower alone.
As I stood at the bottom of the stairs I was catapulted back to my childhood, when I had intensely yearned to live in a tower with a long spiral staircase overlooking the ocean. I began to slowly climb the stairs, weeping as the pictures I had drawn so many times in my youth sprang to life under my feet. I kept whispering to myself, “I know this place. I’ve been here before.” Waves of emotion overcame me as I moved through a place that felt as familiar to me as my mother's living room, but also left me with a disturbing sense of unease. No longer able to control myself, I turned back down the stairs, fled the ancient building and finally found Rob, who was patiently sitting on a rock waiting for me. For weeks after, I studied the tower from a distance and wondered exactly what was happening to me?
Three - The Vision
One month later I convinced myself to return to the tower at night. The October full moon was even more beautiful and powerful than the month before. This time I was accompanied by Rob and three friends: Irena, Apollo from Berlin, and his cousin Sultana. Fascinated with my experiences in September, Apollo had agreed to enter the tower with me. As we made our way from the village, he enthusiastically interwove the story of our procession to the castle ruins with ancient tales of heroic quests, of Theseus, son of King Aegeus, and of the slaying of the mighty Minotour. But did the gods control our fate, as Apollo implied? Who among us would be the hero who strides forth to uncover some important truth?
While the others explored the castle grounds, Apollo and I entered the tower together, merging with the darkness. Slowly, we made our way to the top of the stairs, edging toward the moonlight. I sat on the top step and Apollo on the step below me. Cloaked in unearthly silence, I felt confident and at peace as I closed my eyes. I had nearly forgotten Apollo was there when he suddenly jumped up, catapulted down the stairs, and out into the night.
I could hear him outside of the tower. "Oh, God! Please come out right now, Bob!," he pleaded urgently in a voice tightened with fear. "There's bad energy inside, bad energy!" A sense of calm spread throughout my body. 'It's okay, Apollo, I'm all right!" I called back, my voice reverberating off the ancient stone walls.
Frantic, Apollo turned and ran toward the castle grounds in search of the others, leaving me alone in the tower at the top of the stairs. As his voice died away, I plummeted into a dream state. I was a child being led up the staircase by an older man in black. The scene instantly changed. I was a grown man at the summit of the stairs. Heavy stones were violently tumbling down around me through the open roof. With this scene shift, I spontaneously embodied my own phantasm, sensing that I was now personally enacting my mystical vision and aware that I was cradling my face in my hands. As I slowly raised my head, I stared in fascination at my shaking fingers. They were glistening with viscous blood, blackened by the night.
Apollo's muffled voice, an eternity away, gradually penetrated my consciousness. "Bob, Bob! Answer me! Oh, dear God!"
"I'm here!" I heard myself shout, my face wet with tears. "I can't move!! Apollo, come and help me out!"
There was a pause, and then he replied in a steely voice, "You must do this yourself! Stand up and walk down the stairs and through the door. I'm waiting on the other side. You must do this yourself! Do you understand, Bob?"
Startled out of my stupor, I stood up and hesitantly felt my way down the stairway, my trembling back pressed against the stone wall, one foot slowly placed in front of the other, down, down, down, spiraling into the shadows. When I finally reached the bottom, I saw Apollo's silhouette through the doorway. I stumbled toward him, looked down, and noticed that the blood had vanished from my hands.
Apollo led me to the west side of the castle where the others were waiting to do a healing meditation. Irena had affixed white candles to ancient stones that jutted up out of the ground in a large circle. It was one of two ancient circles of stones that suggested a ritual purpose in another time. Thoughts of evil energy were vanquished in the powerful October moonlight that washed away darkness with white healing light.
At the end of the meditation I walked back toward the tower. Leaning upon a free standing olive tree for support I noticed a silhouette of a man in a black robe, standing next to the sea where the shimmering trail of moonlight ended abruptly on the dark volcanic shore. Slowly, he raised his hands above his head in prayer position. The fingers opened like a flower while the wrists remained touching at the stem. Up from the center of the flower a white bird fluttered into the darkness below the ridge. His purpose fulfilled, the mysterious dark man had evaporated into the shadows. My jaw dropped as I turned my head to the others, but there was no longer a need to speak.
Before leaving for Athens on his return to Berlin, Apollo and I recounted the summer in my Kreutzberg apartment where I had also been awakened by disturbing dreams. In one dream I witnessed Nazis torturing their victims. On a trip to East Germany, a few weeks later, I was able to climb the unguarded wall at Buchenwald Concentration Camp to sit on the mass grave to meditate. The victims spoke from the grave to warn me of the peril of denying my own dark side.
Apollo had been the perfect person to confide in last summer. I was not comfortable exploring these questions with native Germans on German soil.
“Remember Bob, that was the point where allied troops escaped the advancing Nazi army in 1941,” Apollo said, as he pointed toward Sfakia from our vantage point beside the tower. “I am sure there is a connection between your dreams in Berlin and the bad energy in the tower.”
While victims of Nazis pleaded from a mass grave, warning me to understand my own dark side, my Greek friend thought the best solution was to avoid what he called “bad energy” by running away. Was it possible the events of last summer were tied to my experiences in the tower, as Apollo implied? Was Apollo a messenger sent to reveal a mysterious link between my German roots and my Greek experience?
Four - The Secret
Most habits in springtime on Crete could almost certainly be traced to some kind of survival instinct. Early mornings were damp and cold as we waited for the sun to rise over the eastern mountains. The young German medical student was the only other tourist at Pandalitza’s in the first week. After the brief introduction on the path to Anapoli, it was inevitable the three of us would become survival companions. Rob and Chris and I soon made a habit of drinking coffee on our terrace each morning. Wrapped in blankets, we cradled the cups in both hands to keep them warm. We shared a table at dinner each evening, huddled close to the taverna, away from the cold water of Loutro bay.
A few days into the habit I suggested Chris and I should take a walk in the mountains together. As we made our way toward the tiny village of Livaniana, Chris talked about his time working in a hospital in India. He stopped to pick the pungent wild oregano, crushing the tiny leaves between his thumb and pointing finger, then raising them to his his nose as if inhaling the bouquet of a fine wine. He offered them to me as a fragrant accompaniment to his next discourse. India had changed Chris in the way San Francisco had changed me. We had both looked into the face of death without its mask. We had both been transformed by its beauty and its undeniable certainty.
I trembled when Chris first revealed his problem with uncontrollable episodes of violence. I had been the recipient of such violence less than two years ago. He was also German, a Bavarian whose father passed on the family legacy of beating his son as his father had beaten him. Turning his head away to conceal his tears, Chris said in a low voice, “My father beat me mercilessly when I was a boy. And Bob, I deserved it because I am a bad person. It was wonderful and I deserved it!”
I wondered, is this my cue run away to protect myself? Oddly, I felt no fear. Perhaps I was intoxicated by the aroma of wild herbs blended with the fresh spring breeze, or perhaps the inhabitants of the mass grave at Buchenwald last summer were right. Maybe there was a dark side of myself I needed to understand. I was curious, what is it that arouses people to engage in senseless violence? I was sure Chris was here to provide the answer. Maybe our similarities could provide the perfect balance point where we could teeter back and forth into our opposing realities.
On the other side of Livaniana we stood at the edge of the Aradena Gorge, the wind blowing through our hair. Below us the hills were carpeted in wild flowers. Suddenly dark rain clouds parted, revealing the brilliant sun’s rays. They illuminated a patchwork of yellow, red and blue flowers that were pulsating in the breeze. In that moment I felt contentment and an overwhelming love for all humanity.
That night I dreamt about Chris. He led me by the hand up the path to the tower where we stood together looking out at the Libyan Sea. I had climbed up on one of the huge boulders to get a better view. As I prepared to step down, Chris extended his hand to offer help. Smiling, he raised his head to make eye contact. Suddenly my trust vanished as I realized I was looking into the eyes of my Bavarian attacker from two years earlier. I used my free hand to rub my eyes, but when I opened them again Chris’s face had morphed into the face of my attacker. In horror, I withdrew my hand from his. When I looked down I realized I was holding a gun, which I raised to his head without hesitation and pulled the trigger.
I woke up sweating, even though the room was cold. Was this the dark side of myself I needed to acknowledge? There had been one second during the attack in San Francisco when I could have very easily ended my attacker’s life. I had struggled with extreme feelings of guilt for even letting the possibility of taking another person’s life enter my mind.
That morning Chris and I sat alone on the balcony drinking coffee. I told him every detail of the dream. I casually mention the philosophy I was taught as a child. I just assumed it was a universal philosophy. Everyone is basically good. We just have to struggle to keep ourselves from doing bad things. “Oh no!’ Chris said, “Everyone is basically evil and we all have to try really hard to be good!”
I felt extremely sad hearing those words. For the first time in two years I allowed myself to feel compassion for my attacker, instead of the fear and anger that had been close to an obsession. The easy solution of running away from any discussion or possibility of violence was being replaced with a more complicated desire to understand what motivates it and how to prevent it. As a result I decided to invite Chris to go to the tower with me on the next full moon. He very graciously accepted my invitation.
Five - The Vision
The following night marked the third consecutive day of rain showers. There was no way to judge the stage of the moon as it rose behind thick cloud cover. Occasionally a small golden streak of light would pierce the shield to remind us the hypnotic influence of the moon did not require it to be visible. I had returned to my room with every intention of crawling into bed with a good book. As I opened the doors to the balcony I noticed the clouds rolling violently in opposite directions, as if some celestial force was opening a door to the heavens. The moonlight fell onto the bay like white hot embers. The screech of a small owl pierced my consciousness with its beckoning call. I felt an incredible sense of excitement that would have been misinterpreted as fear in another place and time.
As I started up the path I noticed the moon was not quite totally full. After closing the gate that led from Pandalitza's, I knew I had passed to the other side of the looking glass again. I could no longer see the village behind me. I could hear the solitary shriek of the small owl that had repositioned itself at the top of the hill. I saw people in my peripheral vision, phantoms hiding in the shadows away from the moonlight. I knew if I turned to look at them they would vanish. I accepted their encouragement as I made my way slowly to the top of the hill, my concentration focused on the stones beneath my feet. When I reached the top, the owl had repositioned itself a second time, calling me to the direction of the castle.
The castle was again bathed in moonlight. Unlike the autumn, the landscape now spoke of rebirth, new beginnings. Wildflowers and grass freshened by recent rain showers pacified the memory of fear. Of what use is fear anyway unless one is contemplating using it as an excuse for turning back?
On my approach my attention was fixated on the dark cross that had been painted on the north side of the tower. I could feel the presence of every tree, bush and stone as if they were all conspirators in the unfolding event. I stopped to take it all in, holding them close as I would friends in a comforting embrace. To the east the ancient ruins of a Minoan village drew my imagination to a time of peace and prosperity. I faced the tower with breathless anticipation, inhaling the fresh spring air deep into my lungs, then confidently making my way to the tower entrance.
I stood at the entrance, my entire being washed with a sense of inconceivable peace. I could see the figure of a slender man standing at the top of the stairs. I was confused. My entire life had been a struggle with Christianity. There were even times I felt compelled to call myself an atheist or an agnostic as a reaction to the un-Christ like things I had witnessed in his name. I questioned the voice that repeated the word, CHRIST, whispered in my left ear like a mantra that kept pulling me further out of my body and mind. I thought to myself, “this must be a dream, an hallucination.” I wanted it to not be real.
I stepped into the tower and positioned myself at the bottom of the stairs. The tower was empty. I heard the sound of a startled bird frantically flapping its wings, as if involved in a desperate attempt to escape a predator. As the sound faded into the distance it was replaced by the shrill call of the owl from the direction of the castle ruins.
I climbed the stairs, reclaiming my position on the top step. When I closed my eyes I quickly drifted off to a contemplative space where I no longer felt the slightest hint the apprehension I experienced in previous visits.
At first I heard footsteps, what sounded like hundreds perhaps thousands of people running up the hill from the sea, then dead silence, soon broken by the footsteps of one person pacing back and forth as if a sentry. I wanted to leave, but each time I had this thought an overwhelming lethargy would consume my mind and body. I heard one, then two jets pass over allowing a moment of consciousness before returning to the lethargic state. I imagined I would still be sitting there at dawn, until a small mouse ran across my foot jolting me out of trance. Once again I was able to stand up and walk out on my own free will.
Six - The Tower
The following morning I apologized to Chris for going to the tower without him. I shared much of my experience in general terms, but I was embarrassed to tell anyone about the vision. Chris and I made arrangements to go back to the tower together that night.
That evening after dinner the sky was clear. The moon seemed full and round as it rose over Loutro bay. We scampered up the path from Pandalitza's, hoping the brisk walk would clear the conversations lingering in our heads from dinner. The owl was positioned in a tree at the end of the path where we would turn toward the tower. Chris led me on a path west of the castle ruins, so we avoided climbing through the hole in the north wall. We stood for a moment beside the castle looking toward Livaniana, where we had traveled together a few days before. Chris suggested I should allow him to lead the way. I agreed.
As we approached the tower I saw phantoms seated on the stones as if they had come to witness an event. I saw an old woman in a black dress sitting on a rock as we passed by. I sensed wisdom that is only gained through a long hard life of pain and adversity. I wondered if perhaps she knew the answer to my question. But what exactly what was my question? I asked Chris if he saw anything unusual. He was focused on our destination and brushed off the question without a response. Chris led us directly to the bottom of the tower, then stood at the bottom of the stairs as if waiting for directions. I took his hand and led him up the stairs seating him on the top step where I usually sat. I sat on the step below him between his legs.
Closing my eyes, this time I could see the landscape around the tower. It was as if the tower had vanished and I was just suspended in air. But I could still feel the cold hard stone beneath me penetrating my body with a chill that shot up my spine. This time, as I heard the sound of people running up the hill, I could see hundreds of men killing all of the inhabitants.
Once again I found myself enacting my mystical vision, sitting on the steps of the tower with my head in my hands, crying. This time I heard myself saying "everyone I know is dead, all of my friends and family have been killed." But this time I was unable to separate the experience from my present life. I felt the overwhelming grief of the loss of my friends in San Francisco well up inside until it exploded. The feelings coming to the surface were feelings I had invested a lot of energy to suppress over the years. I took Chris's hand and lead him out of the tower. Sensing my despair Chris looked me directly in the eyes and said "just walk with me!"
Chris lead us back to the castle ruins on a path further west of the path we arrived on. He held my hand like a father focused on the paternal instinct of protecting a son from danger. I flashed back to the image of the young boy being led up the tower stairs by his father. I watched as Chris walked past the phantom of the old woman. He turned, pointing to the rock where she was sitting and proclaimed, "It’s OK now, the power ends here!" When we were safely on the north side where the castle obscured the tower, we felt safe sharing our stories.
Chris had heard footsteps of a sentry walking around the tower, just as I had heard two times before. Then he saw an image of Christ above my head. “He just kept saying, you have chosen the path of pain!” Chris explained. “Christ was speaking to you, not to me!” My voice became soft as I struggled to share my similar experience while choking back tears. I was more overwhelmed by his affirmation than the original experience. He had removed my last chance to deny that it was real.
Chris pulled me close to him, holding me tight as he rocked back and forth trying to soothe my anguish. I returned to the thought of the young boy holding his father’s hand as they ascended the tower stairs. It was an unfamiliar feeling, more secure than I could ever remember in my present incarnation. We both jumped as we were startled by the desperate flapping of wings from a huge bird escaping through the hole in the castle wall. The owl had now positioned itself in the carob tree behind Pandalitza’s. The spirit of Athena was calling us to come home, our lesson for the day was ended. There were no phantoms lining the path as we descended into Loutro. A small fishing boat buzzed toward Sfakia, the single sound breaking the silence, reminding us that we were no longer on the other side of the looking glass.
Seven - The Breath
The next morning Chris felt compelled to tell me he was heterosexual. He had a girlfriend back in Germany. A surprising question immediately entered my mind. “What could that possibly have to do with us,” I asked myself? He spent much of the day pushing my boundaries on male intimacy in spite of his declaration. I was always at a disadvantage in intimate situations with European men. Every step of the way was littered with the misconceptions and fears from my upbringing in the United States. Now I found myself face to face with the kind of intimacy I had always envied among women. I had always felt guilty for being close to a man who was in a relationship with a woman! I had been intimidated by this Continental world, seemingly without boundaries. It constantly reminded me of my own deficiencies and inhibitions. I secretly lusted for the kind of freedom of intimacy European men seemed to take for granted. But abandoning my American male indoctrination proved to be no easy task.
Chris and I had talked at length about the differences in Eastern and Western approaches to medicine and healing. Once again we drew parallels between his experience in India and my years at the bedsides of dying friends. I had used a technique of breathwork developed by Wilhelm Reich to help persons with AIDS face their mortality. I thought it could possibly be beneficial in dealing with problems of violence. Chris agreed to do it thinking it would be a valuable addition to his repertoire as a medical doctor. As facilitator I often shared the experience of emotional release. Facilitating required me to breathe with the person I was coaching.
I intuitively hid sharp knives and objects that might double as weapons. From past experience I was certain some type of emotional release would come in the twenty-four hours following the session. My experiences in San Francisco had been with people who were facing death, so I was unsure what to expect from Chris. I had never worked with someone with episodes of violence before. The session with Chris lasted for nearly an hour.
In the first moments of a breathwork session, keeping the pace is a struggle. But soon a sense of tranquility overtakes the spirit. With each breath I felt layers of armor being stripped from my own body. For the first time I was unable to draw a clear distinction between myself as facilitator and the person I was guiding. My breath was synchronized with Chris’s. Each inhale and exhale felt as though they were being drawn and released through a single set of lungs.
That evening the wind was fierce. The angry surge battered the sea walls with rage that sent huge waves over the tables at Maistrali Bar. There was an incredible energy from every storm that passed through the islands in springtime. This storm seemed more powerful than others though. I had to wonder if maistrali was perhaps a distant cousin of the tramontana that was rumored to carry “seeds of madness.” I wondered if it was all being enhanced by the powerful full moon.
After dinner Chris found his way back to my room. We talked for hours about our shared transformation. Curious about the emotional scars I carried from my encounter with violence, Chris asked many sensitive questions. When I reciprocated with inquiries about his attacks, the room became charged with a disquieting silence. Suddenly I found myself face to face with the same incredible, almost superhuman strength I had faced two years earlier.
Chris said, "you want to see it, here it is!" He picked me up and threw me across the room with phenomenal strength. In the first moment I was totally consumed in terror. I was sure I was going to die. Then I remembered the instinct to defend myself, to kill or be killed. But when my body came in contact with the opposite wall I fell through the looking glass again.
All fear dissipated. Without hesitation I walked back over to Chris putting my arms around him. "You are provoking me!" he repeated as a plea for me to back off. I held him even closer, tightening my grip as a demonstration of my resolve. I could hear my mother’s voice whispering in my ear. “Everyone is basically good. We just have to keep looking until we find it.”
Chris’s body relaxed in my arms. His heart was racing like a frightened bird who has given up hope of escaping but still doesn’t trust its captor. Suddenly Chris bolted out of the room slamming the door behind him.
There was no use locking the flimsy door to my room should I be revisited by fear. Assuming it was locked, Chris soon returned, knocking, begging for me to let him in. As I opened the door he entered with his head bowed. He pleaded forgiveness, saying he could never hurt me. “I love you and I will never hurt you.” he sobbed as he faced away in shame, supporting his body by placing his forehead on the wall. “When I saw the terror in your eyes I knew it was impossible for me to hurt you.” His voice fell off into a whisper. “I love you and I will never hurt you.”
Eight - The Resolution
I walked over to Chris, prying his reluctant body from the wall. When I turned him around his heavy head fell upon my shoulder. The air in the room was damp and close, charged with passion. He rocked our bodies back and forth as he narrated his sad tale of violence passed on from one generation to the next. His warm tears rolled down the back of my neck, washing away the last thought of reprehension. His mature masculine odor infected my senses with unthinkable desires. There was love in the air. The kind of love his father was never able to express properly. The kind of love that always dangled just beyond my reach, hidden behind the fear of violent retaliation. The kind of love a soldier feels in the arms of a dying comrade. The kind of love that drives one wild with erotic passion.
We leaned against the wall, tight in each others arms, slowly rocking, stirring it all together to keep it from boiling over. When there were no tears left, when the last ounce of passion was drained from our limp soggy bodies, we deliberately made our way to the door. I carefully placed my lips on his forehead, then sent him off to bed.
The next morning Chris invited me into his room. He said he wanted to share something he had stumbled on during his studies in medical school. He had discovered what he described as an ability to look into people’s souls. He uncovered this ability while looking into other student’s eyes in ophthalmology class. He asked if I would mind if he looked into my eyes. I reluctantly agreed, hoping it would also provide an opportunity for me to see into his soul.
Chris was the first German I knew with brown eyes. They were dark devious eyes, unlike the bright innocent Peter Pan blue of boys who refused to grow up. At first I struggled to keep focus on both eyes, nervously glancing from one to the other. When I realized it was impossible to look into both eyes simultaneously, I suddenly found myself drawn into his left eye. My body became flushed like I had crossed an intimate border where one needs permission to enter. At the same time I felt my own barriers melt away. I felt naked, as if there was no way or reason to protect my deepest darkest secrets. I felt a sense of trust that induced a calming acquiescence. “How was it possible,” I thought to myself, “that I had made love and fallen in love countless times without ever knowing such inexplicable intimacy?”
“I sense a disturbing sadness looking into your eyes,” Chris said as he withdrew from his focused investigation. I wondered why so many people had made this same observation of me. “Could it be that you have never really experienced true joy?” he questioned. It made me wonder, were people correct when they told me I took things too seriously? We were both comfortable now as we went back to gazing into each other’s eyes.
I felt an unfamiliar sensation this time, in my chest, in the area covering my heart. It became warm with heat that seemed to be radiating from within. A blaze of light then blinded me with a brilliant flash. My heart seemed to be exploding, sending the radiant heat through every cell in my body. In this light I could see Chris clearly with no dark secrets. He was an innocent child who simply wanted to be held, to be loved. He was the perfect representation of the good that lives within everyone. I thought to myself, “This is the answer to my question about good and evil. We all come into the world in this innocent state! It is impossible for his philosophy to be true!”
Later when I opened the door to leave, Chris placed his hand on my shoulder to hold me back. “After looking into your eyes,” he said, “I feel the same as if I have just made love to a woman.” I was unable to find an analogy for my own feelings. I felt I had discovered a complex system of feelings that had always been hidden behind cautious pats on the back and concepts like comradery and buddies. Perhaps it was like the moment when a masculine character in a movie breaks down and cries. Everyone in the audience cries with him, because they are unacustomed to seeing the true heart of masculinity.
That night around 2:00 AM I heard the call of the owl. It seemed closer than ever before. I slowly climbed out of bed, quietly, so I wouldn’t disturb Rob. Sitting on Pandalitza’s TV antenna at the corner of the balcony were two tiny owls not more than a few inches tall. They faced the double glass doors to my room as if they came deliberately to wake me. When they saw me one of them flew off in the direction of the castle. They seemed to be engaged in a frantic debate, one faintly calling from the distance, the other answering each call from my balcony. I dressed quickly then made my way to the tower. This time there was no fanfare. There were no visions, no soldiers, nothing out of the ordinary. But then came the voice, inside my head. “Everything is exactly as it should be.” That was it, simple and clear. I had no doubt about the meaning of this message.
My heart became warm, expanding like the previous morning in Chris’s room. My tranquil mind became crystal clear. There were no conflicting thoughts, just an undeniable truth. In this place I saw the truth about masculinity. Behind all of its masks was an overwhelming need for love, a constant desire to love and be loved. I understood the returning soldier’s conflict, his contempt for the necessary evils of war that lived side by side with the memories of a sacred experience of intimacy, an honor for the sanctity of life. I felt exonerated, as if the universe had confirmed my own view of what it means to be human, regardless of what is expected from outside oneself.
Chris and I shared many sacred intimate moments in those twelve days in Loutro. We were both operating from a true state of grace. But there was still that part of me that wanted to wake up in his arms in the morning, to feel the warmth of his naked body wrapped around mine. I had no doubt that he was struggling with the same feelings, because he had intimated it at every opportunity. But we both already had plenty of experience with that kind of love. I believe we both knew intuitively that this particular love was made more intense and clear by the absence of the other.
On the night before his departure I stood in his dark room facing him. As we embraced I could see his eyes shining green in the darkness, like the owl that had led us up to the tower. Chris whispered in my ear, “Now I will make love to you.”
This was the moment of decision. But I knew we were living in a different universe where there was no room for personal decisions. I knew I had no choice. There was a plan that had already been carved in stone. I knew that to act on my desire would destroy everything else! As I held his warm body close to mine, my indecision was transparent, my desire beating like a drum from my chest onto his. Even with the sure knowledge that I would always regret it, I pried myself from his arms, walked out of his room, then quietly closed the door behind me and walked back to room number eight. Everything was exactly as it should be!
NOTE: It was my intention to totally separate my judgments and personal opinions from the telling of The Tower Above Loutro. But I still believe they are important. In order to make them available, but to insure that the story can be told on its own, my comments have been posted on my book site: Writing The Tower - Bob Starkey