I was twelve years old when my mother, father, sister, and I, along with my grandparents, spent an entire summer in Greece so Mom could immerse her children in “our family culture” and see some of the sights of our grandmother’s homeland.
This was not the vacation that pubescent Phoebe and I dreamed of, quite the opposite. Quite a bit of the vacation was spent staying with our cousins, the Carras family, including my cousin Alex, who remains one of my closest friends to this day. But most of our vacation was the obnoxious family vacation you see in television and movies. Phoebe and I spent long car trips terrorizing one another in the back of my Uncle’s car while while our parents drove us from one ancient ruin to another, telling us the boring stories of some stupid gods and heroes that died millions of years before Phoebe and I were born.
Most of that first trip to Greece I spent bored out of my little preteen mind.
I mean, dad didn’t even tell us the cool stories about Heracles and fighting monsters. Instead, he chose to tell us the boring stuff, or I assume he did. I was twelve and not really paying attention to my father. Who does, when they’re twelve?
Of course, my mother wanted us to also see the places where her mother grew up, or where her father lived as a boy. Because of this, she took us one morning all the way to a village near Delphi. Since we were there anyway, Pappou wanted to make sure we saw the sites.
“After all, my little ones, our people, we are from the center of the world!” Phoebe loved the thought that our grandfather was born in the place that the ‘ancient old time people’ thought was the center of the world. Even thinking about it now, I can hear her voice.
Didn’t those old ancient people know that the center of the world is clearly Clear Lake? Why would you want the center of the world to be some stinky, dried up old mountain with rotting buildings when we all know it’s the lake right by our home in Texas?
Yeah, that was Phoebe for you, convinced that she was the center of the Universe, even in the seventh grade.
During this leg of the journey, I got bored quickly. I mean, I wasn’t even allowed to bring my game-boy when we rode around the countryside so that I could take in the ‘culture.’ That was so unfair! Once we got to the small village, Pappou took us to the ruins while our parents, needing some alone time after hours trapped in the car with their twin terrors, stayed in our motel. Knowing what I know now, I assume they slept the whole time we were gone.
Phoebe often talks about how when we were there, on that first visit, she had a close encounter with the Pythia oracle, her divine daughters with the Fates. This was the encounter where Phoebe learned her divine identity, I never talk about my own discovery, not even with Phoebe, not even with Olisbeth. I think today’s the day I share it with someone.
While Pappou and Phoebe were entranced by the demonstrations and speakers at the Temple to Apollo, I wandered off, bored. You have to understand, I have never liked crowds of people that much, and I find more comfort in solitude, even as a child. So I did like I often did when we went out in public: I wandered off.
You have to realize, this was the early 90s. My parents taught me how to be wary of strangers and look out for myself, so if I wandered a way for a bit, they ever worried. They knew Phoebe could (and would) find me if I got lost, and Pappou never even noticed when I disappeared.
While I wandered, I felt the tug of a nearby wooded area and walked into them, seeking a place to hide. Something in my solar plexus felt drawn away from my family, out to the trees, where I usually felt more at home anyway.
I wandered about thirty yards into the forest when I tripped over a log and skinned my knee. It hurt, and I was just about to stand up and start limping back to my family, when I saw them.
It was a pack of five girls, two years older than me, I thought, so probably high school aged. They were dressed in short, white dresses and on their feet were worn leather sandals. Each girl wielded a bow and had a small quiver of arrows attached to the hip. The first girl I saw giggled. Every single one of these girls was HOT with a capital H.
“See girls, I told you she’d be here. Apollo is here, so she is too.” The first girl who spoke had flowing brown hair, pulled into a sideways ponytail to cover her right ear. Her left ear had a large silver hoop earring. The others whispered among themselves, cheerfully. I knew that whisper. It was the same way Phoebe whispered with other girls right before she did something mean to me, like put me in makeup or pick on me in front of my friends.
I looked around to see who the girl was talking about. There was no one by the five girls and myself. I returned my gaze to the girl. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” My voice cracked. Of course it did, these girls were cute, and as I said before, I was twelve.
I wanted to flirt, to tell the girls how amazing I was, to tell them that I could hunt too, and to show off my manly skills for them. Perhaps I should recite poetry. However…. nothing.
“But this is a boy!” A second girl proclaimed. “This can’t be her!”
“Hey!” I said, my tongue finally finding its worth, “I ain’t no lady. I’m a man!” My voice cracked again, as if it were belying my point. As manly as a twelve year old could be.
“You certainly sound like her,” a dirty-blonde said, half smiling. “That sweet soprano voice sounds like our lady. I’m not certain, this is a man, as he said. Tell me, Artemis-like being… you have a twin. Is it male or female?”
“Phoebe? She’s my sister. But I’m not an Arte—!” While I protested, one of the girls, a girl with long, wavy black hair, leaned over and kissed me on the lips.
That was when I had my first memory flash: of me, as a woman, hunting deer with these same girls along the countryside. I had a rush of memories of being Artemis, and the kiss, the first I’d ever received from a non-related female, stunned me.
In the long line of kisses I’ve received in my life, this one was quite chaste, barely above a peck on the lips, but since it was my first kiss, it still meant all the world to me, and left me stunned for several moments during and after.
When the raven-haired vixen pulled back, she smiled. “That is definitely Artemis.”
“For all her grace and skill, she makes quite the bumbling boy. Look, he’s blushing!” The dirty-blonde said.
“I never thought I’d actually see the day. And he’s quite a cutie too…” A fourth girl, who had her light blonde hair in a long French braid smiled. “I can already see the stud he’s going to be. Wait a few years, sweetie, and I’ll come tuck you in at night.”
My heart started pounding ferociously. I’d just had my first kiss, and now all these girls were making fun of me! Not to mention the fact that I was also having weird flashbacks remembering these women as friends, hunting buddies. I could just sense their names, place them to their faces, but the memories were just out of my grasp.
“What did you do? How can I be Artemis! I’m a boy!” I jumped to my feet, hoping that by standing I could hide the fact that my body was reacting to the group of young women swarming me.
“Oh hush, it’s bad for the complexion to lose your cool.” The first one, the brunette spoke. “We assumed you already knew, since you’ve been here in your homeland for several weeks already and just visited your brother’s temple. My name is Ione, and we are some of your nymphs. It seems that despite you being a boy this time, you are the goddess Artemis, and since that is the case, your awesomeness, we must talk of something important…”
“So, wait, I’m a god? You’re not just messing with me?”
“Yes, you are!”
“Do I have cool powers?”
“You can control the moon, people’s moods, and will be one of the best hunters you ever know.” Ione said. The dirty blonde giggled behind her.
“Being a god, however, you will have some problems…” I spent half an hour talking to the nymphs. They told me who I was, who Phoebe was, and that there was an important job I would have to do some day. They told me that it was their job to watch over the Moon and my throne and duties on Olympus when I am on Earth. I was given a few hints at my powers and backlashes.
Before they left me, so they could resume running my business on Olympus, they gave me one final warning.
“It is the eternal fate of Artemis to live cast in the shadow of her brother Apollo, and for the twins of Leto to feel each others’ pain, sorrow and misery. But remember this, no matter what else happens, though you are often seen as a reflection of your twin, You are the stronger. Apollo cannot live without you, your lives and fates are tied.”