Content warning: It is probably worth noting that anyone with trauma related to partner abuse, pregnancy, divorce or any other such thing may want to skip this. Though, maybe you will find something in it of kinship and shared experience that helps. I do not know.
If anyone would like a PDF version of this Epilogue to insert into their own or their library's copy of Immigrant Women in Athens, I am happy to provide you with one. I will even sign and date it.
Where to start? Maybe with my grandmother. She was born in 1907 (and died just a few months shy of her 100th birthday) to an immigrant family from what was at the time the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Not sure when they arrived. It was sometime around 1905. They spoke Old Croat and identified as ethnic Croats. Grandma Yagitza was a twin. Yagitza (Agnes) and Mitza (Mary) Kenjavari. When they were 12, their father was murdered during a mugging. Apparently, his head had been bashed in and his body hidden behind a bush by robbers on payday. He worked at a local factory in Barberton, Ohio. Grandma and her sister quit school shortly after in order to work to support their mother and themselves. Not sure what order it was, but they worked at both a pickle factory (pickles were HUGE in Ohio at this time thanks to all the German immigrants) and at the Smuckers factory. I assume they worked the assembly lines putting lids on the jars. At some point, my grandmother met and married my grandfather. Her sister never married.
I do not know how my grandparents met. And I have never met my grandfather. He was one of 5 or 6 kids born to another immigrant family, also from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were ethnic Hungarians who came from a small village in a part of Transylvania that is now in Romania. And no, we aren't a family of vampires. Otherwise, my grandfather would not have died aged 40-something in 1951 of a heart attack at a stop light in the town my father grew up in. He would not have left behind his wife with 3 children and pregnant with a fourth. Or maybe he is a vampire and his death was staged so he could change lives and hide his immortality in which case, he is not just a vampire, but a bad person.
At this point, my grandmother needed to work and she got one of the only jobs that a poor single mother with a 7th grade education could get--she became what was called a barmaid. She was, in other words, a tavern keeper. She never remarried, but did have a series of boyfriends, some less pleasant than others. She was no stranger to welfare, food stamps, child protective services or the courts--I have been told that my father was on numerous occasions removed from her care at the instigation of an uncle and would only be returned to her care when whatever (whoever?) was causing the problems was gone. They lived in the apartment over whatever bar she worked for and moved a lot. My father doesn't ever talk about his childhood, but my own childhood memories of his anger at us having to use food stamps and the fights over my mother starting to work when I was 4 so that we wouldn't need to "be on welfare" suggests a deep trauma from his childhood poverty.
The point here is that my grandmother was a single mother, widow, tavern keeper, immigrant woman, who had a series of boyfriends, never remarried, and could out-curse any sailor in multiple languages, one of them apparently 'dead'. I never knew growing up that these were bad things to be or do--I only learned that it was bad when I got to graduate school. She was my grandmother and made really good hamentaschen-like cookies. The last time I saw her was in 2006, a few months before she died (quietly, in her sleep) when I took my daughter, aged 1 to visit her. At that point, grandma's dementia was not good. She couldn't really remember who I was or even my dad, though he visited her every week and had been helping take care of her for a decade. Even before this, though, she never told us kids stories about her life. What I know, I picked up in bits and pieces from other family members. Lives like my grandmother's don't get recorded often. Only fragments and memories are ever what remains of working class immigrant women.
Change of scene. 1986. Me, aged 12. At the age that my grandmother lost her father and had to quit school to help support the family, I made a move of my own. When I was 10, my father and mother had divorced and my father subsequently took a job in San Diego, CA. He moved there and met someone, got remarried. My older brother moved with him shortly after. And then I migrated west the next year.
My new step-mother was a 25 year old mother of 2; my father was 40-ish. Her boys were, at the time aged 2 and 4. She was the daughter of a US citizen and a Japanese woman, who was 20 years younger than him and whom he'd met while stationed in Japan. My step-mom was born at the US naval base. They moved to the US after her younger brother was born a year later. She had married her first boyfriend, whom she had started dating in middle school. He left her for another woman while she was pregnant with their second kid. When my dad asked her to marry him after their second date, she asked him if he promised to always provide for her boys. He said he would. They got married, he bought them a house, and then my brother and I moved to join them.
Our house in San Diego was in a part of town that was split down the middle--upper-middle class to upper class white people on one side, middle and lower-middle class people on the other. The majority of the people on our side were immigrants from the Philippines,Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Our neighborhood was almost entirely non-white--two multigenerational Filipino families, two African-American families, a family from India, two mixed families (ours and our other neighbors who were a mixed Mexican and white family). There was only one entirely white family. This was a pretty standard cul-de-sac in our part of town.
Neither my father nor step-mom had gone to college beyond a few classes. My step-mom was a cosmetics rep for Chanel and Lancome and some other high end fragrance lines at a department store. My dad, though he never went to college, had gotten a job as what we would now call an engineer. He had been an apprentice draftsman in high school and always kept up with the new technologies. He got a good job in SD that had moved us into the middle class. We seemed like a happy family. My step-mom often joked about her agreement to marry my father. We all assumed it was really a joke. I never thought about the woman alone caring for 2 young children trying to survive and support them working retail and being fortunate enough to get free babysitting from her parents. She must have been scared and worried all the time. Just like my grandmother, alone with all those kids and the only way to support them doing work that wasn't very pleasant.
1997. I go to grad school. I managed to get through college by working at Red Lobster and taking out student loans. In my house, we had a rule: 18 and out, so out I went and even got into college despite my parents' complete lack of interest in or support for it. When I learned that graduate school was a thing and that someone might pay me to study more Greek and Latin, I thought that was great. When I got accepted (to the one school I had applied to) but without funding, I didn't know enough to know that I should have said no. Instead, I packed everything I owned and my cat into a Toyota truck and migrated back to Ohio. I transferred to a nearby Red Lobster and took out student loans.
It was when I got to grad school that I realized that there were lots of things about my life that I had always thought were normal that others did not think were ok. Although I did learn this through the myriad small cuts that 1st gens often experience when they are in places they don't belong--it is, after all, like being a foreigner in a foreign land--it was in the reading of scholarship that I truly found my alienation.
It wasn't, I should note, scholarship generally speaking. It was, rather, a specific type of scholarship. Over the course of my time in graduate school, what I now refer to as the "Ancient Prostitution Industry" was taking shape. Middle and upper class white (mostly) women feminist scholars had discovered The Prostitute ™ and, under the guidance of Judith Butler and others, they were going to Redeem Them. And by Redeem Them, I mean, they were going to make their careers by talking about this 'edgy subject', by treating them as a subject when such women had been ignored in the past. They would invent the hetaira as elite call girls and would assume that any type of employment a woman had--from tavern keeping to retail to wool working--was just a synonym for prostitution. Their goal was a noble one, but one, I discovered, that rested almost entirely upon treating the stories told about these women by their entirely male (elite) authors, especially in oratory, as facts.
At the hands of these scholars, foreign working class women--tavern keepers, sellers in the markets, freed formerly enslaved women, single mothers--all became "prostitutes" because the men who spoke of them deemed that any woman who wasn't someone's wife, and hidden from public view by staying inside or being veiled, or who was selling anything or working at anything must be a whore. That I didn't understand the brilliance of this scholarship was one of the things that made me appear disrespectful in my professor's eyes, I think. But didn't they understand? The women they were talking about were my people, my family. Would scholars 1000 or 2000 years from now take the fragments of my grandmother's life and decide that she was a prostitute when what they were really saying was that she was nothing more than a whore?
And what of my step-mother? She remarried, but would she too have been seen by these scholars, whose lives were so removed from her reality, as a scheming prostitute? If they knew of her asking my father about taking care of her boys, would they mention her in their book titled "Whoring Under Contract"? Imagine my step-mom as the subject of an Isaeus speech--fallen woman with 2 children tricks citizen man into making her kids his heirs under the pretense that they are really his. Men of the Jury, do you not all know who she really is? Everyone knows her. She is nothing more than a whore.
One of the results of the alienation I felt reading this scholarship was a vow that I would not write scholarship on women. Ever. I could not see how anything I would have to say about them would get past the peer review process since I could not bring myself to write about them as nothing other than wives or prostitutes. I turned to the concerns of men--to politics and imperialism.
I am pregnant. It is 2004. I never wanted to be pregnant. I married in my last year of graduate school. A marriage I regretted even before it had been made. But I felt like I was on a train that I could not get off of. At 25, my mother had said "You aren't ever going to get married, are you?". I got engaged the next year. At 29, she said, "You aren't ever going to have children, are you?" I was pregnant the next year. I was in the second year of my first job. It was not a good fit for me. Well, the school was, just not the department. It was a department full of people all at least 20 years older than me, all with their white middle class mullets--polite in the front and stabby-stabby in the back. I had never felt myself as out-classed and out of place as I did with those colleagues. The only friend I had was the admin--a young, single mother. The only friend I still have from there is a former student.
When I discovered I was pregnant, I had just received my letter of non-reappointment. This was after being told by the dept. chair that my senior colleagues did not feel I was respectful enough of them because I did not go up to the offices and ask them for advice on how to teach my classes. None of them were Greek historians. None of them ever stopped by my office to say hello or invite me to coffee or anything. I was expected to go and pay homage and I had failed to do so. I had failed, in fact, to know that I was supposed to. My ass-kissing skills are pretty non-existent and always have been.
It was almost never a question that I would have the child that would result from the pregnancy I never wanted because it was far more difficult to go through the process of finding out how and then dealing with the culturally-enforced eternal guilt, shame, pain that I was always told would result from not doing so. So, out of a job, stuck in the marriage I regretted now for who knows how long. Because I had been making my plans to leave that marriage, I saved every penny of the money I had from my job. I had been stealth applying for new positions. And then...
How would I be able to support myself and a child? No career--10 years of my life evaporating. If I stayed married, I had a chance. My husband convinced me to take a year off and have the baby. He was sure I could get another job someday. I, however, was not a lawyer as he was and did not have the prestige degrees or letter writers that could get me back in the game. I wrote to another local college offering myself as an adjunct, though with the caveat that I would need a few weeks off at the beginning of October, in the middle of the semester. They suspected why and hired me anyway. We arranged for coverage for my classes while I was away. This step to salvage a career made, I commenced with being pregnant.
To say I did not enjoy pregnancy is an understatement. It was traumatic and I spent most of it either crying or sleeping to ward off despair. Married to a DC attorney meant I was alone for about 14-15 hours a day (a reprieve from someone becoming increasingly interested in policing my behavior and activities as my belly got larger). In the first trimester, I could not eat many of my favorite foods without vomiting. In my second trimester, I was singularly responsible for moving us across town from Adams Morgan to Capitol Hill so we would have enough space for the child. Because the husband was always at work and was too cheap to spring for movers, I did everything except for the one day my dad and brothers drove 7 hours one way to move all the big furniture in. In the third trimester, a latent dairy allergy reemerged. Or rather, a dairy allergy I had been born with but that disappeared reappeared in the parasite that was growing inside of me. It was almost as if I was allergic to being pregnant. A rash developed over my entire body and I spent every night soaking in Aveeno oatmeal milk baths. Because I managed to have my third trimester in July, August, and September in a city built on a swamp, I spent most of the day walking the three story Pentagon City mall and spending all the money I had saved for my divorce on anything to try to feel better.
One fine August day, my oldest friend (like, from kindergarten) happened to be in DC for work and suggested we meet up in Dupont Circle to go to this pizza place she was interested in. I hopped on the metro and headed over. I do not to this day know exactly what happened, but at some point during the metro ride, I blacked out. I do not know for how long. All I remember is waking up to an older black woman holding my hand asking me if I am ok with deep concern in her eyes. I had vomited on myself. Probably the yogurt I'd had for breakfast. I told her it was just the heat getting to me. I drank some water and got off at my stop after telling her that I was meeting a friend and so would not be alone if it happened again. I never told my husband. Or my doctor.
Classes started, I began teaching at a new school. The chair and two of my colleagues were amazing and the students too. For the first time, I had a department that didn't make me feel like I didn't belong. Probably because most of them were not Americans or had experience being adjuncts--I always do better in an environment full of immigrants of any type, it seems. The department worked to get me a more stable position the next year and helped me get into the university's childcare center. But the despair of impending motherhood did not leave me nor had the rash and the vomiting. On top of it, my feet swelled so large that I could only wear flipflops for 2 months. And my marriage, which had never been good was only getting worse.
Fast forward to childbirth. I am not going to go into details. I will only say that as someone who has spent her life moving, continually moving from one place to another for a variety of reasons, having a high risk pregnancy with a husband you despise in a city with no friends or family for support is not something I would wish on anyone. I realized last night that the physical and emotional trauma of it will never leave me even as I laugh when I speak of the complications. It isn't funny to have a child get stuck in the birth canal or to wish afterwards that you had died in childbirth instead of having to continue a life you find increasingly untenable. But all I can do is laugh to keep from crying and from feeling that gaping hole develop in my chest again. I love my daughter. 15 years old soon and worth it all, but the first two years of my life after her birth were an unrelenting hellscape.
The details would probably bore you, but some of the highlights include being a functional single parent, having a spouse literally attempt to sabotage you on campus job interviews by calling WHILE YOU ARE INTERVIEWING by claiming an emergency with the baby, gaining the passwords to your email accounts to monitor your communications, having panic attacks that lead to hyperventilating, going to marriage counseling only to have the therapist say "so, the best solution for you (i.e. me) is probably divorce. Do you need me to help your husband realize this?", secretly applying for jobs and squirreling away money and repeatedly doing the math to see how much you need just to survive away on your own. All the while you are watching this thing you called a parasite develop and grow into something you cannot imagine ever being without while being so exhausted by it all that you haven't written more than a single article out of your dissertation for 3 years.
I write all of this because I have realized that it is all interconnected--my academic journeying, my memories of my family, the direction my scholarship eventually took. I have passed my life among immigrant communities and as an immigrant myself in one form or another, as a child of divorce moving criss-cross around the country, a metic in academia migrating from the working class to a middle class I never felt welcomed into, as an adjunct moving from job to job, as a woman told at almost every job interview that as the only woman in the department I would be expected to teach a course on women and gender all the while repeating that "I do not work on women in antiquity". I write this as a person who has lived in 10 different cities, in more than 20 houses or apartments, in 5 different states, who feels like it is time to uproot and move when I am anywhere for more than a few years. I write this because in order for you to understand why I even wrote Immigrant Women in Athens, you have to know that it is all connected.
I swore I would never write anything on women. But when I had finally, after 6 years on the job market, landed the tenure track job that allowed me to leave the marriage I never should have entered into, I ended up having no choice. Let me explain.
I was not told at this job that I would have to teach women in antiquity. There was a male colleague there who already did so. I was also told at my interview not to worry about being a parent and needing to schedule my classes around her school schedule because my colleagues, though both male, understood the issues and even were the ones responsible for their kids after school. Although they did not know when they offered me the job that this job was my salvation and that I would be coming to them as a newly minted single mother who was fractured and scarred, but not completely broken, that is what they got. And in some ways, their attempts at politeness and paternalism were nice, except that I was still scarred by the middle class mullets of my first job and this one, too, was relentlessly middle class, the town the school is in even more so. The stabbing looks of pity from the other parents when they learned that my child was 'of divorce', their never inviting me to join them in anything, their never inviting my daughter to playdates. Not until, of course, their own marriages fell apart and I was all the sudden not so unusual or so scandalous.
Was I scandalous? Of course not. I was a divorced single parent who was aggressively independent, paid my own bills, paid my own student loans, bought my own car, bought my own house (eventually and with my mother's help), was happily and unapologetically NOT MARRIED. I had a partner who lived in another state who might as well have been Snuffaluffagus for all they saw of him. But I was happier than I had ever been, had ever thought I could be. I was finally free and my own person. My daughter would not grow up seeing me trapped and miserable. She would see her mother do the things she wanted do, become the person she wanted to be. She would see her mother happy. And the long distant relationship was perfect for someone who needed time alone to heal and learn to trust again.
About a few months into the first school year at the new job, I get a call. My step-mom has been kicked out of the house by my father. They are getting a divorce. Dad is in shock and not functional. Step-mom, of course, is said to be the bad guy and I, like the rest of the family, am expected to cut her off. I call her and set up a time to go see her to talk.
"It was because you left your marriage that I knew I could do it, too." This is what she tells me as we sit in a diner in the small town outside of Akron where she is living. They had moved from CA when I was in grad school for my dad's job. My father had never been the best husband. To anyone. Not my mom or my step-mom. But he had fulfilled his promise, the one to take care of her boys. The boys were both grown up now. The contract had been fulfilled. She saved her money and bought herself a little condo. She has started dating someone. She had married the only two boyfriends she ever had. She isn't planning on marrying her third. He gets it. He understands. This is why they are happy together. A few months later, the idea for Immigrant Women began to take shape.
Although I swore I would never write about women, I tore into the Ancient Prostitution Industry canon (which had grown quite large over the decades) with a vengeance. I read all the texts they discussed and more. What I saw in those texts was not a bunch of whores who needed redeeming, but my grandmother and my step-mom, even myself. I saw women who might have worked as prostitutes at one time or another, but who were really just trying to survive a world built to exclude and exploit them. I saw patterns--all of these women shared a characteristic. They were all metics. They were all immigrants in some way or another. Was this the reason their lives were overlooked? Was their foreignness, their status as formerly enslaved, their lack of roots the thing that worried people about them? I decided to find out.
Three years later, I completed the manuscript. I wrote aggressively. I wrote addictively, sometimes churning out 3000-4000 words in a sitting. I edited ruthlessly. I wrote over 200,000 words. In the end, I preserved 80,000. The story of why I wrote the book, of what I hoped to find, of the pieces of myself and my grandmother and my step-mom that inhabited its pages was not part of that 200,000 or the 80,000. When I finished writing the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last chapter, I was too exhausted emotionally to write any more.