Three years ago, I developed a splitting headache while at my office. It was the type of headache that came on suddenly with a very distinct pattern of pain: dull behind the eyes, and throbbing at the temples. Lethargy, dizziness, and overall feelings of discomfort soon followed. A normal reaction by any respectable woman would be to immediately visit webmd.com, illuminate the head on the androgynous gray body, and self diagnose from a list of illnesses that include "brain tumor" and Parkinson's Disease. However, that was not necessary this time because I knew exactly what was happening to me.
I called my then boyfriend from the office bathroom to give him the dreaded news that someone at work had given me the evil eye, or what Greeks and other Middle Eastern cultures refer to as the mati. He suggested that I probably had a sinus infection and that I should go back to work. "Maybe you can go to First Med at lunch," he said. I hung up on him. I didn't have time for irrationality.
Call number two, which should have been call number one, was placed to my grandparents. My grandmother possesses the power -- which involves saying a prayer, doing the sign of the cross and dropping a small amount of oil into a bowl of water -- to exorcise said evil jinx. It sounds simple, but only those anointed by an older relative of the opposite sex can undo the mati.
As is common, both my grandparents answered the phone when I called; my grandmother from the yellow corded kitchen phone, my grandfather from the blue one in the bedroom. I described my symptoms and told them that I suspected that someone had given me the evil eye...
For those of you not following this story, you were probably the ones who saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding as an over-dramatized comedy, rather than a true life documentary like I did. The mati (literal translation: the eye) can occur at any moment and can be caused by almost anyone. In most cases however it occurs when a passing glance, filled with either jealousy or overzealous admiration, falls upon you by a stranger, an older woman, or a creepy admirer. It can be either deliberate or inadvertent, and in an odd twist of irony, can also be drawn upon oneself. The evil eye curse can be prevented by wearing a blue pendant on your clothes or body, or by having someone spit on you lightly. It can only be broken by someone, usually a grandparent, performing a special prayer and exorcism of sorts. (Or sometimes by taking four Advil.)
My grandparents fell silent. I could picture the grave expressions on their adorable faces. They told me they would call me back in ten minutes. Within five minutes my grandmother confirmed what we already knew: this was the worst case of the mati she had ever seen, but luckily she was able to undo the curse. They asked me who I thought did it, and based on almost daily conversations I have with them about work and life, they rattled off a few suspicions of their own. We agreed upon several possible culprits, including but not limited to:
1) An old woman we saw at church on Sunday who they had witnessed hugging and kissing me a bit too tightly
2) One of the waitresses at our favorite Greek restaurant who complimented my long hair
3) My boss
4) Any female colleague I had come into contact with within the last two hours
5) My next door neighbor
My grandfather suggested that perhaps it was best that I take the remainder of the day off and rest. I reminded my grandparents that no one at my firm knew what the mati was, and thus would not understand my need to leave early. My grandparents reminded me that I still had not looked up and connected with their cousin's cousin's nephew who worked at the same firm, was Greek and single, and would definitely understand the mati. Touché, Yiayia and Papou, touché.
I subsequently got a call from my father and a text from my mother inquiring about my matiasma (act of receiving the evil eye). "Be careful," they said, "there are a lot of jealous people out there."
Was their collective reaction a bit over the top? Sure. Was it warranted? Absolutely.
The moral of this story is not about shunning people who do not understand the quirks of your culture. It's about recognizing that these are moments when you can lean in and bond most with the people that understand this part of you best. If for nothing else; making grandparents feel like they have a positive impact on your health and life, sharing a special moment with them over the phone while they are undoing an evil curse brought upon you by the bitchy checkout lady at the supermarket-- that is what culture and family is all about. So the next time your grandmother tells you that you have the worst matiasma she has ever seen, you react accordingly.
Or the next time she reads the grains of your coffee cup and predicts that you will meet a handsome Greek man in the next few days, you go and get your hair done and act excited. I'll save the explanation on that one for another blog.