I’m a theater kid. My parents were too, that’s how they met. I wish I could tell you it was during a rousing production of Phantom on the Broadway stage, or even on the Woodford Regional Community Center stage (there is NO small stage, ask any theater kid). In my version of the story, they were struck by the arrows of love while playing Christine and Raoul under the glittering crystal chandelier of the Paris Opera House. Their eyes locked just as their characters revived the flame of childhood infatuation. The orchestra soared with bewitching music, causing their hearts to beat in unison. I choose to pretend this is canon, even though it’s totally false.
I could even have settled for them to have met while performing Shakespeare. I’m not much of a classicist – as far as I’m concerned, a show isn’t really a show without show tunes – but the idea of my parents playing the iconic star-crossed lovers from Romeo & Juliet seemed tolerable, if a little cliché. After all, it’s not that far off from West Side Story: throw in a little performance of Someday, and you’ve got something going on.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. My parents were into the old classics. By old, I mean B.C. kind of old. They were part of a troupe putting on modern performances of Greek tragedies. Mother worshipped Aeschylus, Father hailed Euripides as a god amongst men, and their shared love of Sophocles brought them together. They played Oedipus and Jocasta during a production of Oedipus Rex, and the rest is history. How two people can fall in love while portraying the most disturbing incestuous relationship ever, I’ll never know, but it happened. It also pretty much ruined my life.
Here’s where I come into play. The whole Oedipus story is triggered by a prophecy from the Oracle of Delphi. Girl predicts baby Oedipus will grow up to murder his father and fall in love with his mother, so naturally he’s sent away. Girl then repeats the exact same thing to grown-up Oedipus years later, so he leaves his adoptive parents to protect them. That’s of course when he meets his real father, a complete stranger, and kills him during an argument. Soon after, he unknowingly takes his mother as his wife. I know, gross. The truth is, anyone familiar with the myth sooner or later realizes that none of this would have happened had Miss Oracle learned to keep her prophecies to herself.
Tragically, it seems she never learned her lesson, even thousands of years later. After Oedipus wrapped, Mother got pregnant. Somehow, my parents convinced themselves it would be an enlightening idea to celebrate the occasion by visiting the Temple of Apollo at Delphi as a nod to the play that sparked their romance. They even planned to do a commitment ceremony on the spot or something. I guess the Woodford Community Chapel wasn’t good enough for them.
As for what happened next, I often pondered whether or not they were high. Mother is adamant the spirit of the Oracle appeared to them, rising from a chasm in the ground at the temple. Father corroborates, but at that point, I couldn’t rule out a joint hallucination. Being the tragedy-lovers that they are, they couldn’t resist begging for a prophecy. Ask for drama, and you shall receive. The Oracle allegedly spoke in an ethereal voice that permeated their very souls:
Your child shall one day meet three life-changing strangers: a fighter who will make him a fighter, a thief who will make him a thief, and a murderer who will make him a murderer.
Being destined to become a murderer from the get-go is a great way to start your life. My sympathies go out to Oedipus in that regard. Of course, my parents had to share this story with me when I was eleven, because just like the Oracle, they couldn’t hold it in. I remember it so vividly. It was during a trip to London over the winter holidays. We were walking down the West End towards our hotel in snowy weather, and I was jumping left and right trying to catch snowflakes with my tongue in a fit of childhood innocence.
They had brought my little brother and I to see The Mousetrap, and it was pretty enjoyable: there were no show tunes, but the twist ending made up for it. After lullabying lil’ bro to sleep that night, Mother and Father sat by the side of my bed and told me the whole story. The windows seemed to get frostier with every word. By the time the word “murderer” was uttered, it was completely covered in crystalline water. I never tried to catch snowflakes with my tongue again.
Their son just had to know he was slated to steal, fight and slaughter, didn’t he? This was information every eleven-year-old needed to hear. If you’re going to be a murderer, might as well know about it early. At least there was nothing about incest, and I was very thankful for it – count your blessings, they say.
In retrospect, my folks’ intentions were good. They wanted me to know so I could steer clear from trouble, and maybe change the future. On the other hand, what they should have known as tragedy-lovers is that there’s one little problem with self-fulfilling prophecies – they self-fulfill. By believing in the prophecy and trying to run away from it, it just happens. I was faced with a dilemma: should I think the prophecy true and actively run away from it at the risk of ending up like the King of Thebes, or just ignore the Oracle’s words and hope my parents were simply high on toxic fumes?
I made my choice and ignored it. No action required, I told myself over and over again. If you don’t believe in it, it can’t come true. Prophecies were probably like Tinkerbell and died over disbelief, nothing to worry about. My brother, on the other hand, was harder to convince. Achilles – yes, that’s what they named him – was a master at eavesdropping, and at fifteen years old he overheard my folks discussing “my future” in the living room over a bottle of wine. They only ever talked about my doomed destiny in an advanced state of inebriation.
“How come you never told me?” he yelled, barging into our bedroom.
“I guess they’re even more drunk than I thought they were down there,” I joked, hoping to lighten the atmosphere.
“Don’t even try to change the subject,” he continued, a hint of tears in the corners of his eyes. “Is it true?”
“That I’m predestined to be a murderer? I don’t believe in that sort of thing mate.”
“Mom and Dad believe it.”
“They believe it because they want to.”
“Hector, I swear, if something happens to you…”
His voice broke. My brother and I were always close. He looked up to me, confided in me, sought advice from me. It could often get pretty overwhelming at times, but our bond was strong enough that I was willing to take the weight of his undeserved admiration on my shoulders if it meant I could be there for him in the dark times. Achilles did have many dark times.
Set on overachieving in everything he did, his anxiety often got the best of him. He was the target of bullies, and I had to protect him from them. He suffered from panic attacks in his sleep, so we had to sleep in the same room. He struggled to make friends, so I had to be his best buddy. Not that these things felt like chores to me, but I often found myself wondering what would happen to him if I were to leave. Surely, the prospect of seeing his brother sent to jail as a convicted murderer was not something he was ready to accept, and he rejected the idea with every fiber of his being.
“Hey buddy,” I said gently, seizing his shoulder. “I get it, you’re scared. I just don’t know what I could possibly do or say to reassure you. It’s out of my hands. Help me out here.”
He took a long pause to ponder the question. It seemed as though he already had something in mind and just needed to figure out how to get me to agree to it.
“We could always go there,” he finally declared.
“Where?” I asked, confused.
“To hear it from the Oracle herself. That ought to settle the question.”
The kid was such a trickster, my parents might as well have named him Odysseus. His breakdown had been an elaborate setup to get me to go on a trip with him to Delphi. All things considered, it made me grin. This brother of mine was smart and cunning. Perhaps he was more resourceful on his own than I thought.
We waited until he turned eighteen. I was almost twenty by then. The summer break came, and we told Mother and Father we were going camping for a week. The truth of the matter was, we took the first plane to our secret destination. Greece was more beautiful than I ever thought it could be, and instantly I knew why my parents had fallen in love with its culture, its landscapes, its history. My beliefs were shaken: somehow, I could hear the Oracle whispering to me from beyond the mountains in the distance. It called my soul, and it became more difficult to pretend the prophecy was a product of fume intoxication.
By the time we settled at the inn, it was too late to travel to the Temple of Apollo. Our goal would have to wait for the following morning. I barely slept that night. On my hard mattress, I tossed and turned until dawn, while Achilles slept soundly as a baby. This made me wonder who really had anxiety issues amongst the two of us. As soon as the first rays of sunlight passed through our window, I jumped out of bed, desperate to escape the whispers. My brother woke up, barely aware of his surroundings.
“Where are we?” he yawned.
“Delphi duh,” I said. “You dragged me here, don’t you remember?”
“I’ll go get us breakfast at the market.”
“Let me come with you.”
“That’s alright, clearly you could use a bit more sleep. Stay here, I’ll be back soon.”
The market was vibrant and overflowed with people of all walks of life. Noise filled the streets, but yet the Oracle’s whispers still seemed to reach me, poisoning my mind with doubt, splitting my mind in two. I stopped by a fruit stand and tried to compose myself.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
The voice came from the stand owner. He was tall and towered over me with brawn oozing from every muscle. This was not a man you wanted to get in trouble with.
“Excuse me,” I answered, confused. “What exactly have I done?”
“You’re clearly one of those drunken tourists who steal breakfast from me in the morning because they wasted all of Mom and Dad’s money on booze.”
“Hey, watch it! I’m not drunk, I just… I have a headache.”
“How about you go have your headache elsewhere, filthy thief!”
I took out money from my wallet and threw it at his face.
“See what I did there. I could buy all of your stupid fruits if I wanted to.”
My lapse in judgement cost me a black eye. The stand owner punched my with all his might, and I flew across the market, hitting the opposite wall. The world started to spin around me. Thankfully, a man dressed in a traveler’s cloak came to my help, offering me a hand and dragging me back up on my feet.
“Thank you,” I mumbled, still trying to recover from the punch. “I really appreciate.”
“Pleasure was mine, young man. Here, take this.”
He pulled an orange from underneath his cloak and put it in my hand. I pondered the fruit.
“Where does this come from?”
“From this brute’s stand, of course. He likes to call us thieves. If we’re going to receive the punishment anyway, might as well commit the offense, don’t you think?”
For an instant, the statement made perfect sense in my mind. In my hatred of the stand owner, it felt natural to take the stolen fruit from the traveler. That’s when the whisper came to me, stronger than ever.
…a fighter who will make him a fighter, a thief who will make him a thief…
I dropped the orange and ran away. Could it be the beginning? The stand owner made me lose my calm, and drew me into a fight. I accepted the fruit from the traveler, and held it in my hand with the firm intention of keeping it for myself. Was I about to be lured into murder as well? Could the prophecy be fulfilling itself? After all, I had come to Delphi to prove it was a falsehood, like Oedipus did before the dreadful events took place…
Back at the inn, I dragged my brother out of bed. It was time to pay the Oracle a visit once and for all.
We ascended the last stretch of stony steps leading up to the Temple’s ruins. The climb had been steep, and we were both exhausted.
“That’s it,” Achilles muttered. “We’re here. What should we do now?”
We stood there for what seemed like forever. Nothing happened. No matter how many times I called for the Oracle, she was nowhere to be seen.
“Maybe you’re right bro,” he declared. “Our parents must have been high. There are no spirits here.”
“Should we go back down?”
“You go first. I just need to catch my breath a little more.”
“You really need to work out more, college is doing you no good. See you at the bottom.”
Achilles vanished down the step. My whole life, I had doubted the Oracle’s existence, and now, I couldn’t bring myself to believe she didn’t exist. Where did the whisper come from, if not from her?
I am here. You just need to look.
The soft-spoken, ethereal words caught me off guard. From a chasm in the temple ground, a vapor rose. It condensed into a pale, translucid woman, draped in silk and adorned with every jewel one could think of. The famed sybil stood before me, ready to fulfill her role as Apollo’s priestess. I was face to face with the Oracle of Delphi. Without even giving it much thought, I bowed down.
“What an honor it is to finally meet you, after all these years.”
After all these years. Yes, I remember your parents. Like many before them, they came with hope and left with despair.
“Well today, I come with despair and intend to leave with hope. Please tell me, Oracle. Tell me they misunderstood. Tell me I am not to be a murderer.”
Misunderstanding, there was. You will not shed blood.
I collapsed on the ground and sobbed, elated.
“I knew it. I knew the prophecy was mistaken.”
The prophecy was not mistaken.
“But you just said…”
I said you were never meant to become a murderer, but I stand by my words. Your parents’ child shall one day meet three life-changing strangers: a fighter who will make him a fighter, a thief who will make him a thief, and a murderer who will make him a murderer.
It didn’t make sense. If I wasn’t meant to murder, then who would fulfill…
I dashed down the stony steps. All the pieces fell together. He did not know the prophecy was about him, and so he did not hear the whispers, for his mind was at peace. He did not flee to the market to escape them in the morning. The fighter never touched him, the thief never approached him…
My body almost crashed into his as I reached the bottom.
“What’s up?” he asked, concerned. “You look like you’ve seen a…”
A glimmer of realization flashed in his eyes.
“Did you see her?” he blurted out in awe. “Did you see the Oracle?”
In this instant, I almost told the truth, like everyone had done before me, but something about his face kept me from doing it. It was his look of innocence. The same innocence that makes a child catch snowflakes with his tongue. Blissful ignorance had protected him thus far from chasing the future, and so in blissful ignorance he would remain. The Oracle couldn’t keep her mouth shut, but I could.
“Of course not,” I said. “The Oracle doesn’t exist. Let’s just keep going down.”
That night, Achilles tried to convince me to go see Oedipus Rex at the local theater. I refused. It’s much better to stay in the realm of show tunes. Or even Shakespeare.