Tag Archives: autobiographical fiction

Autobiographical Fiction

How Cold Is That Water?

Göttingen, oh Göttingen, how many childhood memories are you holding for me?

I believe this incident had occurred after my brother’s walnut-in-the-nostril experiment in Kindergarten.

            Germany was going through an icy cold winter season that year. My brother’s Kindergarten was on Christmas break. Dad had taken us to the visitors’ center of the building where he was conducting his research. For my brother and me, the  food showcase in the cafeteria downstairs was too enticing to ignore. After spending some time eating, drinking and listening to native speakers chat away, my parents took us for a short walk through the adjacent small park. A man-made pond apparently called my brother’s name. Before any of us could understand what was happening, he jumped in. The top of the pond was frozen, but his snow boots broke some of the ice. He was wet up to his knees. Then, he lost his balance, and went halfway in. When my Dad pulled him out of the water, he looked embarrassed at first but then managed to grin.

Our leisure stroll was over. Off we rushed home.

~ ~ ~

From Once upon a Time in Turkey . . ., my upcoming book of autobiographical short stories

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Saying Goodbye – Autobiographical Fiction, All Parts

The door, shut behind me with force from the draft of the windy, early May air breezing in from the open window in to my mother’s lonely, sterile room led me out.  To what seemed to be the longest corridor of the hospital, one that was to take me out of that ice cold building into the train station, on the first leg of my overseas trip.  With Alaz, my husband, a man whom I barely knew, whom I had married after being introduced to him by one of his colleagues a mere handful of months ago.  Having since known him in a highly restricted man and woman exchange.

The sound of the door.  A recurring reminder of profound sadness but also confusion.  If only I had known that evening was going to be the last time for me to hear my mother’s voice, smell her, hug her, caress her rapidly disappearing hair, touch her still amazingly beautiful face, kiss her, take in the undecipherable look of those remarkably beautiful dark green eyes that always knew how to find my soul.  With my mother being able to respond to my embrace in full consciousness one last time, that is.  Her hand in mine and her inquisitive eyes on my face and demeanor, seeking an answer for the level of my happiness in my few days-old marriage.

Against the orders of her surgeons, my mother made sure to make her appearance in the cocktail salon where the so-called happy celebration happened.  I preferred not to recall any details of that night, or any other nights following it, with her or with anyone else.  Yet, I pretended to be happy.  Especially, whenever with my mother, during the time slots the hospital allowed me the short visits:  I would put on my happiest possible facial expressions.  My preference was to stay behind as the fiance, until after Alaz settled in the States to make sure it was there he would want to pursue his doctorate degree.  He could always come back for us to get married – was how I tried at different times to convince my mother.  She just wouldn’t listen.  Avranos had still been living in the flat right across from ours.  As with my mother, it was common knowledge in our closest vicinities how much in love the two of us were, regardless of how final our separation had been.

“You are not a man, if you leave your fiancé behind,” is how my mother had confronted Alaz, as he told me the year she died.  Only then, did he reveal to me how she convinced him to go against my wish and decision in order to make sure the wedding took place before anyone would leave for the States.  It was that day when I discovered the other reason, or better yet, the reason, behind my mother’s insistence for me to marry and leave at once to begin my own life far away from my unachievable love’s home.  Her prognosis had in reality been far worse than she pretended to be the case.  Worse than anyone in my family pretended to me to be the case.  Before my wedding date, specialists had known she would have less than a year to live – barely a month before her first surgery.

 

Then came the second surgery. Before the final one.  Without any of the grueling specifics reaching my ears.  For my mother made my father and my uncle promise not to interfere with my newly formed marriage by telling me how serious her condition was.  I would find out after it was too late for me to unite with her one last time.  She had made them swear by her life – a demand too many in my family took way too seriously – to keep their promise under any and all circumstances.  When I finally gathered my courage years after my mom’s death to question their decision, they both spoke up about her iron will – a trait of hers I, too, was very well aware of.  Their eyes, welled with tears, voices trembling, and their faces, etched with permanent lines of pain.  Whenever they told me that they had to honor her last wish – sometimes in elaborate details, at other times, in what seemed to me to be a cruel matter-of-factual brevity, I wanted to know more.  Hear more.  Find out more.  To be able to pretend I was there with her as long as they had been, all along her final year.  She must have also calculated in the importance of my studies, I had no doubt.  She was so very proud of me for having attained not only admission to a highly respected U.S. university but also for having been hired as a full-time teaching assistant.

It was near the end of my first semester in my doctoral program when the phone call came.  My uncle, still active as the head of the hospital he entered years ago as an intern in Germany, was now telling me to come for a visit, if I could.  While my mother was being treated under his care for something quite routine, as the word was.  She had just undergone another surgery to relieve her from water collecting inside her abdomen due to “a non-alarming reason,” was the fleeting summary.  Feeling faint, I immediately thought back, remembered how her abdomen looked like back in Doluca, before the wedding.  How stupid could I have been all this time to believe what everyone told me back then: “she is suffering from a rare case of arthritis”?  How uninformed was I to settle for such an idiotic reference to her diagnosis?  About two years prior to her first-time hospitalization, my mother had, indeed, been diagnosed with a severe case of arthritic rheumatism, with an unset of stiffness and swelling of her joints suggesting that diagnosis to her doctors.  But, the swelling of the abdomen?

After my brief phone exchange with my uncle a sharp pain settled in me, all over my body.  My head, in a swimming sensation.  My breath, hard to take in and let out.

The ticket had to be bought right away.  I finally realized the situation must have been grim.  No other phone conversation with my uncle before had any mention of me going there for a visit, if I could.  Everyone knew my semester was approaching its end with all its high demands of papers to complete in addition to the classes to finish teaching.  Of all the people in my family, my uncle wouldn’t ask me to come, if I could.  Also, knowing how difficult it was to attain an entry visa as an entire process, let alone in such a short amount of time?  Impossible, I concluded in despair.  Yet, one urgent appointment request over the phone to that wonderful man – whose name I thought I would not forget, ever, but did – in the German consulate on a Saturday morning nevertheless, made my sudden trip to Germany possible.  I had to ask for two incompletes.  One of my professors had decided to give me an extremely difficult time.  Preaching to me about the sense of responsibility one should possess when involved in such serious academic endeavors; the honor in abandoning them altogether, if one were to take family matters first.  I didn’t care less then.  I couldn’t care less.

Our financial situation was not of great standing. Our salaries as first-year students were rather miniscule but our friends pitched in for the money to get me in to the earliest, hence, very expensive flight.  Only the business section had seats available.  For the first time in my life, I was now going to travel “business class.”  What a nonsense, I thought.  At a time like this.  I would of course have much rather flown in the baggage section, if that had been allowed.  Instead of having to travel among the financially privileged, only to end up facing what I felt deep inside me to be a dire reality.  Throughout my trip of grueling length, I tried to shake off from my mind’s staging powers the fatally sick image of my mother.  Trying to picture how carefully I would be hugging her at the airport.  After all, she would be weak and fragile for certain, after having force her doctors to travel regardless of her condition, in a wheelchair nevertheless, to greet me herself as soon as I landed.  Smiling at me and telling me that all is fine.  That all will be fine.

 

My flight had taken me only to the company of my aunt and a long-time family friend.  No sight of my mother.  There was quite a bit of distance to drive after we left the airport.  During the ride, my aunt told me about my mother’s most recent surgery, one of late yesterday.  Once again, the word was “to relieve her from water collection in her abdomen.”  We finally arrived in the hospital.   Leading my mother’s surgeons’ team, my uncle gave me a brief speech about what to expect in an IC unit.  I had never been to one.  His colleagues didn’t appear comfortable with the idea of a young, unsuspecting female to enter the area.  Since the patient was her mother.  One whom the daughter was known also there to have worshipped her for her entire life.

When I entered the IC unit, my mother seemed to be just waking from her anesthesia.  Barely recognizable, noticeably weak and pale.  She looked up.  As soon as she saw me see her in that horrible condition she became severely agitated and began to struggle as if to fend off her daughter’s image there – what she knew to be her deathbed.  Of all her loved ones, I was not supposed to see her like this.  What about the promise her husband and her brother had made to her?  Why was I there?  At the ending time of her life?  With her looking the way she looked?  Helpless.  So very helpless.  In a matter of what I remember to be a few minutes, my mother’s attending doctor added more sedative to her IV bag.  If not asleep, she could harm herself beyond any more help, against his efforts to lessen her pain, he told me; for, her suffering would only increase very soon.

Before the sedation took its effect, or, maybe even after – as my mother was an extremely willed individual, she signaled for writing items with frantic hand and arm movements she barely had any strength to control.  Everyone in the room was startled.  Seeing her fight off what we were told was a heavy sedative that she was under.  Paper and pencil were gathered from the nearby office of one of the doctors.  Not being able to move much with all the vital sign hooks and various needles and bags and whatever else was attached to her I had no idea about for what reason, and in what must have been great physical pain, she scribbled something on the paper, on her lap, without being able to look down much.  My father lifted her plea up: “Please. I am dying. Let’s end this. I want this to end.”  Almost every letter crooked but legible.  When she took in the lack of any movement on behalf of her physicians, she signaled for another paper and repeated her words.  When also her second effort did not do what she hoped would be the outcome, she lunged her fingers at all the life-prolonging foreign items on and around her body.  More sedatives were added to her IV bag in an instant.  A short while later, all her movements stopped all at once.  The life machine had overruled her will to die right then and there.  She was muted.

Ovarian cancer.  Once again.  It had now taken three mothers in my family out of their daughters’ lives too soon.   All at or close to the age of fourty-eight.  My mother’s aunt – my grandmother’s older sister.  My grandmother herself – my mother’s mother, that is.  And when my mother had found out her pregnancy with me, at that…

For years, I didn’t and couldn’t stop blaming my father and my uncle – however in silence – for keeping a fatally flawed promise they made to my mother.  I felt betrayed.  Being robbed of the time I should have been given the opportunity to spent with my mother.  For not ever being able to say my final goodbye to the person whom I loved the most before I became a mother myself.

 

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“Orientals!” – Autobiographical Fiction, Part 1

Almost up to the time short before my mother’s death, our home in Doluca was often open to family gatherings of loving and caring exchanges, flavored with strong laughter and thorough enjoyment of delicious food and of each other’s company – young and old.  Even today, multiple decades later, I can almost taste the honey suspended in mid-air dripping over me – as if only over me but also embracing all those dear ones.  We were a large enough crowd then.  My mother’s side of the family alone.  My grandfather, step grandmother, great uncle, great aunt, both uncles, both aunts, my parents and my brother.  The members of the “prominent crowd.”  On special holidays, my grandfather’s sisters and their families from Istanbul would also join us.

Being the shy child, my brother would hardly ever get a chance to say much and therefore lose his chance for attention at almost all the gatherings.  I, on the other hand, was the singer, the dancer, the public speaker, the impersonator, and many other things for after meal times.  That is, until a certain age when my upper body began to change and showed it too.  For that entire awkward period, I wished and wished and wished some more for no one to notice me.  But, of course, attention was on me.  As the newest “girl” in the family.  Besides, my attention-hungry singing voice, my quite capable dancing feet, my eager speeches (or dramatic poem recitations) and impersonations of a large variety of celebrities were all missed.

“Sit up straight,” my grandfather started saying one day right at the onset of one of his visits with his wife, that is, after noticing me taking my chest inward as much as physically possible, in my attempt to turn my breasts invisible.  He then made a knuckle with one hand and pressed it against my upper back, mumbling something like “back straight.” His way of saying, I assume today, how proud (straight-backed) I was supposed to be as a female.  That sweet man is long dead.  I never had the courage to ask him what he wanted me to do about my body.  And then, we all started suffering from his dementia.  His younger brother was far more silent about this “issue.” I too often felt I, or better yet, my body’s changing shape, was being sign-languaged behind my back – held straight or not.  My father was neither vocal nor symbolic about it.  Nor had he come up with a similar tactic as my grandpa to help me feel confident.  I don’t recall my mother’s initial take on this issue.  All I remember is how “modest” she wanted me to appear in any situation when it came to my physical traits and what I did with them, including slanting my legs together to one side when seated, if in a skirt.  My younger uncle acted just like my mother.  Somewhat tight-lipped and stern-faced.  My older uncle, on the other hand, was quite relaxed and vocal about my – their girl’s – growing up reality.  As for my brother, he was too young to participate in any silent or vocal reactions yet.

My family’s men and their take on my noticeable femininity – as far back as I have known them in close settings, told me at my matured age what I had not realized back then: namely, how different they all were from one another in their comfort levels when facing female distinctions in their household, or extended household.  They were all born and raised in the same country and had been exposed to the same cultural traditions and practices – differing in nuances alone.  So, shouldn’t they all have had the very same view on everything that mattered the male and the female gender?   My German aunt – the older uncle’s wife, thought so.  I believe I was ten when I heard her for the first time use a term, since then her by far most favorite phrase when referring to Turkish men: “Orientals!”  Several ages later, I began to live what that reference entailed when my only brother was concerned – without yet realizing how severe my resentment was going to be at myself at a late stage in my life for having felt obligated to cater to that mindset.

(PLEASE COME BY AGAIN FOR THE NEXT PART, IF STILL INTERESTED.)

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“Saying Goodbye” – Part 3/The End (for the moment)

My flight had taken me only to the company of my aunt and a long-time family friend.  No sight of my mother.  There was quite a bit of distance to drive after we left the airport.  During the ride, my aunt told me about my mother’s most recent surgery, one of late yesterday.  Once again, the word was “to relieve her from water collection in her abdomen.”  We finally arrived in the hospital.   Leading my mother’s surgeons’ team, my uncle gave me a brief speech about what to expect in an IC unit.  I had never been to one.  His colleagues didn’t appear comfortable with the idea of a young, unsuspecting female to enter the area.  Since the patient was her mother.  One whom the daughter was known also there to have worshipped her for her entire life.

When I entered the IC unit, my mother seemed to be just waking from her anesthesia.  Barely recognizable, noticeably weak and pale.  She looked up.  As soon as she saw me see her in that horrible condition she became severely agitated and began to struggle as if to fend off her daughter’s image there – what she knew to be her deathbed.  Of all her loved ones, I was not supposed to see her like this.  What about the promise her husband and her brother had made to her?  Why was I there?  At the ending time of her life?  With her looking the way she looked?  Helpless.  So very helpless.  In a matter of what I remember to be a few minutes, my mother’s attending doctor added more sedative to her IV bag.  If not asleep, she could harm herself beyond any more help, against his efforts to lessen her pain, he told me; for, her suffering would only increase very soon.

Before the sedation took its effect, or, maybe even after – as my mother was an extremely willed individual, she signaled for writing items with frantic hand and arm movements she barely had any strength to control.  Everyone in the room was startled.  Seeing her fight off what we were told was a heavy sedative that she was under.  Paper and pencil were gathered from the nearby office of one of the doctors.  Not being able to move much with all the vital sign hooks and various needles and bags and whatever else was attached to her I had no idea about for what reason, and in what must have been great physical pain, she scribbled something on the paper, on her lap, without being able to look down much.  My father lifted her plea up: “Please. I am dying. Let’s end this. I want this to end.”  Almost every letter crooked but legible.  When she took in the lack of any movement on behalf of her physicians, she signaled for another paper and repeated her words.  When also her second effort did not do what she hoped would be the outcome, she lunged her fingers at all the life-prolonging foreign items on and around her body.  More sedatives were added to her IV bag in an instant.  A short while later, all her movements stopped all at once.  The life machine had overruled her will to die right then and there.  She was muted.

Ovarian cancer.  Once again.  It had now taken three mothers in my family out of their daughters’ lives too soon.   All at or close to the age of fourty-eight.  My mother’s aunt – my grandmother’s older sister.  My grandmother herself – my mother’s mother, that is.  And when my mother had found out her pregnancy with me, at that…

For years, I didn’t and couldn’t stop blaming my father and my uncle – however in silence – for keeping a fatally flawed promise they made to my mother.  I felt betrayed.  Being robbed of the time I should have been given the opportunity to spent with my mother.  For not ever being able to say my final goodbye to the person whom I loved the most before I became a mother myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Saying Goodbye” – Part 2

Then came the second surgery. Before the final one.  Without any of the grueling specifics reaching my ears.  For my mother made my father and my uncle promise not to interfere with my newly formed marriage by telling me how serious her condition was.  I would find out after it was too late for me to unite with her one last time.  She had made them swear by her life – a demand too many in my family took way too seriously – to keep their promise under any and all circumstances.  When I finally gathered my courage years after my mom’s death to question their decision, they both spoke up about her iron will – a trait of hers I, too, was very well aware of.  Their eyes, welled with tears, voices trembling, and their faces, etched with permanent lines of pain.  Whenever they told me that they had to honor her last wish – sometimes in elaborate details, at other times, in what seemed to me to be a cruel matter-of-factual brevity, I wanted to know more.  Hear more.  Find out more.  To be able to pretend I was there with her as long as they had been, all along her final year.  She must have also calculated in the importance of my studies, I had no doubt.  She was so very proud of me for having attained not only admission to a highly respected U.S. university but also for having been hired as a full-time teaching assistant.

It was near the end of my first semester in my doctoral program when the phone call came.  My uncle, still active as the head of the hospital he entered years ago as an intern in Germany, was now telling me to come for a visit, if I could.  While my mother was being treated under his care for something quite routine, as the word was.  She had just undergone another surgery to relieve her from water collecting inside her abdomen due to “a non-alarming reason,” was the fleeting summary.  Feeling faint, I immediately thought back, remembered how her abdomen looked like back in Doluca, before the wedding.  How stupid could I have been all this time to believe what everyone told me back then: “she is suffering from a rare case of arthritis”?  How uninformed was I to settle for such an idiotic reference to her diagnosis?  About two years prior to her first-time hospitalization, my mother had, indeed, been diagnosed with a severe case of arthritic rheumatism, with an unset of stiffness and swelling of her joints suggesting that diagnosis to her doctors.  But, the swelling of the abdomen?

After my brief phone exchange with my uncle a sharp pain settled in me, all over my body.  My head, in a swimming sensation.  My breath, hard to take in and let out.

The ticket had to be bought right away.  I finally realized the situation must have been grim.  No other phone conversation with my uncle before had any mention of me going there for a visit, if I could.  Everyone knew my semester was approaching its end with all its high demands of papers to complete in addition to the classes to finish teaching.  Of all the people in my family, my uncle wouldn’t ask me to come, if I could.  Also, knowing how difficult it was to attain an entry visa as an entire process, let alone in such a short amount of time?  Impossible, I concluded in despair.  Yet, one urgent appointment request over the phone to that wonderful man – whose name I thought I would not forget, ever, but did – in the German consulate on a Saturday morning nevertheless, made my sudden trip to Germany possible.  I had to ask for two incompletes.  One of my professors had decided to give me an extremely difficult time.  Preaching to me about the sense of responsibility one should possess when involved in such serious academic endeavors; the honor in abandoning them altogether, if one were to take family matters first.  I didn’t care less then.  I couldn’t care less.

Our financial situation was not of great standing. Our salaries as first-year students were rather miniscule but our friends pitched in for the money to get me in to the earliest, hence, very expensive flight.  Only the business section had seats available.  For the first time in my life, I was now going to travel “business class.”  What a nonsense, I thought.  At a time like this.  I would of course have much rather flown in the baggage section, if that had been allowed.  Instead of having to travel among the financially privileged, only to end up facing what I felt deep inside me to be a dire reality.  Throughout my trip of grueling length, I tried to shake off from my mind’s staging powers the fatally sick image of my mother.  Trying to picture how carefully I would be hugging her at the airport.  After all, she would be weak and fragile for certain, after having force her doctors to travel regardless of her condition, in a wheelchair nevertheless, to greet me herself as soon as I landed.  Smiling at me and telling me that all is fine.  That all will be fine.

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“Saying Goodbye” – Part 1

The door, shut behind me with force from the draft of the windy, early May air breezing in from the open window in to my mother’s lonely, sterile room led me out.  To what seemed to be the longest corridor of the hospital, one that was to take me out of that ice cold building into the train station, on the first leg of my overseas trip.  With Alaz, my husband, a man whom I barely knew, whom I had married after being introduced to him by one of his colleagues a mere handful of months ago.  Having since known him in a highly restricted man and woman exchange.

The sound of the door.  A recurring reminder of profound sadness but also confusion.  If only I had known that evening was going to be the last time for me to hear my mother’s voice, smell her, hug her, caress her rapidly disappearing hair, touch her still amazingly beautiful face, kiss her, take in the undecipherable look of those remarkably beautiful dark green eyes that always knew how to find my soul.  With my mother being able to respond to my embrace in full consciousness one last time, that is.  Her hand in mine and her inquisitive eyes on my face and demeanor, seeking an answer for the level of my happiness in my few days-old marriage.

Against the orders of her surgeons, my mother made sure to make her appearance in the cocktail salon where the so-called happy celebration happened.  I preferred not to recall any details of that night, or any other nights following it, with her or with anyone else.  Yet, I pretended to be happy.  Especially, whenever with my mother, during the time slots the hospital allowed me the short visits:  I would put on my happiest possible facial expressions.  My preference was to stay behind as the fiance, until after Alaz settled in the States to make sure it was there he would want to pursue his doctorate degree.  He could always come back for us to get married – was how I tried at different times to convince my mother.  She just wouldn’t listen.  Avranos had still been living in the flat right across from ours.  As with my mother, it was common knowledge in our closest vicinities how much in love the two of us were, regardless of how final our separation had been.

“You are not a man, if you leave your fiancé behind,” is how my mother had confronted Alaz, as he told me the year she died.  Only then, did he reveal to me how she convinced him to go against my wish and decision in order to make sure the wedding took place before anyone would leave for the States.  It was that day when I discovered the other reason, or better yet, the reason, behind my mother’s insistence for me to marry and leave at once to begin my own life far away from my unachievable love’s home.  Her prognosis had in reality been far worse than she pretended to be the case.  Worse than anyone in my family pretended to me to be the case.  Before my wedding date, specialists had known she would have less than a year to live – barely a month before her first surgery.

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Autobiographical Fiction, “Butrus” – Part 7/The Last Part

I made an effort only to picture my mother’s return scenario.  7pm.  Winter time.  Snow on the streets and on the roads.  Traffic.  For sure.  Perhaps too much of it.  She would take an express cab, though.  Why isn’t she home yet?

Much effort

opens my eyes.

A new morning.

The armchair of your frequent use

empty yet once again.

As if to honor the sorrow of my loneliness

even the sea takes cover

under the shade of clouds

stripped of its vibrant blue shades

abandoned by anything bright.

Your caressing eyes

no longer on me.

Your love in anticipation

no longer with me.

Tears fill my bitter longing,

despair,

desperation.

My pathetic innocence!

Senseless sense of purity!

 

I got up.  To get a drink.  From the kitchen where Butrus’ full bouquet of roses first ended up on each of his visits to my home.  I would arrange them in my favorite vase, placing it on my mother’s old wooden childhood dresser in the supplies balcony.  It was as if all the neatly sorted dry storage items of necessity, pilav rice, köfte rice, bulgur wheat, home-made pickles – cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, cabbage, carrots, and numerous other dry soon-to-be-edibles I never cared for, would transform into the exquisite beauty of Butrus’ roses.  Our refrigerator was always full with my mom’s home cooked meals; vegetable and beef dishes along with our favorite dairy desserts filled the few compartments every day.  I was too afraid to ruin my rose bouquet in there but I wanted to keep it in the cold to make it survive longer.  The small kitchen balcony covered with glass windows was always under the shade of the tall apartment building adjacent to ours, never letting direct sunshine in, served my purpose each time.  Once, I had managed to have my Butrus roses last for over three weeks, in their first-day look.  Then, every Wednesday, I had the care to give to one single red rose, one he would pick out for me after his Beginning German course at the Goethe Institute, to take me home from the English Language Institute where I was taking Beginning English classes – following a stubborn inspiration Butrus’ private lessons had left in me.

In one corner of the spacious oval landing outside the Institute’s multiple-story building, on the edge of the brick steps leading onto the street, Butrus would wait for me with one red rose in his right hand and his landmark smile.  Contagious and so very attractive.  Matching the smile in his eyes, caressing me with them as only they could.  We would walk very slowly to my house, hand in hand – prolonging the time more and more each day, struggling to depart once in front of my apartment’s entry.  Butrus, then, would start up the hill, on his way to his flat very nearby but not without first calling me from his routine phone booth destination at the entrance of our Café.  We would talk and talk, as if we had not heard from one another in a long time.  The next day, we would be as eager to greet each other as the day before.

No longer.

When my mother finally came home, she was visibly startled.  I must have been in far worse of a shape I thought I was in.

“Oh dear, my girl, what’s the matter?  What happened?”

She had forgotten.  In between my violent sobs, I told her.

“I am so sorry my darling, I am so very sorry.  Of all the possible days, I was gone today.  Please, forgive me.  Can you forgive me?”

She kept apologizing.  For how long, I can’t remember.  All I could remember was what I had to face on that day, and that, now, it was all over.  Wasn’t I supposed to feel relief?  Isn’t that what Auntie Tufan had described would happen?  Then, my mother wrapped her arms around me, trying to quiet my body from shaking beyond control.  Streams of tears were flooding my eyes, down to my chin landing on the collar of my blouse.  The sounds coming out of me were unsettling even to me.

I don’t have anything left in my memory as to how I spent that night.  Did my father gave me some of the sedatives he had given Butrus when he came to my home to say goodbye to my parents soon after our break-up?  I don’t know.  “I’ll be right back,” my father told my mother and I, “a quick walk with Butrus will do me some good.”  He had then left with Butrus.  Later on, sometime that evening, I overheard my dad tell my mom, on my way to our main bathroom, right before their bedroom, with their door slightly ajar, what went on between the two of them:

“Hanam, I couldn’t leave him like that,” my dad spoke first.  He always added a possessive suffix to my mom’s name.  In barely audible sounds he continued: “I am glad I didn’t.  Especially, after he asked me, if I had any sedatives at home for the next couple of nights.  He was crying out loud.  On the street.  What a sad sad sight!”  My mom wasn’t interrupting him at all.  If she was, I couldn’t hear her.  “He kept crying all the way to his apartment building,” my dad went on to describe Butrus’ state.  “I walked with him upstairs, to his flat and sat with him for a while.  What if, the poor boy – he looked miserable, just miserable – decided to take them all at once?  When I instructed him again how he only needs one of those pills a night, he sensed how worried I was, ready to take all of them back from him, and comforted me ever so sweetly: ‘Sabas amca, please don’t worry about me.  I won’t do any foolishness.  I will take one tablet at a time.  Honest.’  He thanked me.  We hugged.  He thanked me again, for having raised a daughter like Huban.  He took my hand between both his hands and held it for a while.  Oh, Hanam, I feel so bad for him.”  Then came a long pause.  Was my dad possibly crying?  Or my mom?  Finally, I heard him ask: “How is our girl doing?”

My mom’s whispery answer didn’t reach my ears.  Then again, why would I need to hear it from her.  I knew too well how their girl was doing.  I knew it only too well.

How had I arrived at the point of separation from Butrus?  Even multiple decades later, I have no answer to this question, let alone having been able to make sense of the mutually heart-wrenching outcome of our relationship back then.  Was it my routine chatting with my mother on most details of my interaction with him, my pickiness about what he did where and why, my inexperience, or what others, two people in specifics, rather – Auntie Tufan and my mother, thought of him and told me in conflicting views in authoritative repetitions…

He doesn’t have the public presence as you do: you turn heads.  But he?  He will be bothered by it at some point and then, he will take it out on you, or even restrict you. 

He is not even a full year older than you.  Women age faster and their physique gets worse than of men their age.  You are pretty now, at least attractive.  But you will age.  You will be hurt when he starts paying attention to younger women when you both reach a certain age. 

He is an only child.  They are spoiled.  They are problematic.  Selfish.  He would always want to be the center of attention.  You will be left out.  You will be unhappy. 

Aren’t his legs in an x-shape somewhat?  And his eyes, crossed a bit?  Your children will be in danger of having those traits. 

He is already an extrovert, doing all that he can during summer months, away from you, in Efes – of all the inviting places in Turkey, to associate with who-knows-what-type of female tourists he is in contact with for his tour-guide position.

He is from too modern of a family, not befitting ours.  Their values are different.  Their expectations from your life with Butrus together will be different. 

What is with his relationship with that distant female cousin of his anyway, the one who is rather loose?

All these past conversations echoed in me time and again. And for many years, I had a blame finger to point at Auntie Tufan and my mother.  In fact, however, it was I who all along had the choice: to defend my love for who he was, namely a gem of a gift I thought never to experience again.  Until, after painstaking decades, a remarkable man entered my life and continues to enable me the love I held under the conviction to live only once, one more time.

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Autobiographical Fiction, “Butrus” – Part 1

“Please don’t be mad at me.  I don’t mean to bother you.  And please know, I am very sorry, if I do.  You see, I am an avid reader.  Apparently, you are also one.  When I saw you from the end of the hallway over there, looking immersed in your book atop that radiator piece –”

I started laughing.  (It was more a giggle first.)  All along, thinking I should frown upon his blunt approach to me.  The minute he began to describe my strange seating choice, however, I couldn’t help but look up and laugh, almost out loud, feeling relieved he didn’t look anything like a serial killer or a Don Juan.  Tall–above the top of my head, for sure, even though my radiator seat gave me extra inches and I wasn’t practicing the correct posture my mom always instructed me with.  Anyway: tall.  Slender, shapely body in a sporty outfit, slanting eyes of dark brown hues behind clear, stylish glasses.  Light brown, mid-length hair–as straight as leak, as we phrase hair, lacking body in Turkish (at times, with jealousy for the no-show of those typical dense curls).  I must have looked real strange, even comical, perched on the rather narrow marble sill the builders tended to put back then on top of public radiators in order to diffuse the heat beyond the point of burning someone who may accidently touch the open bars (in homes, each household was responsible for such mobile installments–a welcome addition to keep the teapot, a most essential household item for Turkish families, warm enough in any room for those early morning, afternoon and evening tea rituals).  My giggle must have given him the relief he seemed to have needed–he was rather tense until my first laugh echoed in the high ceiling of the hallway opposite of the one he said he saw me from:

“May I please join you?  Unless you are studying for an exam –,” he asked.

“Do have a seat.  But please be careful.  What you will be sitting on is, after all, a rare collection item.”

Now, we were both laughing–hard.  His eyes almost disappeared into a thin line what I thought to be quite adorable.  Faint laugh lines appeared below and on the corners of his lower eyelids.  How both of his lips curled upward when the first laugh came to him gave me a sensation somewhere inside my body I could not locate.  I knew, though, I had not yet felt that way before.  The sound he made with his whole-body laugh was the first example for me for an attractive laughing style some people were talking about.  I ended up sharing my radiator with him as well as what was to be the first of countless long conversations between us for the next most unforgettable four years to come:

“No, this is not a course book,” I blurted, fearing he may disappear fast right before my eyes–the way he had appeared, if I responded any slower, “with the library still under construction, whenever I find a quiet corner between classes, I read as much as I can from my favorite novels.”

“I am sorry to take away from your quiet time.  I really am.  But, I must also be frank: even if you’d ask me to leave, I can’t and won’t.  Unless, of course, you decide to call the campus police on me.  Come to think of it, even then, I won’t leave.”

I gave him a look what must have seemed to him like a gigantic question mark.

“You see, I didn’t actually see you from the hallway over there.  At least, not for the first time today.  I noticed you on the first day of the semester.  It was a rather cold October day.  You were dressed almost all in black: high-neck black top, black-belted black pants with a beige long cardigan on top – “

Now, I was worried.  Alright, no Don Juan or a serial killer maybe, but what about a stalker?  He was describing details about my appearance I myself no longer remembered.  Without noticing my distracted moment, he went on:

“You were wearing a thick cord necklace with a large image of the sun in gold color, black medium-high heel boots and you had your hair down, just like today.  You didn’t see me.  I was behind you on the first day of registration.  Waiting in line to the right of you, with students who didn’t request any advising.  You were together with a woman.  She was in the middle of a discussion with a counselor.  Your attention was fixed on them.  So, I didn’t talk to you then.”

He gave me such a sweet smile that I stopped thinking I may have a stalker right before me.  How could those eyes, that diction, those refined mannerisms belong to someone who had issues those personalities do?  No way!  He behaved as balanced as I knew myself to be.

“I came with my mom that day,” I replied.  “I still wasn’t sure what area of study I was going to enroll in.  She was getting a crash course for both of us on several possibilities from one of the advisors on site.”

“Do you have a major yet?”

“Education.  And you?”

“Sociology,” he blurted with enthusiasm, “with a possible second major in Philosophy.”

“I wish I could also study Philosophy but my parents think –”

What my parents, family members or neighbors would have thought of Butrus didn’t enter my mind for years.  If a person could, indeed, be too happy, he made me into one.  In every which way I knew how to be.  The world was surely a magnificent place to live in with him.

“Hello, my rose, hello!  Right on time, true?  Oh, how I love our nightly routine!

To hear your voice once more before our day ends.  Let me tell you something to smile about: the waiters at the Café are making strange eyes at me right now, while I am looking at them through the phone booth’s window, behind the ancient old ivy’s strategically thick curve.  I can guess what they must be thinking: ‘Wasn’t this guy here just this evening, until closing time, sitting with his gorgeous girlfriend at their usual table?  What’s he doing, still sticking around after hours?’

“Oh, so you hear them tell each other I am gorgeous, is that so?”

“Well, you ARE!  I still can’t believe you are my girlfriend, Huban,” he almost shouted, “please, tell me one more time.  For the night.”

“Hello, hello, announcement incoming: Butrus and I are boyfriend-girlfriend.  Put that on record so that no one will ever forget it, okay?”

“Okay, Okay, I won’t ask you anymore.  Until tomorrow.  One more thing, though, before we say goodbye for the night: the guys at the Café must also be talking behind our backs, wondering what kind of a boyfriend and girlfriend team we are, not even holding hands –“

“Butrus, you know –“

“I know, I know.  I am sorry for bringing it up like this.  Could we, please, talk about it sometime, though?”

“You know how I am, how I was brought up.  So, please –“

“Alright, alright,” he interrupted me, “I am being unfair to you.  I’ll stop talking about us in that way.”

(Thank you for visiting.  Please come back for the next parts.  I hope you won’t be disappointed.)

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Autobiographical Fiction, “Huban” – Part 3

Another picture: goodbye Afyon, welcome Sinop!  Goodbye black and white photographs, hello color!  My aunt (my father’s only sister, who could have used some physical features of her oldest brother) still underneath her head and shoulder cover as in the Afyon photograph, was looking up with eyes half-closed.  She was sitting next to my mom who had my newborn brother in her arms.  Several photos later, though, my aunt’s hair was in full sight, her face was a canvas for color-rich make-up and she was clad in a notably fabric-shy dress.  Sinop, however, was a tiny town!  “How come my aunt shed her head-and shoulder cover?” I asked my father the minute I got a chance.

“Well, Huban, the Turkish sea towns have always been different in many aspects.  Afyon is what it is: a place right in the heart of the rugged Anatolian land.  If my family had lived in southern Turkey, or at the Aegean coast, they would have dressed like those in Sinop.  That’s how populations adopted to the different landscapes of our country.  But in all honesty, I must tell you how I always coveted to be like the Sinopians: very comfortable with their way of life and what their women and men wear.  Afyon was never accepting to any variety in clothing for women.  So, when your aunt came to live with us, she didn’t know anything beyond what was there in Afyon to see and to do; she hadn’t seen anything beyond her birthplace.  Unlike me.  I lived and worked in Istanbul.  You know that.  I changed quite a lot after my life in the big city.  Especially, after meeting your mom, long before we were married, during our long waiting period.  Living with your mom changed your aunt also.  She opened up.  By the way, did you know your mom made her that summer dress?”

“Why?”

“She wanted my sister to keep up with the times.”

“I had no idea she could do that!”

“She could and did.  However, she wouldn’t even put it on at first.  Then, a couple of days later she wanted to try it on, only in her room and only to show your mom.  After a while, she wore it all the time!”

“What about your parents, Dad, and your brothers?  Weren’t they mad about how different she began to look?”

“Oh yes, they were all upset to get such pictures of your aunt.  But you see, as the only college graduate in my family, everyone always respected me very much, in what I did and was doing.  In any situation, for that matter.  So, they let your mom and me be; and let your aunt dress and live like the Sinopians.  You know your grandmother and all her female cousins were wearing skimpy bathing suits whenever they went on a boat ride with boys?  Not only your mother but her grandmother before her as well?  And this, not only as children but also as teens and beyond?  The locals have a saying: Sinop is the best place in Turkey for a woman to live in peace and full safety.  I am happy and proud my only sister was also able to learn modernity from us and this town.”

Since the subject had just come to my mom’s sewing skills–one among her numerous other talents-my father said: “In summer, when you have no classes, you should learn how to saw, to knit, to cook and to bake from your mom.  Like your mom.”  A proper upbringing must also mean to have sawing, knitting, cooking and baking abilities, I had concluded back then and wondered what my father’s advice was for my brother.  Didn’t Tamo deserve a proper upbringing?

My brother…With his birth weight of close to ten pounds, his simply beautiful, unwrinkled and white face, cute little nose –almost a duplicate of my mom’s, fully developed body –unlike my premature one, and gorgeously bald head (yes, baldness in babies was a must attraction back then, I was told many times), I was no contest for this darling creature who arrived here three years ahead of me.  At some point in my early years–but only after I had safely grown out of my ugly, hideous, hairy and skinny birth-shell, had my father confessed how my mother first greeted me in an almost muted utterance: “Oh, my unfortunate girl!”

I always concluded her reaction was about the obvious difference between Tamo’s beauty and my intense ugliness.  My father, though, would not say much on this matter.  Every time the subject of my birth came up, he was overcome with sadness for his wife and for his mother-in-law whom he had dearly loved and respected.  I, too, was overcome by sadness: my grandmother–only 48 years old–was at her deathbed with ovarian cancer at the onset of my mom’s pregnancy with me.  There had been too many records of deaths by this type of cancer on my mother’s side.  Still, she could not have ever imagined her own mother as a victim to this disease.  She could not talk with us about those days without stopping in the middle of her first sentence, not being able to collect herself to go on beyond.  She must have been traumatized by severe sadness, fearing her mother’s fate would also be mine–or her own, as it turned out to be.  This morbid sentence had struck her three female cousins around the same age as my grandmother.  I would have to eventually encounter the tremendous loss of my mother–she must have concluded, an ordeal she herself was facing when she was supposed to feel elated for expecting a new life.  In the way she must have felt while she was pregnant with my brother.

Ach, Tamo…

My brother’s favorite pass-time activity was to make fun of me about the type of novels I read (not very different than what I later found out to be our mother’s all-time favorite–pre-dating my birth).  It didn’t matter to him whether my choices were translations of the world classics, or the work of our own classical literary greats.  Sometimes he would almost scold me, announcing my disappointment would be of tragic dimensions if I kept dreaming up life’s realities under the influence of those “ridiculous stories,” as he called them again and again to my face.

I am no longer in contact with my brother and haven’t been for a long while.  If I had been, I would have told him in what striking ways my life events mirrored and continue to mirror those “ridiculous stories” he persistently frowned upon.  Moreover, I would have let him in on one most vital fact about me, one for which his most imaginative moment won’t suffice.  What a surreal extent our mother’s affection for and sorrow over the fate of the protagonist in her most favorite novel did and continue to intertwine with his sister’s–the life of his one and only sibling…

(Only this essay stops here.  As for Huban’s tale, it will continue.)

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Autobiographical Fiction, “Huban” – Part 1

I knew the story of my father’s successful pursuit of my mother too well.  How could I forget?  He told it so many times!  With his entire face engaged into what he was about to say, his hazel eyes larger than usual, faint eyebrows drawn upward, his mouth collecting water – almost to a short-distance spit, as it did most of the time while talking:

“The first time I saw your mother in her school uniform, I knew she was the one for me.  Soon after that very day, I saw her again.  In my boss’ office of all the places – yes, your grandfather’s!  His other assistant, seeing my dumbstruck expression, said in a flash: ‘She is Baytar Bey’s daughter.’  (Bey in Turkish functions like “Mr.”, though it cannot precede a name but rather must follow it.)  Not much later than a few weeks time, I was standing in front of your grandfather.  I looked him straight in the eye and told him I would never marry anyone else, if I could not have the hand of his daughter!”

A critical detail in my father’s story would somehow escape his recollection, namely my grandfather’s repeated rejections: “I have no daughter to give to that man!”  The insight into this minor nuance, as my father called it, was a true gift to me from my uncle, the oldest brother of my mother:

“We all forgot the count of how many times Father said ‘no’ or ‘absolutely not’ to your father, Huban.  But your father just wouldn’t give up.  Finally, months later, I believe it was even close to a year’s time, our father caved in and told your mom of your father’s quest to marry her.  By that time, she had been told the persistence of a suitor by one of her school spies.  She was naïve.  She had no such experience ever before in her life.  So, she was intrigued, even felt proud, I guess, and gave our mother the signal to tell our father her suitor could come forward.  None of us males in the family was supposed to know about this exchange between the two ladies in the open.  You know, I told you many times: it was just not proper to communicate about such things in mixed company.  Neither our father nor our mother would, of course, go ahead with any engagement plans before your mom graduated from high school.  They waited in the hope your mom would change her mind and reject this suitor too.  They were against this union for many reasons.  A fresh graduate with limited financial means, ten years older than your mom but also from a very large family with a conservative traditional household.  But hey, he turned out to be okay.  Still, don’t let him ever tell you or your brother how willing his in-laws were to have their daughter marry him!”

I loved my father.  A childhood legacy about me was proof to that.  I, as a two year old escapee from under my nanny’s hands –during a diaper changing ritual, of all possible times, marching onto the street of my parents’ temporary hometown in search of my dad’s office.  To be hugged and cuddled by him, I guess.  My mom was gone for the afternoon.  The nanny was, after all, no one to feel cuddly toward.  On the contrary, she was the cold-hearted woman who that same afternoon pierced my ears with a large pin used to sew comforter covers.  She was promptly fired, my parents told me a few times.  But, I had at least ear holes now to dangle gold earrings from, as was the nanny’s customary gift to baby girls –no matter how ripped my ear lobes looked!  Having snuck out without the nanny noticing me, I must have been dawdling from the narrow front steps of my parents’ home onto the street, when one good citizen recognized me as the little girl of the new veterinarian in town, making me into a personal delivery item.  I can only imagine the sounds I must have made as soon as my father’s arms reached out to me, most likely quickly grabbing some candy from his nearby desk to comfort me.  Yet now, I was going after this sweet man with the insight I got from my uncle long ago.

I would confront my father in loving tease at every opportunity I got with a sneaky, “I know what really happened, Dad!”  All along I knew too well the weakness he had for me.  I always suspected he would stop the world’s ills for me, if only he could.  Oh, I would play that card so often and with such mischievous pleasure.  Especially then, when he least expected one of my infamous truth attacks: the moment he dared to brag about his physical features complementing my mom’s–a natural and rare beauty.  She had blackish hair with auburn strands, flawless complexion, shapely and small nose (unlike mine), dark green eyes: an eye-catching, petite curvaceous woman –as I heard many people in and outside the family describe her looks.  As much as I loved my father, I knew –as did anyone else who ever saw both my parents together: his physique was in no way a compliment to my mom’s.

Auntie Hikmet, my mother’s best friend since childhood–a strikingly attractive woman herself–had known about my mom’s many good-looking suitors through her own connections.  Perhaps the most revealing account of my parents’ incompatibility in appearance came from her:

“I peeked behind the large wall separating the formal living room from the hallway that connected the family room to the second-floor kitchen, and I saw.  No one noticed me but I saw.  There they were, his hands, so dark, hairy and skinny.  His face, the same.  I started crying in quiet sobs.  Then, with caution, not to let the old bare wooden floor squeak under my feet, I started climbing up the steps of the first landing, then the long spiral staircase, to the top floor, into your mother’s bedroom.  I went out on the small balcony overlooking the vegetable garden, where your brother’s and your swing sets still stand.  ‘Is my best friend really about to marry this ugly man?’ was all I could think.  I let out a scream.  Your mother had no idea why I was hysterical.  She was out of herself from excitement that her promise ceremony was finally taking place.  That her soon-to-be fiancé was in her home.  Right then and there.  ‘But you only met him one time in your father’s office, amid a crowd of other strangers’, I wanted to shout to her.  She looked very happy, like I had never seen her before.  So, I told her I was crying because I had burned my hand while steeping the tea in the new teapot.  We were barely eighteen…”

A promise ceremony is a common practice, a tradition of some sorts rather, among many families in Turkey –in the countryside as well as the city.  Two involved families adopt to show each side their commitment to the intended marital union.  The men’s side is in charge of all the wedding expenses, while the woman’s side assumes the costs of the engagement ceremony.  Before any of those official steps are taken, a modest and informal rite takes place between the involved families in the woman’s home: the men’s family enters their future in-laws’ house with trays of chocolate and bouquets of flowers to the woman’s mother (only one large tray and one bouquet, if the family is small) and the promise rings for the bride- and groom-to-be as well as other jewelry items for the future daughter-in-law along with personal gifts to each member of her family.

Thistradition was something my reliable storyteller, Auntie Hikmet, never lived through.  It could not have even neared her household.  Not that she would have cared much for it in the first place.  She was quite a character.  Not into any formalities.  A bubbly personality through and through.  Had she been my biological aunt, I could not have felt closer to her.  She and my mother remained confidantes until death separated them.  I found out from her how she–after several years into my mother’s marriage, well after my brother was born–was finally able to accept my father into my mom’s family, the Sirvans.  The family that embraced her and that she took as her own after being shunned from her biological one.

(I hope you will visit again next Wednesday to read Part 2.)

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