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Autobiographical Fiction, “Butrus” – Part 4

I recall an American television show, one of my daughter’s favorites that I watched with her one tired evening, where one of the leading female characters had OCD, and hence, had not yet any sexual relationship until–at a mature age–she met the man she was going to marry.  The claim of the writers seemed to be to present her as an individual who associated any sexual act only with the cleaning necessity, and therefore, to be suffering from the disease.  (My daughter and I laughed at the scene where this problem was hinted at again but remained silent on the topic of sex.)  While the character’s portrayal was rather comical and my obsession was nothing of amusing nature and had nothing to do with physical cleansing, either, I must have been also going through a phase of the disease.  As I remember vividly telling Butrus at numerous times how temiz (literally “clean” in Turkish) our platonic relationship was.  As to how I inherited this thought of nonsense, I have no idea.

My strong desire and ambition to attain high quality schooling for one of the most critical phases in my overall education had become a reality: I earned top grades in each of my classes in the first and second year, making the Honors’ list.  In my senior year, the school singled me out among only a few as the graduating student with highest honors as far as academic standing and behavioral and moral conduct were concerned.  My painstaking efforts were, thus, noted beyond my highest expectations.  I was in for a fantastic ride when my goal in life was concerned: a good girl who had proven herself also as a promising student for her next education level.

“I can’t believe your parents let you go to an all-girls’ school, Huban,” Butrus noted.  “Now that I know them quite well, it just doesn’t make any sense for them to have allowed you into such a conservative environment.  Academic reputation, yes, but their rigid code of conduct, and not inside the school only, outside as well?  None of those demands fit your personality: you are such a free spirit.  How did you tolerate it all?  Tell me a little more about that phase of your life.”

“It was like a contest for me, Butrus: I had to win the competition as to which one of us girls could and would best abide by the school’s confining rules and regulations.”

I chose not to tell him about Tamo’s quest for me to be a good girl.  That concept had some time ago begun to cause much confusion in me.  In fact, soon after I met Butrus.  He had been with me for several years now.  Since the time we met, this sweet boy had not once even made a suggestive move to lead me into a situation to be the object of fun for him –the way Tamo’s memorable lecture on the subject hinted at when all men are considered.  While I started pushing aside this thought of strong roots in me, my behavior was unchanged: physical closeness seemed to me still to be too improper of a conduct between us, hence, a taboo.

We learned how to avoid the temptation and maneuvered around it with the distracting help of our many common interests, outside our scholastic ambitions, that is.  One of them was our involvement in our university’s folkloric dance troupe.  We had both signed up to train and perform with this noted organization.  Butrus handled the casting process in his usual dignified manner: I was singled out for a dance narrative as one of the two love interests of a legendary Azerbeijani warrior in the most popular dance routine.  (How ironic…)  He, however, was one of the stand-bys of the back row dancers.  Our choreographer later designated me to more lead roles in the same group.  I blended in with quite an ease to the Turkish Black Sea dancers.  I must have picked up on those rapid foot steps Asım Dede, my mother’s father used to make in front of the entire family time and again.  He was such a charmer!  And, he could do some of the most difficult moves until a very late age.  Eski toprak, he was, old soil as we call our elderly in Turkish who age with their health and mobility intact.  In Asım Dede’s case, also all the hand and feet coordination skills were well preserved.  As for the Sivas Girl’s group, my father’s bloodline may have helped me to learn and perform the complex footsteps.  After their migration from Russia, my dad’s grandparents had stayed in Sivas until their death.  Only then, the new generations moved to Afyon, where they made their permanent homes.  I kept thanking my dad in silence for that asset, especially during the rather swift and continuous body moves with all the extremities shaking as if on an exposed electrical wire.

“Today’s practice was a killer, Huban!  How can you stand all those multiple takes in such a short amount of time?”

“You know how much I love, really, really love dancing, Butrus.  How many times did you have to listen to me talk on and on about the tiny me as an attention-seeking dancer at the age of two – some witnesses are still alive to tell you more!  So, as a seasoned dancer, Sir, ahem, ahem, I absolutely enjoyed every second of our practice today.    I enjoy all the reps we have to go through.  Each time.  Sorry…I guess?!”

“Okay then.  Tell me this much: are you at least as starved as I am now?”

“Oh yes!  And how!  Let’s grab our usual from Köfteci Amca.  We’ll go to our usual hill lot!  The weather is so lovely today.”

With amca,we not only identify a blood-related uncle in Turkish but also address or refer to someone for whom we have affection (the female version is teyze).  The friendly, quick-handed middle-aged man with the tiny concession stand, our only regular lunch-provider outside the university cafeteria was one such individual.  Every day, for about two and a half hours during lunchtime he would park his mini-trailer and cook for us students some of his well-known killer köfte dishes.  Imagine hamburgers with fresh herbs and spices, minced onions and a lot of ground cumin inside a salad leaves- and tomatoes hugging pide –different in texture and taste than the pita common in the States.  The entire fast-food dish, then, would become a dürüm.  Yes, long, very long before the concept of a meal “wrap” became known in the States, we had already for long been enjoying these brilliant inventions in Turkey.)

(Thank you for stopping by. I would love to hear from you regards your likes and dislikes of the essay so far.)

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Autobiographical Fiction, “Butrus” – Part 3

“There are two types of girls,” Tamo had proclaimed one day, three years before I met Butrus, “those to have fun with and those to marry.”  I was almost fifteen, and had begun to notice how men of various ages were looking at me with intent, even though my mother was with me wherever I went.  She said nothing when Tamo’s brief but authoritative monolog took place.  So, neither did I.  Besides, my brother was my idol.  I grew up to that age being told how he deserves my respect and obedience as the third eldest family member.  In return, my parents always reminded him how he must take care of me as his little sister, look after me under any and all circumstances, no matter what age we would be in.

I looked up to my brother, with full submission, and that admiration didn’t have anything to do with my parents’ expectation or hope from me when my brother was concerned.  It, therefore, was no big feat: of course, I was going to continue to make Tamo proud again.  Proud of me.  The way I made him proud whenever his male friends came over.  He had many.  And, they all got together in our home quite often.  “Mom, we are ready for our goodies,” Tamo would call from his room in a routine he initiated for each of these visits.  My mother would prepare snacks and drinks or elaborate meals, depending on the length of their stay.  I would then carry them on a large tray to Tamo’s room where he would take them in through just a crack of the otherwise tightly closed door.  I was as inaccessible to his friends as possible.  All of them were high school juniors–like Tamo.  I was yet to finish middle school.

“You can’t be serious!”

Having spoken both at once, my parents then looked at each other, surprise shining through their faces.  Then, both frowned and just sat there.  Tamo kept quiet.

“Are you sure you want to go to that school?”   My father’s voice was faint but steady a short while later.

“Do you know what to expect there?”  My mother’s, not at all; in fact, she sounded disappointed.

“I think Huban has the right idea,” uttered my brother in a loud enough voice, not easy to disregard, “what’s wrong with my school, the same establishment, only for boys?  I think an all-girls’ high school will be just what best fits Huban.”  Then, he gave me a quick smiling look.  I read pride in his eyes and entire pose.

In a few months, I was going to begin high school, in other words, to enter–according to my young adult book choices, the most notorious world of young, head-strong men chasing after their co-eds only to have a certain way of fun.  My parents and I had been discussing various possibilities for quite some time.  Lately, though, I had been contemplating on Ankara Kız Lisesi, the only all-girl high school in our city.  Tamo’s approval during our last brief family exchange signaled the confirmation of my school selection.  My parents enrolled me in this educational institution–modeled after Catholic schools, minus the religious tradition, at least when formal classes were concerned.  Proper conduct and a rigid dress code made up the core of instructional design.

The scholastic credibility and far-reaching influence of the school, one of the best in the country, were important aspects to me as an honors’ student during my prior schooling –five years of elementary and three years of middle school instruction.  I intended to also achieve honors throughout my upcoming three years in high school.  That I was to graduate in the right category of females, however, that is, as one trained in appropriate behavior with men, was an enormous force behind my decision.  My school’s strict dress code didn’t bother me as it had most girls in my classes.  Quite in the contrary.  I wore the skirt of my uniform even several centimeters longer below the knee than was required.  My thick, waist-long hair of a distinct blackish red shine was routinely in tight braids, either on each side of my face, or as one big braid but folded into another small one on my nape, in order not to attract any attention to lose locks.  My teachers but my principal and vice principal, in particular, were all so very proud of my intact appearance on days of unannounced screenings, or at the end of a school day, on our way out of the school’s impressively ornate large iron gate.  On weekends and holidays, though, I had to show off the glimmer all around my what my mother called exceptionally eye-catching eggplant maroon full head of hair.  She insisted.

On each school day, though, and with diligence at that, I put the proper conduct I had been learning about into practice: on the students from Atatürk Erkek Lisesi, the only all boys’ high school of our city–Tamo’s territory, where he was a senior now.  I would secretly bestow upon myself a symbolic medallion of honor each day on my way home.  For succeeding in my attempts to escape the attention of those boys, who would rush after school to settle atop the short walls of my school’s extended garden to check out the girls.  Suggestive words were made, though with some caution, from the side of the boys to most girls in sight, but not to me.  It was as if I were invisible.  This outcome alone was to me something to be extremely proud of.  I was not going to be one of the girls with whom a boy could have fun.  Oh no!  No, indeed!  I was to save myself for marriage to a man who would appreciate my purity, my untainted innocence.  So, my routine appearance in public, especially when passing in front of those boys, included a notable big frown on my face, drooped down eyes, slouched body posture and rushed feet.  The bushy eyebrows I flashed most certainly contributed to the uninviting physique I was aiming for.  After all, I had to become, be, and remain a good girl.

(Once again, more parts to come.)

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Autobiographical Fiction, “Butrus” – Part 2

I had graduated from an all girl’s high school where we were taught for three full years to avoid men at all costs in order not to become what they would want us as: objects to have fun with.  Butrus was nothing like what I had learned to fear during my pre-college education.  He was gentle, patient, observant of my reactions to any physical closeness between us and respectfully distant whenever I looked uncomfortable.  I can’t remember exactly when I allowed him to hold my hand.  In private, that is.  In public, I was not at ease for a very long time.  Nothing, in other words, the waiters of Café must have been witnessing other couples do day in and day out.  We must have known one another for about a year and a half, I believe, when he reached out to my hand on the street, near my home, on our way back from one of our concert dates, and held it from then on at every chance he got.  I didn’t reject his hand touch on mine that night –or at any other time.  For, he looked so overjoyed that evening.  I thought he did straighten his upper back and his shoulders a little –he had a slight slouch what I always believed to be on my account, since I am petite, and stretched his neck somewhat, his lips hinting at a faint proud smile in their attractive upward curl, as if to shout out to the world: My rose really takes me as her boyfriend.  A real boyfriend.

After that day, much more physical attraction between us filled the air–no matter where we were.  We never acted upon that feeling of the unknown pull.  But it was there.  Notably so.  After one of our evenings of absorbing yet another spectacular performance by the Ankara Philharmonic Orchestra, only, this time, distracted by how much more closer our bodies were drawn to one another, the coat check room became our confession stand: our fiery eyes met.  He was caressing me with his, and I, him, with mine.  I felt I was running a sudden fever.  On our way home, my home, that is, where he would always take me back after any of our outings, all the way to the door, we didn’t talk for a long time.  It was snowing.  Gentle flakes.  Gentle just like my Butrus.  Although, this time, I felt his hand gripping mine in a far more strong hold than ever before.  I responded the same way.  The darkness encouraged us to an almost first-kiss-on-the-lips, when Butrus stopped walking, turned toward me, held me on my shoulders with a very soft touch and neared his face to mine.  I looked away.

“Forgive me, Huban.  I am finding it more and more difficult to resist you in this way.  I will be strong, of course, because you don’t want to take our relationship to the next level.  But, please, please know how unbearable it is for me sometime to be so close to you every day and on our concert evenings, yet not be able to feel you in the way we both seem to want.”

“Butrus, I am sorry.  I really am.  I feel the attraction to you, too.  But our relationship is so pure.  Our love is so unique.  Let us please not spoil it in any way.  Promise me?”

“Alright.  I promise, my rose.  I know we still have several years until we can get married.  For that, we must be patient.  I must be patient.  Do you think, though, you will consider allowing me a kiss after our promise ceremony?”

“I can’t tell you anything now, Butrus.  I really can’t.  Please try to understand me in this.  Now, can we talk about something else?”

A year later, we were promisedto one another in a simple ceremony, fulfilling everyone’s expectation: the parents, extended family members, neighbors, close friends and acquaintances.  We had, after all, been going out for a long time, when all others were concerned.  Our event was quite different from that of my parents: we both were adamant about not having any of the superfluous formalities.  Our families accepted our appeal, although not without trying to convince us otherwise.  With his family living in another city, the crowd was also very manageable.  I have a small family, after all.  And Butrus was an only child.  My mother, though, had insisted on inviting three people outside the family: our long-time friend, Auntie Tufan, the widow who lived in the flat right across from ours sharing the same short hallway with us.  She had become a widow when her children were very young.  The first time we met was during our apartment’s construction period when all of us children played on the dirt street before our building, the only one as far as our eyes could see, while the parents checked out the quality of the materials.  Her daughter Asul was four years my senior, her son Avranos, five.  Avranos had one arm in cast.

Our calm afternoon of promises had everyone talking even months later: a delectable collection of appetizers, champagne, fine entrees and desserts–thanks to my mom’s incredible cooking and baking skills (and remarkable capacity for physical endurance), polished silver-plated serving trays, bowls and utensils placed between delicate flower arrangements and buffeted on our round dining table atop my mother’s lace-edged linen table cloths.

Aside from now having a memorable landmark of formality in our relationship–made even more memorable by my mother’s days-long labor, nothing had changed between Butrus and me.  We were as close to one another as before.  We could complete each other’s sentences, hence, thoughts, with as much ease as before.  We loved to experience any and all cultural activities and special events Ankara had to offer us as often as before, and we were exchanging our reports of concerts, plays, films, poetry readings and music festivals with as much professional pretense as ever before.  One change, however, had happened: my mother began to invite Butrus over for meals on occasion–to his considerable excitement.  He had, after all, been one of the first-hand witnesses to my mom’s reputation as a great cook and pastry chef by any definition.  On those occasions, we were both allowed in my room.  Not as a demand from my parents but at my own will, the door always stayed open.  In my room or elsewhere, Butrus could not give me his long-awaited kiss for almost two more years.  I wanted that kiss myself.  With a strong urge, at that.  Yet, I did not think it to be proper behavior back then.  Plain but not simple.  Not simple at all.  It’s more than just the fact that I graduated from-an-all-girls’-high school; as to why I had begun to feel torn between passion for Butrus and duty–to fulfill my brother’s ideal of a good girl.  Of course, that some of my extended family members but also close family friends and vocal, self-righteous neighbors as well.

(Thank you for stopping by. Do come back, if you’d so please.)

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