February 14, 2005
Writing you a letter across America, the Atlantic, and the Aegean Sea feels very awkward. I should have been back home about a year ago. Under the deep shadow of Mt. Gume’s snowy peaks, we’d be laughing at old family photographs over grilled chestnuts and steaming cups of black tea. The kittens would be fast asleep, breathing lightly into their mother’s belly. Where do they sleep these days?In the kitchen or out in the yard?
I can’t help but imagine the yard with the apricot tree. Many endless summer afternoons spent under its shade swinging to the rhythm of pigeons’songs. Colors would seep through the shapely leaves and turn the hardened earth into a flying carpet. I’d push myself into emptiness with my eyes closed and catch the warm breeze on my bare skin. I’d carry sun spots on my eyelids, all the way up to the thicker branches where the golden pink apricots murmured. Biting into a ripe one was a sacred ritual of sweet and sour simultaneously dissipating on the tongue, glistening juices running down arms, distant body parts tingling uncontrollably, and finally, ice cold water splashing on burning skin. The sensations from stories grandpa didn’t live to tell.
Those were the years of pure joy, of exploring wonders of nature as an untamed animal. They only lasted ten years. Once my life in the concrete jungle of the English boarding school started, the animal reacted to its regimented, “civilized” ways. The animal cried, talked, reasoned to no avail. As a last resort, it took up the weapon of “civilized beast”.
Upon returning home one Friday night, I penciled a ten page letter in an ant size font explaining my days of hunger, longing, and alienation at the dorm, asking you to please not send me back to the dorm. Saturday morning, I slid the thick stack under your bedroom door while you and dad were preparing breakfast and started my days’ long expectation of some type of an acknowledgement from you. Saturday breakfast–the most cherished meal of the entire week–was nothing but an anxiety-ridden ordeal as I tried to anticipate your reaction to my pleas. After breakfast, I volunteered to take care of dishes. You headed upstairs to straighten out the bedrooms and came down after having taken longer than usual.
Hoping you’d bring up the letter, I hung around the house like a restless beast. You went on with your daily chores of laundry, lunch and dinner preparations, yard care, and tea with Aunt Sukran. As we slurped yogurt soup at the dinner table, I figured you’d first need to talk to father about it. In bed, I prayed that you’d discuss it that night and talk to me in the morning. At Sunday breakfast, there was still no mention of my pleas. Looking at your faces, it was impossible to tell if you actually discussed it or not. On the way to the dorm, I convinced myself that you’d definitely talk to me the following Friday.
Two years and many long letters later, I realized there’d not be an acknowledgement of my appeals. And now, after twenty-one long years, it would be irrational to expect you to break that silence and reply to this letter. I only ask that you keep this letter in the drawer of your makeup table where the rest are buried, so that one day someone who can handle truth better than you and I may come across these pages to revive a completely different version of our family history.
Much has changed since our phone conversations. In court, PF is accusing me of having kidnapped Melissa to Turkey three times. He’s saying I’ll do it again if he is not given sole physical and legal custody. He also filed for Abduction Prevention Orders which, if granted by the California courts, makes it impossible for Melissa and I to leave the U.S.
I live in fear. I can’t bring myself to imagine what I’d do without her. Do I return home? Is my home where you are?
The last time I lived with you was in 1999, after father’s passing. We were staying at the summer house in Kusadasi. The early morning heat was slowly rising from the blond bushes and settling over the horizon when I finally stopped drinking and got home. I tiptoed into my room, careful not to wake you and Melissa. Peeling off the skintight dress from my sticky body, I felt my arms shake with exhaustion. I was struggling for breath when your voice rang in my dress like an alarm. Where were you? Why? What audacity! I stood half naked and listened to you tell me to leave, to go back to the U.S. if I wasn’t going to live by your rules under your roof.
You were furious because I didn’t even bother to lie about the night. I had spent it at a cheap hotel with a Kurdish boy, a bartender from Istanbul. What disgrace! You were angry because I was drinking heavily. A divorced young woman with a child cannot, should not get drunk and sleep around! And the audacity, apparently, had to do with the boy’s ethnic background.
I keep wondering: how do we manage to become strangers to the people we call family?
Remember the summer Turkish planes systematically carpet-bombed Southeastern Turkey? The summer I was forbidden from leaving the house alone? Come to think of it, it must have been right before the Halabja Massacre , in 1987 or ’88 when I used to stay up all night reading the news from Cumhuriyet s daily reports. The Kurdish terrorists were demanding an autonomous state. A Kurdistan within Southeastern Turkey.
My sentence had nothing to do with the Kurdish conflict. For some reason, father decided I had to go under house arrest. Keys to different rooms, including the bathroom one, disappeared overnight. You told me not to leave the house without you. That is the summer I read during night and slept throughout the day so that our paths did not cross.
One late afternoon, I was watching the incredible reflections on the Aegean Sea when you announced my friend Pinar’s arrival. She was the girl from Ankara, plumpish with big piercing blue eyes. Pinar. She walked into my room, shut the door behind her and pushed me into a corner. It must have been some sort of a game or joke. Maybe she meant to flirt childishly, who knows. I didn’t get a chance to tell her to behave, and that I was under your watchful eye before her hot, tanned body pressed against mine and paralyzed my mind. The thought of you vanished momentarily. I wasn’t just fighting off the weight of her body, but more so the overwhelming urge to explore the offering. We were entwined in a corner when you dashed in. Your arm stretched out and pointed to the street; “Out! Out!”
Embarrassment of a lifetime. With her eyes glued to the floor, Pinar pulled herself together and walked past your arm. It was hard to tell if she was beaming or weeping. I worriedly followed her down the narrow corridor to the entrance where she struggled to slip on sandals. You were right behind me watching us with fiery eyes. I had to let her go without a hug. She dragged her feet to the gate, turned around for a brief second, and let out an insolent laughter. I was relieved.
It took awhile for me to come to terms with my bisexuality. But here we are. Your thirty-three year old daughter is still a bisexual after two forced marriages. It is the nature of the beast. The more we deny the more power truth gains. Regardless of the truth, it is unlikely that I can live an openly bisexual life in Turkey. It is unlikely my exile in the U.S. will end soon. It is unlikely I will consider a particular geography “home.”
I picture you in the backyard. You are alone under the frozen apricot tree. The sun is about to break through the grayness. And the brutal wind is trying to steal the pages from your grasp. They’re in the tight clench of your dry, chapped hands.