These two events are the ones that show the weakness of the foundations I was building my 18 month defences on. I’m not even sure I built any defences for dealing with the prospect of my boyfriend’s military service. I thought we’d split up. I thought he’d end it and my job was to use the time of him being away to prepare for that. For some reason I always saw our future as the result of a decision that was his – to stay with me – instead of one that was mine – to not be with him.
In about July, when I’d opted to stay for the summer since we thought he’d be leaving in either the August or November wave, I was already bored and restless in Istanbul. It was too hot and this was before I was writing or had internet in the house so struggled to fill long empty days. There were a lot of those because many of my students were on holidays. One night he invited me round but even something about the text message told me it was something serious. And serious could only mean one of “those” discussions.
We chatted idly but it was so obvious there was something being unsaid and we both knew what it was. There was some crappy Turkish comedy on the TV that I didn’t understood much of. He commented that we didn’t laugh at the same things and I said, nailing the coffin a bit more tightly shut, that even if
I understood the language I probably wouldn’t get the humour.
And then we started The Talk. He’d written a list (to think more than to have some document as evidence) of all the reasons why we wouldn’t work out. They included him going away and how unlikely that was to work out; his family would never accept me and in the end he was more like them than me – I was too old for them for one thing even though I was the same age as him; my “past” i.e. my not having been a virgin; the fact my duty would one day be to take care of his aging parents – the same ones that didn’t like me even though we’d never met. I can’t remember the rest but it was a couple of pages.
And, presented with rational arguments, I did what I have been doing through my whole academic life, found reasons to argue against them even though, not very deep down, I knew they were true. He actually cried and I was amazed he felt strongly enough for me that it mattered. I think that was my undoing too. Upsetting as it was, there was some victory there. Some ridiculous notion that love would triumph reality.
We resolved to carry on fighting. The most stupid thing about that was what we were really fighting against was our own natures. Him, the repression of his values and me, mine. I would try to be more like a Turkish girl and he would try to pretend I hadn’t always been one.
And then he dropped in casually, unrelated, that his ex girlfriend, a young French girl who’d he been with for about 4 years but, on her insistence, only when they were physically together were they together, was coming to Turkey and they were going on holiday together as they had done every summer before. I was horrified. I knew full well she wanted it to be the same as before.
The hypocrisy, shock and hurt that he was planning a trip when I had stayed in Turkey for him and was bored to tears with nothing to do, that I wasn’t even supposed to go for dinner with male friends, that I’d been in a lot of trouble for going on a day trip to the islands with a male friend without telling him first (which in his mind was the same as going on holiday), that he hadn’t even invited or told me. And she was due in a couple of days. And all that on top of his list!
I made it clear what I thought and then I just decided if he went, that was it, it was over. I started looking at anywhere in the world I could go for an instant holiday so as to just leave them to it, disappear and not even wait to see if he went or cancelled. The next day he cancelled the holiday part but he never seemed to think he’d done anything wrong. And he insisted that she was just a friend and he could handle that situation because he was a man. And even then, she was still going to be coming and staying in his house before she went and did the holiday part alone. I think I insisted that either she stayed in a hotel or I was to be there as well which he refused because it would hurt her feelings. And presumably make him look bad. And then he told her not to come.
It wasn’t so much a trust issue as the fact he’d given me no status in it. He’d planned it all with her, not told me, of course she’d think he was free on the same basis as he had always been. She admitted later to him that she was in love with him – something that was perfectly clear to me.
Anyway, in the way trauma brings you closer, the person that hurts you most then seems to be the only one who can make it better even though they’re the last person you should be relying on. We went on holiday ourselves on pretty much the route they’d have been on. And it was a lovely trip.
Apart from the night where we were talking about our future and he said that he didn’t love me but was holding back because of going away. I said I thought everyone deserved to be with someone that loved them. I can’t have believed that though can I, otherwise I’d have had one more reason to end it.
So, that was a month before he went away. The only other relevant crumbling pillar was the wedding we went to. His cousin and girlfriend were the friends of his I knew best. I liked them, good people who were very sweet to me but we didn’t have a lot in common.
Their wedding night was one of the worst nights of my life.
I felt completely excluded, ignored, had no idea what was going on half the time, a grinning idiot clock watching in the corner. Every minute felt like an hour. I was shut out by language, by culture, by shyness. He had millions of relatives and anyway at weddings, couples split and it’s male female. I did get chatting to one of his male friends and felt for a while like I had somewhere to fit. Until he came over and demanded that I stop drawing attention to him by speaking so conspicuously to another man all night. Then I couldn’t talk to that guy anymore and he wouldn’t speak to me until we got home either.
I went to bed angry and upset but kind of cold. This was what I would feel like on my own wedding day, I knew. An outsider. He went to bed, still not speaking to me, and dreamt that we were on an island and his friends were there. The only way off the island was to swim but we couldn’t go with them because the swimsuit I was wearing went see through when it got wet.
He had some interpretation of that dream, that I don’t remember. But to me it was clear. I would always get it wrong and we’d have to stay on the island away from the rest of society if he wanted to be with me.
And that’s how we went into the 18 months. We didn’t even really talk about the mechanics of how we’d do it or what the difficulties would be. I think I approached the time as something that would help me make a decision to do what was best for me – whatever that was. And he initially thought it would be like that for him. But then the army was so terrible, like being in prison, that he fell in love with the angel that was waiting for him.
A perfect being that hadn’t existed when he was with her, making his lists, dreaming she was holding him back, telling her he didn’t love her.
I couldn’t have behaved less like an angel in the next year if I’d set out deliberately to do all the harm I could.