The article My Pork Hunt was a lot of fun to write. Read the title out loud if your brain hasn’t already filled the gap before you and you’ll know why I was so pleased the editor let the title go through.
The article went out in March and had been a trip out of the centre with my very good American male friend, another writer for Time Out, a friend I was extremely grudgingly allowed to have but whose name was noted if mentioned too often.
I wasn’t banned from seeing him but anytime I did felt like a rebellion, the hidden kind that’s just basically lying by omission and so achieves nothing rebellion wise. Quite the contrast with the pork butcher, selling his filthy, promiscuous meat. And, well, you can take the “sausage smuggling” analogy wherever lack of taste permits you but this was written well before I was anywhere near cheating.
My boyfriend of course would never touch bacon or anything like it. I wasn’t enough of a meat eater and there wasn’t enough of it around that I made any kind of point about eating it anyway. But on the odd occasion it came up in conversation he would joke he wouldn’t kiss me if I ate it.
The interviews at the bottom of the article, as I said were real, and one of them was with the wife of my boyfriend’s cousin (the one whose wedding I’d had such a horrible time with). She was Free Thinker and was the one I most feared would turn against me after it all came out. In fact, she was the most supportive and did everything she could to talk my boyfriend into forgiveness. She told me once the way she thought about right and wrong was to imagine everything she ever did in life was going to be watched on a big plasma screen by everyone she knew when she died. Pretty good advice.
I used to go and see her in the day as she worked nearby in a shop, and it was nice but our friendship was based mostly on how incredibly warm Turkish people are and how much I was trying to fit in. We had nothing in common really. She had been to university but married at 24, had never been out of Turkey, sat in that shop day in day out, except Thursdays which she had off to clean their house and all she wanted was to get married and then have a baby. I would go to their house sometimes and see all the cosmetics and toiletries lined up, labels facing in the same direction, clothes folded away like in a shop and doilies lining every shelf in the fridge and feel The Fear. This was what Turkish husbands wanted in a wife.
She really loved me because she was such a good person, and I was very fond of her because that’s all I could manage on so little common ground. When I started really cheating I started avoiding her, pleaded busyness instead of dropping in, stayed invisible on msn. I knew I was betraying her as much as my boyfriend in some ways and that if I had told her what was going on, maybe I could have got a dose of reality and headed it off before I did something stupid. I was ashamed enough at least to not be able to hang out with her in her innocence but also I didn’t want to be told to stop.
There’s one story which shows both how different the cultural norms are in Turkey and how horribly your values can morph. She was thinner (and shorter) than me until she got married and initially went on the pill. And we were in the shop and the subject of weight came up. My boyfriend was there and she wanted to weight herself. Then I was made to weigh myself in front of them and of course came up heavier. No-one in England would ever make you do that but in Turkey it’s perfectly OK to make negative comments about weight. It humiliated me but was probably not meant to.
Later, when things were awful and she was gaining weight on the pill and I was miserable and very skinny, I was the one asking for the scales in the shop and revelling in the fact she was heavier than me now. My boyfriend was there and it was so important to him I was thin, I felt like at least, here was one thing I could win back some approval for and was willing to humiliate her to score even that tiny, temporary point.
For her it probably didn’t matter so much, it was a normal kind of thing to do. But I did it with the full weight of seeing it as wrong. I don’t know exactly where I stopped being the person I thought I was and became a liar, a manipulator, someone with almost all of my personality compasses scrambled on every level. Early in the relationship when I was trying to be someone I wasn’t? When I started cheating? When I was trying to make up for it? In the darkest days, I began to see every tiny childhood trait and event as leading up to being this person I couldn’t recognise.
Anyway, as regarding the pork article, I am sure I wrote it as a partial requisition of UK values and behaviours. Eternal critic notes that it lacks dynamic quotes to bring the article alive and bring the reader in. This was because my Turkish sucked so I only got the gist of the things the guy told me. I should have still quoted.
One of the other interview snippet quotes was a young Turkish guy who’d been my student in the UK. He visited Istanbul sometimes and I would hide the fact I was meeting him. He fancied me and made no pretence not to. I had handled it in the UK and continued to do so. He was another one I would invite to my flat in Cihangir for breakfast or whatever after my boyfriend left for the army as it meant being less likely to be seen by mutual friends. More lies, more routine to the dishonesty.