Special thanks to Kokia Sparis for his meticulous editing and for his inspiring ideas on this blog.
Yesterday I went to the swimming pool with my father. One of us is a Cancer, the other a Pisces; so we like socializing in the water. Instead of meeting at a café we often make plans to see each other in the pool.
It was the same routine yesterday. He took a break every twenty-five meters, I on the other hand, took my break every seventy-fifth. On those breaks we chatted as we enjoyed the free movement of our limbs in the water. At some point he said: “I keep reading your blogs and I am a bit surprised to see no references to your father. I think I know you very little.” I tried to laugh it off, “Haha, its because mom was the main traumatizer. You should consider yourself lucky”. Then we swam some more. Throughout my next 75 meters, I kept thinking about what he said. Really? Did my dad have no impact on me? What was the role of my father in the formation of my character? What about my strengths and my weaknesses? When we reached our meeting place at the other side of the pool, I confessed: “Dad I remember nothing of the times you and Mom were married. It is as if you weren’t there during my childhood”.
But how come, he said. “Remember, when you had run away from home, and I spanked your hands with the bicycle pump? The time at the Golden Dolphin Hotel in Çesme, when I told you fairy tales, for hours, until you fell sleep? I remembered both of those times. I also remember my mom having fun at the discotheque of the hotel and him taking care of me; I remember I found it very hard to accept my mother’s abandoning me that night, and how I cried non-stop for over an hour. Even though I am aware of these fragmented memories, I still cannot find traces of my father in my formative childhood memories, the kind that shaped my feelings and conditionings of today.
He said, “Think about it a little more if you like, I will complete this lap and get out”. He dove into the water and swam away. Could it be possible that my father’s behavior, his words, his expectations, the way he expressed his feelings or his inability to express them, had left no mark on me during my childhood? Or was the trauma caused by him so deeply buried that I can’t see it? Would a therapist be able to expose these wounds residing in the dungeons of my psyche?
After the pool, I drove back home passing through the back streets of Levent, one of the oldest suburbs in the north. In the last seven years that I haven’t been driving in Istanbul, the roads have changed so much that I get lost in what used to be very familiar places. I am bewildered as new streets intersect with the old back roads I used to know so well.
I was making my way from the swimming pool to the main street of Levent when I suddenly realized that everything looks very familiar. Could this be possible? Wasn’t this the neighborhood I used to visit every day? There must be a house here, I thought: A white villa with a garden, a garden with flowers and fruit trees. The one I had accidently driven over and flattened. But how did I get here? In the past the road would have ended here and a stream would have continued. Wasn’t there supposed to be a shantytown on the other side of the stream? I looked and saw that the little slum was still there, to my right. On my left was the familiar old street. The new road I was driving on used to be the stream. How things had changed!
Where was that white villa with the garden now? Can I find it after all these years? What if I turned right from here? To arrive to the house we’d have to drive down a long hill. In the winter when it snowed it would get so icy that getting down that road was impossible. Oh, how it had snowed that winter! We couldn’t get out of the house for days. The garden was totally white under the snow. The roads were closed and the hill was too treacherous, even to walk on. I remember how happy I felt when there was no way out of that house. We had to stay inside. He couldn’t have asked me to leave or to go out. I was safe in the white villa that was owned by the man I loved so unhappily.
My heart fell into love affairs of self-destruction twice in my life.
I was fourteen with the first one. One morning I woke up and all the poems, songs and love stories had found a reflection in my soul. I was in love with self-inflicted agony, until I finished high school. I loved a boy who could not decide whether he wanted me or not. I mistook the bitter taste of longing for love itself. As that relationship ended, I promised myself, that from now on, I would open my heart only to men who appreciated me.
I didn’t keep that promise though and soon hit the wall of desperation again! With my next boyfriend I did it in such a way, I got to experience self-destructive love in its deepest form. That winter the snow stayed on the ground for the whole of March and as I turned 22 in the White Villa, I knew that soon, I would have to leave.
I read somewhere that it takes seven years for the cells in the human body to renew themselves totally. When I look at my personal history, I see that it is made up of transformations that were delivered in 7-year periods. I spent the whole of that third 7 year period between the ages of 21 and 28 - by warming my story of heart-break over and over in my mind, and injecting its bitterness into my blood.
I am back in the neighborhood of the white villa with the garden although I can’t find the house. If I had come up the main road I would have found it but I wanted the challenge of the back streets. I used to know every single road that led to that house; every pothole and all the plants that grew on the side of the streets, the placement of the trashcans. I had known every detail. Now, there is a black hole in my memory. It has been fourteen years since I left the white villa for the last time. Is that enough time to forget, or did I bury those times away along with the memories of my father? I sensed a connection between the times with my father during my childhood and the times I spent in the white villa with the man I loved so unhappily.
I gave up looking for the white villa and took the main road to return home. From the hole in my memory feelings from the past leaked out. The bittersweet pain of our heart breaks with my girlfriend Ayşe began to surface. I remembered stepping on the gas pedal of my red Skoda; cigarettes smoking in our hands, singing along to Alanis Morrisette at the top of our voices, we had driven to İznik. On our way, to console each other, we talked about the pain of our similar and unhappy love affairs. The emotions were felt deeply like notches made on fresh wood. We thought we were adults, but in actuality, we were just at the end of childhood. As we shared our stories, we were discovering our psyches and exploring our fears, our wounds and the tendencies that piled up inside of us. While the layers within us were being exposed, our stories were also passionate and self-satisfying. A sense of gratitude arose for those unhappy love affairs, as they provided us with much satisfaction and purpose. We were crying, then laughing, drinking and dancing, making oaths to close our doors forever to those who didn’t appreciate us!
It is probably no coincidence that my father had left home when I was seven. No one told me why he left. They had simply said that he had gone to America. From the whisperings of my aunt and my grandmother, who cared for me at home, until my mother came back from work, I could guess there was something going on which I wasn’t supposed to know.
I knew it anyway though, like an animal sensing fear, I too, sensed my father’s insecurity when he was at home. As a consequence of him not feeling safe, my need for safety was not met either. I knew that he loved me but his insecurities made me instinctively stay away from him.
Nowadays I know the story better. He was married to a woman who was powerful, beautiful and emotionally unavailable: That was my mother. She had an elitist family behind her and that family never appreciated their new young son-in-law of no prestigious background. He needed his wife’s support to prove himself but that support was nowhere to be found. Yet he was young, strong and in love. He expected to have that love reflected back at him. He waited patiently for 15 years. Meanwhile he tolerated criticisms, judgments and insensitivity all around him. One day, a time came, when he quietly closed the door behind him and left.
My charming mother had stolen not only my dad’s heart from the very first sight but also mine. When my dad left, I found it convenient not to inquire about his absence. She may or may not be responsible for moving him away from me I thought to myself. What I really cared about, back then, was that his place in their bed was now mine, and I fell into deep seamless sleeps in my mother’s bosom.
My father remarried soon. I heard the rumours that he’d been “seeing” his new wife for a long time. Long before I heard that though, my friend Ilgaz had informed me that my father was having an affair. I remember accepting this news with a nonchalant numbness, like I was watching a soap opera. Later, my mother also remarried and I felt deceived and abandoned for a second time when that happened. Finally my numbness melted into a new emotion: Anger. I could not express it as much as I would’ve liked to. My mother was on her honeymoon and my grandparents were too old to be screamed at. Instead I abused the neighbor’s daughter and stole her toys systematically.
Both male characters in my self-destructive love stories had met me, while still in love with other women. They were fairly honest about it. They told me about their situation at the beginning. Still, I told them I would wait for my turn. Perhaps because they found some consolation in me wanting that, they did not stop me from softly falling into their arms. Whenever I settled into those arms a little too much, they were quick to remind me, that my turn would probably never come, but I was not giving up; one step back, two steps forward, I continued to fight.
As I read different psychology theories, which link our destructive relationships to our unsatisfied needs, I wonder what needs was I trying to satisfy in the unhappy love affairs? Why did I stay in these relationships when I was suffering so much? In modern psychology, this type of suffering can represent the need to be emotionally stimulated.
Both affairs ended in the month of May ten years apart. In both times I realized suddenly that it was over and as if it hadn’t been me who begged and cried for years, I silently closed the door behind me and left. Although I struggled with this pattern again, I did not return to an unhappy love affair after that.
According to Freud, all of that had to do with my father. When I was a child, my father loved my mother but also found consolation in another woman whom he later ended up marrying. Perhaps that’s why I believed I could only be loved when I was in the position of the second woman. That position was curiously comfortable to me. If I waited a little longer, would I be loved by this man in the way I desired to be loved? The very same question was on my father’s mind when I was born. It was emotionally encoded in the genes he passed on to me. I felt it in his worry and dissatisfaction. I saw it in his face as the lines of disappointment formed around his eyes.
They say that our parents give us the wounds that help us find our way home.
It is true my parent’s relationship unconsciously provided me the guidelines for romantic relationships in the first portion of my adulthood. I expressed my father’s pattern when I was old enough to pick a man. I became him and looked for my mother’s unavailability in my relationships. I enjoyed the familiarity of the situation in the arms of men who couldn’t promise love. It was natural and paradoxically safe.
Yet it is also true that in those self-destructive love affairs, I tasted life a little deeper. When I passed through the tunnel of emotions and took a look at myself, I discovered things about the ways we experience life. Even though I was very sad in the those love affairs, I nourished my soul with experience, got enriched and grew up.
When I saw I could not get nourished any more, I closed the door behind me quietly and headed home.
Translation from Turkish original to English: Ebru Salman