They get hitched under his family chuppah in the window of a storefront theater in Andersonville, the same neighborhood where they’ll live with the baby, born two years later. There are candles and flowers, and strangers walk by, gawking; the woman wears a long dress. A week later, she’ll move to Istanbul and the man will stay here; but that night, they sing along to Tom Waits.
A month earlier, scanning items for a registry, a salesgirl asks the woman, “But what if you don’t like it?” She means Istanbul. She means Turkey. She means a Muslim country. The woman doesn’t answer. What if? she thinks. I’ve not liked many places. She can’t explain. She just knows she has to leave, has to flee this continent, has to travel far from home. There was always a November in my soul.
He drops her at the airport with four overstuffed duffel bags, full up with clothes and shoes and books; she wears a brown velour tracksuit but hasn’t expected to feel this particular sadness. She hasn’t known how much she could love, perhaps, until that moment, waiting in security. He is back in his Toyota, on I-90, and she’s here with bags and strangers and the dread of early-aughts post-9/11 protocols.
Later, when it is over, he writes: I didn’t want her until she told me she was leaving our city, moving to an unstable foreign country straddling two continents. I didn’t want her until I imagined her moving between the European and the Asian side, her face on two continents.
A flight attendant hands her a Turkish breakfast. Clotted cream, simit, tea. She would live in the lojmanlar, number yermi yeti kat iki; when he arrives, it is snowing. He writes poems in the guest room of the well-appointed two-bedroom condo, something like the Hilton, new and shiny and generic. Not home, but a home, he whispers. From the lojman window, she can glimpse the Black Sea.
Later, she’ll wish she were him, wish she could recognize the end. Later, she’ll know what he knew: better to be the one who leaves than the one left behind. Later, he writes: She didn’t want me until someone else wanted me. And I didn’t want me until someone else wanted me.
Her new friends don’t believe her, don’t know he is real. It’s a beautiful story: that they know they can survive this absence because they are married, because they have the rest of their lives together. I would follow you anywhere, he says. v